Part 2 in series The Future of Faith in Film and Television. We asked observers in and around the entertainment industry to share their perspective on where faith is (or should be) headed in film and TV. Here’s what they said:
No one is surprised that 18-28 year-olds watch twice as many movies as any other age group. What is surprising is that the average number of movies self-identified ‘evangelicals’ saw in 2012 is larger than followers of any other religion. If Hollywood is listening then the future of movies could be greatly shaped by tastes of young Christ-followers.
by David Kinnaman • President, The Barna Group
On the heels of massive box office performance from The Hunger Games and The Avengers, 2012 ended up setting a record for total box office sales (a staggering $10.8 billion), and also saw an incredible 1.36 billion tickets sold. With this weekend’s Academy Awards broadcast—the pinnacle of the film awards season—the cultural obsession with movies is at its peak. Viewership for the Oscars is still one of the larger of the year, and—in a year when most of the best picture nominees garnered over $100 million—arguments over who is (or isn’t) nominated and who should win are in full force.
But what are Americans’ true attitudes toward movies? Who sees them? Are Americans still going to the movies? Do Christians see more or less movies (or the same) as non-Christians? And, what do believers think of the movies they see?
Who Goes to the Theater?
If you’re a moviegoer, you might assume everyone goes to the movies. If 1.36 billion movie tickets sold in 2012, that means there were more than four movie tickets sold for every American. But, in actuality, a full 35% of the American population says they didn’t see a single movie in theaters in the last 12 months. And of people ages 67 and older, respondents report they’ve only seen, on average, 0.4 movies in the last year—meaning less than half of Elders set foot in the movie theater in 2012.
So who bought all those tickets? As you might expect, it was mostly young adults (i.e., Mosaics, ages 18-28) filling the darkened venues. Of that age group, the average Mosaic saw 3.4 movies in the theater over the last year—double the national average for all adults, which was 1.7 movies per person.
Does Faith Affect Viewing Patterns?
How does a person’s faith affect their movie watching habits? Well, in terms of the amount of movies seen at the theater, evangelicals saw 2.7 movies at the movie theater in the last year, a full movie more than the national, adult average. In fact, the average number of movies evangelicals saw is bigger than any of the age groups except for Mosaics. The only faith group that saw more movies than evangelicals were people who didn’t identify with any faith—that segment saw an average of 3 movies per person in theaters over the last year.
Which movies did evangelicals see? The year’s biggest film, The Avengers, was also a big hit among evangelicals. Over the last 12 months, 42% of evangelicals saw the film. That’s the highest rate except for people with no faith—43% of those surveyed who don’t identify with any faith saw The Avengers. Evangelicals also flocked to The Hunger Games (36% of them saw it in the last year) andThe Lorax (24%).
The biggest difference in movies between people of faith and people with no faith exists in movies like Skyfall and Argo. While 21% of people claiming no faith saw Skyfall, the most recent James Bond blockbuster, only 12% of evangelicals and 16% of non-evangelical born again Christians witnessed 007’s latest romp. And the highest group of people of faith who saw Argo—the story of a group trying to escape Iran during the 1981 U.S. embassy hostage crisis—were Catholics, at just over 4.5%. At the same time, 17% of people with no faith identification saw Argo.
Much has been made about how Hollywood influences the values and spirituality of Americans. And movies do affect how people think about faith and spirituality, but in smaller numbers than religious leaders might expect. For all the concern about the degradation of cultural values and Hollywood’s lack of a moral compass, just 1% of respondents say they saw a movie that changed their beliefs over the last year. Whether this is a perception or a reality is hard to say—but at the very least, people don’t think Hollywood is influencing their values and beliefs. In fact, only 11% of people say they saw a movie in the past year that made them think more seriously about religion, spirituality or faith.
However, 32% of evangelicals say they would seek out movies that dealt with more religious or spiritual themes. And with movies like Darren Aronofsky and Russell Crowe’s upcoming Noah adaptation and the ratings success of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s The Bible TV mini-series, it seems audiences might be getting their wish.
Or will they?
David Kinnaman is the President of Barna Group and author of the best-selling books, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith, and unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity (with Gabe Lyons). Since joining Barna in 1995, David has designed and analyzed nearly 500 research projects for clients including Sony, NBC-Universal, World Vision, and Compassion International. As a spokesperson for the firm’s research, he is often quoted in major media outlets such as USA Today, Fox News, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal).
© Barna Group, 2013. Used by permission. For more info from Barna Group study, click here.