A reader asked a question on last Friday's post about what sells movies:
Rainforest Giant here,
So sex no longer sells? Eyes Wide Shut seemed to be the last nail in that coffin. Was Tom just trying to convince himself Scientology was keeping those 'urges' at bay?
Okay, Rainforest Giant, I don't talk about celebrity's private lives, or whatever urges they may have, but your question is a good excuse for me to remind everyone of my theory about sex selling.
It doesn't sell.
Now you'd have a hard time getting some executives in Hollywood to believe you when you tell them that, but it's true nonetheless.
There are reasons for this...
1. Peer Pressure: Imagine a major Hollywood studio releases a big budget movie containing graphic hardcore sex. Talking about that flick around the water cooler would be a little awkward, and possibly career ending. Then there's whole "man in the dirty raincoat" element when you go to see it in a theater.
So why bother paying to see it in a theater, just get it on home video where you can "enjoy" it in the non-judgmental privacy of your own home.
2. Audience Suspicion: The audience possesses a sort of gestalt mass-mind that can smell a stinker from a mile away. A major clue is when the marketing emphasizes sex over story. That tells the audiences that the movie or TV show is going to be severely lacking in the story department and the network's trying to hide that with a thin coat of sexy-paint.
If they want titillation, there's the internet, so why waste time watching people painfully pretend to have a story while offering fairly tepid temptations?
3. Old Hat: There was a time when it was pretty hard to see nudity. There were naughty magazines, stag films, for a while, and then came the Sexual Revolution.
The revolution brought nudity to mainstream cinema and for a while everybody was doing it. At that time it did sell, because if you wanted to see nudity, it had to be in a theater.
Then came pay-TV, then home video, then the internet, and why bother going out to pay for titillation when you can get it for free at home. The sense of social rebellion faded, and people just stopped caring.
Now I'm not saying that a movie featuring sexual content can't sell, just that the act of selling it must emphasize the non-sexual aspect first, or run the risk of looking pervy, badly done, or boring.