Appropriate for All Viewing Audiences? An Examination of Violent and
Sexual Portrayals in Movie Previews Featured on Video Rentals
Sriram Kalyanaraman (PhD Student)
Dr. Mary Beth Oliver
For a complete report of this research, see:
Oliver, M. B., & Kalyanaraman, S. (2001, November). Appropriate for
all viewing audiences? An examination of violent and sexual portrayals
in movie previews featured on video rentals. Paper presented to the Mass
Communication Division at the 87th annual convention of the National Communication
Association (NCA), Atlanta, GA.
The rapidly changing media landscape has contributed to the omnipresent
nature of movies, with consumers now able to view motion pictures in a
variety of venues. This diversity of entertainment choices is apparently
recognized by the motion picture industry, with producers now embarking
upon new and innovative means of marketing movies. Some recent findings
suggest that not only is violent and sexual content a major marketing
tool, but also that the movie industry systematically targets such content
at a young audience. Given that viewers report that movie previews or
trailers are one of the most important determinants of motion picture
selection, the purpose of the present study was to examine the prevalence
and nature of violent and sexual portrayals in motion picture promotional
materials by content analyzing movie previews featured on video cassettes.
Specifically, we asked the following research questions:
RQ1: What is the prevalence and rate of violent and sexual depictions
contained in movie previews?
RQ2: Is the amount of violence and sexuality in movie previews significantly
associated with alternate information concerning the prevalence of violence
and sexuality in motion pictures?
RQ3: What is the prevalence of violence and sexuality in movie previews
as a function of the MPAA rating of the previewed movie?
RQ4: What is the prevalence of violence and sexuality in movie previews
as a function of the MPAA rating of the feature film that the preview
RQ5: What percentage of previews for R-rated movies appears on videos
for feature films with MPAA ratings for younger audiences?
RQ6: What is the relationship between prevalence of sex and violence
in movie previews and the amount of money spent on marketing and distribution
of the movie?
The movie previews analyzed were those appearing on a randomly selected
sample of videos for films released onto video or appearing on Billboard's
top-20 rental charts during 1996. The year 1996 was chosen rather than
more recent videos to allow for ample time for financial data of the previewed
films featured on the videos to be collected and reported. From this list
of 258 unique movie titles, 50 titles were randomly selected, with 47
titles located. Most of films in the sample were R-rated (N = 28), 9 films
were rated PG-13, 8 were rated PG, and 2 were rated G. Although most films
were associated with multiple genres, the most predominant genre in the
sample was comedy (N = 21), followed by drama (N = 18), followed by action
(N = 12). The adjusted U.S. gross box office revenues for these films
ranged from $182,452 to $204,070,714. All movie previews appearing on
the sample of 47 videos were content analyzed, though some types of promotional
materials were excluded from the study. The resulting sample consisted
of 107 movie previews for films with release dates spanning the years
1992 through 1997, with the majority of films (N = 97) released in 1995
The number of aggressive scenes, as well as the number of explosions
and gun scenes were counted within each preview to code for violence.
Sexual scenes were coded as either featuring only female characters (one
or more female characters), featuring only males, or featuring males and
females together. Additional information about each previewed film was
collected to provide a general indication of the amount of money spent
on marketing the films, and the negative costs (i.e., budgets) of the
RQ1: An examination of the average number of violent scenes per minute
across all previews showed that aggression was most prevalent, followed
by gun scenes, and by explosions. In terms of sexual scenes, the average
number of scenes per minute was 1.51. This average was largely accounted
for by scenes featuring both males and females, followed by scenes featuring
females only, and scenes featuring males only.
RQ2: Ratings of sexuality were significantly positively correlated with
the previewed rate of sexuality. Similarly, ratings of violence were significantly
positively correlated with the previewed rates of the three violence indicators,
and were particularly strong for the rates of aggression and gun scenes.
RQ3: Although the analyses of the presence of violence showed only slight
differences between the three MPAA ratings, the analysis of the rate of
violence did reveal significant differences on two of the three indicators.
These differences occurred because G/PG-rated videos contained significantly
lower rates per minute of aggression and guns scenes than did R-rated
previews, with PG-13 previews falling in the middle. The results revealed
that previews for G/PG-rated films were significantly less likely to contain
sexual portrayals than were previews for PG-13 or R-rated films, which
did not differ from one another.
RQ4: The presence of aggression was most common among previews appearing
on videos for R-rated films, followed by G/PG-rated films, and PG-13 films,
although these findings only approached statistical significance. Analyses
also revealed that previews preceding G/PG-rated films were significantly
less likely to contain sexual portrayals than were previews preceding
PG-13 films or previews preceding R-rated films, which did not differ.
RQ5: While previews for films with ratings lower than R (G, PG, and PG-13)
were approximately equally likely to appear on videos for films with R-ratings
and films with ratings lower than R, previews for R-rated films were significantly
more likely to appear on videos for films rated R than on videos for films
rated lower than R.
RQ6: The results showed that marketing and distribution costs were positively
associated with negative costs and negatively associated with MPAA ratings.
This analysis also showed that the rate of aggression was positively associated
with greater marketing and distribution costs, while the rate of sexuality
was a nonsignificant predictor.
The results of this study confirm the idea that violence, and to a lesser
extent, sexuality, are common portrayals in previews for motion pictures.
This study strongly suggests that movie previews present viewers with
a condensed story of violence that is likely unparalleled by almost any
other type of media content commonly encountered. The effect that these
portrayals have on younger and older viewers is an area of research that
is ripe for exploration. At present, this research suggests that movie
previews unambiguously imply that what is "coming to a theatre near
you" is a film filled with images of violence and aggression.