Does Sex Still Sell?

When I first read the Entertainment Weekly headline “Where’s the Love? The Sudden Death of the Hollywood Sex Scene,” I was skeptical.  All we hear is that Hollywood is a cesspool of sex, drugs an violence.  Then I tried to think of the last movie I saw with a sex scene.  Hmm…  From the article:

The first love scene you saw in a movie is hard to forget. But what’s hard to remember these days is the last time any of us saw one on screen. Not just a sexy moment but a bona fide hot, unironic, don’t-watch-it-with-your-parents love scene between big stars in a big Hollywood movie. You definitely didn’t see one in any of last year’s nine Best Picture Oscar nominees, which featured characters getting killed, saved, sick, and angry — but never, under any circumstances, lucky. That includes Silver Linings Playbook, in which Jennifer Lawrence’s character is a self-proclaimed sex addict.

Actually, chances are you didn’t see one on the big screen at all in 2012. In a year when TV shows like HBO’s Girls and Showtime’s Homeland had more pants-down action than a urologist’s office, only one out of the 25 highest-grossing movies had a genuine roll in the hay: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1. It wasn’t just last year, either. Christopher Nolan has never shown a sex scene, Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox never got it on in the Transformers series, and apparently one marvel of the Marvelverse is that not even a superhero can get past second base. In fact, the last time a movie with a real star-on-star love scene topped the yearly box office — and no, Avatar‘s gratuitous ponytail play between CGI cat people doesn’t count — was 16 years ago when Jack and Rose fogged up the inside of a town car in Titanic.

In order to pursue a larger audience, studios are ditching the sex scenes to keep their rating open to a wider and younger audience. 

“Now that young people drive the box office, if your film can handle a PG-13 storywise, then there is no reason to go R, because you’re just limiting the number of people who can see it,” says Michael Sucsy, director of last year’s hit The Vow. That movie was one of the few recent romances to make a buck — 125 million of them, actually — thanks in large part to its PG-13 rating. Which is to say, it scored because Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams didn’t. (Well, not that we saw.)

The article also blames the internet for making steamy scenes available at your fingertips.  I imagine there’s an entire generation who has only seen three seconds of Basic Instinct (which is enough).  With the exception of independent films (many of the films mentioned in the “We Saw Your Boobs” song at this year’s Oscars), the majority of current blockbusters offer violence and gross-out humor.  An interesting plot and character development?  Some might say those died way before the sex scene.