Feb 25, 2015

From the Archives

Birdman vs. Mockingjay: The Movies Americans Watched in 2014

Winning an Oscar doesn’t necessarily equal box office gold. While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed out the coveted gold statues on Sunday night at its 87th annual awards show, 2014 Oscar winners were far from box office winners. Barna’s annual movie-going study reveals that the Best Picture nominees were among the least-attended of the 30 films included in the survey. Only 4% of Americans say they viewed the Best Picture winner, Birdman, and a dismal 2% say they saw the highly celebrated Whiplash. The exception, of course, was American Sniper, which ranked third in box office sales in 2014.

See the full infographic of Best Picture nominees here.

So What Did Americans Watch?
In 2014—as in 2013 and 2012—the leading box office movie was an installment of The Hunger Games series. Mockingjay Part 1, the first of the two-part finale in the series, topped box office sales with more than $336 million in gross receipts. The action-comedy, Guardians of the Galaxy, adapted from a Marvel comic book series, brought in more than $333 million and came in just ahead of American Sniper, which grossed nearly $320 million in box-office sales.

Barna’s annual movie-going survey looked at attendance for 30 of the year’s films. Here’s a breakdown of the rankings by percentage of U.S. adults (over age 18) who say they saw each film:

Who Watched What?
Of course, not every movie is for everyone; each film has its target demographic. So, while Richard Linklater’s 12-year project, Boyhood, was most popular among those making more than $100,000 annually (8%) and least popular among Millennials (2%), Peter Jackson’s last installment of The Hobbit series, The Battle of the Five Armies, drew more evangelicals but fewer with a faith other than Christianity (15% compared to 9%).

Some of the widest differences in movie-going habits are, as might be expected, between generations. For example, while the World War II drama, Fury, drew in 7% of Boomer and Elders, it only attracted 3% of Millennials. Similarly, the biblical adaptations, Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, appealed more strongly to older crowds: 13% of Boomers saw Noah and 8% saw Exodus, while only 9% and 5% of Millennials saw the two movies, respectively. On the other hand, 15% of Millennials saw the controversial comedy The Interview while only 12% of Boomers and 10% of Elders did.

It stands to reason then, that the best box-office performers were movies that appealed across generational divides. When looking at each generation’s five most popular movies of 2014, the lists are strikingly similar.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 ranked in every generation’s top five list and was the top movie for every generation other than Millennials (for which it was number three). Guardians of the Galaxy was the other 2014 film to make every generation’s top five. Divergent made everyone’s list except for Boomers; Captain America: The Winter Soldier for everyone except Millennials; and The LEGO Movie for all but Gen-Xers. Millennials preferred X-Men: Days of Future Past, while Gen-Xers and Boomers were more likely to see Maleficent.

What Did Christians Watch?
While you might expect faith to play a role in what Americans do and don’t see, with almost no exceptions, practicing Christians saw each movie at about the same rate as the general population. Their five most popular movies were like everyone else’s five most popular movies (The Hunger Games: Mockinjay Part 1, Guardians of the Galaxy, Divergent, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The LEGO Movie). Even their viewership of the biblical epics Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings were the same as that of the general population.

There are some slight variations when you look at the evangelical subset of Christians. While practicing Christians are people who have attended a church service in the past month and who say their religious faith is very important in their life, evangelicals are defined by how they answer a series of nine belief conditions (described in the “About the Research” section below). Practicing Christians make up 26% of the U.S. population and evangelicals 7%.

Evangelicals movie preferences are, in general, similar to other Americans. However, they edge slightly toward films like American Sniper and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. They are slightly less likely to have seen Selma, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and several of the more popular blockbusters such as The LEGO MOVIE, Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Evangelicals are, in fact, less likely to have seen any of the movies on the list of 30: Two-thirds say they saw none of the films (35% compared to 29% of the general population).

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Where Did Americans Watch?
While box office sales were down in 2014—more than 5% below sales in 2013—Americans still watched movies. But often, they were watching at home.

Groups most likely to have watched movies in the theater are Millennials, those with an annual income greater than $50,000, adults who have never been married, non-Christians, Hispanic Americans and residents of the western U.S.

On the other hand, while Elders are one of the groups least likely to have attended a movie in the theater, they are the group most likely to have watched a movie at home via cable, broadcast or satellite television (on average, Elders watched 10 movies this way a year compared to only five among the general population). Adults watch, on average, six movies via DVD, Blu-Ray or streaming at home (this is highest among Millennials, who say they watch 10 movies a year this way).

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About the Research
This research contains data from a study conducted among 1,000 U.S. adults conducted online from February 3 to February 11, 2015. The estimated maximum sampling error for this study is plus or minus 3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

Millennials are the generation born between 1984 and 2002; Gen-Xers, between 1965 and 1983; Boomers, between 1946 and 1964; and Elders, in 1945 or earlier.

People are identified as having a “practicing” faith if they have attended a church service in the past month and say their religious faith is very important in their life.

“Evangelicals” are defined in this survey as people who meet nine belief conditions. These include saying they have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today,” that their faith is very important in their life today; believing that when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent on church attendance, the denominational affiliation of the church attended or self-identification. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.”

The study relied on a research panel called KnowledgePanel®, created and maintained by Knowledge Networks. It is a probability-based online non-volunteer access panel. Panel members are recruited using a statistically valid sampling method with a published sample frame of residential addresses that covers approximately 97 percent of US households. Sampled non-Internet households, when recruited, are provided a netbook computer and free Internet services so they may participate as online panel members. KnowledgePanel consists of about 50,000 adult members (ages 18 and older) and includes persons living in cell-only households.

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About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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