The 89th Academy Awards ceremony is around the corner and Damien Chazelle’s romantic comedy-meets-musical La La Land is expected to sweep the field, as it did at last month’s Golden Globes. Past Barna research has shown, however, that even though the Oscars are one of the most-watched events on television, the films that fill theaters don’t often fill trophy shelves. Leading up to Hollywood’s biggest night, Barna’s annual media survey again examines the movie-going (or not going) habits of American adults and their opinions of Hollywood.
Americans Still Go to the Movies (But Prefer That Movies Come to Them)
When it comes to cinema, many Americans still love to get out of the house, grab some popcorn and make a night of it. Two-thirds of American adults (67%) saw at least one movie at the theater during the past year. A plurality saw 1 to 2 movies in a cinema (21%), 16 percent saw 3 to 5, 13 percent saw 6 to 10, 11 percent saw 11 to 20, and a small 5 percent saw 21 films or more at a theater during the past year. Exactly one-third (33%) didn’t make it to a theater at all in 2016, a six percentage point increase from 2015 (27%). But it was mostly the older generations that didn’t make it out. Boomers (48%) and elders (45%) were more likely to stay at home, compared to Gen-Xers (27%) and especially Millennials (18%).
Even though Americans are still hitting the cinema with enthusiasm, it seems the comforts of home are more appealing. American adults watched more movies on either video, DVD, Blu-ray or streaming during the past year than at the theater. And interestingly, the size of each watching group increases with the number of movies watched. For instance, only 7 percent of American adults watched 1 to 2 movies on either video, DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, during the past year, but that doubles (14%) when it comes to 3 to 5 movies. It gradually increases for 6 to 10 movies (16%), and 11 to 20 movies (20%), culminating with 31 percent for 21 or more movies seen in the last year—the largest of any single category.
Another convenience of staying home to catch a flick is the option to watch via cable, broadcast or satellite television. Though this is a less popular form of movie-watching than grabbing a DVD or streaming online, more movies are still watched this way than at the theater. The number of movies watched on cable, broadcast or satellite TV are evenly spread across the spectrum from 1 to 2 movies (12%), 3 to 5 (11%), 6 to 10 (17%), 11 to 20 (18%) and 21+ movies (22%). Finally, one in 5 (20%) didn’t watch any movies on TV channels in 2016.
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Blockbuster
The comic book and animation franchises top the list of 2016’s most-watched films. The three most popular are based on either Marvel (Deadpool: 37%, Captain America: Civil War: 35%) or DC Comics (Batman vs. Superman: 31%). The next two most-watched are made by Pixar (Finding Dory: 31%) and Disney (Zootopia: 30%). Following closely behind are X-Men: Apocalypse (26%), Jason Bourne (25%), The Secret Life of Pets (24%), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (24%), Suicide Squad (24%) and The Jungle Book (24%). With the exception of Rogue One and Jason Bourne, 9 of the top 11 most-watched movies of the year are either animated or based on comic book characters. Generationally, the most popular movie among Millennials was Deadpool (58%), for Gen-Xers it was Captain America: Civil War (41%), and for Boomers and Elders it was Jason Bourne (27% and 24%).
Films popular among evangelicals include Zootopia (32%), Finding Dory (30%) and Captain America: Civil War (28%). Evangelicals were much less likely to view some of the other favorites among the general population including Deadpool (20% compared to 37% among all adults), Suicide Squad (13% compared to 24% among all adults), X-Men: Apocalypse (9% compared to 26% among all adults) and Batman vs Superman (20% compared to 31% among all adults). They also watched Miracles from Heaven (21% vs 9% among all adults) more than the general population.
As is usually the trend, most-watched films are rarely nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Less than one in 10 adults (9%) have seen this year’s favorite, La La Land. Other nominated films were on par (Hidden Figures: 12%, Arrival: 11%) or less popular than La La Land (Manchester by the Sea: 6%, Moonlight: 5%, Hell or High Water: 5% and Lion: 4%). Though some might argue that the Academy is out of touch with popular taste, the Oscars have never been the People’s Choice awards; the Academy judges tend to nominate films according to critical acclaim, not ticket sales.
Faith on the Big Screen
Audiences are often conflicted about Hollywood’s treatment of Christianity, whether it’s Eric Liddell running for the glory of God in Chariots of Fire, or Josh Wheaton debating with his atheist professor in God’s Not Dead. American adults are split when it comes to Hollywood’s portrayal of Christianity, believing it is either generally negative (11%) or generally positive (13%). Similar amounts believe the portrayal is neutral (15%). The largest contingent (28%) believe the portrayal of Christianity by Hollywood is mixed: It’s sometimes negative, and sometimes positive. A little more than one-fifth of American adults don’t know (22%). Practicing Christians (20%) and especially evangelicals (40%) are much more likely than the general population (11%) to believe Christianity is being portrayed negatively by Hollywood.
But interestingly, despite the split in opinion, at least one in 10 American adults (10%) believe Hollywood relies heavily on stereotypes. This might help to explain the fact that in the last two years, only 5 percent of American adults have watched any movies that caused them to change something they believed about the Christian faith. However, 16 percent of Americans were made to think more seriously about religion, spirituality or their religious faith after seeing certain movies. With the recent Oscar nomination of religious epic Hacksaw Ridge and the release of Silence, religion—and specifically Christianity—has been a major theme in some of this year’s most critically acclaimed films.
About the Research
The research was conducted with a total of 1,021 adults who participated in web-based surveys among a representative sample of U.S. adults ages 18 and older in each of the 50 United States. The survey was conducted February 8 to February 14, 2017. The sampling error for this study is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level.
Millennials: Born between 1984 and 2002
Gen-Xers: Born between 1965 and 1983
Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964
Elders: Born between 1945 or earlier
Practicing Christian: Those who attend a religious service at least once a month, who say their faith is very important in their lives and self-identify as a Christian
Evangelicals: meet nine specific theological criteria. They say 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; believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior; strongly believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; firmly believe that Satan exists; strongly believe that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; strong agree that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; strong assert 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.”
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2017
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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