Christian pollster George Barna and his staff have examined what attracted – and didn't attract – the attention of moviegoers the past year and found a marked disparity between those who paid to see the films and those who bestow industry honors.
Birdman might have flown away with the "Best Film" Oscar at this year's Academy Awards, but it laid an egg with movie watchers in 2014, with a mere four percent of American adults making it their movie of choice at theaters.
Just taking in over $40 million, Birdman ranked 79th in 2014 box office receipts, while the other critically acclaimed movie at the Oscars, Whiplash, was even less popular, with just two percent of American adults watching it — pulling in a lackluster $12 million, according to The Barna Group.
Ironically, the picture that stole away with the most Hollywood receipts and attention of Americans for the year was not nominated for Best Film or anything else — The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — even though it captivated 25 percent of adults at the theater, drawing in $337 million domestically and counting.
Many believe the second- and third-most-watched movies of 2014 by American adults — Guardians of the Galaxy at $333 million (21 percent) and American Sniperat $331 million (14 percent) — were snubbed in the big categories, as well.
It was found that certain movies shined with specific audiences, but sputtered with others.
"Of course, not every movie is for everyone; each film has its target demographic," Barna explains. "So, while Richard Linklater's 12-year project, Boyhood, was most popular among those making more than $100,000 annually (8 percent) and least popular among Millennials (2 percent), Peter Jackson's last instalment of The Hobbit series, The Battle of the Five Armies, drew more evangelicals but fewer with a faith other than Christianity (15 percent compared to 9 percent)."
Barna noted further demographic disparities, as well.
"Some of the widest differences in movie-going habits are, as might be expected, between generations," researchers shared. "For example, while the World War II drama, Fury, drew in seven percent of Boomers and Elders, it only attracted three percent of Millennials. Similarly, the biblical adaptations, Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, appealed more strongly to older crowds: 13 percent of Boomers saw Noah and eight percent saw Exodus: Gods and Kings, while only nine percent and five percent of Millennials saw the two movies, respectively. On the other hand, 15 percent of Millennials saw the controversial comedy The Interview while only 12 percent of Boomers and ten percent of Elders did."
Calling all Christians … and Christian-themed movies
Some Bible-themed movies didn't appeal to practicing Christian adults as much as they did with the general adult audience. Only ten percent of practicing Christians watched Noah ($101 million domestically), compared to 11 percent of all adults, while just six percent of practicing Christians watched Exodus: Gods and Kings ($65 million), next to seven percent of the general adult population.
Christian-themed movies marketed to moviegoers who are primarily believers did well at the box office this year, with Heaven Is for Real ranking 35th in box office receipts for 2014 ($91 million), God's Not Dead coming in 52nd at $61 million and Son of Godin 53rd at $60 million.
And here are five of the 30 movies for 2014 surveyed by Barna that Christian adults watched the most: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 ─ 22 percent; Guardians of the Galaxy ─ 18 percent; Divergent ─ 17 percent; Captain America: The Winter Soldier ─ 17 percent ; and The Lego Movie ─ 16 percent.
In analyzing moviegoer habits, the pollster found that practicing Christians aren't too different than the general American adult audience.
"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," Barna divulged. "Their five most popular movies were like everyone else's five most popular movies (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 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."
Barna broke down the Christian demographic even more specifically. From a group constituting 26 percent of Americans, practicing Christians — those who have attended church within the past month and proclaim their faith to be of great importance in their lives — Barna extracted a smaller group. This subset was labeled evangelicals — those who display a deeper understanding of their faith by ascribing to all of the beliefs practiced by born-again believers — a group that makes up seven percent of the U.S. population.
"Evangelicals' movie preferences are, in general, similar to other Americans," Barna reports. "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 percent compared to 29 percent of the general population)."
What Americans were most likely to have watched last year
Breaking down 30 movies from 2014, here's Barna's breakdown by percentage of U.S. adults 18 and older:
Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 ─ 25 percent
Guardians of the Galaxy ─ 21 percent
Divergent ─ 20 percent
Captain America: The Winter Soldier ─ 18 percent
The Lego Movie ─ 18 percent
Maleficent ─ 17 percent
X-Men: Days of Future Past ─ 16 percent
American Sniper ─ 14 percent
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies ─ 13 percent
Gone Girl ─ 13 percent
The Grand Budapest Hotel ─ 12 percent
How to Train a Dragon 2 ─ 12 percent
The Interview ─ 12 percent
Noah ─ 11 percent
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ─ 10 percent
Unbroken ─ 10 percent
The Fault in Our Stars ─ 9 percent
Exodus: Gods and Kings ─ 7 percent
Fury ─ 6 percent
Interstellar ─ 6 percent
Annie ─ 5 percent
Big Hero 6 ─ 5 percent
Boyhood ─ 5 percent
The Imitation Game ─ 5 percent
Selma ─ 5 percent
Birdman ─ 4 percent
The Theory of Everything ─ 3 percent
Wild ─ 3 percent
Whiplash ─ 2 percent
Inherent Vice ─1 percent
From the list above, Barna made a few general observations.
"It stands to reason then, that the best box-office performers were movies that appealed across generational divides," Barna points out. "When looking at each generation's five most popular movies of 2014, the lists are strikingly similar."
When broken down by age groups, some patterns can be seen with America's top movie choices of 2014.
"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), Barna continued. "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."
More specifically, here's a breakdown of the five most-viewed movies last year by generation:
- Millennials (18-30-year-olds): Divergent ─ 22 percent; Guardians of the Galaxy ─ 21 percent; The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 ─ 19 percent; The Lego Movie ─ 17 percent; X-Men: Days of Future Past ─ 17 percent
- Gen-Xers (31-49-year-olds): The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 ─ 29 percent; Divergent ─ 21 percent; Guardians of the Galaxy ─ 21 percent; Maleficent ─ 20 percent; Captain America: The Winter Soldier ─ 18 percent
- Boomers (50-68-year-olds): The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 ─ 27 percent; Guardians of the Galaxy ─ 20 percent; Captain America: The Winter Soldier ─ 20 percent; The Lego Movie ─ 19 percent; Maleficent ─ 18 percent
- Elders (69 and older): The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 ─ 25 percent; Divergent ─ 24 percent; The Lego Movie ─ 21 percent; Guardians of the Galaxy ─ 20 percent; Captain America: The Winter Soldier ─ 18 percent
The big screen or the flat screen?
As the average price of a movie ticket rises over eight dollars (factoring in matinees and child tickets), with many areas much higher, not to mention 3D and IMAX feature films, many Americans were hitting the nearest Red Box, movie rental or o-screen cable guide to tap into their favorite movies last year.
"While box office sales were down in 2014 — more than five percent below sales in 2013 — Americans still watched movies … but often, they were watching at home," Barna stated. "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."
Correspondingly, the older generation of Americans is the most likely to stick to the creature comforts of their living rooms to enjoy last year's feature films.
"On the other hand, while Elders are one of the groups least likely to have attended a movie in the theatre … they are the group most likely to have watched a movie at home via cable, broadcast or satellite television (on average, Elders watched ten movies this way a year compared to only five among the general population)," Barna added. "Adults watch, on average, six movies via DVD, Blu-Ray or streaming at home (this is highest among Millennials, who say they watch ten movies a year this way)."
Here is a complete look at Barna's rundown, uncovering how many movies various demographic groups watched within the year at home via DVD, Blu-Ray or streaming. The groups are listed by the number of films they view this way per year, from greatest to least: Millennials (10), Gen-Xers (9), Boomers (6) and Elders (3). All adults watched an average of six, while practicing Christians averaged five at-home movies.
A detailed list was also divulged by Barna showing how many movies different groups of American adults viewed in 2014 via cable, broadcast or satellite TV: Boomers (10), Elders (10), Gen-Xers (5), Millennials (3). In this category, all adults viewed an average of five movies per year this way — the same number as practicing Christians.