Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 35° Cloudy
News >  Features

Potential Gold

Success of ‘Minions’ might convince Hollywood to consider making more PG-rated movies

Scarlet Overkill, voiced by Sandra Bullock, second left, appears with minions Stuart, left, Kevin and Bob, right, in a scene from the animated feature “Minions.”
Scarlet Overkill, voiced by Sandra Bullock, second left, appears with minions Stuart, left, Kevin and Bob, right, in a scene from the animated feature “Minions.”
Steven Zeitchik Los Angeles Times

The box office success of “Minions” this weekend – with a $115 million total and a $27,000 per-screen average, the “Despicable Me” offshoot had one of the most successful animated openings of all time – is attributable to a number of factors.

On screen, it’s the recognizability quotient and the jibber-jabber charm of its main characters. In theaters it’s the diverse demographics, not least that, as Universal noted in its weekend box-office update, more than 40 percent of its opening weekend audience was Latino or African-American.

And of course as an animated movie, “Minions” gave family audiences another strong option now that “Inside Out” is on the downslope of its run.

But “Minions” also came with another tag that may prove more durable than modern Hollywood tends to believe: the PG rating.

The PG rating has fallen on hard times in recent years. A study a few years ago showed that studios in the current era make about double the number of PG-13 movies as they do PG. And those that are made don’t tend to rake in as much money as their more strictly rated counterparts.

A glance at the year-end box office top five shows just one PG movie last year. In 2013 there were two. In 2012 and 2011 and there were zero. In fact you have to go 13 years back to find the last time the majority of the year-end top five was comprised of PG- (or G-) rated movies.

This year could continue that trend, as prototypically PG-13 movies like “Jurassic World” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” – you know, violence, but not so much that we won’t let in unaccompanied teenagers – continue to dominate. Studios make a simple calculation: An old-fashioned PG movie isn’t going to bring in older teenagers, a key constituency in today’s moviegoing climate. And filmmakers of darker material like “The Hunger Games” and latter-day “Harry Potter” films want to make sure they can get some violence in too. So the PG becomes as forgotten as One-Eyed Willie’s treasure.

At the same time, studios fear the dreaded R, which is perceived as an automatic ceiling on a summer or holiday action-adventure. So the PG-13 – initially conceived as a rather narrow strip of middle ground between the soft- and the hard-core – is now the go-to territory.

But as movies like “Minions” and “Inside Out” – animated, yes, but also PG in that throwback sense of holding appeal for adults – perform well, it shows that there’s plenty of potency for those movies too. “Inside Out” and “Minions” have at least a shot of ending up on the year-end top five. Even if they don’t, they’ll have performed whoppingly well. At $200 million in domestic ticket sales, the live-action “Cinderella,” currently in the top five, proved solid in its own right. (OK, “Tomorrowland” didn’t work, but they can’t all be winners.)

“Star Wars,” which received a splashy promotion at Comic-Con over the weekend, is the biggest open question. It will certainly be one of the highest-grossing movies of the year. Will it do so as a PG film? Five of the previous six “Star Wars” installments were PG. The first three, admittedly, were in a pre-PG-13 era. But two that followed were PG. By 2005, “Revenge of the Sith” had evolved to fit the PG-13 vogue – but, critically, it grossed less than the PG “The Phantom Menace.”

Where culture-war topics are concerned, sometimes it’s hard to see the facts through the gunshot smoke. Contrary to what some conservative groups like to argue, the argument for more family films I’ve always felt is not simply a matter of quantity. If that were the case, movies like “Max” and “McFarland, USA” would be blockbusters instead of down-the-chart wobblers.

And the proposition that movies have grown startlingly more violent or risque and thus led a problematic cultural trend-often the point that accompanies the argument for more PG movies-also feels like it elides the question. For one thing, it may not be true. Among the most successful films of 1980, to pick one long-ago year at random, were “Blue Lagoon,” “Private Benjamin,” “The Blues Brothers” and “The Shining” – hardly material for the whole family. And even if it is, that may be as much about Hollywood shifting to meet society’s appetites as the other way around.

But there’s a powerful argument for PG movies that goes beyond the culture-wars issue – they’re often better. Sure, it’s nice to have freedom of language, sex and violence, and some of our best movies have plenty of all three. But making a good PG movie can actually be harder to do. Some of the best films are born of strictures and restraint; they’re the result of not being able to immediately lean on screen-shattering violence or the most ribald joke you can find. “Back to the Future” is one of the great action-adventures of all time because it told a story that had to rely fully on the power of its character and story. A modern remake would no doubt ensure there were at least four broad incest jokes and that Biff takes a gun to the school dance. And the movie would be the worse for it.

Later this year Sony will try its hand at the big PG movie with the literary adaptation “Goosebumps,” a kind of “Amblin”-spirited film about a group of young people on a monster-quashing adventure. Disney is ramping up live-action PG movies such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Jungle Book.” There are other efforts too.

Hollywood won’t stop making PG-13 comic book movies or YA adaptations any time soon. But “Minions” is the latest to prove that PG can work. More of those films – outside animation – might make the same case.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.