K & M Commentary: The Death of Family Friendly Films

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The Death of Family Friendly Films

This isn’t intended to be an iron-fisted judgment of modern cinema. Nor is this meant to be a rousing call to start a grass roots campaign against Hollywood. But I suppose you could call this a critique of a trend that has been going on for years now in motion pictures. It’s something that has been gnawing at me for years and it seems to be only getting worse. It’s the death of family friendly films.

Now I specifically use the words ‘family-friendly films’ for a reason. I’m not strictly speaking about cartoons or animated features that are intended mainly for kids. Hollywood puts out several of these “kids” movies every year. I’m talking about quality movies that your whole family can either watch or at least be in the same room as you watch them. Hollywood has firmly embraced the idea that “mature” content is a key ingredient to a good film. Even more, if you look at a good chunk of the stuff that comes out these days, you’ll see that adding “mature” content seems just as important as smart writing, good scripts, and sharp direction. In many instances no thought is ever given to the content’s necessity while other times “mature” content is used more as a crutch or a gimmick.

Now there’s certainly room to debate the merits of nudity, overloads of profanity, and over-the-top graphic violence. I think a good question could be asked concerning the effects if any that this content has on storytelling. But that’s not what this is about. I’m just asking Hollywood to consider that there are ways to make movies that are high in quality, not watered down, and extremely effective. Movies that may not appeal to every age group but at least there’s no fear of having kids (and movie buffs of the future) see or hear what you’re watching. I’m not closing any doors on movies that want to use “mature” content. But there is a broader audience out there that modern Hollywood seems to care little about.

The perplexing thing is that it can easily be done. For decades studios made movies that varied in suitability but without graphic or profane content. Don’t believe me? Just watch Turner Classic Movies, the only movie channel that I can leave on and not fear for my children walking in. Some of the greatest films of all time were able to focus more on good scripts and good storytelling and the results were fantastic films that weren’t kiddie pictures but true classics. Talk about an extreme rarity these days.

I have a young son who recognizes my love for movies so he wants to share that. It’s so sad that he doesn’t get to enjoy the vast majority of movies that hit the big screens today. The big question for me is why? Why has this trend taken such a hold on Hollywood? Does it say something about the moral compass of Hollywood? Does it say something about us, the audiences, who funnel our money to support some of these films while never demanding variety or anything different. Without hurling accusations I believe there is some sad commentary at the root of this. And whether or not things will get better in this regard I don’t know. But the fact that there is little outcry over this is a pretty telling tale in itself.

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27 thoughts on “K & M Commentary: The Death of Family Friendly Films

  1. Incredible essay, Keith. Very precise, thought provoking and sincere. Your last paragraph sums up your point nicely. I think this downward trend is indeed a moral compass to which Hollywood should be judged by. They think that younger audiences are as mature, savvy and sophisticated as adult viewers and that is simply not the case. I love watching family friendly movies with my teenagers and when we do they never complain that it’s boring, needs curse words or gun-play or even violence. Great essay, man! I applaud you on this one!

    • I really appreciate it. It’s something that has been boiling inside of me for some time. It’s amazing how few movies today can be watched with your whole family in the same room (even if the kids aren’t watching it). But so many tremendous movies have been made in past years without needing the crutch of “mature” content. Many of them may have been mature in terms of subject matter but not really content. For example, tonight my wife and I watched “The Seven Year Itch”. It’s certainly a sexy and risqué movie, but it’s nothing like what would be put out there today.

    • I guess my main point is that its in almost EVERYTHING with the exception of animated features and a small handful of films such as Oz, etc. I think back to brilliant films such as Casablanca, The Philadelphia Story, The Longest Day, High Noon, etc. etc. etc. They never needed the crutch of “mature” content. I would think maybe we could get at least a few more of these types of movies today.

  2. Great post, Keith, very thought-provoking indeed! I know what you mean – when films were more heavily censored, writers knew they had to rely on the plot to make a good film. Now many just get away with brainless violence and sex and think that’s enough…that’s not to say I don’t appreciated these things in context, and I do have a gaudy love of exploitation cinema, but my truly favorite films are the older, family-safe films.

    • You make a great point. There was a time where filmmakers had to rely on smart and original writing a lot more than today. These days there are hardly any options. So many times we have to wait until late at night when the kids are in bed to watch anything. Even more annoying is having to tell my kids they can’t watch a movie after its trailer has really caught their eye. Its looks like something they could potentially see but when it comes out the content rules them out. It’s frustrating!

      • I can imagine – you just want to enjoy these great things with your kids! I do remember wanting to watch certain films when I was younger and my parents used to watch them first then decide if it was suitable, despite the rating…eg – they let me watch Evil Dead when I was 13 because they thought I’d be ok with it, but didn’t let me watch A Clockwork Orange, and they were right I guess! 🙂

  3. Really interesting post Keith and it raises some good questions. Georgina made a good point in that there simply aren’t the restrictions on filmmaking that there used to be. And, to be honest, I think most filmmakers would, if given the option, make an adult orientated film.
    I guess it also depends on what you consider appropriate. Some may feel that The Dark Knight Trilogy is fine for their kids but others may think it isn’t. You do make a fair point though Keith. I’m trying to think of some good family films and I can’t remember many recently.

    • But I would then throw out the question what is an “adult oriented film”? By today’s standard “adult” is equated more to profanity, nudity, and graphic violence and not necessarily the subject matter.

      I’m not looking at this as a call for restrictions or for going back under the code. I think the problem is more deeply rooted than that. Filmmakers don’t want to make films like Citizen Kane or Vertigo any longer. Those aren’t films aimed at families per se but they are films that I can at least watch with my kids in the room. Even more, they are tremendous movies.

      • No that’s a very good point. Films such as Kane and Vertigo aren’t made anymore, which is a real shame. It could be due to filmmakers feeling they have to do something a little outlandish in order to get noticed. Studios might try and force a certain amount of violence and sex into films to drum up some buzz about it. I don’t know whether studios have decided that most of the money lies in either kids’ films or adults’ films, but there is definitely a dearth of these family friendly films.

  4. Excellent commentary, Keith. I totally agree and it frustrates me at times too. I do think it says something about the moral compass of Hollywood, but it also says what Hollywood thinks we want in a movie. They’ve become positive that the mature stuff will draw a crowd and it does. Unfortunately, I have serious doubts that we’ll ever see a revival of family-friendly movies.

    • Thanks for the great comments. I’m afraid you’re right. I don’t see a change anytime soon. In fact it looks as if things have gotten worse. I think a lot has to with Hollywood’s moral compass but a lot also has to do with ticket sales. That’s even sadder.

  5. Every movie is child friendly if you don’t care. 😛

    Honestly, this is a great post. I have no children, but I’ve noticed a lack of good family-friendly films. I have no issue with nudity, profanity, etc. but that’s only if the film seems to merit it. Movies nowadays have perfectly accessible stories and are for the most part fine, but then out of no where there’s a random sex scene. That’s just an example, but I think I made my point.

    There are some movies that can be violent or overly sexualized, but PG-13 have gotten oddly more mature.

    • Fantastic point about PG-13 movies. They have stretched that rating so far that it means practically nothing. So many things fall under the PG-13 banner and much of it could easily slip into R territory.

      Thanks for the great contribution Austin!

  6. I read your commentary and then went back and looked at the films I saw in the last year. With the exception of animated fare, there is not much that is family friendly. Romantic comedies are not going to be much interest to pre-teens and most of the action films are adult oriented. One film did stand out and it is unfortunate that it was a financial disaster because that outcome will discourage other studios from making family oriented adventure films (John Carter). The comic book movies are fine for older kids and as a family outing they might suffice, although some of them get a little dark. When my kids were young I took them to see “10 Things I hate about You”, and “Galaxy Quest”. Since the end of the Harry Potter series, there is not much targeted at families. The goal now seems to be to shoot for PG-13, that makes it hip enough for the older kids and parents may not be discriminating enough to follow that designation as closely as they could. I do think there are a couple films in the market right now that fit the bill, “Oz” and “The Croods”, but this segment is under served. I suppose it is a combination of competition from video games, straight to video sequels, and cable programming. That middle area just gets squeezed. TCM rules, but in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.

    • “but in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.” Amen to that! You hit the nail on the head several times. I just don’t see any change in the near future. There are some PG-13 films that I do feel comfortable letting my kids watch even though most of them have dashes of “mature” content. But there are other PG-13 pictures that would been given an R rating just a few years ago. And 99.9% of all films with more mature subject matter is automatically going to include profanity, nudity, or graphic violence. Sad but true.

  7. I watched truly horrifying films at a ridiculously young age and loved it 😀

    Age ratings are all over the place though and I think its important to give people a good variety and warning of content 😀

  8. Clap, clap, clap! GREAT post, Keith. I LOVE this K & M Commentary series and that banner you’ve got up there. Very nice. I wholeheartedly agree with you that Hollywood doesn’t seem to be interested in creating G-rated family films anymore. Imagine that Gone with the Wind AND Ben Hur are both rated G, and come to think of it, though the subject matter might be dark, I’d think the whole family could enjoy them.

    It’s really too bad that films are getting more shockingly dark and violent and that’s what makes the big bucks 😦

    • Thanks Ruth! I appreciate the kind words. It seems like G and PG rated movies are immediately linked to children these days. Hollywood seems to have forgotten all of the classics that were able to tell incredible stories without the excessive content.

      Again this isn’t an indictment on the existence of movies with “mature” content. But why can’t we have some options? And why does Hollywood steer clear of giving us quality films minus profanity, nudity, etc? The past shows us that it can be done, right? 😉

      • Exactly. It CAN be done if they want to do it. It’s so hard to find movies that don’t have explicit language these days, which is too bad. It seems that *goodness* just doesn’t sell, so that perhaps speaks more about us the moviegoers than the sellers (Hollywood) 😦

  9. I’m not a parent, but if I was, I’d like to think I would be an effective enough parent so that every film would be family friendly. Regardless of what others feel or think is appropriate for family viewing.

    • I wish it were so simple. Unfortunately the vast majority of films feature too much “mature” content to even be on while my two young kids are in the same part of the house. It’s become so prevalent that I’ve come to expect it. I also grow tired of having to tell my young son who would love to dive into movies like I do that regardless of how cool the trailer looks he can’t watch it.

      • I understand. I guess I had an unique upbringing. When I was a young child, maybe 7 or 8, my dad would routinely take my brother and I to the local cinema to see whatever was popular at the time, whether that be E.T. or Pinocchio, First Blood or The Terminator. I suppose that sounds like appalling and irresponsible parenting, but the movies we watched didn’t have any adverse affect on our growing up, in fact, I’m pretty sure if things were different, I wouldn’t be as much of a film lover today.

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