A Clear Divide Between Decades: My Monroe Research Summary

Monroe Favs 1

Over the course of two months, from July to August of this summer, I have watched twenty-four of the most recognizable R-rated movies since the MPAA officially began the current rating system in 1968. From Martin Scorsese to Marlon Brando to Leonardo DiCaprio to Quentin Tarantino, the best actors and directors in recent memory were on full display, and with their presence came plenty of adult content. The conclusions drawn from the data gathered in this research project has plenty of implications for the progression of American culture in regards to violence and sexuality, and these will be reflected upon here.

Beginning with the raw data itself, the amount of adult content on average per movie increased from every decade between the 1960s and the 2000s, but the 2010s came in just below the record the 2000s set. The 1960s movies had 33.5 instances of adult content per movie, the 70s 63.25, the 80s 160.5, the 90s 169.25, the 2000s 210.5, and the 2010s 181.25. The chart immediately below shows the totals from each decade compared to one another, with the 2000s clearly the most adult.

Monroe Summary Chart

All of this data is good, but what exactly does it mean? Well, I think that observing the trends in how adult R-rated movies are can shed some light on how much the American public has been desensitized to disturbing content, such as violence and nudity. The gradual growth in adult content per movie until the 2010s suggests that as the decades moved on, production companies were more and more comfortable with putting adult content in each and every scene of a movie, whether it be a man getting his head chainsawed open in Scarface or Leonardo DiCaprio getting mauled by a bear in The Revenant. American audiences have always been intrigued by the forbidden and the taboo, but as time has moved on, movies have been more and more willing to show these things explicitly on the screen.

One of the most interesting changes in R-rated movies over time is the drastic increase in profanity in the 1980s. Until then, movies used profanity, but only sparingly in an attempt to create emphasis. As soon as Scarface hit in the early 80s, though, a virtual floodgate was opened in regards to how much profanity could be used in a film tastefully. Movies like Pulp Fiction and The Departed took note from this shift decades later in crafting a convincing narrative that was lent realism in its use of excessive profanity. This trend continued all the way until the present, with the lack of cursing in the movie Silence coming off as an oddity rather than the norm.

In total, watching all twenty-four of these movies over the course of this research project has shown a steady increase of adult content from decade to decade until the 2010s, where the amount of disturbing thematic material appears to have leveled off for the time being. Audiences have clearly welcomed more and more adult content in their R-rated movies as society has pushed the boundaries of normalcy since the MPAA ratings system was put into place. At a certain point, it evens becomes a question of whether an R-rated movie from 1968 deserved to be rated the same as an R-rated movie from 2012, but that decision is left up to the regulators of the ratings system. Regardless, there has been clear and demonstrated change in the content Americans have been consuming in their movie theaters since the late 1960s, and that change is worth noting and observing in the future.

Monroe Favs 2

Citations for Favorite Movie Posters

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12289024

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6703024

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12815442

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1480395


By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37621891


  1. bchristenson says:


    Due to time constraints, you could not watch all R-rated movies. How confident do you feel that the sampling of movies that you chose accurately reflects general trends in R-rated movies? For instance, while the overall adult content of the 2010s is lower, its violence is the highest of any period by a margin. Did you take any time during your research to examine the proportions of each category in regards to the total amount of adult content? Do you credit that jump to Django and The Revenant, or is that emblematic of the decade as a whole? All in all, while the results aren’t necessarily a shock, seeing them laid out is fascinating. Thank you for all of your hard work.


  2. sdevignierawad says:


    I completely understand the questions raised due to the time constraints of the project and the summer, and ideally many more movies would have been watched. However, by combining the top grossing and top critically acclaimed movies of each decade, I feel that this is the best litmus test I could do to find the films that the most people observed and remembered over the years. I took time to comment on the rise in profanity over the years, but I do think that there is plenty of credence to your observation on the rapid rise of violence in the 2010s. Despite there being two movies in that decade that inflated those numbers, I think it is definitely a point to be made that those two movies were some of the defining ones of the past several years, and that could have further contributed to this American desensitization to violence. Thanks for the questions and comments!


  3. mcblottner says:


    To further your research, it would be really interesting if you compared the top grossing American movies to the top movies internationally. Especially for the categories of sex/nudity, I think the trends of European films versus American films would be very different and that would be interesting to compare.

    Also, I wonder if looking at PG13 movies in the future would be a good next step for your research. The MPAA is not clear on what specifically separates PG13 and R, but since your focus is on desensitization, looking at movies that reach a broader population of the US is a good way to go… seeing what they let slide (ex: Dark Knight was universally considered to be pretty intense, but it still made PG13).

    If Rated R basically is a limitless field where you can depict what you want to a certain extent, then seeing what makes PG13 is giving you the ceiling to what American’s tolerate/what is considered more socially acceptable for more of the population to enjoy. PG13 films made about double the money R films did in 2015.* Directors can go through an appeals process with the MPAA to lower their rating to something more desirable (so, usually moving their films from R to PG13). Therefore, since more consumers see PG13 films and since it represents a ceiling of what the MPAA deems appropriate for basically the general public (excluding little kids), I think PG13 analysis would give you robust data on desensitization over the decades.


  4. Sam,
    I think this is a great project as it documents the evolution of our movie tastes across recent history. I agree that the media’s role in teaching violence to children and desensitizing society at large cannot be overlooked. To what extent though, do you think the trends you’ve identified are a result of changes in society causing changes in Hollywood versus the other way around?

    Economically speaking, producers need to create a product that will appeal to the public enough to be profitable. I’d imagine there’s pressure to conform to expectations. For example, would an action movie today with levels of violence comparable to that of earlier generations be rejected by audience members? With our ever-improving special effects, something like would be laughable, not just in presentation, but in substance.

    I think the contrast between the Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and the Magnificent Seven is interesting. Generally, they both center around a western town facing a hostile takeover of lawlessness. The situation is presented quite differently though. In the former, much more weight is given to the characters than the violence while the opposite is true with the latter. I certainly see the short-term appeal of violence, sex, and vulgarity, but can’t help but wonder if our insatiable appetite for flash-in-the-pan drama deprives us of deeper, more thought-provoking fills. Granted, there’s a time and place for all types of films, but do you think the glut of violence is indicative of an environment out of balance?