How To Sell Sex In The Movies

The spectacular flop of Love And Other Drugs has led several commentators to wonder whether sex still sells. But maybe it's just bad marketing that doesn't sell. Just look at Black Swan.

Watching Black Swan in a sold-out theater this weekend, I looked around and saw a relatively unusual mix of demographics — age, gender, race — for a movie that I'd understood to be about, well, ballet and Oscar-bait psychodrama (and some cool Jews for those of us who pay attention to that stuff). And indeed, two hours later, one guy looked up at the rest of the audience and asked, audibly, "Now who can explain that to me?" (Everyone laughed, but no one appeared to give an answer.)

And indeed, the film has surpassed box office expectations, with an executive saying, "What's been a very pleasant surprise is that is seems to be resonating with a broader audience so early."

Watching the promotions for the movie, you could believe the movie is anything you want it to be — and even more importantly, you wouldn't necessarily be misled. (And yeah, we know they're all over this site too — we have nothing to do with that, editorially speaking.) There's the TV spot that makes it seem like the movie is about the sexy, danger-inflected rivalry between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis's characters, or Kunis's stalking Portman in a very sexy way. (It aired during Gossip Girl and doesn't appear to be online in exact form, but this is close enough.) You'd see almost no ballet, by the way, in a movie with plenty of it.

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There are other ones that play up the horror angle, like this one (with some sexiness still in there).

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Whatever you think it's "about," there's lots of sexual stuff in the movie, some of it pretty explicit (though not compared to Love And Other Drugs' male and female nudity). But the conventional wisdom, as described in The Independent today, indicates that women don't like that:

In truth, explicit sexual content is guaranteed to appeal to only one quadrant: young men. For everyone else, it can actually be a turn-off. Studios build their slates around big-budget "tent-pole" films that appeal to every variety of moviegoer. No movie mogul with their eye on the bottom line is going to take a risk on an adult sexual drama when they can make the sexless Twilight or Avatar instead.

Wait, what about the USB plugging in Avatar? That was hot.

And New York's Daily Intel earlier take, which The Independent appears to have cribbed from:

Still, women rejected the equal-opportunity Love and Other Drugs, and it may be for the same reason that the female-targeted (and woman-directed) Jennifer's Body flopped last year: Movies that hard-sell the female lead's sex appeal are a turnoff to many women.

Actually, most people, including Diablo Cody, think jennifer's Body flopped because it marketed one thing but actually was another. And according to The Hollywood Reporter, the movie has "been playing to audiences skewing about 55% female. 'We keep hearing anecdotally about women who have seen it two or three times already,'" said the Fox Searchlight exec.

Contrast that with Love And Other Drugs, which this trailer makes look like a mushy romantic comedy where Anne Hathaway can reform a womanizer just by being charming. It's confusing when every single promotional appearance the actors made was trumpeting how NAKED, NAKED, NAKED they were in the movie, having SEX, SEX, and more SEX.

Or maybe it was just a bad movie. Not that that every stopped a movie from selling before.

In any case, it's obvious people won't go see a movie just because it has sex in it, because we can see famous people naked on the Internet anytime we want. But they might go if it looks good, has other stuff like arty horror and good acting. And has sex in it.

P.S. Don't scroll down if you have a particularly prudish workplace but... Why didn't we see more of this when the movie was being sold? Just saying. (And yes, you may click to enlarge!)

How To Sell Sex In The Movies

Update Okay, maybe it's not real — our bad! But here's an investigation on a screenshot of his penis instead.

Been There, Seen That: Does Sex Still Sell Movies? [Independent]
How 'Black Swan' Suddenly Became a Best Picture Contender [THR]
Black Swan Continues Phenomenal Run [IndieWire]
When It Comes To R-Rated Movies, Does Sex Still Sell? [NYM]