Scary Sex: The Effect of Sexual Content on the Success of Horror Films

Published on October 15th, 2013 by bchristy. Filed under Film & Movies

What is a good horror movie without a sex scene and a sexually repressed psychopath? The juxtaposition of sex and violence has such a connection with the horror film that the two almost seem inseparable. This study investigates whether there is a true statistical relationship between the amount of sexual content in the contemporary horror film and its domestic box office profit. In other words, this study tests whether sex sells horror films today. Considering the success of past films like Psycho and Friday the 13th and the increase in sexuality in films over the last few decades, it was expected that there would be at least a weak positive correlation between the amount of sexual content in a horror movie and its success in the box office (“Ratings Creep”).

In order to test the correlation between sexual content in horror films and their success in the box office, quantitative measures needed to be established for the qualitative variables. Sexual content was measured through ratings on, a website that allows members to rate the amount of nudity and sex in a movie on a scale of zero to ten.  This was more reasonable quantitative measure of sexual content than ratings from the Motion Picture Association of America, since most horror movies probably have an R-Rating from the MPAA due to violence and instances of terror. Film success was measured by each film’s domestic box office profit. Calculating profit rather than just revenue would allow for differences in film budgets and as a result make comparisons of success more accurate. A sample was collected of 48 American horror films released in the past five years. The movies chosen exemplify all subgenres of horror, such as period, slasher, and supernatural. Profit was calculated by finding the difference between the estimated production budget and domestic box office revenues, both reported on

The next step was analysis. The relationship between sexual content and film success was examined through a linear regression, which involves arranging the pairs of sex ratings and profits into a points on a graph and finding a straight line that minimizes the squared difference between the points and the line. The r-value or slope of this straight line reflects the amount of correlation, if any, between the independent and dependent variables. The graph below demonstrates the results of the linear regression, with each data point representing a horror film and the line showing a prediction of the relationship between sex and profit based on the given data.

As represented by the best fit line in the graph above, the r-value between sexual content and profit is approximately 0.09 out of a possible 1, meaning that there is almost no correlation between the two. In other words, the amount of nudity and sexual subject matter has virtually no effect on a horror film’s profits in the US.

Although unexpected, the results of the study lead to several logical conclusions. First, so many factors in a movie’s production contribute to its overall quality that it is too simple to attribute so much weight to its amount of nudity and innuendo. In fact, an excessive amount of nudity and sexual content can even cause potential audiences to perceive the horror film as low-budget and low quality, causing profits to fall (“Does Sex Sell Movies?”). Nudity and graphic violence that are now commonplace in every form of entertainment from television to video games were novel in the early days of the slasher film in the 1970s (“Sex and Violence”). It is also important to keep two facts in mind: only very recent films were studied, and the regression analysis concluded that there is no correlation rather than a negative one. This suggests that audiences may have become desensitized to sex on the screen. Having lost its shock value, sex does not sell horror movies today.


France, Lisa. "Does Sex Sell Movies?" CNN. Cable News Network, 30 Dec. 2009. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.

"Study Finds 'Ratings Creep'" Harvard School of Public Health. N.p., 13 July 2004. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.

Welsh, Andrew. Sex and Violence in the Slasher Horror Film: A Content Analysis of Gender Differences in the Depiction of 

        Violence. University of New York at Albany. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.


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