By Anemone Cerridwen. Research conducted December 2010 to March 2011. Posted July 2012.


One of my biggest concerns since I started taking acting lessons over a decade ago is the way actors are expected to perform sexualized content if it's written into the role. Apparently, we're all supposed to be just fine with it, no matter what it is, or at least fine with the more common forms of it.

Personally, I think it's all sexual harassment. I don't want to do it, and I suspect almost everyone else feels the same way. But if you want the role, you gotta pucker up (or whatever they're asking you to do). Totally illegal in most workplaces. And often, where it is legal, people tend to do a lot of drugs, so legal isn't necessarily the same thing as ok. Plus I can't help but think it has to mess up people's personal lives, especially as they get older and want to settle down in exclusive relationships.

So one of the things I did was file a legal complaint with a human rights tribunal, claiming that sexualized content was sexual harassment. They rejected my complaint, saying I could always choose other roles. Oh, really?

The Question

Can you always choose other roles? To what extent? Does it depend on whether you're male or female?

To be more specific: Are there sex differences in the number of roles available with sexualized content in them? Are there sex differences in the amount of sexualized content in each role? Do men and women have an equal chance to choose non-sexualized work if they wish to? And if you want to choose other kinds of roles, what are the odds of your being able to?

Note that this study in and of itself is not a judgement of sexualized content, just a question: how much is there for each sex? First you collect data, then you pass judgement on what it tells you.

The Study

What I did was take the top five grossing films from 2001-2005 for each category of Sex/Nudity as rated by Screenit!: None, Minor, Mild, Moderate, Heavy, and Extreme. Since most films are in the final three categories with respect to sexualized content, this sample is biased in favour of films that are less sexualized than normal. Selecting a more representative sample of films (compared to the actual proportions of films released in each category) might change the results.

I also limited myself to live action films.

I counted acts of touch, and categorized them as sexualized (not legal with a five-year-old) and non sexualized (legal with a five-year-old). I also kept track of sexualized or romantic dialogue and other content that wasn't actual touching or verbalization (e.g. looks), and dress. Basically anything that might make someone uncomfortable, in any kind of workplace, including touch that would not qualify as sexual harassment, but might still bother some people. (I added non-sexualized touch after I saw Boromir ruffle Frodo's hair. I'd HATE to have anyone do that to me.) I didn't include people carrying very small children who needed to be carried. I also didn't include simple handshakes, since that's office conduct, and we're all supposed to be used to it. (Though it might make some people uncomfortable.)

I watched each film once to see what it was about (if I hadn't seen it already), then at least twice (as many times as needed), counting events. Then I watched the film with the commentary and the DVD extras, to see if that added to my data. In total I watched each film from 3 to 8 times, plus in addition sometimes repeating individual scenes many times per viewing. Can you tell I had time on my hands? I included deleted scenes, since my concern is what's in the job description rather than what audiences end up seeing. I also rated the extended versions of the three Lord of the Rings films at the very end, after rating the theatrical releases earlier on.

The Films

FilmYearScreenit! Sex/NudityMPAA RatingBox Office*Order Rated in Study
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone2001NonePG$317,575,5505
LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring2001NonePG-13$314,776,1141
LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring - Extended edition2001NonePG-13$314,776,11433
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets2002NonePG$261,988,4827
War of the Worlds2005NonePG-13$234,280,35416
The Santa Clause 22002NoneG$139,225,85421
LOTR: Return of the King2003MinorPG-13$377,027,32523
LOTR: Return of the King - Extended edition2003MinorPG-13$377,027,32532
The Passion of the Christ2004MinorR$370,614,21024
LOTR: The Two Towers2002MinorPG-13$340,478,89810
LOTR: The Two Towers - Extended edition2002MinorPG-13$340,478,89831
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe2005MinorPG$291,709,84519
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban2004MinorPG$249,358,7272
Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith2005MildPG-13$380,262,5553
Spider-Man 22004MildPG-13$373,585,82528
Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones2002MildPG$310,675,5839
Pirates of the Caribbean2003MildPG-13$305,388,6856
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory2005MildPG$206,456,43112
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire2005ModeratePG-13$289,994,3978
Bruce Almighty2003ModeratePG-13$242,829,26115
My Big Fat Greek Wedding2002ModeratePG$241,437,42729
King Kong2005ModeratePG-13$218,080,02530
The Matrix Reloaded2003HeavyR$281,492,4794
Rush Hour 22001HeavyPG-13$226,138,45422
X2: X-Men United2003HeavyPG-13$214,948,78011
Austin Powers in Goldmember2002HeavyPG-13$213,079,16313
Mr & Mrs Smith2005HeavyPG-13$186,336,10318
Meet the Fockers2004ExtremePG-13$279,167,57520
Wedding Crashers2005ExtremeR$209,218,36826
The Longest Yard2005ExtremePG-13$158,115,03127
American Pie 22001ExtremeR$145,103,59514
Bad Boys II2003ExtremeR$138,396,62417

*Box office is worldwide, not adjusted for inflation, downloaded 2007.

My Results

Summary data

Summary charts

I have not analyzed the data further than by sex. For example, I could have looked at age x sex interactions (adults interacting with adults, adults interacting with minors, minors interacting with minors, taking sex/gender into account), but I wasn't that keen. If anyone wants to, and wants to be linked here or have your results posted here, you're more than welcome to.

Your Turn Now?

This study took me three months full time. I would never ask anyone to repeat what I've done. (I got very tired by the end, and it was a while before I stopped automatically counting events when watching movies for fun.) But on the other hand, if anyone wanted to repeat this study, using their own criteria for everything, then we could calculate an inter-rater reliability quotient and see whether it makes any difference who the rater is and what criteria are used. As long as you use consistent criteria throughout, and we compare summary data, it shouldn't matter exactly what your criteria are. But it might. You never know.

So if you have as much time to kill as I did (on disability? in a hip cast even?) feel free to have a go at it and send me your results.

Even if no one has the time to replicate what I've done, I welcome practical comments on methodology and results.

Also, if anyone really really really wants an interactive version of my data, so they can update it, argue about it with each other, etc. etc., let me know, with suggestions as to how it could be set up. As it is now, the data is static, but I could set up an interactive version if people are really really keen.


Where I didn't know who did what, I often listed them below the credits rather than guessing who was who, but sometimes I guessed. Since I didn't count the ones not in the credits as cast, it doesn't really change anything. The credits are as they were when I originally downloaded them from IMDb in 2007. Some lists have probably changed since then.

I would probably have rated the earlier rated films a lot harder if I had rated them later on, and yes I made mistakes, but I was too tired to go back and redo anything. Also, I sometimes didn't include roles that were just voice in the count, but I may not have been consistent here. I doubt it makes much difference, given how many films I rated. See charts for the cumulative means in different orders to see what I mean.