Faith on the Big Screen and America’s Movie-Going (or Not Going) Habits


The 89th Academy Awards ceremony is around the corner and Damien Chazelle’s romantic comedy-meets-musical La La Land is expected to sweep the field, as it did at last month’s Golden Globes. Past Barna research has shown, however, that even though the Oscars are one of the most-watched events on television, the films that fill theaters don’t often fill trophy shelves. Leading up to Hollywood’s biggest night, Barna’s annual media survey again examines the movie-going (or not going) habits of American adults and their opinions of Hollywood.

Americans Still Go to the Movies (But Prefer That Movies Come to Them)
When it comes to cinema, many Americans still love to get out of the house, grab some popcorn and make a night of it. Two-thirds of American adults (67%) saw at least one movie at the theater during the past year. A plurality saw 1 to 2 movies in a cinema (21%), 16 percent saw 3 to 5, 13 percent saw 6 to 10, 11 percent saw 11 to 20, and a small 5 percent saw 21 films or more at a theater during the past year. Exactly one-third (33%) didn’t make it to a theater at all in 2016, a six percentage point increase from 2015 (27%). But it was mostly the older generations that didn’t make it out. Boomers (48%) and elders (45%) were more likely to stay at home, compared to Gen-Xers (27%) and especially Millennials (18%).

Even though Americans are still hitting the cinema with enthusiasm, it seems the comforts of home are more appealing. American adults watched more movies on either video, DVD, Blu-ray or streaming during the past year than at the theater. And interestingly, the size of each watching group increases with the number of movies watched. For instance, only 7 percent of American adults watched 1 to 2 movies on either video, DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, during the past year, but that doubles (14%) when it comes to 3 to 5 movies. It gradually increases for 6 to 10 movies (16%), and 11 to 20 movies (20%), culminating with 31 percent for 21 or more movies seen in the last year—the largest of any single category.

Another convenience of staying home to catch a flick is the option to watch via cable, broadcast or satellite television. Though this is a less popular form of movie-watching than grabbing a DVD or streaming online, more movies are still watched this way than at the theater. The number of movies watched on cable, broadcast or satellite TV are evenly spread across the spectrum from 1 to 2 movies (12%), 3 to 5 (11%), 6 to 10 (17%), 11 to 20 (18%) and 21+ movies (22%). Finally, one in 5 (20%) didn’t watch any movies on TV channels in 2016.


It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Blockbuster
The comic book and animation franchises top the list of 2016’s most-watched films. The three most popular are based on either Marvel (Deadpool: 37%, Captain America: Civil War: 35%) or DC Comics (Batman vs. Superman: 31%). The next two most-watched are made by Pixar (Finding Dory: 31%) and Disney (Zootopia: 30%). Following closely behind are X-Men: Apocalypse (26%), Jason Bourne (25%), The Secret Life of Pets (24%), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (24%), Suicide Squad (24%) and The Jungle Book (24%). With the exception of Rogue One and Jason Bourne, 9 of the top 11 most-watched movies of the year are either animated or based on comic book characters. Generationally, the most popular movie among Millennials was Deadpool (58%), for Gen-Xers it was Captain America: Civil War (41%), and for Boomers and Elders it was Jason Bourne (27% and 24%).

Films popular among evangelicals include Zootopia (32%), Finding Dory (30%) and Captain America: Civil War (28%). Evangelicals were much less likely to view some of the other favorites among the general population including Deadpool (20% compared to 37% among all adults), Suicide Squad (13% compared to 24% among all adults), X-Men: Apocalypse (9% compared to 26% among all adults) and Batman vs Superman (20% compared to 31% among all adults). They also watched Miracles from Heaven (21% vs 9% among all adults) more than the general population.

As is usually the trend, most-watched films are rarely nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Less than one in 10 adults (9%) have seen this year’s favorite, La La Land. Other nominated films were on par (Hidden Figures: 12%, Arrival: 11%) or less popular than La La Land (Manchester by the Sea: 6%, Moonlight: 5%, Hell or High Water: 5% and Lion: 4%). Though some might argue that the Academy is out of touch with popular taste, the Oscars have never been the People’s Choice awards; the Academy judges tend to nominate films according to critical acclaim, not ticket sales.


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