LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A good laugh is most important, sex is OK and gun-blazing violence is usually a turnoff, according to a study released on Wednesday on what audiences find most appealing in films and television shows.
The report, issued by the nonprofit Entertainment Industries Council, ranked humor as the single most important factor for audiences, with 83 percent of those polled saying comedy would "make me want to see a movie/TV show more."
Special effects and "adventure" ranked second and third, respectively, with at least 75 percent of respondents saying each of those factors would draw them to a movie or TV show.
Sex and romance -- listed together -- fell near the middle of the pack, regarded as a plus by 55 percent of those polled, and gun violence was dead last, with only 19 percent saying they were lured by the spectacle of Hollywood firepower. Violence in general was favored by just 21 percent.
By contrast, gun violence ranked No. 1 among factors that respondents most often said would prompt them to avoid a movie or TV show -- 44 percent.
Council research director Barbara Demming Lurie said she was surprised by the findings, based on a random Internet sample of 462 people, in light of the widely held perception that on-screen gunfire translates into box office success.
"Though some in the industry may see guns as audience magnets, just the opposite seems to be the case," Lurie said. "Given the prevalence (of gun violence) on screen, you would think there would be some kind of driving need out there. But we didn't find it."
GLADIATOR: GORE BUT NO GUNS
The survey was conducted in June by ASI Entertainment, an audience-based research firm, Lurie said. She added that recent box office trends and TV ratings suggest audiences were growing weary of bullet-slinging content even before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Of the 20 biggest-grossing films of last year, only three -- "Mission Impossible 2," "Traffic" and "The Patriot" -- featured heavy doses of gun violence. That's not counting one of the bloodiest but most successful films of the year, "Gladiator," which showed plenty of Roman-era combat but no guns. The top-grossing film of 2000 was "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas."
Movie executive Tom Sherak, a partner with former Disney film chief Joe Roth in Revolution Studios, said movies with broad, family appeal have always sold better overall than R-rated fare. But he said context mattered, too.
"Tell me why 'Training Day' did so much better than 'Serendipity,"' he said, contrasting the crime drama starring Denzel Washington as a crooked cop with the romantic comedy starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. "There was something in 'Training Day' ... that everyone wanted to see."
On television, depictions of graphic violence today pale in comparison to gun-related gore that was prevalent in westerns and cop shows 20 or 30 years ago.
Even the most popular present-day crime shows -- "Law & Order," "CSI," "NYPD Blue" -- deal mostly with the aftermath of violence. And the most highly rated programs of last season were "Survivor: The Australian Outback," hospital drama "ER," the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and sitcom "Friends."
Lurie predicted the popularity of screen violence would diminish further in the wake of Sept. 11. "It would seem to me that you would view violence on the screen a little differently now, knowing your not just a spectator any more," she said.