To determine the extent to which movies popular with adolescents feature characters who jointly engage in violence and other risk behaviors. We hypothesized that violent characters engage in other risk behaviors equally often in films rated appropriate for children over 12 (PG-13) and Restricted (R)-rated films.
Content analysis of a sample of top-grossing movies from 1985 to 2010 (n = 390). We coded movies for the presence of at least 1 main character who was involved in violence and either sex, tobacco, or alcohol use within a 5-minute movie segment and throughout a film.
Approximately 90% of the movies contained a segment with a main character involved in violence, and ∼77% of the films had the same character engaging in at least 1 other risk behavior. A violent character was portrayed most often partaking in alcohol-related and sexual behaviors. G and PG movies had less co-occurrence than PG-13 or R-rated movies, but there was no statistical difference between PG-13 and R-rated movies with regards to violence co-occurring with other risk behaviors. These trends did not vary over time.
Popular films that contain violent characters also show those characters engaging in other risk behaviors. Similar rates of co-occurrence between PG-13 and R-rated films suggest that the Motion Picture Association of America ratings system is not sensitive to the joint portrayal of violence and alcohol, sex, and tobacco-related risk behaviors. The on-screen clustering of violence with other risk behaviors is cause for concern and worthy of additional research.