Violence has been on the rise in the film industry

When I shared my earlier visualizations showing the deadliest films and actors of all time, several people commented that there appears to be a trend of increasing on-screen deaths over time. To follow up on that observation, I analyzed the film death count data to see if that trend actually holds.

In the visualization below, I grouped all of the films by year and summed all of the on-screen death counts for each year. I also plotted the Pearson’s correlation coefficient to give a sense of how total on-screen body count and year are correlated.

Rising Violence in Films

Rising Violence in Films

Just by looking at the black trend line, it’s clear that the total death count has been on the rise, especially after 2000. If the raw data alone doesn’t convince you, the statistics will: A correlation coefficient of +0.71 indicates that year and total death count are highly correlated! In other words: A film will generally have more on-screen deaths the later it is filmed.

What are the causes of this increase in violence?

Now that we have clear data showing a trend of increasing violence in the film industry, we are left to wonder: What are the causes?

I don’t think it’s because our culture has become more violent. Several studies have shown that the world is becoming less violent as time goes on. Could it be that instead of acting on our violent tendencies, we’re sating them with violent films, video games, sports, etc.? I don’t have the data on video games, but I suspect a similar trend would hold. Sports have always been popular, but have they become more violent over time? The rise in popularity of MMA and similar violent sports seems to say yes.

Another, perhaps more pragmatic, consideration is that advances in the film production industry have enabled movie producers to show massive, epic battles (and the death tolls that come with them!) that they’ve always wanted to show. If a pre-2000 director wanted to show an epic battle in a film, he/she would have to hire hundreds/thousands of actors to act out the battles in real-time. (Which isn’t unheard of; props to Waterloo and Braveheart!)

In contrast, a relatively small team of animators today can create a breathtaking landscape and massive armies with a couple weeks of computer animation. Just look at Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’s Battle of the Pelennor Fields scene. There’s no way a scene like that could happen without computer animation.

What do you think?

Is the rise of violence in the film industry simply because it’s easier to kill animations than actors, or is there a deeper reason? Post your thoughts in the comments here.

Dr. Randy Olson is a Senior Data Scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, where he develops state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms with a focus on biomedical applications.

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  • Zygmunt

    War on terror, war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq come to mind.

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  • I agree with your point about technology allowing larger/more densely populated battle scenes (not to mention padding the monster fatality counts in movies such as Starship Troopers), but did you control for film run-time? I’m not sure, but my impression is that movie lengths have increased in recent years.

    • You bring up a good point about controlling for film run time, which I have not done here. However, the point I try to make here is that — regardless of how long the films are — more death is being shown in total in films nowadays than 40 or more years ago. Length of film could definitely be a contributing factor, but it’s also possible to squeeze in a ton of death in just a few minutes, like in Hot Shots Part Deux. 😉

      I’ll have to look more into the data to see if films actually have gotten longer as time goes on — will report back on my blog when that’s done!

  • Christophe Cariou

    Just the number of total films by year in the database? Is the database representative of the number of films per year, per MPAA_rating or by genre? What about the evolution of the mean?