Some people are so supportive of gun laws but are entertained by violent movies featuring guns and gore. This isn’t hypocrisy, rather, a psychological effect of violent movies on what its viewers want.
Admittedly, some of the best films of all time have some amount of gore and violence. In IMDb’s list of greatest movies of all time, the top three movies all involve plots where people are killed. And at the top of your head, you can probably name films where people are killed violently: Face/Off, Kill Bill, Predator, Rambo, Sin City, 300, Deadpool – and more.
Despite our love for violent movies, though, we’re generally averse towards violence in real life. We detest killers and people who commit senseless violence. So, why are we so attracted to movies that promise at least one person will be killed on-screen? Franchises like Saw and The Purge grossed millions in each of its films, and some people were wondering if The Purge is real and based on real-life events. Are we just all killers wishing we had the right time to strike? It’s unlikely, according to this psychological study, and has more to do with the purpose of watching these violent films.
Attraction to Violent Movies
In 2013, a study published in International Communication Association wanted to find out why many people were so attracted movies that promised bloodshed, gore, and violence. The researchers from the University of Augsburg and the University of Wisconsin Madison investigated the behavior and actions of their sample study to see what kind of violence would drive them to watch a movie. They wanted to know whether the target audiences for these movies liked watching because they wanted to recreate the violence or whether there were other motivations for watching.
The team gathered 482 participants from Germany and the United States with ages ranging from 18 to 82 and various levels of educational attainment. They watched various trailers for films with different degrees of violence, gore, and purpose. They then had to rate whether or not they were willing to watch the rest of the movie as well as how thought-provoking or meaningful the movie was.
Contrary to a previous study that suggest people view violence to sate their hedonistic cravings of thrill (and are thus willing to go through violence and aggression to achieve it), this study’s findings found that people wanted to watch violent films because it offered two things: a sense of purpose, and a chance to delve into the human mind.
Real Life vs. On-Screen
Compared to everyday real-life crime, movies offer a start and end and, in between, an explanation of why killings happen. People aren’t attracted to crime and gore in itself, because if it did, there wouldn’t be film critics bashing violent films on gratuitous violence (a.k.a. violence for the sake of violence).
Earlier, I mentioned how successful franchises like The Purge was. But if you look closely, it’s not the violence that made it successful. YouTuber Dead Meat has a playlist featuring all the kill counts of The Purge’s film franchise. In his four videos, you can see that the number of kills climb so much that while the first film, The Purge, shows one kill for every two minute, the fourth film, The First Purge, has an average of one kill every 43 seconds. However, if you look at it in terms of critical response, it was the third film, The Purge: Election Year, that had slightly better ratings than the fourth.
This is only one of many violent horror films, but it does suggest that the number of kills and the types of violence and gore has less to do with why a film is successful and why people would watch it, and more because of its purpose. Out of the four films, it is the third film that tackles the underlying message of the franchise best: the oppression of the rich and how they can twist the rules to kill the poor to solve their problems. The third film is a culmination of that, the head-butt of two ideologies: the belief that murder is good for the economy, and the belief that the poor have the most to lose and are being punished for it.
Bringing Fiction into Reality
It’s not just The Purge that has meaning. If you look into plenty of the highly rated films that feature gore, there’s also a deeper meaning to it that’s not just about blood. Kill Bill’s The Bride kills because she wants revenge for those who have wronged her – an idea many of us want to experience against those who have wronged us. In another example, John Wick is well-liked because the idea of a man seeking revenge for the death of his dog. If someone were to kill your dog just to hurt you, wouldn’t you do the same thing? So, despite being an assassin, the character John Wick is well-liked, even to the point that people are getting similar back tattoos as a killer. But it’s not because John kills people; it’s because John fights for himself in a world filled with crime and violence.
It is very interesting to see the psychology played not only in a film’s character, but also on the viewers who watch the film. People who enjoy violent films aren’t necessarily violent people. They may simply just be people looking to understand the violence around them and the reason behind it.