LONDON – Hollywood (search) might be bad for your health, according to a new study, which concludes that blockbuster movies paint a consequence-free view of sex and drugs.
Dr. Hasantha Gunasekera (search), the study's lead author from the School of Public Health (search) at the University of Sydney, said the findings are troubling, "given the HIV and illicit drug pandemics in developing and industrialized countries."
The Australian researchers studied a September 2003 list of the 200 biggest box-offices successes of all time as ranked by the Internet Movie Database. They excluded animated features, films with G and PG ratings, and movies released or set before the start of the AIDS pandemic in 1983.
Of the 87 remaining movies in the study published Monday in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 28 contained sex scenes — a total of 53 scenes in all.
Only one film — 1990's "Pretty Woman," in which Julia Roberts plays a prostitute — contained a "suggestion of condom use, which was the only reference to any form of birth control."
"There were no depictions of important consequences of unprotected sex such as unwanted pregnancies, HIV or other STDs," they added.
The sexiest film — in quantity, if not quality — was 2001's "American Pie 2," which contained seven episodes of unprotected sex in which the "only consequences were social embarrassment."
The 1992 thriller "Basic Instinct" had six sex scenes, no birth control and no "public health consequences" — although death by ice pick was a threat.
Suave superspy James Bond also was chided for his promiscuity. The 2002 Bond adventure "Die Another Day" contained three episodes of sex — "all new partners, no condoms, no birth control, no consequences at all" — but at least no drug use.
Eight percent of the films contained depictions of marijuana use, and 7 percent other non-injected drugs, the researchers said.
Just over half the marijuana scenes — 52 percent — showed use of the drug in a positive way. In the other 48 percent of cases it was depicted as neutral.
Characters smoked tobacco in 68 percent of the films and got drunk in 32 percent.
Only a quarter of the movies were entirely free of behavior such as unprotected sex, drug use, smoking and drinking, the researchers said.
The authors concluded: "The motion picture industry should be encouraged to depict safer sex practices and the real consequences of unprotected sex and illicit drug use."
Film mavens disagreed.
Adam Smith, a writer with the British film magazine Empire, said it isn't Hollywood's job "to be a social or moral guardian. It's fiction."
"I don't think you can pinpoint Hollywood as responsible for sexual immorality in the post-AIDS era," said Paul Grainge of the Institute of Film and Television Studies at the University of Nottingham. "Hollywood responds to social mores as well as creates them."