By Hollie McKay, ,
Published April 13, 2016
In the days following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., NBC pulled a Blake Shelton holiday special at the last minute as it contained an animated segment about reindeer killing, Showtime gave special warnings before season finales of the thriller series “Homeland” and “Dexter,” Fox yanked an episode of “American Dad,” and TLC postponed its “Best Funeral Ever” special.
In the film industry, Paramount canceled premiere events for “Jack Reacher” and removed commercial images of Tom Cruise firing a gun, while The Weinstein Co. pulled the plug on the star-studded premiere of “Django Unchained.”
In the weeks following the massacre, a number of entertainment industry representatives including Motion Pictures of America Association (MPAA) chief Sen. Chris Dodd, Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen, Directors Guild of America executive director Jay Roth, and National Association of Theater Owners John Fithian, met with Vice President Joe Biden as part of the White House's ongoing dialogue regarding gun violence.
“We want to explore what we can do to provide parents and others with the information for them to make choices on what they want to see and what they want their children to see,” Dodd told The Hollywood Reporter in early January. “That's a legitimate space for us to be in. It's all voluntary. What we don't want to get involved with is content regulation. We're vehemently opposed to that. We have a free and open society that celebrates the First Amendment."
And a film industry that apparently still celebrates gun violence. While many Hollywood heavyweights – including actors Susan Sarandon, Sarah Silverman, Rashida Jones, Alexander Skarsgard, Bette Midler, and Ben Stiller -- have been busy calling for gun restrictions, there seems to be no stomach for voluntarily restricting violence in films.
Next month, Paramount’s “G.I Joe Retaliation” and Film District’s “Deadman Down” open in theaters, Universal’s “Fast & Furious 6” comes in May, and in June get ready for Sony’s “White House Down,” and Universal’s “Kick Ass 2.” July is scheduled to bring Universal’s “R.I.P.D” and Warner Bros’ “Pacific Rim,” in August, Warner’s “2 Guns” bows, and in September expect Universal’s “Riddick” and Open Road Films’ “Machete Kills.” For October, we’ll see Relativity Media-distributed “Malavita” and Warner’s “Seventh Son,” and November will welcome the controversial yet wildly popular second installment of Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”
And that's just a partial list.
“Americans have a very short memory and one highly doubts that Hollywood will change in a major way as a result of Newtown or similar tragedies. As long as it sells at the box office, one can expect the big business of Hollywood violence to continue,” Ronn Torossian, CEO of New York firm 5WPR told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “Hollywood is, and will remain business as usual – expect to see violence and guns in your movie theater this summer and beyond.”
Mell Flynn, President of the Hollywood Republicans noted that while he isn’t a big advocate of censorship either, those in the entertainment industry who are making such ultra-violent films should take a second look at the message they are putting out there.
“I do think that these types of films can have a negative impact. I also think that parents need to pay close attention to what moves their children go and see and what video games they are playing,” he said. “The Biden task force will have no real impact on Hollywood; things will remain business as usual.”
We contacted all of the distributing studios with films listed above for comment regarding any potential schedule changes or movie modifications given the lip service paid by Hollywood to subject after the Sandy Hook shootings. Most did not respond to the request. Warner Bros and Relativity Media declined to comment. Open Road issued the following statement:
"’Machete Kills' will be a thrilling piece of movie entertainment that we expect will receive an 'R' rating from the MPAA. Like everyone in the movie industry, we remain cognizant of ongoing debates about gun violence,” said the Open Road Films rep. “The marketing for Machete Kills is geared towards adult action fans and will highlight director Robert Rodriguez's wildly original and no-holds-barred filmmaking style."
And already this year, there have been the normal slew of violent films and their associated weapon-wielding marketing materials. There was the horror slasher "Texas Chainsaw 3D," Mark's Wahlberg's "Broken Cop," and the controversial "Gangster Squad" – which was delayed and its key cinema shoot-up scene removed following the Aurora, Col. massacre last year.
Then there was the Jason Statham/Jennifer Lopez-starring "Parker," centered on a gun-wielding professional thief who seeks revenge on those who betray him, Sylvester Stallone's firearm-heavy "Bullet to the Head," and the weapon-touting twist on the classic fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel." Even former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to the limelight in all his machine gun and assault rifle glory as a sheriff of a Mexico border town for “The Last Stand.”
“(Newtown) is such a horrific tragedy, but we have to separate out what is in the movies – which is pure entertainment – and what is out there in reality," Schwarzenegger told us in defense of the intense action film. "When you have a tragedy like that and you lose so many lives, I think you owe it to society to do everything you can and look at everything – dealing with mental health, parenting in America, are the schools safe, and do we have the right safety features in place, and should we look at gun laws again, and look if there are any loopholes that can be closed."
Other industry experts also argue that show business need not change its ways.
“If we imagine for a second that Hollywood collectively stopped making violent films and TV shows, and recording artists stopped using lyrics that suggested violence… then a week after that self-censorship another tragic incident took place, what would the next question in the debate be?” Madison Jones, co-chair of prominent production company de Passe Jones Entertainment, pointed out. “If there was a connection between content and violence more people would be influenced to murder strangers indiscriminately. Change will be a personal decision of the decision makers.”
The Newtown shootings – and the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora. Colo. seven months ago – certainly haven’t quashed audience appetites for excessive big-screen brutality. This year, "Hansel & Gretel" opened at the top of the box office with $19.6 million, and the splattering homage to spaghetti Westerns "Django Unchained," which bowed at theaters just a couple of weeks after Newtown has officially been deemed Tarantino’s highest-grossing film of all-time, and since its Christmas Day release has domestically brought in $155 million.
“I doubt there will be much of an impact, beyond perhaps some discussions that might raise the sensitivity about how the studios, networks and creative teams depict violence. But nothing on a legislative level, and nothing that will be all-pervasive,” added movie and pop culture expert, Scott Huver. “Many recent and upcoming films were in the pipeline before the tragic incident occurred, so any considerations post-Newtown won’t be reflected on-screen for a while yet – if at all.”
Danielle Jones-Wesley contributed to this report.