What some people would pay to eliminate from popular films, if they could

Sexy scenes are the first to go.
Sexy scenes are the first to go.
Image: United Artists
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About a year ago, Sony had the brilliant idea of re-releasing some of its hottest titles without the sex, violence, and language of the original cuts. DVDs weren’t selling as they used to and the company wanted to make some of its older titles more family friendly. Think Spider-Man without the more-violent action scenes, or Ghostbusters without the cuss words (“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!“). Creators like Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen pushed back against Sony’s plans to clean up their movies, and the company didn’t move forward with them.

But there are some viewers who would censor select scenes from films—even G-rated movies—if they could.

A working paper (login required to access) from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, dated July 2018, analyzed the audio and video people paid to remove from popular movies like Sony’s using the service VidAngel, when they were able to do so in 2016. (After being sued by major movie studios in 2016, VidAngel now has a subscription service that just allows members to filter titles from streaming services they subscribe to like Netflix and Amazon.)

The researchers analyzed roughly 3.6 million video streams of the 2,914 movies VidAngel offered in 2016, with options of more than 485,000 individual filters, based on data provided by the company. Some of the filter options were very broad, like “language.” Others were quite specific, such as a scene where “a man vomits” in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.

Viewers on VidAngel weren’t concerned much with violence. They cut sex scenes most often, particularly those involving female immodesty, which was filtered more than 7 million times.

Nudity was cut most consistently overall. In G-rated movies, which rarely show sex, VidAngel filtered scenes that merely suggested sexuality, such as those in the Disney’s Aladdin where “scantily clad women are seen.”

In terms of language, “fuck” was the most common term targeted by VidAngel’s audio filters, which censored the word 26 million times in 2016. However, viewers were even more likely to target blasphemy with the filters, such as “christ,” which was filtered 69% of the times it was uttered. “Dink,” which has a few slang and derogatory meanings, was also filtered out 68% of the time.

Despite the many filter options VidAngel provided, audiences removed little from popular films in the end. The filters eliminated less than 3% of the video content and less than 1% of the audio in the R-rated films analyzed. They filtered out even less of films rated G, PG, or PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America.