Nobody has made more money by killing people in the movies than Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose body count is approaching 300, not even counting his forthcoming thriller "Last Action Hero."
But unlike the massive hit "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" and many of his other films, the new one will not be rated R. Instead, it's PG-13, and despite the fairly violent commercials you may have seen, Arnold is promoting the film and himself as the "kinder, gentler" Schwarzenegger. He told me at the recent Cannes film festival of wanting to be able to take his young children to the movie, and of the need to recapture the family audience.
He's sharing the dogma in Hollywood, where every studio is looking for PG and PG-13 projects. Their eagerness is based on the argument that family films outgross R-rated films, and yet Hollywood in its myopia keeps on making too many R-rated films.
This is both true and false: General audience films such as the "Star Wars" and "Batman" movies are indeed box office champions, but at the same time they contain a high level of violence and action, and aren't likely to be mistaken for vintage Disney movies about cute dogs and Silly Putty.
Do violent movies move kids to violent actions? Nobody seems sure. The influences of home, church and school - not to mention television - certainly rank higher. It does seem possible, however, that the increased use of four-letter words among the young may have been influenced in part by the movies, where screenwriters use the f-word almost like punctuation.
If "Last Action Hero" announced a new wave of PG-13 "actioners," as Variety calls them, look for it to pass like any other trend. Jeff Katzenberg, chairman of the Disney studios, told me at Cannes this year that he thinks a new wave of adult films--not necessarily violent or sexy, simply adult in theme and seriousness--will begin to roll out of Hollywood by later this year.
Students of all of these trends might benefit from a unified field theory of Hollywood production: Whenever any kind of movie is thought to be in short supply, Hollywood hastens to make too many of them, inspiring a corrective backlash in a year or two.