James Bond films are more than twice as violent as they used to be, researchers from Otago University have found.
The finding comes as no surprise to a local criminologist, who says film violence has become more extreme to pull in young audiences - some of whom identify with the violence to the point they commit brutal acts themselves.
Researchers analysed 22 films in the Bond franchise, from Dr No in 1962 to Quantum of Solace in 2008, to test the theory that popular movies are becoming more violent.
Not only did the newer Bond films feature more violence, there was an even bigger increase in the amount of severe violence - acts likely to cause death or injury if they occurred in real life.
The violent acts were defined as either trivial, such as pushes or open-handed slaps, or severe, such as punching, kicking or attacks with weapons.
Dr No featured only 109 violent acts compared with 250 in Quantum of Solace, which featured nearly three times as many acts of severe violence.
Study co-author Associate Professor Bob Hancox said the popular Bond films were seen by many children and adolescents, and their increasingly violent nature was concerning.
"There is extensive research evidence suggesting that young people's viewing of media violence can contribute to desensitisation to violence and aggressive behaviour."
Canterbury University criminologist Professor Greg Newbold said the tendency towards much more graphic violence was driven by what appealed to children.
"The more graphic the violence and the more spectacular the violence, the more appeal it has for kids, and the more money they [movies] make."
Dr Newbold said film violence was not a problem for children from good families, but it did have an impact on children from violent home backgrounds, who identified with characters capable of extreme violence and domination.
"Those kinds of kids identify with those hero figures, and then begin to act out in their own lives.
"They're the kinds of kids who are likely to go out and do a robbery and then gratuitously shoot someone because that's what they've seen done on TV or videos or whatever so many times. You just take a life, and that makes you a hero."
Dr Newbold disagreed that young people were becoming desensitised to violence.
"I think it's the opposite. I think they're being hyper-sensitised to it, and I think they adopt those role models. For them, the hero is the man who can smash and dominate other men."
Bob McCoskrie, director of conservative lobby group Family First, said the findings did not surprise him at all.
He said film classifications were looser now than a decade ago, which was helping to normalise violence, bad language and sexual content.
"Society simply responds to that, and this study is a classic example of how far it's going," he said.
"I think we'd be naive to think that we can continue to feed ourselves violent images and from there try to argue it has no influence on our actions or our attitudes - especially perhaps for younger people."
Chief censor Andrew Jack said societal attitudes towards the likes of violence and sex had changed, and that was reflected in the types of films being made.
But he disagreed there had been a discernible loosening in the classifications given to films.
About half of all complaints about film ratings were about cross-rated films which had been classified in Australia rather than here, as the latest three Bond films had been.
"I think Australians have a rather higher tolerance for violence than most New Zealanders do," he said.
Dr Jack said there had been no complaints so far about the latest Bond film, Skyfall, which was rated M, and one complaint each against the classifications of the previous two Bond films.
Skyfall was not included in the Otago University research, published in US journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, because it had not been released at the time of the study.
- APNZBy Matthew Backhouse @Mbackhouse Email Matthew