Let's go through this in parts, shall we?
First, ignore the study... it's garbage. The study was conducted by a Todd Adkins of the University of Notre Dame and it was published in the Social Science Quarterly. For those of you who need a reminder, "social science" is not science, it is opinion looking for support. And this is typical of the kind of junk science you find being produced by social "scientists."
What Adkins did was quiz 268 college students about their political views. Then he showed them The Rainmaker and As Good As It Gets. Afterwards, he quizzed them again about their political views. Lo and behold, he found that the students views drifted leftward slightly! Oh my! Hence, the headlines scream: "MOVIES MAKE YOU LIBERAL!" But here are the problems:
(1) The study size is too small to be meaningful.It's junk.
(2) The sample group is too homogenous (college students).
(3) The test lacks controls. For example, there’s no control group who didn’t watch the films. There weren’t other groups who watched other films. There’s no group who heard a speech instead. Etc. This doesn’t pass the laugh test.
(4) Even if these results were valid, there was zero attempt made to determine if this supposed change in attitude lasted even as long as the next morning.
And if you want proof of this, use your brain. Since the 1960s, Hollywood has put out nothing but liberals films. If there was any truth to this study, then the public's attitudes would have shifted over to liberalism. Yet, liberalism remains a disgraced word in this country... a word that even liberals try to run from. Moreover, in poll after poll on almost every issue, the public's attitudes on individual issues remains conservative in the 60% range. If the conclusions of this study were real, then none of that would be true. If this study were accurate, the public would be overwhelmingly liberal, not overwhelmingly conservative.
What Adkins has stumbled upon is simply the effect that when a person is presented with an advocacy piece, some of them will be swayed by the argument presented. There's no mystery here and this is nothing unusual. When people see a film, it’s the same thing as sitting through a trial summation, a high school debate, or reading a blog post, only more entertaining; they are presented with a set of facts and arguments that make a particular point. If the argument is sufficiently compelling, then people’s views on a particular issue might change. But it’s not because they’ve been brainwashed, it’s because they’ve been presented with an argument they accept on an issue they hadn't thought through completely. There's no ability here to change the way a person thinks or to make them believe something they don't believe, i.e. to brainwash them.
For this study to prove what the headline claims, it would need to show that these films inject a belief that is incongruous with the person's other beliefs. It would also need to show that this change was a lasting one. As any attorney can tell you, it’s easy to sway people for the moment with a one-sided, un-refuted argument, even if it's wrong, but that swaying reverses itself very quickly once the person gets away from the person pushing the argument.
Ultimately, what this tells us is not that “films make you liberal,” but that liberal films are out there trying to sway people and some people get swayed. If conservatives are smart, they will get back into the culture game and make films that advocate their own views. You won't be able to make anyone believe something they don't believe, but you will be able to wake people up to things they do believe but don't fully understand yet.
That’s it... no need for tinfoil hats.