It’s not easy being a Hollywood studio executive. You have a really cool script in front of you and a talented director with a great creative vision. There’s a catch though: it has to sell. As much as a movie might be legitimately better with F bombs, sex, nudity, and gratuitous violence, these things have to be cut in order to secure the coveted PG-13 rating.
We’ve seen Deadpool do the unthinkable and defy conventional logic earlier this year as an R-rated movie that’s made a ton of money at the box office, but it’s an exception rather than the rule. PG-13 sells better generally, so that’s where the executives oftentimes draw the line.
Sometimes it’s all for the good. The Jurassic Park novel was a creature feature that made readers fear the dinosaurs. When it was translated to the big screen, the violence and mature themes were kept to a minimum and it was released to near-universal acclaim. Had the same thing happened to Fight Club, it wouldn’t be the cinematic classic it is today. PG-13 might generally make more money, but it doesn’t mean the movie wouldn’t be arguably better if it was R-rated.
Here’s 15 Movies That Would Have Been Better Rated R
15. Alien Vs Predator (2004)
Fans of the Alien and Predator franchises had been wanting this movie to be made ever since the idea of a team up between the two first came up in a 1989 comic book of the same name. The comic book was set in the future timeline established by the Alien movies, and it features the “Company” Weyland-Yutani and various other elements established in the Alien movies. It even introduces the Predators in much the same way they are depicted in the Schwarzenegger classic.
The movie does borrow some story elements from the comic book, of course. The Predators use Aliens as the “Ultimate Prey” in order to undergo a rite of passage. They have a captive Alien Queen. Things go wrong and the Aliens end up running amok and a lone female human ends up teaming up with a lone Predator. All good so far.
Except it all goes wrong after that. Across the preceding Alien and Predator films there’s a solid R-rating. Both Predator films are highly graphic, with spinal columns being torn out and limbs being blown off by plasma cannons. When it comes to the Alien movies, it’s almost impossible to discuss them without referencing the iconic chestburster scene in the first one. It’s gore and it’s cool and it makes the movies what they are.
In going for a more family friendly, PG-13 rating, the Aliens and the Predators are effectively neutered. In place of blood, we see green slime or off-camera deaths. Given that the movie already had a loyal fan base before production started, it’s unclear just who they were targeting when they aimed for PG-13.
Had they kept true to the franchise and gone R-rated, the weaknesses of the script, cast and direction would still have been there. But at least some cool (and brutal) death scenes might have been memorable. Its one saving grace is that at least it’s leaps and bounds better than the sequel Alien vs Predator: Requiem, which may as well have had the tagline “Whoever wins, the audience loses.”
14. Ghost Rider (2007)
Adding some more violence and gore to 2007’s Ghost Rider wouldn’t have saved it, sadly. Only a total rewrite and change of focus could do that. Ghost Rider is a character that sells his soul to the devil, looks like a burning skeleton, and literally walks through Hell. It’s a waste of the character to even consider this property being watered down to a PG-13 rating. Much criticism has been laid at star Nicolas Cage’s door, and while some of it is highly justified, he was simply miscast. For a guy that has wanted to be part of a superhero franchise since before they were cool, he should have chosen one more wisely. Considering this is a movie starring (arguably) Marvel’s darkest character, this film should have been really, really scary. As it is, the storyline is oversimplified and toned down in order to garner mass appeal.
What we needed was an honest to goodness (or is that badness?) horror movie! The audience deserved a comic book adaptation that was true to the source material, not one where they took a property they didn’t understand and tried to make yet another superheroic origin story instead. While it isn’t too fashionable to use the word “reboot” at times, this is one Marvel property that deserves to be given another chance, and done right, even if it’s as a Netflix horror show. Just don’t cast Nic Cage this time.
But with family-friendly Marvel back in control of Ghost Rider, don’t expect a hard-R-rated adaptation anytime soon.
13. Robocop 2014
While the original RoboCop is an R-rated genre classic, praised for its satirical look at the modern consumer world and it’s sadistic and excessive violence, the 2014 remake is often widely criticised when compared to the original, despite an A-list supporting cast.
Many of the updates work. The cast is absolutely fantastic with names like Michael Keaton, Samuel L Jackson, and Gary Oldman in supporting roles, and star Joel Kinnaman definitely holds his own. The social commentary is updated to include fears over drone technology and wounded combat veterans. The visual style of the title character is updated, yet respectful to its predecessor. Despite grossing $242.7 million against a budget of $100 million, the movie was seen as both a critical and commercial disappointment. However, as of September 2015, Sony still had plans to continue the franchise.
Why RoboCop (2014) would have been better R-rated is simple. Audience expectations. While the movie is clearly made by people that understand why the original worked so well, it fails to improve on it in any way. Had the violence been gorier and more sadistic, the action scenes been more inventive, and the language even more extreme, it could have been a worthy successor to the name. It also lacked the humor of the original, one of the key aspects of its success, and one overlooked in favor of the messiah-themes and the violence. As it is, it is a RoboCop movie that only delivers less than the original, not more. Which begs the question: what’s the point?
12. The Hunger Games (2012)
The Hunger Games has been a wildly successful franchise, with both critical and commercial success. There’s nothing wrong with it exactly, it simply could have done with an R-rated cut.
The Hunger Games shares many themes with Battle Royale, which also depicts children battling children under the yoke of a totalitarian government. They are as different as they are similar, with many aspects of their respective universes sharing similarities in themes and yet being diametrically opposed in terms of their approaches. Truthfully, both owe a debt to the Thunderdome from the Mad Max series, and the historical actions of the Roman Empire.
What Battle Royale does do, that could have made The Hunger Games arguably better, is amp up the violence. While The Hunger Games is surprisingly bloody, Battle Royale is a full-tilt splatter fest. While more gore doesn’t necessarily equal a better film, an R-rated cut could have added a layer of danger and desperation to the protagonists. If the threats that they faced were a little scarier, then their eventual revolution would have had an added sense of urgency.
11. The Wolverine (2013)
Based on the 1982 miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, The Wolverine movie follows the fan-favorite mutant killing machine to Japan, where he battles, among others, lethal Ninjas.
The comic book was a massive turning point in how the Wolverine character was perceived. Up to that point, he was an ex-government agent-turned X-Man that occasionally clashed with Cyclops and Storm and often threatened lethal force. When this series was released, the threats of lethal force escalated to actual lethality and the beast within him was seen for the first time.
The movie effectively neuters Wolverine. We still see him use his claws against his enemies, as we did in the previous X-Men movies, but gone are the lost limbs and blood audiences expected to translate over from the comics in this movie. Given its source material, this film could have been amazing. Unlike the previous Wolverine solo outing, which had an abundance of other powered characters, this is Wolverine at his best, alone and outnumbered. But Wolverine “Is the best at what he does, but what he does isn’t very nice.” Given that, we should have seen him do something not very nice! Decapitations, lost limbs, disembowelments, this is what Wolverine does. We just haven’t seen it on-screen yet.
Given Deadpool’s R-rated box office success, we may just get an R rated Wolverine yet.
10. World War Z (2013)
Despite a troubled production that involved delays in the release and over seven weeks of reshoots, and several script rewrites, World War Z was surprisingly successful, grossing over $540 million against a $190 million budget. To date, it’s Brad Pitt’s highest grossing movie and a sequel is in the works for a 2017 release. Taking that and putting it aside, the movie could have been better. The final act drags and is anti-climactic, after two acts of non-stop horror and action, and a sequel might make that underwhelming ending even less likable.
While it certainly helped form part of the wave of zombie hits of the last decade or so (28 Days Later, TV’s The Walking Dead), it lacked one element that zombie movies need in order to be truly great: blood-curdling horror.
Had the movie gone for an R-rating, it may have made less money, as it was aimed at a broader market. Brad Pitt himself stated that he wanted to make a movie that his kids could see before they were 18. But, had World War Z gone for an out and out horror flick, the threat of the zombies would have been all the more terrifying and the fear the main characters would have had of them would have seemed all the more real.
9. Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
The fourth entry in the Die Hard series is actually the highest grossing, taking $383.5 million against a $110 million budget. It’s no surprise then that it’s also the first PG-13 entry in the series, it’s predecessors all being R-rated.
While there is an R-rated version of the movie, available on DVD and Blu Ray, the cinematic version is noticeably toned down to its predecessors. The catchphrase “Yippee-Ki-Yay M***** F*****” and the rest of John McClane’s usual brand of expletives in tense situations are noticeably absent.
While the movie certainly has a high body count, indeed much higher than the original, the violence is noticeably reduced or implied. While it’s far from a bad movie, and much better than its sequel, A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), it simply lacks the visceral feel of the originals. Over-the-top ways of killing the bad guys have always been enjoyable, and here Bruce Willis’ John McClane throws a car at the bad guys not once but twice (once at a chopper, once down an elevator shaft). It’s less in keeping with the feel of the originals. The old days of the outlandish gun violence of the ‘80s may be out of fashion now, but it’s still noticeably missed here.
8. Mean Girls (2004)
Nobody saw Mean Girls coming. The mega-hit — starring rising starlet Lindsay Lohan as well as other future stars like Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried, among others — was a bolt out of the blue. Tina Fey originally wrote it as an R-rated love letter to the teen-sex comedies of the 1980s, and several scenes in the movie still hint towards this. When Lindsay Lohan was cast, the movie was retooled towards a PG-13 rating, in part to her then squeaky-clean image as a wholesome all-American girl.
Some scenes had to be dubbed over, or changed altogether to reflect the rating. One scene originally had Regina (McAdams) topless and having her breasts fondled by Aaron (Jonathan Bennett). This scene was watered down to them simply kissing. Another scene originally had Karen (Seyfried) topless while giving a weather report (due to her belief that her breasts could predict the weather). Other scenes were merely dubbed over, with lines like “Have you had your cherry popped?” replaced with “Have you had your muffin buttered?” which explains why in certain scenes actors’ lip movements don’t correspond with their voices.
7. The Other Guys (2010)
Critically pretty successful, but commercially on the disappointing side, The Other Guys is the first collaboration of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. The second being another forgettably watered down PG-13 adventure, Daddy’s Home (2015).
While it’s certainly one of the better spoofs of the buddy-cop genre, and delivers plenty of laughs, it’s almost palpable that both Ferrell and Wahlberg are aching to go off-book and ad-lib some profanity. Having to stay close to the script hurts their performances, especially given that their separate comedy performances have been at their best when ad-libbing. Combine the two and let them run free, and we could have had a true comedy classic.
6. Accepted (2006)
Accepted wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t all that great either. Following on from a commercially successful period for teen comedies (American Pie, etc.), Accepted pitched itself as Animal House for the 21st century, but failed to elicit the following of either.
Where American Pie tapped into a generation’s zeitgeist and reimagined the teen sex comedy in the best example of the genre since Porky’s, and Animal House is widely regarded as the best comedy of the genre ever, it’s fair to say that Accepted was aiming high. It fell short. Big time.
Going for a PG-13 rating meant that it only was allowed one F-bomb, some mild sexual material and references to drugs. It was tame, far too tame. Audience expectations for a raunchy sex comedy were dashed, and the collective comedy talents of Justin Long, Blake Lively, and Jonah Hill were wasted. Had Accepted gone for an R rating, it could have given the audience the unfiltered string of sex jokes and adult language they actually wanted. If Accepted followed the Animal House formula, they could have had a hit franchise on their hands. Instead, they got a tiny profit and a 37% on Rotten Tomatoes.
5. Taken (2009)
Given that it reinvented the revenge-flick for the 21st century, Taken is surprisingly tame in some areas. Following former CIA operative Bryan Mills as he tracks down the men responsible for kidnapping his daughter for sexual slavery, Taken was another surprise hit, and one that transformed Liam Neeson into an action movie icon.
While Taken isn’t short on violence — indeed Neeson’s Mills dispatches his enemies with a Jason Bourne-meets-Terminator level of efficiency — the brutality expected simply isn’t there. Given that he’s former CIA, trained in (presumably) torture tactics, you’d imagine that he’d be far more brutal, given the personal stakes involved.
4. Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)
Mr. and Mrs. Smith is notably famous for many things. It set the stage for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s real-life relationship, ended Pitt’s marriage to Jennifer Aniston, and it established that even in the age of the movie franchise, star power can still bring in an audience, with a $478.3 million-dollar haul at the box office.
Again, it’s a product of its time. In a different generation, the violence would have been amped up, the sex scene would have been even sexier, and he movie would have been BIGGER. As it stands, it’s a solid movie that still holds up over a decade later. A more aggressive tone, combined with a more mature approach could have only heightened the obvious chemistry between the leads, delivering a movie more memorable for what happened on-screen than what happened off it.
3. Constantine (2005)
Like Ghost Rider, Constantine is based on a comic book that deals with angels, devils, and the mortal world. It’s based on the Vertigo Comic Hellblazer, and follows the character of John Constantine as he attempts to earn his place in heaven, having lost the right to go there following his attempted suicide years earlier.
The movie suffers from several problems, the least of which is casting Keanu Reeves as John Constantine. While he does well with the role in many ways, it simply came way too soon after his role as Neo in The Matrix, as his “Zen-like blankness and serenity” in a messiah-like role just felt like Neo version 2.0.
Truthfully, unlike Ghost Rider, which needed to be re-cast, re-written, and generally re-made, Constantine merely needed to add some Exorcist-level horror in order to be vastly improved. Given the source material, subject matter, and direction, just a few tweaks could have made it both a more enjoyable movie and the beginning of a franchise. As it is, Hellblazer fans were left sorely disappointed.
2. Max Payne (2008)
Most critics were less than enthused when Max Payne hit the big screen, with the movie earning mostly negative reviews. Overuse of CGI in order to create a neo-noir aesthetic fell flat, and the performances of the cast were similarly criticised.
Unlike the 2001 M-rated video game that Max Payne is based on, Max Payne received a PG-13 label. The original cut did receive an R-rating, but heavy edits were made and blood was reduced in order to secure the more commercially viable PG-13 rating. While the film does maintain its bleak and dismal outlook, the loss of the blood and violence feels like a movie that has been noticeably toned-down.
1. Galaxy Quest (1999)
It’s hard to criticize Galaxy Quest, and we won’t try to. The parody of Star Trek and its fandom is handled affectionately, and it has gone on to receive a cult following of its own over the years. Where some movies would have been mean to the convention-culture of sci-fi fans, Galaxy Quest understands what it is and is respectful while also being knowingly playful. And truly, it’s one of the late Alan Rickman’s funniest performances.
Why Galaxy Quest makes the list is simple, the original cut was R-rated. It wasn’t in any way darker or more bloody, it simply had a little more profanity. While profanity for the sake of it isn’t necessarily funny, as many modern Kevin Smith films have found, it can elicit a bigger laugh when it’s unexpected. One line in particular, Gwen DeMarco’s “Well, screw that!” is a clearly dubbed over “Well, f*** that!” which, given the timing, was a great deal funnier.
We won’t try to pretend that an R-rating would have made an enormous difference, but if an R-rated version should ever surface, it certainly wouldn’t hurt the original.
Got a movie in mind that would have been better with blood, gore, or plenty of F-bombs? Tell us about it in the comments!