In the wake of Fox’s wild success with the unconventional superhero films Deadpool and Logan, studios are rethinking the ways they can approach their comic book properties. One of the most talked about methods has been the idea of abandoninh the standard PG-13 rating like those two films did, to open up the storytelling possibilities in boundary-pushing ways. Indeed, it was recently reported that Warner Bros. would be more than open to making adult focused, R-rated features for its DC Extended Universe.
While this approach wouldn’t necessarily work well for every DC character (it’s hard to imagine a Superman or Flash movie needing an R-rating), there is a tier of darker, edgier DC characters for which an R-rating would seriously unchain their potential. Some of these characters are incredibly obscure; others have been household names for decades.
We take a look at some of the best candidates here. These are the 15 DC Comics Stories That Should Be R-Rated Movies.
Created by Roger Silfer and Keith Giffen in the early 1980s, Lobo was conceived of as a parody of violent, lone wolf heroes like Wolverine and The Punisher. While he was a relatively minor player in the DC Universe in the 1980s, it’s nearly impossible to think of DC in the 1990s without thinking of The Main Man. While Silfer and Giffen might have intended Lobo as an indictment of amoral anti-heroes, he ended up becoming the poster boy for them. An intergalactic bounty hunter who never fails to bag a target, Lobo takes indescribable pleasure in concocting new and inventive forms of violence and destruction.
Perhaps DC’s most obvious choice for a raunchy, hyper violent breakout in the vein of Deadpool, Lobo has been rumored for a movie adaptation for years. He also offers DC Films a unique opportunity: as Geoff Johns attempts to navigate the shared universe into lighter, more hopeful territory, there would be no better instrument with which to poke fun at the gritty, Zack Snyder-led iteration of that universe than by letting Lobo lampoon them in an overwhelmingly violent fashion.
14. Justice League Dark
Warner Bros. has been trying to get some version of Justice League Dark off the ground since even before the DC Extended Universe really existed. Guillermo del Toro worked on a version of the story for years before moving on. As of now, Doug Liman (director of the amazing Edge of Tomorrow) has signed on to tackle the project, tentatively titled Dark Universe.
Justice League Dark is essentially the Justice League, but with a bunch of magical sleaze-bags instead of the world’s greatest superheroes. They tackle missions that are too dark or esoteric for the traditional Justice League, usually involving some form of the occult. You’re not likely to find many brightly colored costumed heroes here, and most of these people do not play well with others.
The team consists of the likes of Madame Xanadu, Doctor Mist, and The Phantom Stranger. It’s an interesting team dynamic that hasn’t really been explored been explored before in live-action film. While everyone on the team is interesting in their own right, a few members are more than worthy of their own movies…
John Constantine, the chain-smoking, trench coat-wearing, British occult detective, is an essential part of the DC Universe. A supernatural investigator who thrives on cynicism and a foul mouthed charm (even though, deep down, he really does want to makes the world a better place), Constantine served as the template for a lot of modern anti-heroes in several mediums, not just comic books.
John Constantine is essentially a lock to end up in the DCEU eventually. And while he’s been an essential member of Justice League Dark the past few years, he’s a rich enough character to stand on his own in a solo film. In fact, he already has; the 2005 Constantine film got a lot of things right about the character’s world, but largely whiffed on Constantine himself. Keanu Reeves puts in a solid performance, but the humorless, decidedly not British take left longtime fans cold. Matt Ryan’s take on the character in the NBC TV series was much truer to Constantine’s roots, but the show itself was a quickly cancelled mess.
12. Swamp Thing
The DC Extended Universe could be a great opportunity to shine a light on some of DC’s less loved characters. It would also be a great opportunity to redeem some iconic characters who have been let down by shoddy adaptations in the past. At the top of that list is Swamp Thing. Supercharged by comic book legend Alan Moore in the 1980s, Swamp Thing is one of DC’s more nuanced, meditative books about identity and mortality, while also being one of their most authentic ventures into horror.
Sadly, the general public largely thinks of Swamp Thing as a joke, thanks to a couple of campy movies, a soulless cartoon designed to sell toys, and a well-intentioned but poorly executed live-action television series. Swamp Thing feels like the sort of character that DC could credibly make a gritty, gloomy movie with and not get tagged with the usual criticisms. Logan seems like a fairly apt comparison; Swamp Thing is a dark, adult story that shouldn’t be co-opted to sell lunch boxes.
11. Jonah Hex
Another DC redemption project (not unlike Swamp Thing), Jonah Hex has endured several adaptations of varying quality. More than a few fans first came to know the Western bounty hunter via a memorable flashback episode of the immortal Batman: The Animated Series. He’s popped up occasionally as a guest star on the CW’s bonkers time travel show Legends of Tomorrow, where he’s been serviceable if not exactly thrilling.
Unfortunately, the general public largely recall Hex as the star of a truly horrific movie starring Josh Brolin, Michael Fassbender, and Megan Fox. While other movies of that era like Fantastic Four and Green Lantern still get held up as examples of the worst of the genre, they really don’t lay a glove on this Western stinker (the likely reason Jonah Hex doesn’t catch much flack from fans and critics these days: no one saw it).
Really, this shouldn’t be that hard. Westerns are a tried and true film institution, and melding the tropes of that genre with some of the more fantastical aspects of the DC universe should be a ton of violent fun.
10. Red Hood (Jason Todd)
Nothing ever came easy for Jason Todd, the second Robin. A young Gotham street urchin who Batman discovered trying to steal the tires off the Batmobile, Jason was taken in by the Caped Crusader as something of a charity case. Indeed, Batman openly acknowledged Jason never had the effortless physical skill of the original Robin, Dick Grayson, nor any real desire to thwart injustice. He was just an angry kid who Batman knew would end up dead if he couldn’t help him channel his rage in a positive way.
It was Batman’s greatest failure. Jason was violent and uncontrollable; he never truly embraced Batman’s code of ethics. He was eventually brutally murdered by the Joker, only to be resurrected by Talia Al Ghul via the Lazarus Pit. An adult Jason would return to Gotham years later as the Red Hood, the Joker’s criminal identity before his fateful acid bath. As the Red Hood, Jason sets out to settle personal scores and show Batman that his way is wrong, that criminals only understand murder and violence of the highest level. He’s become something of a dark mirror of Batman, which would make a great foil for the DCEU’s older, wearier version of the Dark Knight.
DC was taking some genuine creative risks in the 1990s. Not all of them worked out (the version of Doctor Fate with a multicolored mullet and giant knife feels like a bit of a misstep), but the idea of letting creators try more challenging, complex stories wholly divorced from the world of DC’s superheroes is one that has endured. Transmetropolitan was one of that movement’s early successes. A cyberpunk series written by comics luminary Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan told the story of Spider Jerusalem, a gonzo journalist based loosely on Hunter S. Thompson.
Spider lives in an unspecified future where society has devolved into hedonistic excess. Revolving around the long-term societal effects of technology, lack of public intellect, political corruption, and the powerful taking on journalists, Transmetropolitan has never exactly felt out of touch with the times, but it feels particularly prescient these days. It would be a considerable risk to make such a charged work under the DC banner, but it’s a risk they should consider taking.
8. The Spectre
Some of the darker characters on this list don’t actually interact with the superhero denizens of the DC Universe all that often. The likes of Constantine and Swamp Thing exist primarily in their own dedicated corners of DC’s world, or, as with their time under the Vertigo imprint, exist wholly separate from the likes of Batman and Superman. Conversely, the Spectre exists smack dab in the middle of the DCU, as a singularly dark and violent entity exacting twisted justice.
Jim Corrigan, a morally questionable detective, is gunned down by criminals and given a second chance at something approaching life: he becomes the Spirit of Vengeance, meting out sadistic punishments for those who are deemed deserving by a higher power.
Part of the Spectre’s visual appeal is in his ironically gruesome punishments, which feel like they probably need an R-rating to be pulled off effectively. There is occasionally a glimmer of hope that Corrigan can eventually redeem himself and earn eternal rest, but make no mistake, this would be extremely dark, heavy territory for a comic book movie.
7. Black Adam
Imagine if somewhere in the pantheon of the family friendly Harry Potter movies, there was an uncompromising, jet black movie that chronicled young Tom Riddle’s descent into evil on his path to becoming Voldemort. Essentially, this is what DC should do with their Black Adam movie. Dwayne Johnson has already been cast as the titular Adam, traditionally the primary antagonist to the superhero Shazam. DC has announced Black Adam will get his own spinoff movie, and while some may find that to be a bit presumptuous, it actually makes a tremendous amount of sense.
In the early ’00s, Black Adam was reframed as a complicated anti-hero by comic book writer Geoff Johns (who, you may know, is now in charge of DC’s films). Miles from a generic mustache twirler, Black Adam ended up being a far more interesting character than Shazam. Black Adam is constantly fighting an internal battle to better himself, but is met with tragedy at seemingly every turn, leading him to unleash his considerable power through vengeance. He’s a character who deserves a closer examination than the sort of straightforward superheroics of a Shazam movie is likely to offer.
6. Suicide Squad 2
This one is a no-brainer. The polarizing first movie was a financial smash, though it was a critical disappointment. There are more than a few reasons for the latter (some very strange editing choices, lack of a compelling antagonist), but one of the most valid criticisms is that it felt like a half measure. Suicide Squad flirted with the darker corners of superhero excess, but it never really embraced them. For a movie that advertised its edginess so loudly, it ultimately felt like a fairly bloodless, even polite affair at times.
Removing the restrictions that go hand in hand with a PG-13 rating would open up the possibilities for Suicide Squad considerably. If nothing else, it’s difficult to believe these rag-tag convicts never swear. It would also allow the violence to be ramped up (no more smashing faceless rock monsters). There are several solid pieces in place for a good Suicide Squad movie – it’s simply time to take off the training wheels and get out of their way.
There have been quite a few characters in the DC Universe to bear the name Starman. The best and most beloved is, without question, Jack Knight. The son of the golden age Starman, Ted Knight, Jack has no superheroic aspirations and is even openly disdainful of his father’s legacy. Jack’s brother David takes up their father’s mantle as Starman and is promptly murdered by the son of one of Ted’s old enemies, and Jack reluctantly steps in to save his father and avenge his brother.
Jack Knight is perhaps the greatest example of a concept that has become part of the fabric of DC comics: legacy characters. The idea that heroes age and entrust their legacies (willingly or otherwise) to younger successors might seem like an obvious enough notion, but it didn’t really happen much until relatively recently in comic book history. Adding that layer of history to the DCEU would serve to further enrich and contextualize that world.
Boston Brand is a self-involved circus performer who is shockingly murdered by an assassin known as the Hook. While he does indeed shuffle off his mortal coil, Boston doesn’t exactly die; a Hindu entity known as Rama Kushna gives Boston’s spirit the ability to inhabit the bodies of other people, allowing him to search for answers regarding his own murder and hopefully find some sort of justice.
An obviously dark setup, there’s an element of gallows humor to Deadman; the visual gag is obviously ripe for laughs, even if they’re slightly creepy ones, and Boston himself approaches his situation with a surprising amount of levity. There’s also the sense that Boston is bettering himself in death in ways he never could in life, and that perhaps he was granted this extraordinary ability for reasons beyond personal vengeance. It’s a setup that’s capable of delivering a lot of different kinds of stories in the world of the macabre.
3. Etrigan The Demon
A creation of the legendary Jack Kirby, Etrigan the Demon is just a fantastic concept. In the age of Camelot, the great wizard Merlin summons a demon from Hell in an attempt to learn its secrets. Unable to control the demon in its raw form, Merlin bonds the demon with a knight, Jason Blood. This results in good news and bad news for Blood: he is rendered essentially immortal, but is cursed to share his body with Etrigan.
The story generally picks up in modern day, where Jason Blood and Etrigan endure something of a Jekyll and Hyde relationship. While he’s literally a demon from Hell, Etrigan is not purely evil, and his motivations are often unpredictable, which only adds to Jason Blood’s concerns when the demon is in control. It’s a perfect setup for a horror movie; something that DC hasn’t really explored yet in film. If they’re serious about offering a wider range of flavors than Marvel, Etrigan is certainly a unique one.
2. Identity Crisis
One of the most controversial tales in comic history, Identity Crisis is a lightning rod of a story. When Sue Dibny, wife of C-list hero Elongated Man, is brutally murdered, the Justice League is galvanized into action to hunt down her killer. What they end up discovering is a shocking conspiracy that threatens to not only tear apart the League, but redefine the parameters of their world in ways their minds aren’t ready to accept.
Essentially a murder mystery, it’s a story unlike anything that’s been done in modern comic book movies. Encompassing almost every major player in the DC universe, it would be an interesting story to build to over time. If the payoff to Marvel’s years of escalation is the cosmic extravaganza of Avengers: Infinity War, it would be a bold move for DC to build to something that is so small in scale, yet towering in raw emotion.
There is no character in popular fiction who is more versatile than Batman. Whether you want to tell campy, self aware romps, hard boiled moral parables, or stories about the importance of family with LEGOs, Batman is more than up to the task. Why not remove the restrictions on the caped crusader to fulfill a promise nobody can seem to keep?
Virtually every director who takes on Batman is asked some version of the same question: “Will this Batman get to showcase his skills as the greatest detective in the world?” The question generally gets some lip service, but other than a few strong moments in The Dark Knight, we’ve never seen a genuine detective story with Batman on the big screen. Why not let someone like David Fincher tell a dark, uncompromising murder mystery that showcases Batman’s brain as much as his muscles? We often hear how brutal life in Gotham city is, but we very rarely see it. Getting a firsthand, unflinching view of Gotham’s decay would be a great way to re-contextualize Batman’s crusade, which too often we only see from the perspective of a billionaire and the police. With no restrictions, the possibilities to explore Batman’s world are nearly endless.
Which DC comic story would you most like to see as an R-rated movie? Let us know in the comments!