Ask any movie industry fan or studio executive, and they’ll tell you the same thing: R-Rated movies almost always make less money than a PG blockbuster at the box office – and if the movie you’re making can appeal to fans of all ages, then it definitely should. At least, that’s what they used to say… but Deadpool may have changed all that.
The Merc with a Mouth’s road to reality wasn’t easy, with the final rating one of the most debated topics among fans. Would the studio play it safe at PG-13, and water down the crudeness of the hero, or go for the R, doing justice to the insane violence and humor of the source material – but earning less money?
Fox went with the latter, and boy did it pay off. Not only has Deadpool soared to become an even faster money-maker than any Marvel solo movie, but one of the most profitable R-Rated movies of all time. And it hasn’t taken long for rumors of an R-Rated revolution to start. From an R-Rated Wolverine movie to even an R-Rated cut of Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman, fans are already worried that the success of Deadpool is going to have some nasty side effects.
We’re breaking down the real reason Deadpool succeeded, and why other studios should, and shouldn’t take a lesson from the foul-mouthed blockbuster in our latest docu video, How R- Rated Superhero Movies Could Change The Game.
First, a reality check: part of the reason that Deadpool was such a surprise hit, is because so many hardcore comic movies before it were disappointments, or failures. The rise of comic book blockbusters in the 21st century may have implied that any comic adaptation would be a hit, but studios soon learned that stamping the words “based on the graphic novel” on their movie wasn’t enough. And as much as some might suggest today, over-the-top violence and adult humor didn’t help, either.
Even movies with passionate fan bases, like Marvel’s Punisher, or the ultra-violent Dredd seemed to prove that cutting kids out of the comic book equation sliced their profits in half. And where The Punisher became a cult success, but struggled among critics, even the critically praised and stylish Dredd couldn’t break out of its R-Rated shell.
Deadpool is lonely among high-grossing R-Rated features, so if studios think the facts have changed, we’d bet they’re in for a rude awakening, since Deadpool might be the exception that proves the rule.
What Actually Earns An R-Rating?
You’d think it would be common knowledge, but the content that actually earns a movie the R- Rating isn’t always clear. So fans might assume that Deadpool’s blood, gore, violence, sex scenes, and mile-a-minute adult humor is a good indicator. But even small moments and split- second shots can make all the difference. For instance, Joss Whedon’s Avengers got an initial R-Rating for the method and bloodiness of Agent Phil Coulson’s death. A few cuts were made around it, and a wide PG-13 release was in the bag.
In other words: the difference between PG and R can be a sizable one, but fans shouldn’t assume the worst. In fact, the first trailer for DC’s Suicide Squad seemed to guarantee an R-Rating. The fact that it was announced to be gentle enough for PG-13 confirms that a movie’s rating isn’t the whole story.
What Does It Mean For The Genre Now?
In the short term, it’s hard to know just how much interest there is in capitalizing on the surprise success of Deadpool’s R-Rated action and comedy. But fans probably don’t need to worry that the integrity or plot of anticipated movies will feel a difference – at this point, a comic book adventure written and directed for a mass audience isn’t guaranteed to make more money by adding in any R-Rated content.
That doesn’t mean studios aren’t eager to capitalize on the R-Rated buzz, or the assumption that an R-Rating might be just as promising or “true to the character” for its own story. In the wake of Deadpool, it was the third Wolverine movie that gained attention, with rumors that it could pursue the same classification. But that’s not the whole story. After all, the X-Man’s second solo movie was filmed with an R-Rating in mind, too.
The sequences, swearing and blood were all filmed knowing that they might be cut for a PG-13 rating – which they were – but were added in for the Extended Cut home release. In other words, knowing that the next Wolverine movie is aiming for R doesn’t say much, since the last one did the same.
But Deadpool’s success could convince Fox that releasing the uncut, original version of the movie as the theatrical one wouldn’t cost them much. And the ticket sales they did lose could be offset by the added marketing, and ability to advertise “Wolverine’s first (possibly last?) R-Rated adventure,” and the most faithful version fans have seen.
But what stirred up even more controversy was the idea that the Big Blue Boy Scout himself, Superman, could be swallowed up by the R-Rated fad, with Batman V Superman’s own home video release earning an R. Again, things weren’t as sleptics immediately assumed. Most elements of Superman’s origin in Man of Steel went over kids’ heads anyway, so in his showdown with Batman, younger fans might see two superheroes duking it out, but older viewers would grasp the continued battle of politics, ideologies, morality, and acceptable levels of violence actually taking place.
The marketing has promised the same themes and ideas as any R-Rated film, not to mention a brutal fistfight between the heroes, and Bruce Wayne’s promise to make Superman bleed. Knowing that a bit of blood and gore earned Marvel’s family-friendly Avengers an R-Rating, it’s not crazy to think that Zack Snyder crossed the same line. Possibly, more than once. Theaters won’t see those scenes, but an ‘Unrated Cut’ like Wolverine’s seems like a no-brainer (for older fans who are actually intrigued).
Classifying the R-Rated cut in the wake of Deadpool may be a clever marketing move on DC’s part, and a win-win: allow a bigger audience at the theater, and cash in on R-Rated superhero fans months later. But if Zack Snyder already had to cut the scenes in question, like he did before releasing the Unrated Cut of Watchmen, then an “R-Rated Batman V Superman” could have been completed months before Deadpool hit theaters.
Even so, that may be a sign that some old troubles are once again on the horizon...
Repeating Past Mistakes...?
Sure, R-Rated heroes like Spawn, Deadpool and The Punisher prove that some stories need to be told to adults to be told right at all, but the ugly truth is that those dark, brooding, violent heroes came from a decade filled with imitators. As our own Bob Chipman has detailed in another editorial, Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” and Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns” elevated the comic book artform by going dark; and publishers chased the success of grim, amoral, violent stories overnight. The result was a mess of excessively grim, adult, immoral characters who could no longer be differentitated from the villains they fought - and almost killed DC and Marvel as a result.
So even though there’s a chance, and certainly, a place for serious superhero movies to make it big, movie studios chasing the same prize that the publishers did decades ago could result in a similar crisis. An R-Rated Batman V Superman cut may not be copying anything but Zack Snyder and Warner Bros.’ vision. Which, in fairness, is a completely different conversation to be had.
What Does The Future Hold?
The good news is that instead of looking at their superhero movies and asking how they can earn an R-Rating, studio executives may give scripts and characters a second look, when their adult content may have seemed like a problem in the old days. Because if Deadpool can work by being a good story first and foremost, with ratings an afterthought, then why can’t an R-Rated Batman? Or Lobo? Or Moon Knight? Or Carnage and Venom?
Hit movies won’t be any easier to make, and studios will have to resist the mistakes of the past. But after Deadpool, no comic book movie will ever be written off because it might only, can only, or will only be suitable for adults. And that's good news for everyone involved.
Those are our thoughts on the shocking success of Deadpool’s big screen debut, and how the movie industry could, and should, react. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments, and remember to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more videos like this one.