Many superheroes live in the shadows, fighting the forces of darkness on their own terms. In some cases, they literally fight fire with fire (or hellfire, at times). So, it makes sense that when those more pragmatic heroes do the dirty work that the clean-cut boy scouts in their ivory fortresses of solitude can’t do, things get a little… dark.
While going dark doesn’t necessarily constitute a better movie, at times it just makes so much more sense from a stylistic point of view. For instance, would a Tarantino movie have the same visceral impact and assault on the senses if it was toned down to PG-13? Of course not.
Also, there’s the question of faithfulness to the source material. While commercial considerations might dictate the need for a PG-13, fans of the source material can often feel short-changed.
Here are 12 Superhero Movies That Should Have Been Rated R.
13 The Wolverine (2013)
While X-Men Origins: Wolverine was much-maligned, the sequel, The Wolverine was met with more approval from fans that preferred its tone and its general faithfulness to the source material. In particular, it referenced the "Japan" stoyline by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. Despite the ending, which opted to replace the classic depictions of the Silver Samurai with a giant Iron Man-style battle suit, the movie works pretty well.
The only other major criticism from fans was that they wanted to see Wolverine really cut loose! Here’s an indestructible killing machine that’s famous for crossing the line and using his claws to deadly effect, only we still haven’t seen him use them in the way he does in the comics. This movie promised a more comics-faithful depiction of Wolverine, and it came pretty close, but without the decapitations and dismemberments, Wolverine feels declawed, like a common house-cat.
While there’s a version available on DVD and Blu-Ray that restores some of the blood, it still doesn’t quite match the tone the audience has hoped for since Hugh Jackman first popped the claws in that dive bar way back in 2000.
12 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
While a whole generation of fans may still identify with this franchise due to the massively successful cartoon series with an incredibly catchy theme-tune ("Heroes in a half-shell, turtle power!"), the original Eastman and Laird comic book series was incredibly dark! Intended as a parody of the dark and gritty direction that mainstream comic books were taking, The Turtles emerged as brutal crime fighters that engaged in heated battles with a ninja clan known as The Foot (directly referencing Marvel’s “The Hand”).
While the original series of movies went for a broader audience that catered for kids and adults alike, this movie could have been great if it had gone to the original source material and been a movie aimed squarely at adults. Given the advances in CGI, this movie could have shaken off the cartoon influences altogether and delivered an action movie unlike anything else… well, until Deadpool came along, anyway. Still, despite heavy criticism, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has spawned an upcoming sequel.
11 Hellboy (2004)
It’s tough to criticize Hellboy. Despite a fairly small budget, it delivers so very much. Ron Pearlman is perfectly cast as the titular Hellboy. the supporting cast, including John Hurt, is entertaining. The direction is classic Del Toro. Despite being only a modest success at the box office, it did introduce a vast number of new fans to the character, and universe, of the comic books.
Why it should have been better rated R is arguable. While it’s a solid movie as it is, and many will say “leave it as it is,” some fans wanted the darker elements to be, well, darker! One criteria for an R rating is “Demonic Images.” With a movie dealing with demons and such invading earth, some genuinely terrifying demons could have added a layer to the movie that would have given it some more depth.
While the audience isn’t exactly short-changed by what they got, a slightly more mature scene here and there could have been fun.
10 The Mask (1994)
Not only did The Mask establish Jim Carrey as a leading man for the next decade, building on the success of his previous effort in Ace Ventura, it also gave us a star-making performance from Cameron Diaz. A monster-hit on release, and one with a strong following to this day, The Mask is a full-tilt blockbuster with some hilarious performances. The dog, Milo, steals so many scenes he almost deserves his own movie.
Why an R-rated version could have been better once again goes back to the source material. In the Dark Horse comic books where the character originates, The Mask is very different. While the basic premise is more or less the same -- the magical mask causes the wearer to change appearance and lose all inhibition -- the character has more in common with The Joker, Mr. Hyde (né Dr. Jekyll), and Steve Ditko’s The Creeper. In the movie, The Mask changes each wearer to be a version of themselves. Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey) becomes a mischief-making anti-hero, with a love of cartoon-style violence and a hopeless romantic streak. The villain becomes a homicidal monster, and the cute little dog becomes the Rottweiler he believes himself to be inside. The comic book iteration imposes itself on the wearer, overriding their own personality entirely, causing them to become ultra-violent anti-heroes.
Given that the original was over 20 years ago, and a remake along the same lines would only be compared unfavorably, a darker version with comedy ultra-violence and closer to the comic books could be great. Given the success of this year’s Deadpool, it could happen yet.
9 Ghost Rider (2007)
While some movies on this list are tough to criticize, Ghost Rider is tough to praise. Nicolas Cage is more funny than frightening as the Spirit of Vengeance, the plot is dull and uninspired, the supporting cast (while great on paper) is equally lifeless. The effects were reasonably good for the era, and were one of the few things critics praised.
The movie doesn’t just need a few more scenes of blood and demons; it needs a total remake. A remake intended as R-rated from the start. Fans of the comic books are used to both Johnny Blaze and Dan Ketch fighting Mephisto and Blackheart both on the mortal plane and in Hell itself. They deserve to see the Spirit of Vengeance actually inflict some vengeance!
8 Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Few movies in recent years have provoked such intense debate as Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Fans of the comic books, and audiences in general, were polarized. They either loved it or hated it. Despite a massive box office haul, it looks set to disappoint Warner Bros., who expected to draw in well over a billion dollars by combining their two most famous and iconic comic book characters.
With an R rated Director’s cut promised once the film is released on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download, BvS might be given a new life. Affleck’s Batman, while more brutal than Keaton or Bale’s incarnations, is expected to be seen being even more violent towards the criminals he targets, as well as against Superman himself. The final battle with Doomsday is expected to be longer and far more brutal as well.
Given that director Zack Snyder made violence an art form in 300, it’s no surprise that Batman V Superman will have some graphic scenes when the director’s cut is released. It’s also served as something of an insurance policy for Warner Bros., and could potentially push the movie into more successful territory for them.
7 Daredevil (2003)
This one being on the list might just be cheating as there actually is an R rated version. The director’s cut adds over 30 minutes of footage and is much closer to the original vision intended during the planning stages of the movie, and it's much better for it.
There are numerous reasons that Daredevil didn’t perform well, either critically and commercially. Most critics point to Ben Affleck’s personal life at the time as being so high-profile that it made him toxic at the box office.
Truthfully, the production suffered from the box office success of other comic book movies at the time. Studio executives wanted to change the tone in order to match the massive success of the first Spider-Man movie, starring Tobey Maguire. In doing so, during production no less, they made several changes and cut out some of the subplots altogether. The result was a movie that wasn’t dark enough for the fans of the Frank Miller version of the character, and too dark for people looking for a Spider-Man style action adventure.
For an idea of how Daredevil should have been, check out the Netflix series which has recently released a second season.
6 Spawn (1997)
Again, there technically is an R-rated version of Spawn. The original PG-13 theatrical release failed to match the tone set by the Todd McFarlane comic book series and was a disappointment to many. The R-rated version, while much better in many ways, merely added some extra elements to the movie without adding much in the way of substance or changing the general tone.
Spawn hasn’t aged too well in the years since its release, with the CGI looking very dated now. But that’s the least of its problems when viewed through 21st century eyes. For its era, it was a brave effort. Comic book movies weren’t as fashionable as they are now, nor were there as many great examples to borrow ideas from.
A true R-rated version, not a director’s cut but a total remake, could re-invigorate the franchise. With the success of this year’s Deadpool, and studio chiefs now looking at ways to capitalize on its success, a Spawn remake is more likely than ever.
5 Elektra (2005)
Spinning off from 2003’s Daredevil, Elektra follows Jennifer Garner’s Elektra as she becomes a ruthless assassin, having been resurrected from the afterlife by the mysterious “Stick.” Critically and commercially unsuccessful upon release, Elektra failed to make much of an impact. Much criticism was directed at the weak acting, poor direction, and lack of plot.
So, why the R rating? While a simple R-rated cut might not have saved this particular iteration, a version that was R-rated from the outset would have been much more in line with the character. The Elektra from the comics is never really an out-and-out hero, she’s in the shadows fighting demon-worshipping ninjas. This is what audiences deserved, it’s just not what was on offer.
4 Fantastic Four (2015)
There are a number of people who just want Fox to give up trying to make a good Fantastic Four movie and return the movie rights to Marvel. There are even more people who feel that the best Fantastic Four movie was made by Disney/Pixar when they made The Incredibles, which borrowed the themes of a dysfunctional superhero family, it just didn’t feature the actual Fantastic Four.
While the debate regarding Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four continues, it does at least try to do something new with the material. Clearly borrowing from Marvel’s “Ultimate” universe as opposed to the regular Marvel Universe (Earth 616 for those of you keeping track of such things) it opted for more of a “body-horror” approach, as opposed to yet another generic superhero origin story.
When going for body-horror, skipping over the “horror” part might be seen as something of a mistake though. When going for a “grown-up” comic book movie, Fantastic Four is probably the wrong property to adapt given that it’s generally the most family friendly of Marvel’s comics. But if you’re going to go dark, go really dark. Otherwise, what’s the point? You’re only going to alienate everyone, which is basically what happened.
3 Jonah Hex (2010)
Jonah Hex suffered more from simple mishandling than any one serious offence, the casting of Megan Fox aside.
While Jonah Hex isn’t a movie that courts much controversy, indeed it’s been widely forgotten, an R rating would have allowed it to be something special. It’s set during the aftermath of the Civil War, which was the bloodiest and most tragic period of American history. These dark days saw unprecedented bloodshed, and yet in Jonah Hex the shootings are largely bloodless. While the whole “talking to the dead” thing relies on a certain suspension of disbelief, believing that you can shoot a man and there be no blood pushes the boundaries of incredulity just a step to far.
Again, if you’re going to set a movie in a dark period, with a facially disfigured bounty hunter in the lead, don’t be afraid to go dark with the movie. It's what audiences wanted, and why they stayed away.
2 The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight is a cinematic masterpiece which will likely be taught in film school as an example of how to make a movie for the next thirty years. It is, while not entirely flawless, a cinematic gem.
What elevates it from the masses is debatable. The cast is a who’s-who of current cinematic greatness. The director is almost without peer. The effects are incredible. It’s hard to find any areas of weakness.
Many fans, and critics, agree on one thing, Heath Ledger gave one of the greatest performances in many years with his take on The Joker. His “Why so serious?” is becoming a line quoted and imitated along the lines of “Here's Johnny!” and “I AM your father.” Heath Ledger is amazing, and his loss is sorely felt by his many fans.
All that being said, The Joker is supposed to be scary. Indeed, this version is the scariest one we’ve seen. But given the comic book version’s love of poisons and acid attacks, this Joker preference for simple guns and explosives feels over-simplified. He might look like a clown, but he tortures people. He’s terrifying, which is why he’s Batman’s arch-nemesis.
While Ledger’s take on The Joker is incredible, an even more brutal and sadistic version could have captured his insane view of the world even more. The movie is called The Dark Knight for a reason, it’s dark. Let it be even darker.
While an R-rating in no way guarantees a better, or more satisfying, movie it can allow film makers to go just a little further with the source material. With some changes, some of the movies on this list which underperformed could have at least been elevated to cult-status, and the mega-hits could have just given a touch more to the fans.
If you have thoughts regards more movies that could have been better R-rated, let us know in the comments!