We can’t talk about R-rated movies without mentioning Todd Phillips extremely successful Joker (2019) that just got released. Thanks to a combination of great acting, writing, cinematography and score, the Joaquin Phoenix clown origin story quickly became the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time, beating previous best Deadpool 2’s 785 million USD with an impressive 870.5 million USD worldwide. This is particularly impressive as it has now passed more accessible movies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Superhero movies are most commonly family-friendly action movies, so the recent success of adult superhero movies is certainly interesting and shows the genre has the ability to reach a much broader audience.
While 2016’s Deadpool is responsible for the recent revival in this sub-genre it is by no means the first one to do this. Movies like Blade and Kick-ass all came before Deadpool and, while they were mostly well received, didn’t earn anywhere near Deadpool’s staggering 783.1 million dollars. The success of Deadpool is due to the dark humour and action that while making it feel like an MCU movie is different enough to allow future movies to fully embrace the darker side of the genre. In short, Deadpool has played a fundamental part in opening the door to more serious R-rated superhero movies like Logan (2017), Joker and even TV shows like Titans. And if box office takings for movies like Joker and Deadpool are a sign of anything, there is definitely a market for future movies like this.
Of course, R-rated movies are definitely not limited to the superhero genre with adult themes being covered in countless films over the years many becoming classics. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) and The Matrix (1999) performed amazingly at the box office earning $523.7 million and $463.5 million respectively, showing that action/sci-fi movies clearly benefit from the R rating. Movies with a more serious tone and topic will also require R ratings if the director wants to properly convey their points; point and example is Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) which while controversial with its brutal interpretation of the bible, was a huge success at the box office bringing in $622.3 million.
Horror has also made great use of R-ratings with some of the best movies here simply not being as effective if they went for a more family-friendly direction. A prime example is the horror masterpiece The Exorcist (1973) which was so controversial that in the UK you couldn’t buy home copies of it in 1988 and remained prohibited for 11 years. Despite this, it is the ninth-highest-grossing film of all time in Canada and the US just showing how, with correct tone and themes, a movie can excel.
Recent years have clearly shown a rise in interest for R rated movies with them earning more and more and starting to rival titles available to all audiences. Is this a sign we as an audience are getting more mature and want darker, bloodier stories rather than family-friendly flicks? Or rather a sign of the excellent quality of these movies? Personally, I hope movies will become more diverse and explore more R rated themes so to help address certain issues in the world today rather than simply sticking to superheroes and fairy tales. If the small screen is bringing out powerful and relevant shows like Euphoria that depict important topics through graphic imagery, then surely Hollywood can start investing in more such projects, regardless of rating.