- Marvel has had success with R-rated movies like Deadpool and Logan, which were well-rewarded at the box office.
- Deadpool 3 is confirmed to be in the works and will have an R-rating, tying the character into the main MCU timeline.
- Characters like Blade, Werewolf by Night, and the Midnight Sun group are known to be R-rated in the comics, and it would make sense for their adaptations to maintain that rating.
So far, if you have been keeping up to date with the timeline (with all the multiverses and different studio films), only two Marvel movies and a few Netflix Marvel series have been R-rated. However, the nature of the two Marvel movies and the R-Rated series are entirely different from one another. They focus on characters not in the main timeline — like Wolverine, Deadpool, Daredevil, Luke Cage, etc. So the question everyone is currently asking is whether or not Marvel should commit to doing R-rated movies and series in the MCU.
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The first film was a hit with a live-action Deadpool movie in 2016, which followed a comedic beat. There is gore and violence, but the R-rating should be there for the foul language spouted by the mutant, along with his lack of filter.
Next was Logan in 2017, with a darker tone and a darker story. Yes, there was still violence, but it had a completely different atmosphere.
So, this raises a good question: is it good for Marvel to include more R-rated movies or series in their future line-up?
As mentioned above, Marvel (or rather 20th Century Fox) has seen some excellent reviews for their R-rated movies. Albeit two films only, it is still a risk that was taken and then well-rewarded at the end of the day. But more is needed to answer the question of whether it would be a wise move as some pros and cons come along with this decision.
Deadpool 3 and Other Future R-rated Marvel Films / Series
There has been a recent confirmation that Deadpool 3 is in the works, with Hugh Jackman reprising his role as Wolverine. With that established, the Marvel movie (now a part of the MCU) would hold an R-rating, which limits the audience to whom it is being catered. Again, this may be a good thing, considering how successful the previous two films in the franchise were. But then again, this movie promises to finally tie Deadpool and the rest of the mutants into the main MCU timeline.
But now this brings in the question of characters who are being brought to the big screen but are known to be R-rated in the comics, such as Blade, Werewolf by Night, and the Midnight Sun group. And so far, in the Werewolf by Night (2022) TV special, audiences are looking at a darker and more mature version of a Marvel film that seems almost horror movie-like.
Furthermore, with Mahershala Ali’s upcoming Blade, it would be strange if they made the film PG-13 when the world of vampires is something that would be expected to be heavy on gore and violence. But fans are yet to see what their decision would be.
And lastly, there is also the Marvel Zombies, an animated series set to be released in 2024. The story continues Marvel’s What If…? timeline and sees the Avengers up against a zombie apocalypse. Naturally, this Marvel series will be filled with gore, blood, and violence, so it would make sense that the show will be R-rated.
The other option is that Marvel tames these films and series considerably without giving fans their favourite comic book scenes on the big screen.
But Would This Be A Good Idea?
In short, it would be a good idea to have essentially R-rated Marvel characters remain so when adapted to movies or TV series. There are characters such as Captain America, Iron Man, and Spider-Man that do not require the more mature age rating as they cater to younger and older audiences alike. But at times, it makes sense that mature audiences are catered to in the form of accurate portrayals of their favourite characters. Because Marvel then runs the risk of potentially ruining a good character and/or plotline due. And if the risk of failure is there already, why not just go in the route where fans would be happiest?
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R-Rated Comic Book Movies Aren’t Completely Unnecessary?
Did Birds of Prey hurt R-rated comic book movies? The fallout from Birds of Prey’s underperformance at the box office in 2020 may have left many asking, what went wrong?
However, some commentators like Jeff Bock, a box-office analyst with Exhibitor Relations, flatly state that Birds of Prey’s R-rating was perhaps the main reason for its lower-than-expected box-office numbers. Bock, speaking on the films’ low numbers, said, “It wasn’t for the masses. It was a niche comic-book film.” Releasing the film with an R-rating obviously meant that huge swathes of younger Harley Quinn fans were automatically excluded from watching the film.
R-rated content seemed to be doing great. Logan and Deadpool proved that R-rated Marvel comic book movies could do well with audiences and rake in tons of cash at the box office. This upsurge of success could not be better exemplified than with Joker. Its billion-dollar box-office performance seemed like the final seal of approval that R-rated comic book movies are here to stay and could earn just as much as most PG-13 films.
Den of Geek’s Rob Leane points out that movie studios have been making R-rated comic book adaptations for decades. Leane highlights Fritz The Cat (1972) and Conan The Barbarian (1982) as early examples of R-rated comic-based movies. These films, while successful, usually had a glass ceiling, never crossing over the 500-million-dollar mark. Logan, Deadpool and Joker changed that and took R-rated properties into the stratosphere, with both films becoming the two highest R-rated comic book movies until Joker.
The yellow brick road to R-rated success was open for business, and Birds of Prey seemed primed to reap the rewards. However, Birds of Prey debuted with $33 million in North America despite estimates of an already modest $45 million opening. While internationally, it opened below expectations with $48 million for a total opening of $81 million. According to Variety, the film will need to gross $250-300 million worldwide to break even. As of February 25th 2020, it has a worldwide total of only $174.8 million.
Brian Lowry, writing for CNN, states that “for many comic-book fans, R-rated movies on favourite characters are a badge of honour-proof that Hollywood is taking these properties seriously and treating them in a grown-up way, after a past that included plenty of campy abuse.” He also warns that the push for R-rated films is filled with pitfalls and cites the failure of recent R-rated comic book movies like Hellboy and Brightburn as examples. Comic book adaptions often have high production and marketing costs and need to be released to a wide audience to make a profit. R-ratings limit the audience, and older viewers, who are often pickier and more selective than younger audiences, do not always flock to just any release.
So while Joker made R-rating cooler than ever, Birds of Prey and the other lesser-known failures, like Hellboy, came like a splash of cold water on the push for R-ratings. Studios and fans should be wary of wanting an R-rating on comic book properties. Each character and their story have to be evaluated on merit before deciding who and what gets an R-rating. Considering Harley Quinn had such a large young fanbase, it was foolish to restrict the film in the first place. Joker had a seemingly older fanbase which was ready and willing to come out in large numbers to support the film. Both Joker and Birds of Prey had high critical praise, but without Quinn’s young adoring fans to bolster the film, it fell below expectations. Younger fans are often accompanied by parents or older family members, which swells audience numbers considerably.
Despite the success of previous Marvel and DC R-rated comic movies, their high earning should be seen as the exception to the rule. As mentioned earlier, these films are in a niche market with low to modest box office numbers. Examples like Blade, Constantine, etc. usually make $100 to $250 million, tops. If the production and marketing costs are kept low, those figures are seen as a success. R-rated films with higher budgets have to walk a tightrope, and a restricted audience only makes success all the more elusive. Time will tell if R-rated comic book movies become more numerous or if Birds of Prey was the catalyst to halt the push for R-rated properties.
Did Birds of Prey hurt R-rated comic book movies? Maybe. But could Marvel still find success with R-rated comic book movies and series? Maybe.
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Would you like to see more R-rated Marvel movies and series?