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The R-Rated blockbuster: Are we on the cusp of a true return?

For major blockbuster Hollywood releases, the PG-13 rating has proven itself to be the tried and true method of getting as large of an audience as possible, as it isn’t adult enough that children aren’t allowed to see it, yet it isn’t childish enough that adults won’t sit through it.

However, the Hollywood system didn’t always act like this.

Before and even a bit after the PG-13 rating was created in the early 1980s as a response to increasingly violent PG-rated movies (specifically “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Gremlins”), R-rated blockbusters were commonplace in the market, with massive hits like “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” showing that blockbusters could thrive in the market with an R rating.

While there have been exceptional cases of R-rated blockbusters since the dominance of the PG-13 rating, such as the original “Matrix” trilogy, Mel Gibson’s infamous “Passion of the Christ” and Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator,” the market would see its biggest financial gains from PG-13 blockbusters.

For the first half of the 2010s, you would rarely see a major blockbuster movie delve into the R rating, with the most popular and successful R-rated movies being either adult comedies or Oscars-hopeful dramas.

The film that truly opened the door for the return of R-rated blockbusters was 2016’s “Deadpool,” which was a breakout hit for 20th Century Fox and proved the viability of R-rated blockbusters. The film’s success was soon further exemplified by the continued success of both its sequel, “Deadpool 2,” as well as “Logan,” which both had over double the budget of the original “Deadpool.”

The profitability of “Deadpool” was also noticed by other studios, and from 2017 onward we started to see a trend in massively successful R-rated films, such as “It” (2017), “Get Out” (2017) and the “John Wick” franchise.

However, the biggest R-rated success to come from this time, as well as the only R-rated movie to gross over $1 billion at the box office worldwide, is “Joker.”

It cannot be understated just how much of a runaway success “Joker” was, as compared to the second highest grossing R-rated movie worldwide, “Deadpool 2,” which made $285 million less worldwide. “Joker” also saw massive success with critics and had the most Oscar nominations for a single film in 2020 with 11, eventually winning two.

Suffice to say, film studios, now more than ever, are beginning to understand just how successful R-rated blockbusters can be, and while they will never surpass PG-13 blockbusters as the go-to rating for a major blockbuster release, the continued support of these R-rated blockbusters shows that the medium of film and what is considered popular is always changing.

With even more R-rated blockbusters slated to be made in the upcoming months and years (such as “The Matrix: Resurrections” and “The King’s Man” both releasing this December, as well as a confirmed third “Deadpool” film), we will have to wait and see if the R-rated blockbuster is truly here to stay.

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