C'mon Hollywood: When does the R-rating matter?
It was recently announced that THE EXPENDABLES 3 would be rated PG-13, which brought out the usual disdain for a non R-rated pic featuring our favorite ‘80’s action star icons. Many dismissed the film outright, calling it a lost cause without the blood-boobs-and-expletives R-rating, even though both Arnold and Sly’s recent R-rated efforts failed to bring the box office magic. With my bias clearly in check, however, I gave it some thought. Does THE EXPENDABLES 3 really need an R to be good? Does every action movie need an R to live up to its full potential? I genuinely used to think so, but after a little introspection and a quick reflection on some of my favorite films of the last few years, it has occurred to me that maybe (gasp) PG-13 isn’t so bad after all, particularly when applied to films that don't necessarily need that "hard" R.
As a kid, prior to hitting that 17-year-old sweet spot, seeing an R-rated movie was like getting away with something. In many instances, it kind of was, too, as the movies I grew up on in the years leading up to becoming “street legal” were flicks like DIE HARD, ROBOCOP, THE TOXIC AVENGER, and every Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Seagal, and Van Damme pic that ever uttered a hundred f*cks and put blood squibs to work long before the advent of computers turned them into a videogame effect. I also remember seeing INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM in 1984 and watching my best friends sister run screaming out of the theater during the “dinner” scene. I didn’t know it at the time, but changes were on the horizon.
After the aforementioned Indy sequel eked into theaters on a PG rating, as well as POLTERGEIST and GREMLINS, parents groups were in an uproar over the content, which caused director Steven Spielberg to suggest the “in-between” rating of PG-13, which was quickly approved by the MPAA. Since that time, the rating has morphed into Hollywood’s most sought after marketing tool. With massive PG-13 hits like Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN trilogy, JURASSIC PARK, TITANIC, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise, and of course the TWILIGHT saga and THE HUNGER GAMES franchise, Hollywood has started chasing the PG-13 as it seems to hit the demographic “sweet spot” where it seemingly doesn’t “cut off” teens like an “R” would and doesn’t dissuade them like a “PG” might. It’s an all-ages smorgasbord of disposable income!
Of late, a number of film franchises that were born of the “R” rated era have curtailed into this PG-13 honey pot, causing fans to lose their shit (and reasonably so in many cases) over a sanitized version of their foul-mouthed, blood and guts, T&A series’ that have presumably “gone soft” with a lighter rating. 2007’s LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, which even went as far as to have a muffled Yippie Ki-Yay, motherBLAM in place of its signature phrase, was one of the first old-school franchises to go PG-13, yet still managed to turn a healthy profit, unlike the recent ROBOCOP remake, which tanked domestically.
The thing is, though, PG-13 movies have gotten better. Like, just a few F-bombs, blood spurts, and boob shots short of an “R” better (or worse, depending on how your view the uptick in suggestive content). Rather than playing it safely with the PG-13 rating, filmmakers are pushing to the very edge of it. I remember watching FAST FIVE and kind of marveling at the carnage and awesomeness I was seeing. When it was over I had to look it up to see if it was an “R” or not. The energy, the high-octane action, and the intensity reminded me of the old-school action romps I grew up on, but I was suddenly in a place where I couldn’t discern whether or not I’d just seen something that was for 17 and over adults or not.
The superhero genre has had similar success; Dark themes, high body counts, and even some mild profanity (just slightly more than you’d catch in a monthly comic) are sprinkled throughout these films. From THE AVENGERS to THE DARK KNIGHT to MAN OF STEEL, these flicks are filled with moments that easily tow the line of an R, without taking it into territory it doesn’t need to go into. The truth is, we don’t need an R-rated Batman or Captain America. They don’t go that route in the comics and don’t need to go that route on the big screen. The horror genre as well has had some success with PG-13 where an R simply wasn’t needed. The one-two punch of INSIDIOUS and INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER TWO, THE RING, and last year’s MAMA are proof that a horror film can be scary without being oversaturated in the usual tropes. That said, the genre typically fares better with an R (i.e. EVIL DEAD remake, THE CONJURING) as the themes in horror typically push those limits and then some. For many, that’s the draw, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a few strong entries that don’t carry the restricted tag.
The R has its place, that much is clear. Some movies simply cannot (and should not) exist with any other rating. You cannot have a PG-13 rated THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, SEVEN, HOSTEL, GLADIATOR or BRIDESMAIDS. Just try and watch any one of those edited for television. It’s painful. Hell is watching movies on TNT, that’s a fact. But, these are films that tackle subject matter and themes that are simply not meant for an audience of prepubescent teens. Sure, some younger audiences are more mature than others, but most are simply not prepared to handle it. They could enjoy these films, sure, but most are just reveling in the excess, as it’s foreign to their sensibilities.
THE EXPENDABLES 2 barely lived up to its R-rating, which likely cost it a few bucks, whereas ROBOCOP desperately needed an R to entice fans of the original and add a bit of an edge. Both would’ve arguably been better had they swapped ratings. However, after seeing what’s been done in films like FAST & FURIOUS 6, THE DARK KNIGHT, etc., I think there’s plenty of evidence that you can deliver an exciting action or sci-fi film with a PG-13 that doesn’t feel like a compromise. It should always be about making the best, most entertaining film anyway, be it PG-13 or R, but at this stage of the game it’s not a foregone conclusion that either one can forsake a film to failure or guarantee its success. The content dictates the rating, ultimately, fairly or unfairly, but it's certainly not always a clear cut answer.
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|Extra Tidbit:||What do YOU think? Does an R-rating make that big of a difference anymore?|