Prior to the success of last year’s “Deadpool,” if a movie featured a character with superpowers, wearing a superhero costume and/or fighting a super-villain, it was probably safe to at least consider taking the family to it.
Not so much anymore.
With the back-to-back successes of Fox’s “Deadpool” and now a second high-profile R-rated superhero movie in last month’s “Logan,” also produced by Fox, the floodgates on even more superhero movies that gleefully embrace adult-oriented content could be about to burst wide open.
Of course “Deadpool” wasn’t the first comic book character to get slapped with an R rating — Wesley Snipes’ trio of Blade movies and several iterations of "The Punisher" are notable examples that all predate the “merc with a mouth.”
But what made “Deadpool” different was that it managed to become a mainstream hit on a scale that would make even a lot of PG-13 superheroes envious — and not in spite of its R rating, but arguably because of it.
In domestic ticket sales alone, “Deadpool” raked in $363 million, according to Box Office Mojo. That makes it not only the most successful X-Men-related movie thus far, but also the second highest-grossing first installment of any superhero franchise period, ranking just behind Sam Raimi’s original “Spider-Man.” Internationally, its $783 million cumulative haul also makes it, according to Entertainment Weekly, the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. Period.
Hugh Jackman’s swan song as the character Wolverine has also been doing gangbusters at the box office. It’s already crossed the $200 million mark and is still going strong. Which means that, now that lightning has officially struck twice, other studios are looking to get in on the R-rated action.
Sony recently announced plans to (once again) kick off its own superhero movie universe starting with an R-rated, horror-influenced standalone movie featuring the fan-favorite Spider-Man villain Venom, according to Collider.
Confusingly, this film is said to not be connected in any way to the upcoming Marvel Spider-Man reboot with Tom Holland. There’s no word yet on how or if ol’ Webhead will even factor in, although anyone familiar with the character’s comic book history knows how odd a completely Spider-Man-less Venom movie would be.
DC has also flirted with going the R-rated route with some of its major characters. An R-rated extended cut of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” with more graphic fight scenes was released last year as a Blu-ray exclusive. And now, despite previous comments by producer Charles Roven that all upcoming DC releases will be PG-13, The Wrap has reported (citing a “well-placed insider”) that the studio has changed its mind and is now “100 percent” considering the option of R-rated superhero movies in the vein of “Deadpool” and “Logan.”
The only studio not jumping on the bandwagon so far is Marvel Studios, although the Marvel/Netflix collaborations like “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” show that even the normally kid-friendly Marvel can go in darker directions.
Then, of course, there’s Fox. Having started the trend, the studio behind the X-Men and Fantastic Four movies looks perfectly happy to continue with R-rated superheroes. A “Deadpool” sequel is already slated for next year, which will introduce a couple of key members of the X-Men comics universe. That, in turn, is expected to lead into another team movie called “X-Force.”
Assuming “Deadpool 2” isn’t a complete bust, “X-Force” will likewise target an R rating, according to producer Simon Kinberg.
“The success of ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Logan’ have bolstered our confidence to make edgy, more daring, provocative, bold movies that audiences will embrace,” he recently told Deadline Hollywood.
Kinberg did stress, however, that not every X-Men movie from here on out will be R-rated, but added that the PG-13 rating should be chosen for “creative, not business reasons.”
Despite all this, superhero movies that the whole family can go see aren’t exactly going to disappear anytime soon, in all likelihood. Worldwide, “Captain America: Civil War” pulled in more than $1 billion last year, and four other PG-13 superhero movies ranked on the top 20 list, according to Box Office Mojo.
This year, families can still look forward to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” in May, “Wonder Woman” in June, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” in July and both “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Justice League” in November.
And next year is just as jam-packed but with one extra superhero flick, in particular, that should make all the times parents will have to tell their kids “no” when asked to see “Deadpool 2” just a little bit easier: “The Incredibles 2.”
Jeff Peterson studied humanities and history at Brigham Young University. He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia.