Whatever happened to the R-rated movie? When I was a kid growing up, the R rating meant something. It was a right of passage. When you were a kid and you saw an R rating, you knew that you couldn’t watch it under penalty of death. At the very least you’d get a very stern tongue lashing from your parents after they caught you sneaking into one. That, however, paled in comparison to the accolades you’d get from your friends after you told them you saw an R-rated movie.
These Aren't Your Daddy's Ratings
Today it’s all about PG-13 so they can fit more butts in the seats. Understandable from a business point of view. The problem with that is that there are no tiered levels of entertainment anymore. Let me explain: Back when I was just a kid, cartoons were rated G, which stood for general audiences. PG got a bit more risqué. Those movies tended to be a bit more graphic — not necessarily due to violence in language, but subject matter. Rated R meant you were in for some serious shit. No person in their right mind would ever think of the situations presented in these films. The R rating meant this is your last chance to bow out gracefully. No one will judge you less.
Nowadays, G is considered toddlers and below. PG is every Disney, Pixar or DreamWorks blockbuster, PG-13 is the standard and rated R may occasionally show up on a horror movie. The PG-13 rating only exists because of Temple of Doom. The MPAA thought that it was too hard for a PG rating but not hard enough for an R. This was fine for its time, but once it became exploited, the entire rating system was recalibrated.
Get Them While They're Young
Back in the '80s when cartoons were used to sell toys, somebody came up with the bright idea to market R rated material to kids in the form of toned-down animated fare. Kids began to ask for toys based on movies they weren’t even allowed to see. “Hey mom! Can I have that John Rambo action figure? It has lifelike PTSD action!” or, “Hey dad! Check out that Robocop figure! It comes with a second figure that you can blow his balls off. That’ll teach that attempted rapist!”
I’m sure the executives meant well, but it threw the balance of entertainment off. Kids were being exposed to early to material their small minds really weren’t ready for. Because once they saw the cartoon and found out that there was a movie too, they begged and pleaded until their parents finally gave in. The great, fictional Dr. Ian Malcolm who said, they were too busy figuring out if they could do it, they never bothered to ask if they should do it, of course, illustrated the problem.
The biggest offender that comes to mind is the Die Hard franchise. In their fourth installment, they opted to go the PG-13 route so they could appeal to a more diverse type of audience. Basically, they figured they could get more money if teenagers were allowed to go see it. It’s no secret that R-rated movies don’t do well at the box office. Whenever a weekend premiere opens with a family film and a horror movie, dollars to doughnuts says the family picture wins the weekend.
So in an effort to mimic the '80s (something Hollywood has done since the turn of the century), they decided that marketing to a younger audience would solve the issue of whether the film would do well. Considering the previous Die Hard film was 12 years prior, it was a pretty valid issue. It’s their property and they can do what they want with it. However, when the tagline of your franchise automatically puts an R rating on it, marketing to a younger audience may not be the best idea.
HoRRoR Used To Mean Something
Horror movies are even worse. Anything rated R in this day and age is essentially condemned straight to Blu-ray or streaming services. The genre seems to have relied more on the "jump scare" and "psychological horror" in recent years as they can get away with more and still retain a PG-13 rating. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but what about the fan that appreciates blood and gore? The Hellraiser series is one of my personal favorites but hasn’t been seen inside of a theatre since 1996 with the release of Hellraiser: Bloodline.
Ever since then, Pinhead and the gang have been released exclusively on direct to DVD platforms because it was made apparent that their R-rated shenanigans were not wanted in a theater. Part of this is their own fault by simply injecting Pinhead into other horror movie scripts and slapping a Hellraiser title on it. Hellraiser has a rich history provided by one of the greatest writers in horror, but no one outside of the '80s will know because it doesn’t have the exposure that it has rightfully earned.
When all is said and done, the bigwigs of Hollywood will do what they need to do to make money. That is the name of the game after all. I just think that there needs to be more of a variety in the films that make it to the big screen. We live in the land of opportunity and the cinescape is no different. What’s that? There’s a rumored Toxic Avenger remake rumored to be PG-13? I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.
Remember the days when studios got away with this kind of trauma on screen?
What was the last rated-R movie that you saw (and don't say Deadpool)?