How ‘Deadpool’ Fought for Its “Hard R” Rating

Learn why 'Deadpool' almost went the PG-13 route, and why we're glad it didn't.

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Complex Original

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A favorite sight for any moviegoer worth his salt is that squat little “R” inside a box that appears on movie posters and before trailers, letting us know that whatever is about to go down is intending for grown-ups (and enterprising tweens who bought tickets for the cartoon in the next theater). Yeah, they tried to tantalize us with “NC-17,” but that never really lived up to the hype—the deep web still wins for stuff kids should never see. Of course, there’s “Not Rated,” which is also a tease, since it usually just means European and too boring for anyone to have bothered worrying about who should and shouldn’t see it. So “R” remains the gold standard of movie edginess, and we’re so glad that Deadpool went harder and actually fought to keep children out of its screenings. Hats off, Deadpool. It was no easy task.

The new Deadpool film, by all accounts, goes hard. It is funny, gory, and crass. It’s rated R, and we can be thankful that the filmmakers didn’t compromise on their vision to make it more family friendly. The more popular PG-13 rating is proof that in Hollywood, money talks. And as a filmgoing audience, we suffer for that bottom line, time and again.

It wasn’t always like this. At one point, there was only PG and R. But then, along came Steven Spielberg, who in 1984 directed Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and produced Gremlins. Parents were in an uproar; the former film had a heart-ripped-out-of-the-chest sequence. The latter featured a bunch of hideous monsters that would be right at home in any midnight creature feature. Thus Spielberg dreamed up the idea of PG-13, to account for films that danced on that fine line of “appropriateness.”

A PG-13 rating is a golden ticket in Hollywood—it means edgy, but not so edgy that the whole family can’t see it. That maximizes the chances for a big, box office bonanza—a truism that’s been proven year after year. In 2014, on average, PG-13 movies made close to twice the amount of money that R movies made at the box office. And when you tell a movie executive that he or she has a choice between making $79 million and $42 million on a picture, you know what the answer is going to be.

Many movies, which probably should have been rated R, are re-edited in post-production to make them PG-13. A dubbed line here, a deleted fight scene there, and a recoloring of gore there could make a difference in the rating, even if the plot and its themes remain resolutely adult. The result, especially for action films, is that studios release a watered down, play-it-safe film that doesn’t authentically wrestle with its adult themes. And ironically, young kids end up seeing even more explicit films, even though the PG-13 rating was originally meant to protect them.

This is why it is so admirable, and so relieving, that the producers decided to make Deadpool an R-rated movie, and a hard-R rated movie at that. It’s front and center to the entire marketing campaign—Fox released two “red band” trailers that gave us a brief glimpse at the violence and mayhem in store. We see Deadpool pull off a flying, mid-air cartwheel while firing his gun, scoring a triple headshot. It’s over-the-top, gratuitous, and ridiculous; in short, it’s the Deadpool film that fans have wanted for years.

At one point, believe it or not, the studios toyed with making this new movie PG-13. In an interview with ScreenRant, Rhett Reese, who co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Wernick, explained the multiple switches:

“First it was R. We wrote it R… they told us to write it the way we wanted. And then I think there was just a little concern that there’s a ceiling on how well you can do financially when it’s rated R because there’s a certain bulk of the audience who just can’t go and won’t pay to go. So we decided to change it to PG-13. They decided that was the best move.”

“We actually like the PG-13 draft. It’s didn’t feel like we were selling out. But we still, in our heart of hearts, were hoping that they would make it R.” 

It was producer Simon Kinberg who read both drafts, and ultimately decided that the film would move forward with the more adult version. The rationale was that it fulfilled a niche that other superhero movies did not fill—the R-rated comedy. With multiple superhero films released every year, all rated PG-13, perhaps viewers would notice a movie that bucked the trend.

Despite this, it seemed like no final, absolute decision had been made until recently; when asked about the rating by Entertainment Weekly, Reynolds could only say, “That debate rages on. We’ll see.”

Fan speculation and demands for an R rating continued. A few days later, Reynolds tweeted out the following, hinting that the ratings fight was still ongoing:

@DPklok051: Is it going to be rated R or PG-13?" I want #Deadpool to be R. Always have. Fighting the good fight still. Lotta yelling today.

On April 1, we got official confirmation. Fox pranked the fans earlier in the day—it was April Fool’s Day after all—by leaking a PG-13 rating to the fans. But they later released this video, featuring Mario Lopez, which finally gave us the answer we’d been waiting for. “Of course” Deadpool would be rated R! Why were we so worried?

View this video on YouTube

We still can’t see the raunchiest version of the film. In an interview with ScreenRant, Tim Miller recounted how parts of the dialogue were too mean and hateful for a mainstream audience, and they removed it, rather than offending a large portion of the audience. What lines could these have been? Hopefully, we’ll find out on a Blu-Ray, eventually.

View this video on YouTube

On Feb. 12, Deadpool was finally released, a film that has taken six years of developmental hell to debut on the big screen. We’re psyched; this is a lower budget film that can take more risks, and we’re going to get the Deadpool we need; the wiseass sociopath who goes hard, takes no prisoners, and makes us feel like cool nerds when we understood his jokes. Deadpool has always been a troll, doing it for the lulz, long before we even knew what a troll was. And in order to reach his full troll potential, Deadpool needs to be let off his chain.

Do you want more R-rated superhero movies? Well, get out there and buy a ticket or two. Or three. Or four. Those box office numbers aren’t going to tally themselves.

Related: Best Action Movies On Netflix
Related: Best Action Movies


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