Are R-Rated Movies Better Than PG-13 Movies?

Sony / 20th Century Fox

Given the recent success of Deadpool and Logantwo high-profile and highly anticipated R-rated films—it should come as no surprise that the upcoming reboot of 2004’s Hellboy is getting the R-rated treatment as well.

Neil Marshall, who will direct the reboot, recently told podcaster and filmmaker Mick Garris that the R-rating will allow him and the other members of his creative team to give the reboot a bit of a darker twist, one that the original two films arguably lacked (Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army were both rated PG-13).

Marshall seems excited about directing an R-rated film, and one question that’s been on the minds of many filmgoers lately is whether or not R-rated movies are inherently better than PG-13-rated movies, particularly when it comes to sci-fi and superhero films.

Based solely on critical and fan reception, the answer to that question seems to be a resounding yes. 2017’s Logan, the only X-Men film (not counting Deadpool) to receive an R-rating, is not only the highest-rated Wolverine-centric film but also the highest-rated film of the entire X-Men franchise, according to Rotten Tomatoes. The only X-Men film that comes close to Logan’s 93% approval rating (and 91% audience approval rating) is 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Logan’s high scores could, of course, decrease over time, but the fact that fans responded so positively to Logan in such a short amount of time is nonetheless telling.

Alternatively, 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the only film in the Mad Max film franchise (including 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road) to receive a PG-13 rating, and it’s currently the lowest-rated Mad Max film on Rotten Tomatoes (though it’s still at a respectable 81%). Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys, similarly, are rated PG-13 and have approval ratings of 33% and 25% whereas the first three R-rated Terminator films have a combined average approval rating of 88%.

Giving Logan an R-rating made a lot of sense, despite X-Men’s PG-13 past. Producers likely realized that young viewers who saw the original X-Men in 2000 would be mature enough to appreciate the darker, more intense Logan in 2017.

On the other hand, inserting a PG-13 movie into a historically R-rated franchise such as Terminator can be more disconcerting. PG-13 movies may seem “watered-down” to viewers accustomed to watching vulgar and/or violent content. Producers have also been known to turn R-rated films into PG-13 rated films to attract more viewers and make more money, and that could be off-putting to some.

However, R-rated films aren’t always more popular or well-liked than its PG-13 counterparts. 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard, part of the popular Die Hard franchise, is the only Die Hard film to receive a PG-13 rating. However, it currently has an 82% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes—higher than the R-rated Die Hard 2, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, and the critically panned A Good Day to Die Hard.

And many wildly popular films, including Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and even The Avengers started off as R-rated films but remain widely beloved despite their eventual PG-13 ratings. What’s more, the R-rated content cut from these films is often superfluous at best and unnecessarily disturbing at worst. Producer Kevin Feige claims that the only R-rated scene cut from The Avengers was a particular gory encounter involving Loki and Agent Coulson while Hancock’s original R-rated script allegedly involved Will Smith’s title character sexually assaulting a young girl.

According to Deadline, a survey conducted earlier this year revealed that fans generally want to see more R-rated superhero movies. But others, particularly other critics, have argued that creating darker, more violent superhero films isn’t as important as creating superhero films that are smart, funny, and self-critical.

Both points of view are valuable, but it’s safe to say that making an R-rated movie just for the sake of making an R-rated movie won’t do anyone any favours. In fact, sometimes having limitations can help spark creativity instead of hinder it—would Jaws have reached as wide of an audience if Steven Spielberg’s mechanical shark hadn’t malfunctioned?

As Marshall explains in his interview with Garris, a writer or director shouldn’t force a movie to live up to its R-rating. An R-rating should not be an expectation, but rather an invitation to explore options and create deeper storylines that may not be possible with a PG-13-rating. With that in mind, I’m definitely not expecting every single superhero movie from now on to be rated R, but I sure am excited about the future of R-rated superhero movies as a whole.