Opinion: Should Warner Bros. Make More Rated R Superhero Films?

by Ryan Lower
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Is Warner Bros. interested in theatrically releasing rated R superhero movies in the future? According to a recent report from The Wrap:

“One hundred percent yes. With the right character(s).”

Let’s step back for a moment and remember the rated R movies WB has already released theatrically, based on comic books:

  • Watchmen
  • 300
  • Constantine
  • V For Vendetta

Technically, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition and The Killing Joke did play in theaters, but they were unique limited runs for the die-hard fans. Many of us can agree, perhaps the others listed above aren’t the type of characters we’re talking about.

What about the Seven?

Batman. Superman. Wonder Woman. The Flash. Green Lantern. Aquaman. Cyborg. These names are (have been) familiar to audiences, and are only getting more common. They’ve appeared in many of DC’s animated films, TV series, (some) feature films and will soon stand side-by-side in the live-action Justice League, which will undoubtedly be rated PG-13. Would WB ever step outside the norm, and bump any of these characters into a more mature, “no one under 18 admitted” type film? They can. But they won’t. The reason is simple: money.

Too Risky

To make any Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, etc. movie rated R would quickly limit the immediate audience for these movies. These superheroes have always been accessible to anyone. This move disrupts that. If you limit your audience, you run the risk of limiting your profit. A violent, offensive movie starring DC’s most famous limits their reach in marketing as well, therefore getting less exposure to the masses. Understanding it’s a business, these factors can only lead to a risk without a reward.

“What about Deadpool? Isn’t Logan doing well? What about the movies you listed above, dumb dumb?”

I hear you, I hear you. No one could have predicted the success of Deadpool. Sure, there was excitement for Logan, but it’s taken people by surprise how good it really is, but these two movies are exceptions, and never set out to be part of a massive superhero universe. They set out to tell a story, true to character, that would make a good movie. Continuity be damned. Toys and tie-ins be damned. The creators had a vision and were given the freedom to bring that vision to the screen, and it paid off. So, would WB give freedom to creators and make an R-rated film starring one of their most popular heroes? They could, but they shouldn’t, and for one reason: they don’t have to.

True to Character

A PG-13 rating has been the standard for superhero movies. Some (Superman) were even PG, but bumping it up gives some wiggle room to push the boundaries as far as they can, if needed. But beyond a PG-13 is just being excessive for excessive’s sake. What story needs to be told, for any of the main seven, that would justify an R? The BvS ultimate edition didn’t even need that rating. Take out the f-bomb, the blood splatter, and Affleck’s butt and that movie is what it should be: PG-13.

Can you honestly think of a reason any of these characters need that sort of rating? I sure can’t. Batman doesn’t need excessive language and violence. It would be completely out of character for Superman to. Justice League Dark could earn that rating, but I don’t think it needs to. We love these characters so much because they’re inspiring and, well… heroic. They don’t need to be faced with complete ugliness to prove that. Do we need Ben Affleck to hop on screen and growl “I’m the goddamn Batman”?

Didn’t think so.


It’s simple. WB shouldn’t be influenced by what other studios are doing. They have some of the greatest characters of any medium that serve just fine in a PG-13 setting. What they need to focus on is a good story that does each character justice. That’s all. If they focus on that, they’ll also find there’s no reason to go beyond a PG-13.

Unless we finally get a Lobo movie. Then we’ll revisit this discussion.

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