OPINION: Why Studios Should Stop Worrying and Love the R-Rating
If you make a movie a lot of people want to see, no rating can hurt you. If you make a movie that few people want to see, no rating can help you...
-Jack Valenti, former president of the MPAA
A recent chain of events and some personal speculation have led me to think back to this quote quite a bit. Disregarding how he immediately follows that up with some nonsense about how ratings have no impact on a film’s box office haul, it seems as if we’re finally getting back to a state where this philosophy is true once again. Filmmakers, critics and audiences are celebrating greater artistic freedom and diversity in modern movies. If only the studio heads thought that way. With the news that Sony’s upcoming comic book picture Venom will probably not be as R-rated as they’ve been teasing, I figured now was as apropos a time to discuss an upsetting trend in recent cinema as I can get. Let me be clear. I’m not even talking “the last three or four years” recent. No, I’m talking the last decade or two recent. Now, allow me to make the case for more big-budget films to be freed from their potential PG-13 restraints.
CREATES BETTER RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ALL PARTIES INVOLVED
One of the more puzzling movie news developments as of late is the press interviews for The Meg. Jason Statham and director Jon Turteltaub have lamented about the changes made to the project before it’s release (with Statham admitting the final product strayed pretty far off from what he originally signed up for and Turtletaub revealing that there was a substantial amount of blood removed from the theatrical cut). Now, I don’t need to sit here and recap recent cases of behind-the-scenes controversy in recent blockbusters. Debacles like Edgar Wright leaving Ant-Man and how Warner Bros. took a chainsaw to the original cut of Suicide Squad are common public knowledge and not necessary for this article outside of a quick mention. With that said, situations like this (along with other factors such as the perpetually irritating online outrage machine) drive interesting filmmakers away from these kind of projects and we end up with boring garbage like The Mummy. So, in case you’re wondering why a lot of franchise films are being helmed by dudes with only indie comedies under their belt, that’s why.
OPENS THE DOOR TO MORE CREATIVE OPPORTUNITIES
Many points have been made over the years about how the PG-13 rating has drifted away from its original purpose of offering some middle ground for new audiences (i.e. too much for a PG yet not mature enough for an R) into becoming creatively stifling and all too powerful financially. It’s had an impact outside of big budget films, too. For a good chunk of the 00s, a lot of action pictures and thrillers had to be defanged for fear of monetary loss. Almost any romantic comedy these days gets branded with a PG-13 rating and usually suffer because of that. For those are entire conversations in-and-of themselves and Lord knows I don’t have the patience to delve into them within the confines of this article. How does this apply to blockbusters? An R-rating can add some more flavors to garden-variety films with hundred-million dollar price tags. Not only does it allow for more racy content, you can also go for darker themes, more complex characters, different tones, etc.
NO OTHER ARTISTIC MEDIUM DOES THIS
For a brief moment, consider how this predicament contrasts against entertainment besides cinema. Censorship and editing in other media are commonplace; but, it’s not this specific nor is it this contemptuous. Pretty much every popular television series running has some strong mature content. Game Of Thrones is about as violent and salacious as Caligula. Most of the top-selling video games on the market wear the M rating as a badge of honor. Music hasn’t been scrutinized for obscene content since the ‘90s. Outside of some being banned from schools, books are about as creatively limitless as a medium could hope to be and comics stopped caring about their version of a censorship board since the mid-1970s. So, why do movies regularly compromise themselves in order to appease a boardroom’s idea of the masses? Frankly, I don’t have a clear-cut answer for that question and I’m not sure anyone else does mainly because there are too many factors at play to sum it all up into one compact explanation. Lack of proper criticisms from executives, unique release methods, and other things are the main contributions I can name off-hand. This isn’t to say studios should never interfere with productions. Instances such as One From The Heart, Heaven’s Gate and the much-maligned Star Wars prequels are proof that giving directors carte blanche to do whatever they want isn’t always the best idea; but, the industry could do a better job at finding some decent middle ground.
IT’S PROFITABLE AGAIN
You’d think films such as Mad Max: Fury Road, IT, Deadpool and Get Out leading garnering critical adoration and impressive box office returns would start a whole movement of big-budget pictures freed from the arbitrary shackles of studios desperately trying to appease the MPAA. Sadly, you’d be mistaken which is a shame because they’re basically denying themselves a boatload of cash.
This isn’t a plea for all high concept movies with large budgets from here on out to embrace as much filth and debauchery as humanly possible. After all, the birth of the blockbuster is almost directly attributed to kids and teenagers finally becoming a major voice in the moviegoing market; however, it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that a demographic is still worth pursuing regardless if it’s not as popular as the big titles on the marquee.