Hollywood loves trends. When a surprise box office hit appears, you can rest assured Tinseltown will spend the next few years attempting to replicate said movie and its success.
Hollywood’s love of trends is what has led to the oversaturation of superhero movies at the moment, with anticipated releases waiting in the wings like “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Captain America: Civil War.” Within the superhero movie genre, however, seeds are being planted for a new trend: the R-rated comic book movie.
The modestly budgeted “Deadpool” has already surprised box office analysts everywhere by exceeding expectations over its Presidents Day opening weekend, managing to bring in a staggering $150 million. The film continues its dominance at number one, and it has many predicting a future full of similarly foul-mouthed, blood-soaked, irreverent superhero pics.
“Deadpool” producer Simon Kinberg, overseer of all things Marvel at 20th Century Fox, is already anticipating more adult-friendly comic book adaptations to come.
“I think there are some stories that could be R-rated… ‘X Force’ I could see being R-rated,” Kinberg commented in a discussion with collider.com, referring to the comic book “X Force,” a similarly over-violent and adult-themed comic book like “Deadpool.”
Twentieth Century Fox, the studio behind “Deadpool” and all other X-Men movie adaptations thus far, has also signified a growing liking for the R rating. At the 2016 New York Toy Fair, it was revealed the studio was anticipating an R-rating for its 2017 “Wolverine” sequel. The film is a sequel to two movies that both received PG-13 ratings.
It should come as little surprise to comic readers that comic book movies are becoming more adult oriented. Comic books themselves did the same thing in the 1980s in order to survive when writing duties were handed over to darker and more mature writers like Frank Miller and Allen Moore, who wrote not-very-kid-friendly, violent contemplations on superhero lore like “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Watchmen.”
Though the turn is inevitable and not surprising for some, it should still be noted and anticipated with worry by parents. Thus far, the vast majority of comic book adaptations and stories of men in tights have been not just PG-13 rated movies, but have skewed younger in their audience and content.
Everything part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for instance, has been stamped and approved by Disney, which bought Marvel in 2009 for $4 billion. Films like “The Avengers” and “Captain America” have all been aimed at mainly younger audiences through kids’ merchandising and age-appropriate material. Other studios have followed suit until now with most DC movies and all Fox movies being given mainstream-friendly PG-13 ratings.
While a movie like “Deadpool” is clearly not meant for young children or a lot of the same viewership as “X-Men” or “Avengers,” there is still a pushback from audiences. The lines are too blurred for some.
A petition was started on change.org by someone vying for a PG-13-friendly version of “Deadpool” so their kids and other kids could enjoy it. A meme using a picture of the irreverent hero as a backdrop for a call to keep kids far away from the movie went viral and was even re-posted by some theater chains, such as Smitty’s Cinema, cautioning parents to not bring children to the movie.
The blurred lines that parents see come from the fact that these movies all take place in the same fictional universes. “Deadpool,” while not for kids in the slightest, acknowledges it takes place in the same fictional universe as the “X-Men” movies. It shares characters, too. Deadpool, himself, has even been trimmed down before to appear in kid-friendly cartoons.
Marvel finds itself in a similar situation with its more violent and adult-themed Netflix shows. “Daredevil” was a hyper-violent show about a questionable hero with a mask. Its second season debuts soon and looks to be upping the violence ante by introducing the take-no-prisoners vigilante character of The Punisher. The show may be aimed at adults looking for a late-night television fix, but the show constantly acknowledges events and characters in kid-friendly movies like “The Avengers.” Its companion series, “Jessica Jones,” had similar linkage to the overall MCU despite introducing loads of sex and drugs into its storytelling.
Adult-oriented, R-rated superhero material has for years appeared in the splashy pages of comic books. There’s obviously a large audience for anti-heroes and irreverent characters like Deadpool. What should be concerning for parents is a future in which none of these movies are rightly separated. Since they’re bunched together in the same universes and sometimes marketed to the wrong age group, it can be easy for an “Avengers”-loving kid to wind up watching Daredevil and The Punisher argue the merits of killing bad guys.
“Deadpool” pushed the boundaries of language, uber-violence played for laughs and explicit sex. Netflix’s “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” have pushed similar boundaries with violence and adult themes. It’s anyone’s guess what is next. The wild popularity of these edgier comic adaptations is what is guaranteeing that future adaptations push the envelope even further.
It may have been easy before to trust studios to make their superhero content friendly to all ages, since that’s where they thought the money was. However, there’s a new trend in town. That trend means it may be time to start monitoring which spandex-wearing characters your kids are watching. They’re certainly not all your friendly neighborhood Spiderman.