Deadpool is not the first R-rated film to be adapted from a comic book, nor is it the first such R-rated film to feature a costumed protagonist. But it has the makings of being the most successful, and nothing sells like success. It is only logical that film studios will be roiling out more R-rated comic book films in order to give the audiences what they want.
Unfortunately, sometimes movie studios are tone deaf when it comes to comic book adaptations, and we run the risk of concepts that don’t real need or fit an R-rating getting one. Nobody wants to see Superman dropping the F-bomb or Spider-Man lopping bad guys’ heads off. However, there are a lot of heroes that studios already have the right to and many that they don’t that scream out for an R-rated adaptation. These are our Rated R Superstars.
20th Century Fox:
The studio that leads the R-rated comic film revolution has just announced that Deadpool will be followed by the next Wolverine sequel in the R-rated arena. Conventional wisdom states that the in-development X-Force film will also be rated R if and when it gets made.
After that? Well, Gambit is a charming and roguish thief and not a paramilitary assassin, so his film doesn’t really need to be rated R, but could be. The New Mutants should be in line with the rest of the main PG-13 X-Men films. There doesn’t seem to be a good reason to make a film about teenage mutants R-rated.
That’s all Fox has in the pipeline as far as mutants go. Everything from here on out would be speculation. If they decide to do a Mystique solo film, that one could lean towards n R. Same if they decided to give Sabretooth a film of his own, which is much less likely.
As for the future X-Men films? Perhaps if they adapt the Mutant Massacre story line, but I believe they’d keep the main thread PG-13.
But you will definitely know if Fox is tone deaf with their rating system if the choose to bring Fantastic Four back as an R-rated film with the expectations that fans will rejoice about it. Marvel’s First Family is definitely in PG or PG-13 territory. Taking them out could possibly ruin the property more than it already has been, and that’s saying a lot.
I think you’d be far more likely to see Quentin Tarantino rework his classic films for a pre-teen audience (Pulp Fiction Jr.: Let’s Go Dancing!) than you would ever see Disney putting out an R-rated Marvel film. There is too much invested in getting them seen by the most people possible, and then have those people by the tons of tie-in toys immediately afterward. If a film initially gets an R rating, like The Avengers almost did, they’ll recut it so it gets the lower grade. Besides, it seems that Disney/Marvel is using its Netflix TV shows for its more mature, less kid-centric adaptations.
However, if Marvel was ever going to commit to R, Doctor Strange would be a good place start. A sorcerer practicing the mystic arts fighting occultists and demonic creatures, directed by a director known for his R-rated horror films? It seems a natural for the restricted rating. Unfortunately, Kill Bill (with Kindness!) isn’t set to air on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon any time soon, so I’d stake anything that the film will be a PG-13.
If the film is a success, and I think it will be, it could open up the Marvel Cinematic Universe to other supernatural characters from the comics. There are a lot of other people in front of him, but they could eventually get to Damion Hellstrom. He goes by the name of Son of Satan because he is, wait for it, the biological son of Satan. I’d like to see Marvel try to get that character past the MPAA into a PG-13 film.
As for the rest of the Phase Three films, none strike me as R-worthy. I mean, I’d love to find out that Thor: Ragnarok was Thor getting into gory Viking battles and bedding wenches, but that is so diametrically opposed from what has come before that it simply won’t happen.
But what about potential Phase Four entries. There are always surprises in the characters Marvel selects for cinematic glory. Many of the characters waiting in reserve would be ideal for an R rating. Take for instance, Blade, which already had a run as a rated R franchise. Then there’s Ghost Rider, a film that should have been rated R but wasn’t. Marvel hasn’t been to keen up to now in revisiting those features.
Eventually, Black Widow should get her own film, and the espionage thriller could be the kind of story that would get an R elsewhere. Same with a Hawkeye solo offering. Or a Nick Fury film, if any is ever made.
From the ranks of the unseen, I have seen Moon Knight mentioned around the web as a possible R-rated film. For those of you not in the know, Moon Knight is Batman if Bruce Wayne was also a soldier of fortune and a cab driver in addition to being a billionaire. At times these three identities are treated as disguises that Moon Knight uses to get information, other times they are presented as three different personalities. This leads to some dark stories. However, Moon Knight seems more apt to head to Netflix than the big screen.
There are characters such as Foolkiller (an insane vigilante who kills anyone he considers a fool), Terror, Inc. (an immortal assassin that can replace his own severed limbs with those of his victims, gaining their powers and identities) that, while obscure, could make for interesting R-rated films, but they are so far down on the depth chart that film would probably cease to exist before Marvel got to them.
One intriguing member of Marvel’s catalog who would have to be adapted as a R-rated movie is Miracleman. Marvel bought the rights to the character in 2009, but before the legal ownership was finally settled, a feature film was planned.
The film would have been based on Alan Moore’s run in the 1980s, and that run is one of the best stretches of writing in the history of comics, would have had a budget of $80 million dollars and possibly might have had Neil Gaiman as a co-writer of the script. Any film based on that story, with the amount of violence and adult themes it held, would have to had been rated R. Alas, the film fell through.
It’s not likely that the project will be revived at Marvel Studios. For one, it is separate from the Marvel Universe. So any film made of the property would either be shoehorned into MCU continuity, which would ruin the story, or be set outside of it, which would be confusing to audiences and take up a slot for a film that would fit into the MCU better. On top of all that, the character originated in England as a ersatz version of Captaim Marvel/Shazam, a DC owned character who has its own movie coming out in 2019. That might lead to a messy legal battle.
Warner Brothers/New Line:
If Warners wanted to jump on the R-Rated bandwagon, they could do so immediately. Suicide Squad is about a bunch of stone cold killers joined together to go on a suicide mission where they have to kill a bigger bad guy. The previews even give off the same quasi-80s action movie vibe that Deadpool has. It seems to be custom made for an R-rating.
Unfortunately, neither Suicide Squad nor any of the other entries into the DC Extended Universe will be rated R, as per Suicide Squad producer Charles Rovin:
The intention of the film is definitely to be PG-13… We really want to make these films tonally consistent so that, as I said because this is a shared universe, at least our current thinking—and again, we’re not dealing in absolutes because while this is business it’s also a creative endeavor, so you want to leave yourself open to changing your mind, doing something different, being inspired, that’s the whole process of filmmaking is you have to allow for inspiration as well as having a road map for what you’re gonna do. So our plan right now is to make all these films PG-13. In some cases, you know, right there on the edge of PG-13, but still PG-13.
So, the DC films will be dark, but only dark enough so the kids can still see them. Not pitch black, but a shade of charcoal gray. Sorry to all of you hoping that we would finally get an R-rated Batman film.
But what, some of you out there with good memories might say, what about the long in development Lobo film? If the Suicide Squad lends itself to and R-Rating, then the alien bounty hunter that is a whirling dervish of antisocial behavior, chaos, destruction and mayhem pretty much demands an R-rating. Well, Rovin does provide some wiggle room in the “No R-rating” policy. But the film has been development for seven years already, and the earliest it will appear, if the current DC Extended Universe holds up, is 2021. In other words, there’s no guarantee that it will arrive at all, and a lot of things could change before it does.
Others out there might be asking about the Sandman film, or the Dark Justice feature. Sandman was a flagship title in DC’s Vertigo line, an imprint aimed at mature readers featuring stories that had adult themes out the wazoo. Dark Justice is a film based on other characters such as Swamp Thing and John Constantine that spent time at the imprint as well. Both films, but especially Sandman, should be brought to the screen with an R-rating.
Well, we might be in luck. Back in June, Warners relegated its Vertigo films to its New Line shingle. At the time, I had a negative view on the deal, due to the notoriously low budgets the studio arm is known for. Now, after Deadpool‘s success, I think it might be the best thing to happen to the Vertigo films. Yes, New Line fronting enough money to do the projects right is still and issue, but the lower budgets will most likely let the films be made the way they are supposed to be made.
The split also pretty much guarantees that the Vertigo films will not be part of the DC Extended Universe, which frees then from the need to follow the same PG-13 parameters. Although, this is not a given. Guillermo del Toro had said that Dark Justice was going to be part of the DCEU, but that was before he left the project. And New Line is still home to the Shazam! film, which is firmly ensconced in the DCEU. At the very least, they don’t have to struggle to find a spot on Warners schedule with the rest of the DCEU films.
Sandman is expected to go into production some time this year with the del Toro-less Dark Justice to possibly follow. If these are successful, we could see a whole bunch of other Vertigo characters hit the screen as R-rated films, including Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, Constantine and Animal Man, not to mention their non-superhero properties 100 Bullets, Invisibles, Fables and more.
The Free Agents:
One of the more exciting things about studios potential embracing lower budget R-rated comic book fare is that a number of heroes from the world of Independent comics could possibly finally make their leap to the big screen.Some of these might loosely fit the role of superhero, but all would make interesting movies. Here are some of my suggestions
Various Grendel titles were published from 1983 to present, first at Comico comics, then at Dark Horse. The series started off detailing the adventures of a novelist named Hunter Rose who moonlighted as a costumed assassin named Grendel. Eventually, he rises to the control the criminal underground.
That was how it started. However, as the series progressed, it spanned centuries and followed the Grendel identity as it went from pop culture legend to a being synonymous with, and corruptive as, Satan himself, with the story moving from a crime drama to tales of global power struggles in the process.
It is an inventive and ambitious series that definitely needs an R-rating to be done right. Creator Matt Wagner has gone on record in saying he’d be happy to see Grendel adapted to other medium. All Hollywood has to do is come knocking with the proof they can do it correctly.
The Works of Terry Moore:
I am a huge fan of Terry Moore’s work. He is a great writer who is also a beautiful artist. He is skilled at writing sprawling epics that feature a long list of characters yet never get muddled or confusing. His three main comic book series are:
Strangers in Paradise:
This is Moore’s magnum opus. It follows a pair of life long friends, Francine and “Katchoo.” Francine’s self-esteem issues lead her to bad relationships with men. Katchoo wishes Franchine would get into a relationship with her. Enter David, a man who lusts after Katchoo the way Katchoo lusts after Franchine. Unfortunately, David has ties to Katchoo’s former life as a Mata Hari-like prostitute, used to gain information and control over elected officials. When a Senator who was one of Katchoo’s clients turns up dead, her past comes back to haunt her in a big way.
Julie Martin was in the wrong place at the wrong time, namely under a test flight of an experimental metal suit that went horribly wrong. Showered in the liquefied remnants of the suit, Julie life is changes as the metal bonds to her body. The metal suit gives Julie two things, a set of superhuman powers and the consciousness of the slain test pilot, who now echoes in Julie’s brain. Julie must go on the run to stay ahead of the government and try to stop a mad scientist who wants to use the metal to create a weapon of mass destruction.
Rachel Beck wakes up in a shallow grave with rope burns around her neck. Her return from the dead is only one thing that weird about her hometown. It appears that it under attack by all sorts of demonic influences out to destroy it. Rachel needs to find out who killed her and what it has to do with what is going on in her town.
All three feature strong female protagonists and stories that are aimed at adults, Strangers in Paradise and Echo have already been option for film, but the rights reverted back to Moore. As of one year ago, Moore was working on a TV pilot for Rachael Rising, with one for Echo to soon follow, but nothing has been heard of either of those since. Of the three, the only one that would absolutely HAVE to be R-rates is Rachel Rising, but the other could benefit from the freedom the rating offer. Hopefully someone in Hollywood will be able to bring these properties to the big screen someday if their foray into the small screen does not work out.
Howard Chaykin’s work often times would fit an NC-17 rating, not an R. But his seminal work, American Flagg! is one of the few exceptions.
The series is set in the future where corporations have taken over the the US and USSR. The ruling body, called The Plex, tries to keep their subjects placid through subliminal messages and a police force called The Plexus Rangers. Reuben Flagg is a member of the rangers who discovers the truth behind the Plex and inadvertently sets about events that will eventually lead to its downfall.
The comic’s satire aimed at the commercialization of politics are even more astute today than they were when the book was first released. And the book’s mix of machismo, sex and humor are sure to keep filmgoers entertained…and garner a deserved R rating.
If you are looking for dark comic book fare to be adapted into film, forget Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. Bratpack is the one you want to see make the leap.
Created by Rick Veitch back in 1990, Bratpack is a deconstruction of the sidekick as it appears in comic books. While just doing a simple examination of the litany of orphans given a chance at revenge by wealthy millionaires would be a disturbing enough take on the matter, Veitch goes way darker.
In this reality, superheroes are commodities and their sidekicks are one of their biggest selling points. When the sidekicks to the world’s biggest heroes, pastiches of Batman, Wonder Woman, Wolverine and others, are killed, replacing them becomes a high priority. The search begins to fight the right partner to mold into their twisted worldview, be it fascist violence, militant feminism or just someone for the older hero to lust after.
The series was crude and vulgar but also captivating and a pointed satire. Veitch created the series after a nasty bit of censorship cause him to leave DC’s Swamp Thing title, so the series can also be seen as an allegory or how the big comic companies use creative talent up and spit them out.
The comic was optioned to film back in 2010 by ARS Nova with Tarik Saleh in line to direct. Perhaps now that R rated superheroes are an accepted commodity we will finally see the planned film sped up into production.
Of course, I could keep adding entries to this list until the cows come home. Savage Dragon, The Boys, Badger, Cerebus, Sabre, Ms.Tree, Invincible, and many more could make the list. The world of comics outside of DC and Marvel is a fertile landscape of books that take a more measured and mature looks at superheroes and their ilk. If only some of the quality comics that I mentioned above–or forgot to mention–make it to the big screen due to Deadpool‘s success, I’d be overwhelmingly happy.