Superhero Movies Are Developing a More Mature Tone, and They’re Definitely Seeing Success


Christopher Tien

Deadpool’s recent success has left audiences wanting more: more violence, more nudity, more profanity and more R-ratings in superhero movies. The newest evidence of this craze is the announcement that Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice will have an R-rated cut, featuring mature scenes that were excluded from the film’s PG-13 rating.

Though Batman V. Superman has received negative theatrical feedback, the announcement of an R-rated cut is promising and could set the stage for the upcoming Justice League films that Warner Bros. and DC Comics will be teaming up to make. And if the success of Deadpool indicates anything, this could be the start to a future of rated-R superhero movies.

Historically, R-ratings exclude a large population of viewers, especially in superhero movies, as you lose out on audiences under 17 and the parents that take them. But as Deadpool has become the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time, directors no longer have to be afraid of an R-rating on a superhero movie knowing that the people willing to spend $745 million to see it.  

The rise of rated-R superhero films has been a long time coming. Characters and themes as of late have become increasingly darker, as in Watchmen, The Dark Knight and the upcoming Suicide Squad. The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, which is widely considered the primary authority of American comic book grading, has coined this period as the Modern Age of Comic Books, characterized by more psychologically complex characters and a stronger influence of grim titles.

But why are these sinister superhero movies so popular? Why was Deadpool so successful as an R-rated movie even after denied release in China?  The prevalence of the anti-hero main character may correlate to the emergence of R-rated superhero films. Superheroes like Iron Man, Wolverine and Deadpool challenge the conventional definition of the humanitarian hero. Rather than the PG, lawful-good that Superman and Captain America embody, the chaotic-good that the anti-heroes incarnate brings greater depth and a fresh, non-traditional amount of violence that boosts film ratings and views.

The juxtaposition of the “traditional” hero with a dark and sometimes disturbing plotline leaves audiences with a feeling they have not yet experienced: intrigue. Refreshing-yet-disturbing plotlines are far more interesting than the same stories fans have read and seen over and over again. In the end, you are left with the same warm-and-fuzzy feeling that every superhero movie offers, but served on a new plate.

Though Batman V. Superman may have been a box office blunder, Warner Bros. may have double-dipped successfully with its R-rated cut. Dawn of Justice’s R-rated cut could prove successful in the new generation of superhero movies that no longer teeters along the border of “mild adult themes.”