When Joker became not only the most profitable comic book movie of all time but the first R-rated movie to cross $1 billion, the big brains over at Warner Bros. decided that, yeah, they’d like some more of that, please. It’s a little strange that studios need to keep learning the lesson that R-rated films, allowing either more thoughtful exploration of mature subject matter or just being able to get away with all manner of sex, violence, and explicit language, actually reach a rather broad and worldwide audience. (See the former 20th Century Fox’s formula for maverick Marvel movies Deadpool and Logan.) There’s a market for all of that. So while the general consensus is that a PG-13 rating nets the widest audience, with studios often tailoring their movies toward that benchmark, it’s somewhat offset by a rabid fanbase that clamors for something grittier, harder, and more “adult.”
So as Variety reports, it’s little surprise that WB is now angling towards R ratings for their next DC Comics features: Birds of Prey and The Suicide Squad. The difference here is in the tone. Birds of Prey, or Cathy Yan‘s Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, won’t be as grimdark as Joker but rather a buoyant and colorful girl-group adventure outing, just one that’s not for kids. All signs point to it being a hit with general audiences following a series of reshoots and test screenings; we’ll find out when it opens on February 7th.
For James Gunn and The Suicide Squad, an R rating just makes sense. That should be obvious to anyone who’s watched any of Gunn’s work prior to his Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. So while Disney infamously fired Gunn due to unsavory Tweets from his past, one gets the feeling they were never super comfortable with his R-rated history on the big screen anyway. Now, Gunn gets the best of both worlds as he continues his incredibly safe, predictable, and reliable track record for Disney while getting to test the limits of the ratings board a bit more for Warner Bros. Both films are expected in 2021.
The R-rated angle is a smart play from a brand perspective; if fans want R-rated comic book movies, and Disney is too risk averse to deliver them despite gobbling up just about every Marvel property possible, it’s Warner Bros.’ world to rule.