Years ago, comedies wouldn’t even get a pass if they were R-rated; they did horribly at the box-office due to the large amount of younger audiences who simply couldn’t get into them due to the MPAA rating attached. These movies were funny, though, and years later films like The 40-Year Old Virgin, Wedding Crashers and Superbad broke that mold by casting genuinely funny new stars in the lead roles.
Nowadays, action movies face that same pandemic that comedies did back in the late 90s/early 2000s. There are more and more R-rated action movies that are worth everyone’s time, but the response has been slowly tepid. It all started out with films like The Matrix, which had an R-rating that wasn’t wholly warranted. The impact of The Matrix led studios to start creating action movies that were also rated R, but couldn’t produce the same “wow” factor that The Matrix did, and that includes its disappointing sequels.
As actions films took mediocre premises to mediocre places, directors started looking back on what made the action boom of the 80s work: outlandish violence and crazy ideas. As directors began to realize what made films like Robocop and Die Hard work, they began introducing this style to the 21st-century moviegoer, initially to mixed results.
Dredd, an adaptation of the comic book series character Judge Dredd, released in 2012 to high praise but little box-office impact. The movie was a brutal, sharply stylized R-rated action trip, but it couldn’t find an audience until it was released on DVD and Blu-ray. It was a callback to the bold, brash action films of the 80s that worked extremely well. Now, the film has fans rallying for a sequel, even though it’s looking pretty cloudy on that front.
The seeds were laid by Dredd with its reverence for hearty action for an awakening of sorts three years later in 2015. Last year saw the release of two successful R-rated action films, both worthy additions to the recent slope: Kingsman: The Secret Service and Mad Max: Fury Road. Though not shattering any records, both films did admirably well at the box-office and garnered praise from just about everyone. Mad Max: Fury Road in particular ended up being critically lauded, even achieving 10 nominations including Best Picture and Best Director at the 88th Academy Awards.
The success of those three films was usurped further by the unexpectedly uproarious response to the comic book film Deadpool, released Friday, Feb. 12. The film has already grossed $135.1 million in North America alone, making it the biggest ever debut of an R-rated film. With admiration from fans, the film will most certainly have legs for many weeks to come. It serves as a wake-up call for studios to give audiences the adult action movies they deserve, as they will most definitely show up. Deadpool may be a sign of how comic book movies are made in the coming years as writers and directors begin to understand that those who buy a ticket are eager for something more in the landscape of fun, respectfully made action films.