Why an R-rated Wolverine movie is a mistake

When Deadpool hit theaters in February 2016 on the strength of a $58 million budget, no one could've predicted that the R-rated super-satire would take home a box office haul of $760.3 million. That's totally bananas, and really great for fans of the character and his unique brand of shock and schlock. But a few months later, film producer Simon Kinberg announced that 20th Century Fox gave the greenlight to an R-Rated Wolverine sequel, set to debut in 2017. Considering both movies take place in Fox's X-Men cinematic universe, it makes sense that the studio would try to replicate Deadpool's success in any way it can. But let's just get one thing straight: this is probably not the way to do that.

Deadpool's success

So why was Deadpool such a surprise hit? There's no denying that its R-rating certainly had something to with it. Deadpool is a comic book character who maims and kills his opponents, and does so with gusto. Not only that, but he has a penchant for toilet language, albeit his cuss-words are usually blanked out in his word balloons, letting the readers fill in the mental gaps. Allowing him to go hog-wild on the big screen makes sense, because it gets at the character's core. But Deadpool's victory at the movie theater has more to do with a very funny script and equally funny performances out of its actors, led by Ryan Reynolds. It's true that if Deadpool had been softened to a PG-13 rating, it wouldn't have been as good. But the talented, funny, and creative people making the movie would still have been there to make things work within the confines of its tamer rating.

Why Wolverine?

So why apply the R-rated recipe to Wolverine, a character who's been popular since the 1970s? He's appeared in violent comics as well as children's cartoons. He's been an X-Man as well as an Avenger. The guy is versatile, right? That kind of track record means he can work in just about any context. You'd think, then, that his adaptability—and the violence inherent to his signature knifey hands—would make an R-rating a perfect fit. And it might! There's no real reason that an R-rated movie starring Wolverine should fail. Except…

It narrows your audience

Slapping an R-rating on a movie isn't a recipe for success. In fact, the opposite has usually proven to be true. There's a reason that Deadpool made headlines by being one of the few superhero movies to be released with the rating. Time and again, movies with PG-13 ratings or lower have routinely made more money than those that are rated R, simply because more people are able to see them. Deadpool is an outlier, but again, its success can be traced to the people who made it, not the fact that people's heads exploded and Deadpool had a major potty mouth (though, yeah, those aspects were pretty cool).

It misses the point

Wolverine has had two solo movies. The first one, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, is known for having some pretty cool bits and pieces that show off the character's journey over the years. It is also deeply flawed in many ways, like having a ridiculous plot and featuring adaptations of popular comic characters that range from forgettable to awful. In short, that movie kind of sucks. And it doesn't suck because it wasn't rated R. It sucks because it sucks.

It won't add anything

There will likely be some very cool scenes in the new Wolverine flick, where the Canucklehead is running amok, stabbing dudes left and right, and just generally causing mayhem wherever he goes. He'll probably also drop a few F-bombs, and hey! Maybe they'll show some naked people. That's what you can do with an R-rating! But will any of that actually make the movie any good? Or will it give the filmmakers license to once again ignore having a good story and focus on violence and shock? If you need proof that there's no need for an R-rating to make Wolverine completely awesome, direct your eyes to the clip from X2: X-Men United above. There's not a single drop of blood, but at no point do you doubt that Wolverine is being absolutely deadly and amazing.

But maybe...

Producer Simon Kinberg gave Collider a bit of info about the new film, saying, "It's a very radical, bold, different Wolverine than you've ever seen in any of these movies," and that "it is an R-rated movie. It's violent, it's kind of like a western in its tone. It's just a very cool, different film."

That all sounds fine. Maybe Kinberg and director James Mangold will exercise restraint and ensure that the R-rating is only there to preserve essential story elements and sequences. Maybe the third movie in the Wolverine franchise will usher in a new dawn of thoughtful, intense action-superhero movies that will inspire generations of filmmakers to push the boundaries of what's come before.

Or maybe it'll just show Wolverine stabbing lots of guys until their intestines fall out and then he has graphic sex with a hot lady. That might be good too, or something.