People, 'The Batman' Was Never Going to Be Rated R (And It's Our Fault)

The BatmanCredit: Warner Brothers
Studios are in the business of making money... just like Bruce Wayne. 

Like many of you, I drooled at the trailer for The Batman. After the Nolan universe delivered a serious look at the character, I was afraid we'd take a step back to a campier version of the caped crusader. But when Warner Bros. brought Matt Reeves onto the project, I knew we might have something special.

Reeves is behind the Planet of the Apes movies that were seriously underrated. A truly phenomenal modern trilogy. 

This week, people nervously tweeted about The Batman as we awaited the arbitrary MPAA rating to be released. Many speculated that the dark tone, reminiscent of Se7en, would garner the film the adult rating of "R" in America, meaning those under 17 would need an adult to enter.

And when they heard it was rated PG-13, meaning suitable for children over the age of 13, people were a little raucous on Twitter. Their reasoning ranged from unruly to sound. After all, WB had released The Joker to an R-rating and much success. And Zack Snyder's Justice League redo was given an "R" as well. 

But let's get real. We were never going to get an R-rated Batman movie. 

The Batman is a cash cow that has legs all over the world as one of the most profitable pieces of intellectual property of all time. It's spawned a series for kids, movies that were aimed at kids, some darker fare, but everything rated PG-13.

The reason was kids were the demographic they thought would go see these movies. Even when Nolan rolled out his masterpieces, they knew to leave the blood, gore, and f-bombs at home because these movies had to travel internationally and had to have the appeal of an entire family going to see them. 

That's because these titles were all designed to do something by the studios: make money.

Sure, there are artists behind the helm and steering them to better stories, but the reason studios bet hundreds of millions of dollars on these titles is that they have the potential to draw in all four quadrants thanks to their mass appeal.

According to DeadlineThe Batman was made for $100 million. If you consider that, they probably put another hundred million into marketing it, and then the idea that most theaters will take 50% of ticket sales, you're looking at a title that has to crack $400 million to break even. 

Rating that movie "R" would mean it would have to be one of the most profitable R-rated movies of all time just to make a dent for Warner Bros. And this comes after the studio lost a ton of money at the box office (for the last two years) thanks to COVID.

Also take into account that the last R-rated DC project was the Emancipation of Harley Quinn, which was made for less money and only made $201,858,461 worldwide. You could argue that Harley is a less popular character than Bats, and you'd be right, but that still shows adults, pre-COVID, were not all eager. And sure, The Joker made a lot of money, but again, that was before COVID. And I would argue, that character was never aimed at children. And making a huge gamble after COVID is not something a studio is inclined to do. 

We also need to talk about our culpability here, the movie-going public. Over the last decade, many of the ones vocal about an R-rated Batman have only gone to the movie theaters to see tentpole movies. These movies are rated PG-13 and made in a way to maximize viewership across the world. If we had been more adventurous or seen more adult fare, maybe there would be more adult superhero movies. Or more movies of any other kind. 

At the root of this is our ingrained passion for a character we loved when we were kids. That character was aimed at children, and it doesn't owe us anything or have to grow with us, because we live in a universe where there will always be children who want an accessible Batman. And those kids will always bring more people to the movies with them to experience these kinds of stories.

The Batman was never going to be rated "R" because the intellectual property matters most to kids whose parents have wallets with money to spend, and not to adults who are going to the movies. No matter what, those adults go. But keeping kids away will always mean a serious hit to where it hurts studios the most: the pockets.  

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.      

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3 Comments

It never needed to be R.

The best Batman movie made wasn't R. It wasn't even PG-13. It was the PG rated MASK OF THE PHANTASM based on the PG and G cartoon, which is one of the definitive portrayals of the Dark Knight, his villains, and his supporting cast.
None of the direct-to-DVD R (and bloody PG-13 but should be R) DC animated films have come close. Because you don't make something more mature and adult just by making it less appropriate for kids...

January 14, 2022 at 12:00PM

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you could also blame copyright that extends the studio's hold on this intellectual property to almost infinite years.

January 15, 2022 at 6:05AM

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"That sweet, juicy R rating us adults are truly craving?"

Uhh. What? Bad grammar aside, I was unaware that anyone craves a particular movie rating, ever. What, exactly, is your criteria for watching and enjoying a film? It's been proven a thousand times over that star power, special effects, and big budgets can't and don't guarantee a film that anybody wants to see, but somehow a certain movie rating is the golden ticket to box office success?

If you want a great film, you start with great writing, because story is king. Period. The rest of it is always secondary to telling the story. And I, for one, am sick of moviemakers who think they're being edgy or adult or sophisticated by sneaking in a couple more F-bombs or naked body parts. It's lazy at best, or at least completely sophomoric. Write better stories that are worth filming and people will pay to watch them. And if you're interested in reaching the widest audience possible, it makes artistic and financial sense to not eliminate half the paying audience in the first place by crossing lines just for the sake of crossing lines. Believe me, there are plenty of popular and powerful movies out there that aren't rated R.

Not to mention that the ratings system is arbitrary and inconsistent anyway, but that's a discussion for another day.

January 17, 2022 at 12:33PM

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Andy Lindsay
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