Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Vanishing of the R-rated Blockbuster, Metal Gear, and more

There was a time when R-rated movies thrived. There were great movies that came out during the summer months that were not just fluff movies or ones trying to pack as many explosions into the action scenes to make up for the lack of blood they can show. The PG-13 rating ruined it. Its “one f-bomb” rule is ridiculous and has become somewhat of a joke when watching a movie that has no business holding itself back. For example, it should come as no surprise that the highest grossing Die Hard flick is Live Free or Die Hard, the only PG-13 movie, using its single f-bomb in the only way it could without pissing off the fans. There is no excuse or reason why John McClane should be PG-13. He is not PG-13. Nothing about him or his first three movies are PG-13. That is the charm of the whole series. But they had to censor themselves for maybe their best story, seeing how the fifth installment that was released a couple months ago is going to settle in making about half of its predecessor at the box office. Another one of my favorite cases of this rule coming into effect is in Snake Eyes, where the actors obviously are mouthing f-bombs throughout the movie, but the voiceover changed it to something tamer to maintain that PG-13 rating. Oh, but there was a death scene with a bit of blood, so it got the R anyway for “some violence”, after that soundtrack had been changed and submitted. Basically, they got screwed. But they shouldn’t be screwed. It should have made no difference. If they wanted to make a restricted movie, then make one. We are talking about Brian freaking De Palma here, the director of Dressed to Kill and Scarface. If he is worried about the rating, then we have run into an issue. Our best blockbuster writers and directors are not making good solid R-Rated entertainment anymore out of fear of losing its audience. That needs to change.

Trouble with the R
Looking at the all time box office list, there are 70 PG-13 movies that have eclipsed $200 million at the box office, a rating that has not been around as long as R. How does that compare to the movie that has that extra f-bomb? There are 11 such movies. Of those, we have a movie about Jesus, three sequels, four movies that spawned sequels, a couple comedies, a war movie, and a movie released in 2012. Can anyone guess that movie? Anyone? That’s right…Ted. Top 10 all time R-rated movies. Seriously. That is how pathetic it is right now. The R-rated comedy is alive and well, though. In the last 29 years, the only original ideas that have made $200 million are Wedding Crashers, Ted, and The Hangover. Those would not have been nearly as big if they had held back. Then what is it about the action, sci-fi, and horror/thrillers? Really, I am asking. The highest ranked original script for an action picture (not historical/war movies) is Air Force One, ranked 15th on the R-rated list. This decade? Safe House, coming in a cool 64th place. Yeah, the Denzel movie that basically no one saw. That is the state of R-rated blockbusters right now.
What happened to The Terminator? The Matrix? Speed? Die Hard? Rambo?  When The King’s Speech cracks the 20 highest grossing R-rated films of the 2000s, you know there is something wrong (other than Harvey Weinstein). Unless a movie is riding on the coattails of a previous film (The Matrix Reloaded is the second ranked R-rated flick all time), people do not seek out the movies because they have no reason to believe that it will be all that great. The original Matrix can’t even crack the top 15 because of this, but a movie as bad as The Hangover Part II even comes in at #4. Who can pull us out of this? I have a few ideas…

Steven Spielberg
How can he help? Well, his only R-rated movies are Saving Private Ryan, Munich, and Schindler’s List, three movies not exactly trying to light up the box office. All he needs to do is make one of his big blockbusters, and make use the kind of realism and care that he uses in his historical movies. Imagine how much cooler War of the Worlds could have been had it been a bit darker and more disturbing. Think about Minority Report with some legitimate action sequences. Even hearing the “knock-knock” joke in a few more variations in Catch Me If You Can. I guess we will have to hold out hope for Robopocalypse to carry the torch, but I won’t count on that. He is too safe.

James Cameron
I know, I know. He will have to swallow his pride and not make another highest grossing movie of all time, but man, his whole foundation is in great, big budget R-rated movies. Aside from The Abyss, all of his movies up until Titanic were restricted. If he really has as big of an ego as it appears he does, then make an unapologetically huge budget, hard R picture and see how many fans flock to the theater. It would be huge. Will he ever do it? Almost certainly not. He is too worried about re-releasing Avatar with 10 extra minutes of Na’vi footage, making Titanic in 3D, and traveling to the bottom of the ocean and releasing his footage in IMAX. Come on, man! I know you got a few more of those Terminator-type ideas in that crazy head of yours! Let’s hope Battle Angel is that movie (based on graphic novel, though). Or The Informationist, whatever that is.

Christopher Nolan
He just might be the savior of the R-rated blockbuster. His status right now is as high as any director in the world. Just coming off his epic Dark Knight trilogy and starting the Man of Steel saga, he is the most sought after director out there. But he is only a PG-13 guy, right? Wrong. His best film by far is Memento, a crazy indie that has gained a cult status and top 50 ranking on IMDb. Oh, and it is rated R. Insomnia was next, which was an odd movie and never really found an audience, but it is almost not a Nolan movie. I won’t even talk about Following, another R-rated picture. Then came Batman, genre movie, Batman, personal movie, Batman, and now Insterstellar, another personal movie. Will it be R? Well, given that McConaughey and Hathaway are the stars, I am guessing a bit fat NO. But that is ok. It will come. He has to get every person on the planet to buy in, and then deliver his next brutal masterpiece. It will come; it is just a matter of when. And what. But I don’t want to wait that long.

Now, I had wanted to write this article for a long time. I just do not understand why there aren’t any of these cool hard R movies anymore, other than the yearly sex comedy or a Tarantino-type movie, which will never fully win over the box office. Prometheus came out in 2012, and I thought for sure it was going to be PG-13 and ruin any semblance of the previous Alien films. Pleasantly surprising, it came out as R, and it could have been PG-13. It just squeaked by, in my opinion, and did not even break even (partially because it kinda sucked). Not even the director of the original film in a very profitable franchise can make it right. One of the abovementioned directors has to take the reins.

Metal Gear?!?!
Recently, the movie adaptation of the widely popular video game series Metal Gear finally got some news. David S. Goyer, the co-scripter of the Dark Knight trilogy as well as the Man of Steel movie, has signed on to write the hotly anticipated and eternally delayed film. We could not have asked for a better result. Plus, its IMDb page lists the storyline as the “Shadow Moses” plot, which is basically a dream come true. That story is made for the movies. I cannot even describe how much I want to see how this shakes out. So, out of anticipation and hours of collaborating with a few fellow Metal Gear fans, here is my dream cast for the film:

Solid Snake: Viggo Mortensen – He has the look, he can be rough, and he would just own it.
Infinite budget casting: Tom Cruise – I have wanted him to play the role forever. It still fits, plus it would guarantee the budget and audience that the film deserves.
Don’t count out: Kurt Russell (for obvious reasons), Hugh Jackman (more obvious reasons)
Outside the box casting: Michael C. Hall
Nightmare casting: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone and the rest of the Expendables cast

Roy Campbell: Philip Seymour Hoffman – He needs a part in every movie, and I just cannot get past how perfect he would be for this part.
Infinite budget casting: Philip Seymour Hoffman

Meryl: Jennifer Carpenter – She would bring an interesting presence to the important character. It would definitely be far from Deb, but it would be beyond intriguing to see.
Infinite budget casting: Charlize Theron – She has the physique and attitude to totally pull it off.

Revolver Ocelot: Ed Harris – He is so great at playing a villain, so if he channels his Gone Baby Gone or A History of Violence self, then this will be unforgettable.
Infinite budget casting: Gary Oldman – How amazing would this be?!

Gray Fox: Aaron Eckhart – He seems like a good soldier-type, and obviously he can play a villain and probably pull off most of the stunts.
Infinite budget casting: Christian Bale – Obviously, unless they expand the hell out of his part, then there is no way this happens, but he would be perfect.

Liquid Snake: Eric Roberts – He is such an underrated actor, and him playing a villain as vicious and crazy as Liquid would be something to see.
Infinite budget casting: Kevin Bacon – This is such a hard role to cast, but he is great as a villain. I can see him being a brilliant counterpart to Snake.

Naomi Hunter: Rosemarie DeWitt – She is still not as famous as she should be. I can totally seeing her bringing heart to a role that really needs it.
Infinite budget casting: Vera Farmiga – This would bring credibility to a role that will probably not be much in the final cut.

Hal Emmerich (Otacon): Patrick Fugit – He would be a really cool companion to Snake, and he is nerdy by default.
Infinite budget casting: Jesse Eisenberg – He is probably too young, but the nerdy part would inevitably look his way at some point.

Mei Ling: Chiaki Kuriyama – She sounds like her. She looks a bit like her. She would be perfect.
Infinite budget casting: Chiaki Kuriyama or Rinko Kikuchi

Sniper Wolf: Carrie-Anne Moss – You could always use a comeback, right? This is a bit outside the box, but it would work.
Infinite budget casting: Marion Cotillard – This would be a dream-like casting that would never happen, but would be too amazing to ignore.

Psycho Mantis: Christoph Waltz – The manipulative, torturous character could not be played by anyone else. Do whatever it takes to get this guy. Wait, him for Ocelot? Oh man, he could be any of them...
Infinite budget casting: Christoph Waltz

Vulcan Raven: Mickey Rourke – This could be The Rock, Vin Diesel, or any other muscular actor, but this is just too good to ignore.
Infinite budget casting: Mickey Rourke or Tom Hardy

DARPA Chief: Dennis Haysbert – It is totally his type of role, and he is always underused in movies.
Infinite budget casting: Idris Elba – He is such an amazing actor that he would make the prison cell scene simply astonishing.

Ok, so that turned out a lot more star-packed than I planned, but all of those characters have big, important parts in the film. It is almost like an anthology-type movie, if it is going to keep a similar format to the game.

Did you notice a pattern in those picks? Do a bunch of them have a mutual director that they have worked with? That’s right, it all relates back to the man of the hour, Christopher Nolan. I did not even really mean to do that. I just noticed it about halfway through. On the subject, here are my dream directors to helm the project, realistic choices that could end up behind the camera for this future megahit, and my nightmare directing choices:

Dream Directors
1. Christopher Nolan – If he takes it, he could revive the R-rated blockbuster, or simply change it for the foreseeable future.
2. Duncan Jones – After Moon and Source Code, I cannot think of any director right now more qualified to have this material in his hands, other than Nolan of course.
3. Martin Scorsese – He has played around with CGI before, so seeing him constructing Metal Gear Rex would be something to marvel at.
4. Sam Mendes – He has proven that he can do anything. This would be an awesome next step.
T-5. Ben Affleck – I think of Metal Gear as a quiet thriller with some action, and that is exactly what he has done so far. We have no reason to think he can’t take on a bit of sci-fi as well.
 T-5. Guillermo Del Toro – He is so good at creating images. I can’t even imagine how this movie would look, but I would love to see it.

Realistic Options
1. Neill Blomkamp – It would be astonishing, but he already has Halo on his plate, supposedly.
2. McG – The fourth Terminator movie was not a disaster. He could be given the keys to another franchise.
3. David S. Goyer – He has directed before, and given that he is writing, it makes all too much sense that he would take this on to prove that he actually can handle the camera.
4. Paul Greengrass – He can make a thriller as well as anyone. I have to believe that he wouldn’t overdo the action, either. The fight with Gray Fox would be amazing, as well.
5. Joon-ho Bong – Anyone who has seen The Host (2006) knows that he could probably handle this type of material. If they want to go with an Asian director, then he is our best option.

Worst Potential Directors for the Project
1. Tim Burton
2. Uwe Boll
3. Ridley Scott
4. Brett Ratner
5. John Woo
So there you have it. I meant what I said about Nolan. If he takes over this film with his writing collaborator, it could be a huge game-changer. He has the backing from everywhere, so it would have that high budget and he would be able to let loose and show a bit of blood and deliver on some of that incredible R-rated entertainment promise he showed in Memento. It would be an absolutely breathtaking thriller if that were to happen, as well as the wet dream of any fan of him or video games in general. The internet message boards might just explode.

Comments? Your dream cast and crew? Thoughts on David S. Goyer writing it? On the state of R-rated blockbusters today? Let me know below!


  1. NC-17 is a kiss of death in the movie industry, but now it seems R is moving that way too. Every year, they are fewer and fewer. Too many filmmakers are afraid of it. It seems there's only a handful of high-profile directors left who are unafraid of it. And you're right; It is pathetic. The rating does sacrifice a portion of the audience, but it makes for a more realistic and artful film.

    I think there's 4 types of R-rated movies...comedies, blockbusters, horrors, and the artsy type that tries to win Best Picture.
    Comedies are doing okay for themselves at the moment. Horrors don't have a big audience anyway. The Best Picture contenders have not done well lately, but if Spielberg or Nolan had the balls to do one, that would raise their prospects.

    And lastly, and I hate to say it, but the R-rated blockbuster has been dormant for years. 300 was the last truly successful one. Since then, Wanted and Prometheus have been lesser hits, and that's pretty much it. I hoped Prometheus would resurrect the sub-genre, but unfortunately it wasn't a good enough movie.

    You haven't accounted for ticket price inflation when talking about box office performance of R-rated movies. If you haven't already, check out this link:

    It shows the all-time highest grossing R-rated movies if they were all released in 2013. The absence of recent films is very alarming, showing how pathetic the current state really is. Ted is not even in the Top 50.

    1. Interesting points. I didn't really consider adjusted numbers, but it does give an interesting perspective. Further cements the fact that R rated blockbusters spawning from original stories have no place at the box office currently. I also found it interesting how older Best Picture winners were proportionally very successful compared to recent ones. The box office has always fascinated me. Trying to figure out tendencies and predictions is nearly impossible. Thanks for the post.