2017: The Year That Brought the R-Rated Blockbuster Back

I think Hollywood learned a lot in 2017. They learned that female-led movies can perform above and beyond expectations (Wonder Woman, Beauty and the Beast) and that female directors can helm $100M+ budgets (Wonder Woman, upcoming A Wrinkle in Time). But, most of all, they learned that audiences still crave a good r-rated blockbuster. And boy-oh-boy did 2017 deliver.

Defining blockbuster is difficult; everyone has their own definition. A quick search online says that a blockbuster is “a thing of great power or size, in particular a movie, book, or other product that is a great commercial success.” 2017 had its fair share of r-rated commercial successes, but just because a film does good doesn’t make it a blockbuster.

In my mind, a blockbuster is a film with a production budget of $100M+. There are always the expectations to the case (2016’s Deadpool cost $58M, and 2017’s Logan and IT cost $97M and $35M), but it is a rule I tend to follow. I would also consider any film that makes back 8x+ their budget as a blockbuster success. Additionally, marketing has reached a point where it can be the saving grace or dramatic fall of a film. So if a film has a great marketing campaign (like Deadpool and IT had) with the intent of being a box office success, I count that as a loose second rule.

These two “rules” form a loose definition of what I consider a Hollywood blockbuster. Modern Hollywood has an obsession with the PG-13 rating. It is safe. Essentially, it hits all demographics. I’ve seen kids as young as four years old and adults as old as mid-80s at a PG-13 movie. A PG-13 movie opens the door for any age. Hollywood likes that. It means more money. Hollywood likes money. It keeps them afloat. They don’t like films that cut out an age demographic. Hollywood has a tendency to frown upon r-rated films (specifically r-rated blockbusters) as that cuts out a healthy chunk of ticket sales. However, it wasn’t always that way.

There was a time when Hollywood loved making r-rated blockbusters; the seventies, eighties, and nineties are full of them. Alien, The Terminator, Aliens, RoboCop, Rambo, Die Hard, T2: Judgment Day, The Matrix, the list could go on and on. There’s just one difference from that era of film and today’s: toy sales.

Back then, you could sell toys based on an r-rated film. Terminator 2: Judgment Day springs to mind as a toy commercial I remember watching. In fact, whole children’s franchises were built around films like Rambo and RoboCop. Both got animated series and multiple toy lines. It was a different time in Hollywood.

However, toys based on r-rated films soon met the chopping block and, without a lucrative toy deal, Hollywood started to tighten their grip over which r-rated films got greenlight. Once popular R-rated franchises like Terminator, RoboCop, and Die Hard began to churn out PG-13 sequels and reboots to a mixed reception. Hollywood thought that r-rated films could no longer be profitable in the modern age. With PG-13 blockbusters like Marvel’s The Avengers, Transformers, and Harry Potter grossing upwards of a billion dollars worldwide, while r-rated blockbusters were lucky to gross a quarter of that, it was hard to argue with the Hollywood executives.

Then Deadpool happened and changed everything.

I like to consider Kingsman: The Secret Service, released wide in 2015, as the first successful r-rated blockbuster of modern Hollywood, but it is foolish to not recognize Deadpool as the rightful King. Deadpool showed Hollywood that audiences were craving a well-written r-rated blockbuster. It didn’t hurt that the marketing campaign was balls to the wall crazy, and its lead star Ryan Reynolds knocked the promotional bits out of the park. 2016 ended with Deadpool sitting ninth at the highest grossing films worldwide of 2016 with $783M. An impressive feat, and one that certainly changed cinema to come. 2017 was looking at Deadpool‘s success and putting together the pieces for a r-rated renaissance like no other.

Page 2 begins our look back at 2017’s r-rated films.