‘Logan,’ ‘Deadpool’ and Why the World Is Ready for an R-Rated X-Men Film

Logan Movie
Courtesy of Ben Rothstein/Marvel

Comic book movies aren’t just for kids.

Logan,” the blood-drenched final chapter in the Wolverine saga, demonstrates that superhero films don’t have to be sanitized to succeed. Like “Deadpool” before it, the blockbuster differentiated itself from the flood of films about costumed heroes by embracing a hard R-rating. It’s no accident that Fox produced both movies. The studio, which licenses the rights to X-Men characters like Wolverine and Deadpool, seems intent on carving out a niche for itself by making grittier, tougher comic book fare that’s in stark contrast to Disney’s sunnier “Avengers” series.

“Fox needs to be bold and continue to blaze this trail,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “I think the world is now ready for an R-rated X-Men film.”

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Logan Movie

Box Office: ‘Logan’ Roars With Massive $85.3 Million Debut

So far, the strategy is working. “Logan” debuted to a massive $237.8 million globally and “Deadpool” ended its run with nearly $800 million worldwide.

“We have a clear direction and audiences are responding to it,” said Chris Aronson, Fox’s domestic distribution chief.

In an interview with Variety’s Kristopher Tapley last week, director and co-writer James Mangold said that he made a pact with Hugh Jackman, the franchise’s star, to lean into the character’s dark side. Logan is a former mercenary who has left a trail of blood in his wake. Like William Munny in Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven,” he is haunted by the lives he snuffed out.

“You’re just looking for a way, and I think the studios are too, to just shake things up because everyone feels that there’s a certain amount of exhaustion setting in,” said Mangold, adding, “We can’t keep doing the same movie over and over again.”

Mangold speculated that the world is ready for stories that have more gravity. Unlike “Deadpool,” which plays at time like a parody of the spandex genre, “Logan” is deadly serious. Like “Shane” or “Pale Rider,” it works as both an adventure film and a meditation on guilt and regret. In his talk with Tapley, Mangold argued that after an election that saw Donald Trump upend conventional wisdom by capturing the White House, the entertainment business must find ways to better reflect the chaotic current political climate.

“There was a convulsion on all levels,” Mangold said. Indeed, “Logan,” with its high body count and post-apocalyptic vibe, stands in stark contrast with the cultural moment — as the film was playing to full houses, Trump was at his most rococo, tweeting allegations about wire-tapping and taking swipes at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Apprentice” run.

In the late 1960’s, studios turned away from splashy musicals and biblical epics to concentrate on more character-driven films. Movies like “Bonnie & Clyde” and “The Wild Bunch” spoke to younger audiences who felt politically disenchanted. These ballets of bullets updated the crime film and the western, while speaking to people turned off by the war in Vietnam.

Even with protests sweeping the country, it might be unrealistic to expect that there will be many more films that use populist genres to make larger artistic statements or score political points. “Logan” or “Get Out,” a thriller about race relations, are commercially successful while being creatively bold, but there are financial reasons why they will remain anomalies. Most comic book movies boast budgets that are north of $150 million. They inspire toylines, adorn happy meals, and launch theme park rides. That kind of merchandising is where the real money is made. “Logan’s” violence may delight audiences and may tap into the zeitgeist, but images of Wolverine vivisecting bad guys won’t be appearing on lunch boxes any time soon.

Still, at a time when nearly every major studio is in the superhero game, Fox has made a wise bet by crafting comic book movies for audiences that can legally drink. Box office analysts think that other studios such as Warner Bros. should take note. They believe that “Suicide Squad” or the upcoming Batman standalone film might benefit from more carnage. At the very least, Warner Bros. could try releasing both PG-13 and R-rated versions.

“It’s all about continuing to move the genre forward and be more malleable,” said Bock. “You can’t pitch the same PG-13 movies over and over or they will become stale.”

Ultimately, there’s no surefire formula. Directors can’t just ratchet up the violence and sprinkle in a few choice four-letter words and expect audiences to turn up for the latest comic book movie. Both “Deadpool” and “Logan” also benefited from strong reviews.

“An R-rating is a huge differentiator, but you still have to make a good movie,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with ComScore.

All too often, it’s that last ingredient that’s left out.

WATCH: The Evolution of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine from X-Men to Logan

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  1. Cameron Rice says:

    Logan and deadpool were fantastic because they were true to the source material and faithful to their character, and the zany and gritty natures of them. now I can’t wait for deadpool 2 and 3 and the X-Force film. I’m very picky with my adaptations, I always go for the ones that are made specifically for grownups. and there are some modestly budgeted R Rated graphic novel adaptations I’d love to see since the source material calls for them, those are kickass 3 and sin city 3 (they’re obviously are gonna be R Right on the spot), a venom vs carnage action horror movie, lobo, the losers 2, death of the family, and frank Miller’s Ronin

  2. TLynn says:

    “It’s all about continuing to move the genre forward and be more malleable,” said Bock. “You can’t pitch the same PG-13 movies over and over or they will become stale.” This statement annoys me. Hes implying that its the rating that drives people to watch or not. Its the plot and character development that drive sales. Spend more time on making a good movie and more people will go to watch it.

  3. ajay says:

    waw very nice movie

  4. Steve says:

    Fox doesn’t have merchandising rights for the X-Men franchise. Maybe that’s why they aren’t concerned about the R ratings.

  5. Joe K says:

    The movie was written in 2015 and filmed in 2016 while Obama was President. Why are you mentioning Trump?

  6. Echo says:

    SJW Propaganda , marvel ruins the series with obvious talking down American.

  7. Mike J Voss says:

    Deadpool was created to be an ‘R’ rated character. Wolverine evolved into an ‘R’ rated character in the comics. The X-Men did not. Making them ‘R’ rated would be a mistake. Stay true to the source, that is what the success of Deadpool & Logan tells us. Be true to what works in the comics, be true to what made fans love these characters in the first place & they will reward you for it. An ‘R’ rated X-Men movie would deviate even further from the source than it already has.

  8. Red says:

    Can’t we enjoy something without you bringing Trump into this? WTF.

  9. nate says:

    where the hell does trump come into a marvel movie? honestly….

  10. Joe says:

    The world is ready for an X-rated X-Men film! San Fernando Valley, listen up!

  11. Ben K says:

    I agree with what a lot of the previous people have said – What made Deadpool and Logan work so well wasn’t so much the R rating, but rather the fact that as characters, Deadpool is known for being the R rated version of Spiderman, and Logan’s Wolverine is known for being incredibly violent, which makes them absolutely perfect for movies with an R rating – A live action Killing Joke movie should be rated R, but unless the story and/or character calls for an R rating, my hope is that movie studios see that the most important aspects are a focus on a solid story and the respect for their source material, and that they stop being so focused on the rating😉

  12. Ian McCombe says:

    No, no, no, no, no. I get tired of seeing this argument everywhere. Don’t make a bloody movie and expect the money to come flooding in. Seeing Wolverine cut people in half isn’t what is making this movie worth watching. Make a GOOD movie. Give writer’s, directors and the rest of production the freedom to make the movie they want to make, and you’ll get a better product. Let the rating be what it will, don’t pressure cuts to make it PG, don’t add blood to make it R. Just make the movie the way it should be made.

    • Johns Mansville says:

      Did you bother reading the article Ian McCombe? That is literally what the end of the article says.

      • jedi77 says:

        Yes, and no. When the author starts with mentioning that the world is ready for an R-rated X-Men film, he is advocating something. What Ian McCombe is saying, is: Fu** the rating, just make a good X-Men film. Stop being hung up on the rating.

  13. Ferdalump says:

    Fox can release an R rated X-Men exactly because they are not beholden to a toy line like the MCU. That’s where Disney makes the bulk of their profits. But Fox does not get a cut of any X-Men toys. If they sell them, Disney gets the cash. So Fox has to make all of their profits from the movies themselves, and they’ve stumbled upon a formula that can differentiate themselves from all other superhero movies.

  14. Just came from seeing “Logan”. Very much worth my hard-to-come-by money. Saw the “Deadpool” trailer too. Yep, going to be worth it also, I think. Rate either/both “R”? Why? the “children” are seeing the same in RL & the current news medias (all of them). The “children” are going to become brain deadened via current schooling methods. Will the “children” become uncaring? Not if the parenting is done right. So, leave the ratings as they are.

  15. Timely Comment says:

    I doubt WARNER BROS will make their DC Film Universe movies R rated.

    PG-13 to allow Zack Snyder and others to continue using those stunt squibs when the caped-and-cowled spandex ones fight each other… but WONDER WOMAN will be about stopping war carnage, JUSTICE LEAGUE about Batman drawing superhero™ friends to fight deadly (alien?) threats, and Superman all about a Randian übermench giving “hope” to non-superpowered humans.

    If WB didn’t give SUICIDE SQUAD— a movie about criminals and bad guys— an R rating to make it more “adult”, they sure won’t give these DC Films entries that DEADPOOL/LOGAN treatment. The Box Office returns are… sufficient… for them to continue mining DC movie fans in the same way. Their Return On Investments are seen as fine— nevermind whatever CRITICAL receptions there are.

    But maybe for JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK?

    • DC Comics under Warner Bros. care, custody and control is never true to the comic origin of the character. Box office determines the so-called “clear direction” of the Marvel (or DC) franchise. The cinematic version bares only a resemblace to what’s on screen. Re: Wonder Woman. Marvel from inception was R-rated. DC has always been family entertainment. However, box office decides–not tradition.

      • Jacen says:

        “Marvel from inception was R-rated.”
        No, they were not, unless you are speaking of the films (Blade) and not the comics (Marvel as we know it beginning in the early ’60s, before the MPAA and its rating system existed, and after the advent of a Comics Code Authority that both Marvel and DC had to adhere to–and which DC challenged first).

  16. Jah Nus says:

    No. There is 0 need for an R-Rated X-men film. An X-force film with Deadpool & Wolverine could have made sense. But no for the “X-Men”. Even the senile Charles isn’t a fan of violence.

    You don’t need an R-rating to do a mature film.

    • Timely Comment says:

      Yeah, yeah— but notice how MARVEL/DISNEY are raking in the Box Office dollars AND critical accolades with a MORE faithful comicbook fidelity to their superhero™ movies than how DC/WARNER BROS are in theirs…

      For corporate difference, WARNER’s take on the DC IPs they own are LESS faithful to the decades-long comics history than what they’re successfully doing across the cinematic street. The business decision to hand Zack Snyder the initial movies that DEFINED their DC Films Universe has been met with criticism outside DC fans clamoring an option to the ongoing MARVEL Cinematic Universe(14? so far)… and have led to post-MAN OF STEEL, post-BATMAN V SUPERMAN: Dawn of Justice organizational “restructuring” and DCFU change. WONDER WOMAN is supposed to be of that new flavor, but audiences will see soon (just like the questionable Ben Affleck THE BATMAN, and sooner Snyder’s 3rd entry, JUSTICE LEAGUE).

      Meanwhile, LOGAN shows just how profitable it is to make an R-rated comicbook movie.

      Interesting what arguments DC defenders are justifying just how WARNER BROS are treating the DCFU!

  17. ” the flood of films”

    Ah, another who sees 4 – 8 films a year (out of hundreds and 52 weekends) is a “flood”. Lord knows what that makes the numerous genres tat have far more films released, like the 6+ horror films we’e already this year by the end of February.

  18. Steve Barr says:

    As for R rated comic book movies I still think Watchmen is still the best .

  19. Spider says:

    Are you listening Stallone? This is how you reinvigorate the quickly faded, “The Expendables” franchise. Yes, there is still an audience and what you started with the 1st film quickly succumbed to a hokey, cartoonish mockery of itself. Raise the stakes and still keep bringing in faded action stars and give them juicy parts. Make the action real. A hard R is warranted by the fact that the flick is about mercenaries, not a lampoon on cartoon soldiers. Take the audience on a rollercoaster ride that’ll have them talking after they’ve left the theater. And a huge note: leave the writing and directing to others, perhaps up-and-coming talent. ….On the note at hand: Congrats to Jackman and Stewart on their hit, “Logan”. Fantastic flick.

  20. Bobby says:

    While this is great, it’s also nothing new. Audiences have been ready for R-rated comic book movies since 1998 when Blade first came out…a comic book movie that consistently gets overlooked.

  21. Ahsoka says:

    While we are at it, how about a rated R James Bond? That would be awesome.

    Enough with the PG 13, it seems to be a huge problem in the US. Europe, sometimes the UK and Australia, and certain parts of Asia, not so much.

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