You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Chappie,’ ‘Unfinished Business’ Disappoint, But is R-Rated Film Fatigue Real?

R-rated film fatigue is becoming the ailment du jour among studios and exhibition types looking for explanations for what’s behind a recent box office downturn.

The virus is blamed for the anemic performance of “Focus,” “Chappie” and “Unfinished Business,” all of which were categorized by the Motion Picture Association of America as intended for mature audiences and none of which made much of a stir at ticket booths.

Believers point to the eight R-rated films released since the beginning of the year as evidence that adults are so overwhelmed by the panoply of entertainment options available to them that they’re choosing to forgo the multiplexes altogether. Moreover, there is a statistical basis for the financial hurdles these pictures face. Films with R ratings deliver half the box office punch of PG and PG-13 offerings, according to a recent analysis by TheWrap.

“I don’t want to lay it all on the doorstep of the R rating, but R-rated movies are by their very definition restricted, and it’s tough to be a four quadrant movie when you’re rated R,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak.

There’s a reason, after all, that most summer blockbusters tend to be rated PG-13, a designation that allows parents to bring their teenagers along.

It’s a theory that’s carried weight in exhibition circles for some time, with theater owners often decrying the number of R-rated pictures Hollywood churns out. In 2013, the first quarter box office was mired in a slump, one that National Association of Theatre Owners CEO John Fithian blamed on an overabundance of R-rated films.

Reached by email, Fithian said the problem was more attributable to a lack of alternatives for families and other types of ticket-buyers.

“The market always does better with diverse titles appealing to diverse demographics,” he wrote.

Not everyone is convinced that it’s all about the rating. After all, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” did impressive business with R ratings and “American Sniperjust became the biggest domestic release of 2014 despite having that scarlet letter affixed to it.

“To say there’s something wrong with R-rated movies is short-sighted,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “You have to take each movie on its own terms … these are movies that, for whatever reason, the public wasn’t engaged by and didn’t respond to.”

Indeed, all of those recent disappointments had other obstacles to contend with beyond their ratings. “Focus” sold itself heavily on Will Smith’s appeal at a time when star power is at a low ebb (Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. have similarly struggled with “Mortdecai” and “The Judge”). “Unfinished Business” had the misfortune of being yet another vehicle for Vince Vaughn’s motor-mouth comic stylings, coming on the heels of commercial and critical duds such as “The Internship” and “Delivery Man.” Meanwhile, “Chappie” was an original science-fiction release, which as “Jupiter Ascending” also demonstrates, is one of the most difficult genres to pull off.

Moreover, “Chappie,” with its posters and commercials featuring a cute robot learning to paint and play with blocks, struggled to make a coherent pitch to audiences unsure what to make of this violent futuristic fantasy.

“It was a tongue-in-cheek, interesting marketing campaign, but I think audiences got a little confused,” said  Dergarabedian. “It’s why studios like easy-to-grasp concepts.”

It also didn’t help that critics took the brass knuckles to both “Unfinished Business” and “Chappie,” handing them a series of excoriating reviews.

If there is indeed a serious case of R-rated fatigue gripping the public, then the movie business is in trouble. Each weekend in March contains a new R-rated release, among them “The Gunman,” “Run All Night” and “Get Hard.”

Maybe it’s time for audiences to get inoculated.

More Film

  • Fox Searchlight logo

    Film News Roundup: Fox Searchlight Launches Searchlight Shorts

    In today’s film news roundup, Fox Searchlight starts a shorts channel, Uma Thurman signs with ICM and Miramax signs animation exec Michael Lachance. SEARCHLIGHT SHORTS Fox Searchlight Pictures’ chairmen Nancy Utley and Stephen Gilula have announced the launch of “Searchlight Shorts” as a collection of short films. The shorts are available on Fox Searchlight’s YouTube [...]

  • ImMature - cr: MX Player

    Indian Streamers Ramp up Original Productions

    Ever since global streaming giants Amazon Prime Video and Netflix entered the Indian OTT space in 2016, the conversation around original series has mostly revolved around them, thanks in part to market leader 21st Century Fox’s Hotstar’s circumspect attitude at the time about producing content. Netflix had great success with “Sacred Games,” while Amazon rode [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Hollywood Agents, Writers Guild Make Little Progress in Talks

    Leaders of Hollywood agencies and the Writers Guild of America made little progress in Tuesday meeting to negotiate proposed rule revisions to how agents represent writers. The WGA said after the meeting — the fifth since Feb. 5 — that talks would resume later this week but did not give a specific day. “The Agencies [...]

  • Village Rockstars

    Female Filmmakers Are a Growing Voice in India

    The Indian film industry has historically been a male-dominated one, but the winds of change are blowing across the country, albeit slowly. Better-served than the rest of the country is the Mumbai-based Hindi-language industry, where there are several active female filmmakers including Zoya Akhtar (“Gully Boy”), Reema Kagti (“Gold”), Leena Yadav (“Rajma Chawal”), Gauri Shinde [...]

  • Florence Pugh

    Scarlett Johansson's 'Black Widow' Movie Adds Florence Pugh

    “Black Widow’s” web may soon be growing. Sources tell Variety that Florence Pugh is in talks to join Scarlett Johansson’s standalone superhero film. Pugh has been on the hot list for this second lead role since last fall, but Marvel wanted to open up the field to other actresses at the beginning of the year. [...]

  • Mira Lesmana Sets up Indonesia Remake

    Mira Lesmana Sets Up Indonesian Remake of CJ's 'Sunny'

    Indonesia’s Miles Film and Korea’s CJ Entertainment are to co-produce an Indonesian remake of Korean hit “Sunny.” The film is a female-driven dramedy about a group of adult friends who reunite 20 years after high school. Directed by Kang Hyoung-chul, “Sunny” was one of the highest-grossing movies in Korea when it was released in 2011. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content