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.

Popular on Variety

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


    Laemmle Theatres Arthouse Chain No Longer Seeking Buyer

    Los Angeles-based arthouse chain Laemmle Theatres has stopped seeking a buyer, four months after putting itself on the sales block amid slow sales. Greg Laemmle, president of the 81-year-old exhibitor, announced the development Thursday. He told Variety that discussions with an unidentified buyer had reached an advanced stage but fell apart and that there has [...]

  • Morgan Freeman Lori McCreary Gary Lucchesi

    Film News Roundup: Morgan Freeman's Revelations Teams With Gary Lucchesi for Production Venture

    In today’s film news roundup, Morgan Freeman, Lori McCreary and Gary Lucchesi are teaming up; Zolee Griggs, Sara Rue and Ed Quinn are cast; and “Clementine” finds a home. JOINT VENTURE Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary’s Revelations Entertainment is teaming with former Lakeshore Entertainment president Gary Lucchesi for a joint production venture. Lucchesi will develop [...]

  • 'When Lambs Become Lions' Review: A

    Film Review: 'When Lambs Become Lions'

    “For us, ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants,” says Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta in a televised statement, shortly before several vast hauls of severed elephant tusks — ornately piled like sacred shrines — is ceremoniously set ablaze. It’s a confiscated collection that, Kenyatta tells his audience, is worth $150 million, literally going [...]

  • Shannon Hoon

    Live Nation Productions Boards Danny Clinch-Helmed Blind Melon Doc 'All I Can Say'

    Live Nation Productions and Double E Entertainment have signed on as executive producers of “All I Can Say,” the documentary film featuring footage shot entirely by the late Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon. The film’s title is taken from the opening lines of Blind Melon’s instantly recognizable 1993 smash, “No Rain.” Culled from Hoon’s archives, the [...]

  • Tom Hanks stars as Mister Rogers

    How Mr. Rogers Influenced the Pacing of 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood'

    Fred Rogers was an icon to many. Everyone who met him and knew him says, “He really was like that.” He spoke in a soft voice and he was kind. He believed in doing good to others. He spoke to children in “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” in a soft voice, helping them to process complicated emotions [...]

  • Dowdle Brothers

    The Dowdle Brothers Tackle New 'Friday Night Lights' Movie (EXCLUSIVE)

    John Erick and Drew Dowdle, aka the Dowdle brothers, have boarded Universal Pictures’ reimagining of “Friday Night Lights.” Both will do a polish on the script, with John Erick directing and Drew exec producing. Sources tell Variety that the movie is not a sequel to Universal’s 2004 film starring Billy Bob Thornton, nor is it [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content