Normally, I wouldn't be one to consider Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (which to be fair I have not yet seen) as a shining example of a positive trend in movie-going. But the historical fiction action-thriller may be many things, but one thing it is not is PG-13. Oh no, it is a mid-summer major studio spectacle that is going out into 3,000+ theaters with an honest-to-goodness R. Said rating is officially for "violence throughout and brief sexuality". Whether or not the film could have been edited down to a PG-13 is arguably a moot point. 20th Century Fox spent $70 million (a refreshingly reasonable sum) on a major summer production that was conceived and produced with the intent that it would indeed be R-rated. And most shockingly, it was not even the only R-rated wide release last weekend, as Focus Features unspooled Seeking Friends at the End of the World in 1,400 theaters. I've written/ranted for years about how the R-rating became an endangered species for major-studio releases due to the 2001 FEC regulations regarding the marketing of R-rated films, but the tide does seem to be changing over the last couple years. And it's reached a glorious peak at this very moment, with an avalanche of R-rated wide releases filling up the multiplexes.
To wit, 2012 started with four straight weeks of R-rated films topping the weekend box office, with a whopping five out of ten new wide releases (The Devil Inside, Contraband, Underworld: Evolution, Haywire, and The Grey) getting that once-rate 'restricted' rating. Coupled with three major 2011 expansions (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Descendants, and Albert Nobbs), that gave mainstream moviegoers eight "new" R-rated options in the first four weekends of 2012. February slowed down a bit, with only two R-rated wide releases (Act of Valor and Safe House) out of fourteen studio films, although both did exceedingly well at the box office. March saw just nine wide releases and three of them (21 Jump Street, Project X, and Silent House) were R-rated while two smaller releases (The Raid: Redemption and Jeff, Who Lives At Home) eventually expanded to somewhat wide release. April saw twelve wide debuts with 1/3 of them (American Reunion, Cabin in the Woods, Safe, and The Raven) getting the 'scarlet R'. Plus April saw the debut of Bernie, a Richard Linklater comedy that has slowly expanded over the last couple months. May had two R-rated wide releases out of just seven wide debuts (The Chernobyl Diaries and The Dictator). Some of these films were box office hits and some were not. In the first five months of 2012, there were 52 wide releases, with 16 of them (31%) being released with an R-rating.
August brings an obscene 14 wide releases over its five weeks, with four of them (The Expendables II, Lawless, Hit and Run, and possibly The Campaign) being R-rated (I'm presuming Total Recall and The Bourne Legacy will be PG-13, but don't count out the sex/gore-drenched Diary of Wimpy Kid: Dog Days). Also debuting in August are four limited debuts with possible/probable R-ratings that have expansion potential (Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Cosmopolis, and For A Good Time Call). The last four months of the year are host to 45 wide releases at this time. Of those, 12 are confirmed or highly-likely R-ratings (Gangster Squad, Dredd, Killing Them Softly, End Of Watch, Sinister, Paranormal Activity 4, Cloud Atlas, Argo, Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, Parental Guidance, This Is Forty, Jack Reacher, and Django Unchained). Another (Looper, Taken 2, Silver Linings Playbook, 21 and Over, Life of Pi, Playing the Field, Kathryn Bigelow’s Bin Laden thriller, and The Guilt Trip) are possible and/or likely. Plus another four limited releases that are confirmed or guaranteed Rs (Butter, The Master, Seven Psychopaths, and Hyde Park on the Hudson) that could/will expand into somewhat wide release. So the last five months of 2012 brings up 59 wide studio releases with 17 all-but guaranteed R-ratings and a number of unrated genre films that could end up eschewing the PG-13 and a number of limited releases that may go wide at some point.
So, long story short, in 2012, there are an estimated 131 wide releases. Of those 131, not counting the successful expansions thus far or probable expansions in the future, there are 42 R-rated films in multiplexes this year, or nearly 1/3 of all studio releases (32%). And if we include the 'likely' R-rated films in that group, that gets us an additional eight for 50 total wide-release R-rated pictures (38%), not even counting smaller debuts that could or will bloom into wide release (obviously The Master and From Rome With Love are probably going wide soon after their limited debuts). While we can't include the possible expansions in the list of overall wide releases (mainly because I didn't do the 'likely to expand' list with non-R rated films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), including them gives us a total of 66 new 2012 theatrical releases being given the once-forbidden rating. Hell, throw in those 2011 expansions from January and you get 67 theatrical films in at least semi-wide release that are or will be rated R. Yes some of these films might get moved into 2013 and some (such as The Campaign, Gangster Squad, and/or Taken 2) might opt for a PG-13 in the end. But what the general moviegoer is left with is a vast array of adult entertainment at a theater near you this year. Again, it's not just the number that impresses, but also the sheer variety of what kinds of films are being allowed out without a PG-13 sheering. You've got comedies, horror films, Oscar-bait dramas, comic book adaptations, video game sequels, old-school star-driven thrillers, and everything in between (except for animation of course).
So the next time someone tells you that there is nothing for adults to see at the movies, kindly explain to them that as many as 40% of all wide releases this year will be R-rated (or just send them a link to this post). Some of these films are/will be good, some are/will be bad, but they are all taking a token financial risk going out with adult-friendly ratings. Kudos to the studios for the sheer volume of R-rated fare in theaters this year and (to a lesser extent) the last couple years. Kudos to moviegoers for supporting some if not most of these pictures despite the lack of family-friendly ratings. It appears that in 2012, there really is something for everyone at the movies. Maybe 2013 will bring us some R-rated animation. Here's hoping for Monsters University, rated R for strong sexual content, crude humor, language and drug use on June 21st, 2013.