Deadpool character pointing a gun at a teddy bear

Marvel and Fox Studios’ R-rated superhero action/comedy Deadpool, a gamble of a movie that required some “leaked” test footage and a fan campaign just to get made, is now breaking box office records. In addition to a stellar opening weekend that surpassed any of Fox Studios’ other X-Men-related movies, as of this writing it’s on its way to becoming the highest-grossing R-rated movie ever.

This flies in the face of “common wisdom” in Hollywood that superhero movies just can’t make money without that under-17 audience. And while an R-rated superhero movie may never make as much as a kid-friendly, PG-13 Avengers, Deadpool proves that a good one can still outperform an average PG-13 one.

The problem is that some in Hollywood are learning all the wrong lessons from Deadpool’s success.

Deadpool-the-character was born from the comic book industry’s awkward teenage years, the early 1990s, when comic book creators felt a need to prove how “adult” comics could be by adding gratuitous bloody violence and hilariously oversexualized women. Deadpool-the-movie generally treats its female characters well – within the superhero tropes it plays with – but bloody violence and adolescent humor are vital to the character. He’s an anti-hero, and the movie makes that clear by bringing in the X-Men’s giant goody-goody farmboy Colossus to explain that what he’s doing is understandable but wrong. Much like Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, Deadpool needs an R to be done right.

But in the wake of Deadpool’s success, there were two notable announcements. First, Fox Studios announced an R rating for their next Wolverine movie. Second, Warner Bros. announced an R-rated cut of their upcoming Superman v Batman for DVD and Blu-ray release.

An R-rated Wolverine movie is at least excusable. After all, what he does isn’t pretty. His main offensive skill involves several extremely sharp blades. While as a member of the X-Men he should try to avoid killing at all costs, some of the fighting in his previous movies felt toothless, with blood that should have been there kept conspicuously off-screen. His prior movies were firmly in average PG-13 territory, so perhaps permission to venture into R territory will inject a bit of life into the series. Like Deadpool, Wolverine was created as a villain and graduated to anti-hero, and as a character he was never really meant to appeal to children.

But an R-rated Superman movie? An R-rated Batman movie? Really? It shouldn’t be a surprise coming from the same creators who thought it would be a good idea to force Superman to kill the villain in Man of Steel, but being predictable doesn’t make it good. Superman has always been a paragon of virtue, sometimes to the point of parody. He’s the sort of character people of all ages — and especially children — should be able to look up to. And while Batman’s become known for his angry brooding, he still has a firm moral code.Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies already showed a Batman more comfortable with collateral damage than he should have been. An R-rated cut of a movie featuring both of them shows a serious lack of understanding of who the characters are and who they should appeal to.

Marvel’s own studio and its collaborators (Fantastic Four movies aside) have shown a good grasp of their characters, so there’s not much concern that we’ll suddenly get an R-rated Captain America. But will Deadpool’s R-rated success lead others to a movie version of those 90s comic books? Is there a hardcore, ultra-violent Aquaman in our future? Let’s hope not.

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