Few characters can effectively pull off the sort of self-awareness, irreverence, and unpredictable ultraviolence that make Deadpool so darn appealing, so it was with no small amount of joy that fans received the news of the film's “R” rating back when Ryan Reynolds delivered it – along with a studio light to the side of Mario Lopez's head – back in April 2015.
Now we find ourselves mere hours away from the premiere of Deadpool in all its restricted-audience glory, and we couldn't be happier about reaching the end of the film's seven-year journey to the screen.
The imminent arrival of Deadpool got us thinking, though, about the history of “R”-rated comic-book movies in theaters. With studios often shying away from the sort of audience restrictions an “R” rating imposes on films, the pool of films coming out of the comic book world and making it to the screen as red-band releases is relatively shallow. And although there's been more than a few flops, there have also been some big hits – whether from a critical, cultural, or box-office perspective – to come out of that subset, too.
Here are ten of the best comic-book movies (as in, based on actual comic books) to hit theaters with an “R” rating:
The movie that put the line “This is Sparta!” right up there with “I'm the king of the world!” Zack Snyder's epic adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel made men everywhere feel self-conscious about their abs and turned sandals, cloaks, and leather briefs into the ensemble of choice for athletic cosplayers. A bona fide box-office hit, 300 featured the sort of amazing visuals that have made Snyder a sought-after filmmaker and remains the cinematic equivalent of a shot of pure testosterone.
The highest-grossing film of the Blade franchise is also the best of the bunch, and served to bring director Guillermo del Toro's talents to the attention of mainstream audiences. Del Toro's first big, box-office hit, Blade II was yet another example of the second movie in a franchise setting the high mark for the series, and is still the coolest film to feature Wesley Snipes' day-walking vampire hunter.
A superb film on its own, Alex Proyas' 1994 adaptation of James O'Barr's comic book series of the same name has the unfortunate status of being star Brandon Lee's final film. Accidentally killed during production of the film, Lee portrayed the story's tortured protagonist, Eric Draven, who's resurrected after a brutal murder to avenge the death of his fiancee. O'Barr's comic is heart-wrenching, and much of that raw emotion is translated to the screen in the film, which also features some brutal action sequences involving its supernatural, tragic hero.
The Judge Dredd movie fans have always wanted sadly didn't fare so well at the box office despite all of the positive buzz it received from critics and fans. Still, director Pete Travis' spin on Mega-City One's most famous judge, jury, and executioner is a prime example of a creative team and cast understanding a popular comic book character's appeal and building on those elements in a way that not only pleases veteran fans but creates new fans, too.
Oh, and there's something to be said for Game of Thrones actress Lena Headey playing a character who makes Cersei Lannister seem like a pampered pushover.
A History of Violence
Loosely based on a graphic novel of the same name, this 2005 film earned a pair of Academy Award nominations for supporting actor William Hurt and screenwriter Josh Olson with its story of a small-town diner owner played by Viggo Mortensen whose dark past comes back to haunt him when he confronts a pair of robbers. The comic it's based on isn't widely known (or widely praised, for that matter), and the film is a good example of the adaptation improving on the original work.
Much like the comic book series the film was based on, Kick-Ass is something very different from the superhero stories that filled theaters when it was released. A brutal movie that starts out as an examination of costumed vigilantism but quickly takes a hard, ultraviolent turn toward parody of traditional superhero stories, Matthew Vaughn's 2010 adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.'s comic book series lives up to its title – particularly when it comes to the performance of Chloe Moretz as the foul-mouthed Hit-Girl, the breakout character of the film.
Road to Perdition
Sam Mendes followed up his Oscar-winning drama American Beauty with this 2002 adaptation of Max Allan Collins' graphic novel of the same name, about a mob enforcer on a violent quest for vengeance in 1931 with his son in tow. Like Mendes' previous film, Road to Perdition earned a long list of Academy Award nominations, and is also notable for featuring Paul Newman's final live-action role. Tom Hanks plays the lead role in the film, and it's a fascinating departure from the characters we're accustomed to seeing the Oscar-winner play.
No adaptation of comic book has hewed closer to its source material than this 2005 film based on Frank Miller's gritty crime series set in a city where the sun never seems to rise and everyone has blood on their hands. So much of the film is lifted directly from the comic that director Robert Rodriguez famously opted to resign from the Directors Guild of America in order to facilitate Miller getting co-director credit on the film.
V For Vendetta
While it diverged greatly from the source material, this 2006 adaptation of Alan Moore's ode to anarchy in a dystopian future managed to hold its own as a compelling, critically praised adventure that clearly benefited from the presence of the Wachowskis as writers and producers on the film. Stunning visuals and memorable performances by Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman contributed to the film's success, and that success also led to the wide adoption of the Guy Fawkes mask to symbolize the battle against tyranny.
Zack Snyder's 2009 film based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' “unadaptable” graphic novel continues to be one of the most polarizing comic-book movies ever made, inciting passionate debate at its mere mention – particularly with regard to the film's final scene, which diverges greatly from the source material.
Love it or hate it, the film is a visual masterpiece that manages to be both too faithful to the book that inspired it and too different at various points, and never ceases to spark passionate discussion among comic fans.
Question of the Week: What's your favorite “R”-rated comic-book movie?
Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at Movies.com, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends, IFC.com, Newsarama, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He's been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV, and his personal blog can be found at MindPollution.org. You can find him on Twitter as @RickMarshall.