Comedy Movies: Why Are There So Many Rated-R Comedies?

Can you remember the last great comedy movie that you saw on the big-screen?

Think, for a moment, about the memorable comedy films that you have seen over the past five or 10 years. Now, take a moment to think about how many of those big-screen comedies – especially the ones that became box-office hits – were not rated R.

When did the “Era of the R-Rated Comedy” start? It seems as if the vast majority of comedy films that are being released into theaters these days also come with red band trailers and R ratings. In most cases, the MPAA gives these particular movies the “R” rating because of profanity (a vast number of F-bombs), graphic violence, or sexual and excessively raunchy content.

However, do you remember a time when comedy movies broke box-office records and became international hits without an R rating attached to them? Nowadays, it may seem like a distant memory to think about successful comedies that never went higher than a PG-13 rating instead of the R-rated movies that were “tweaked” and modified in order to make it across the thin line between PG-13 and R with the MPAA.

Some people are still adamant about staying away from movies with an R-rating – especially when it comes to choosing entertainment to share and experience with their children.

However, that overall concept seems to be fading fast. Think of the numerous stories and experiences that have been publicized online about families that chose to take their children to see Deadpool for example.

With the box-office success of Deadpool, many movie fans, critics and even movie studios are apparently considering aiming towards coming aboard the Rated-R movie train with franchises that have historically stayed in the realm of PG and PG-13.

I can’t believe we’re getting a dark, gritty and R-rated movie with Batman in it after The LEGO Movie. That just blows my mind.

— Joshua MacDougall (@FreakinClever) March 6, 2016

The bottom line question, then, becomes: Is an R-Rated comedy the only concept that is guaranteed to make money? Is an R-Rated comedy nowadays the only type of comedy film that is guaranteed to become a box-office hit for major studios and production companies?

Perhaps a brief trip down Memory Lane will help to change one’s thinking in this regard. Remember: Once upon a time, most comedies barely exceeded the PG rating. Throughout the history of cinema, there has been a vast number of comedy movies that have been filled with hilarious punchlines and one-liners that never featured any scenes of graphic content or an extensive list of expletives.

Think about the original version of The Nutty Professor starring Jerry Lewis in comparison to the 90s remake version starring Eddie Murphy. While it is true that Eddie Murphy’s remake franchise never crossed into the world of R-rated films, the quality of the content shown throughout both of those movies was hardly “family-friendly.

Chris Hicks with Deseret News explored the progressive decline of clean comedies in an article published last July. Hicks explained that comedy movies with sexual innuendos and double-entendres “have been around forever” — especially when you reflect on the likes of Bob Hope ogling his female co-stars and “Harpo West chasing maids around hotel rooms.”

“In the ’50s came ‘Pillow Talk’ and ‘Some Like It Hot,’ in the ’60s we had ‘The Pink Panther’ and ‘The Graduate,’ and in the ’70s there were ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ and ‘The Heartbreak Kid.’ All of these comedies are acknowledged classics that deal with sexual politics but manage to do so without crossing the line.”

Even throughout the 1970s and 1980s, when R-rated comedies such as Blazing Saddles and Animal House made big waves in Hollywood, there were still quite a few comedy movies that were still box-office hits without crossing over the PG rating line.

Hicks reflected on a 1982 interview that he conducted with Tootsie director Sydney Pollack in reference to the hit movie, which starred Dustin Hoffman.

According to Hicks, Pollack confirmed that the first draft of the Tootsie script was “filled with bathroom jokes.” However, Pollack was determined to bring “an element of taste that prevented it from getting tacky, which is what it was when I came to it.” He admitted that the primary concept of Tootsie was a “pretty loaded situation” — especially since it essentially dealt with putting a guy in a dress.

The fact that he was determined to bring that comedic story to the big-screen with a touch of taste, though, reveals the artistic side of film-making that Sydney apparently mastered. Keep in mind that Tootsie was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and five Golden Globe Awards, along with many other accolades.

Hicks expressed in his article that he would “shudder to think what a Tootsie remake would look like today.”

The bottom line is that comedy movies do not have to be Rated R. A good story with a hilarious script can still draw big box-office numbers. That has been proven time and time again — including with recent box-office hits that have been few and far in-between in number. The key is to have a producer, director, and screenwriter that are willing to break away from the “norm” of R-rated box-office hits that has become prevalent in today’s age of cinema in order to make strides towards returning Hollywood to a simpler time when movie rating boxes didn’t need three to four lines to describe its content.

[Image Credit: Dollar Photo Club]