M3GAN’s decision to release a PG-13 version in cinemas and a gorier unrated version on Peacock should be something Marvel aims to emulate.
The decision to release the M3GAN as a PG-13 film was among the most questionable ideas in recent cinema history. However, it also stands out as one of those choices with a payoff only seen by those willing to step outside the box. Having attracted the attention of young teens on TikTok through its trailer’s dance scene, the movie’s last-minute round of cuts ensured that Blumhouse and Universal reaped the greatest benefits at the box office. However, the real genius of the movie comes with the release of an Unrated cut of the film on Peacock, which restores all the blood, gore, and F-bombs for those who wanted M3GAN to be an all-out horror movie.
While there is no doubt that the strategy of lowering the theatrical cut rating to allow a broader audience to experience the movie has worked for M3GAN, delivering a $170 million worldwide gross from a lowly $12 million budget, the question is, could a similar release strategy be what Marvel Studios are missing to open up the MCU to audiences looking for a more mature approach to Marvel Comics’ material?
Marvel Studios’ Family-Friendly Approach Has to End In the Coming Years Because of Deadpool
Marvel Studios has always avoided going down the same route as other comic book franchises like The Boys, or James Gunn’s Suicide Squad and Peacemaker. While this has certainly not hurt their box office earnings, it has stunted their potential to push the material to its limits regarding some of their darker characters and story arcs. As M3GAN’s dual release has proven, some very easy and subtle cuts can quickly turn a movie from a swear-laden gorefest into something that the censors are happy to deem suitable for younger audiences.
In the case of the MCU, it has skirted just the right side of a PG-13 rating with some of its on-screen violence but has never come close to really letting loose, even in the likes of last year’s Special Presentation of Werewolf by Night. Although the Disney+ was hailed as one of the best Marvel projects of the last few years for embracing a gloriously gothic monochrome appearance and playing into the sensibilities of old 1930s horrors such as Universal’s Dracula, the special came close to having its rating pushed up to a more mature rating. At the time, director Michael Giacchino told The Hollywood Reporter:
“We had always assumed it would be TV-MA, but I wasn’t always involved with what was happening on that end in terms of ratings and all of that. And so I’m not sure, but I am sure you are absolutely right that the black and white did help keep us within a certain range.”
While that may have been a close call, another incoming character that will not even be attempting to toy with the idea of aiming for a PG-13 rating is Deadpool. Ryan Reynolds’ Merc with a Mouth will be hitting the MCU harder than the foul-mouthed mutant was hit by Juggernaut in 2018’s Deadpool 2. He’s even bringing Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine along for the ride, a character that has also delivered his own R-rated punch in the past, and a combination that will turn the air blue with foul language just before it turns red with over-the-top blood and violence.
Some people may remember, though, that Deadpool did actually pull a M3GAN in Once Upon a Deadpool, the re-edit of Deadpool 2 that pulled in Fred Savage in a Princess Bride stealing wraparound story and somehow bleeped enough swearing and removed enough gore to satisfy the classification board into giving it a PG-13 rating. So if Marvel movies have already done this in the past, why have Marvel Studios been so averse to doing this with some central MCU characters?
Should Disney and Marvel Studios Embrace a More Mature MCU?
There is no doubt that a lot of the pushback against the MCU heading into R-rated territory has come directly as a result of being owned by Disney. However, it should be pointed out Marvel has rarely slipped into R-rated territory, even outside of the projects funded by the House of Mouse. So is it time to think more M3GAN and really deliver on the mature content found in the pages of many Marvel Comics publications?
The next few years are going to see some of Marvel’s darker stories hitting the MCU, including Blade and Daredevil: Born Again cranking up violence levels, Marvel Zombies bringing the first TV-MA rating to the MCU, and other characters such as Ghost Rider and The Punisher waiting in the wings and in need of a stronger rating to do them justice. However, more central stories like World War Hulk could benefit from having an R-rated version in order to do the source material justice in more ways than just satisfying the MCU’s PG-13 audience.
Now that DC Studios has James Gunn on board, someone who has no problems mixing a family-friendly DC core with R-rated content, Marvel Studios needs to consider the idea of breaking the constraints of the PG-13 world they have occupied for 15 years. But, of course, whether this happens in a big, meaningful way entirely depends on how willing Marvel Studios and Disney are to go against some long-established certainties about their output and embrace what lies in the dark fringes of their universe.