4 R-Rated Movies Cut to PG-13 by Studios

01
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Cutting Sex and Violence in Pursuit of a Better Box Office

Live Free or Die Hard
20th Century Fox

To those over 17, movie ratings aren’t much of a concern. But to Hollywood studios, movie ratings are extremely important to how a movie might perform at the box office. So even if a director makes an R-rated feature, a studio might decide to cut sexual and violent content in order to ensure the movie is given a PG-13 rating from the MPAA.

While film fans might scoff at the idea of a movie studio cutting a film to achieve a lower rating, the studios have data that backs up that PG-13-rated movies have the potential to make more money than R-rated movies. For example, eight of the top 10 all-time highest-grossing films at the U.S. box office were rated PG-13, and no R-rated film cracks the top 25 (the highest-grossing R-rated movie ever was 2006's The Passion of the Christ, which grossed $370.7 at the U.S. box office).

Considering there are millions of moviegoers under 17 years old and parents generally feel more comfortable bringing their children to PG-13 movies rather than R-rated movies (demonstrated by the petition that asked 20th Century Fox to release a PG-13 version of Deadpool for younger fans) , those box office figures make sense. But the recent success of Deadpool ($363 million domestic) might make studios change their minds about future R-rated blockbusters.

The following four films were all cut by the studio in order to ensure they would receive a PG-13 rating.

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Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

Live Free or Die Hard
20th Century Fox

The first three Die Hard movies – 1988’s Die Hard, 1990’s Die Hard 2, and 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance – were are rated R. When 20th Century Fox decided to continue the franchise after a 12 year break with 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard, the studio decided to release it as a PG-13 film in an attempt to sell more tickets.

The lower rating was heavily criticized by fans of the series as well as star Bruce Willis, especially since it meant that Willis could not say his character's signature catchphrase in the film ("Yippee-ki-yay, mother----" -- the swear was muted by a gunshot in the movie). However, director Les Wiseman shot two versions of some scenes with and without profanity. These scenes were inserted into the film for an “Unrated version” that was released on DVD.

The gamble paid off for Fox because Live Free or Die Hard became the highest-grossing Die Hard movie at the U.S. box office (not adjusting for inflation). Six years later, the next Die Hard sequel, 2013’s A Good Day to Die Hard, returned the series to an R rating and, as Fox predicted in 2007, did not perform as well at the box office as the PG-13 Live Free or Die Hard.

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The King’s Speech (2010)

The King's Speech
The Weinstein Company

The 2010 historical drama The King’s Speech, which is about the speech therapy of the UK’s King George VI, had no violence, gore, or otherwise “vulgar” content. It was rated R for only one sequence – a humorous scene in which Colin Firth’s George VI curses several times in frustration at his speech impediment.

A few weeks after the film’s success at the 2011 Oscars, producer Harvey Weinsten pulled the R-rated version from American theaters and released a PG-13 version that muted the profanity and advertised it as “The Family Event of the Year.” Director Tom Hopper and star Colin Firth publicly disagreed with Weinstein’s decision to release a censored version film. The PG-13 version of The King’s Speech was only released in 1,011 theaters and grossed just $3.3 million in its short run.

The original, unaltered version of The King’s Speech is the only one available on home media.

04
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The Expendables 3 (2014)

The Expendables 3
Lionsgate

Similar to the ratings issues with Live Free or Die Hard, 2014’s The Expendables 3 was the only film in the action hero franchise to be rated PG-13 instead of R. When it was announced action fans were largely disappointed that the sequel would not feature the same level of violence as the other films in the series. Initially, series writer and star Sylvester Stallone defended the controversial decision by the studio, stating that both he and the studio hoped that the lower rating would allow the film to reach a younger audience.

Because of several reasons (mostly because of a high-quality version of the film leaking to the Internet three weeks before release) including dissatisfaction with the rating, The Expendables 3 was the least successful of the series with critics and at the box office. Stallone has since admitted it was a mistake and has promised that the planned Expendables 4 will be R-rated.

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Mortdecai (2015)

Lionsgate

The 2015 spy comedy Mortdecai starring Johnny Depp was one of the biggest flops of that year. Lionsgate apparently thought that the one of the issues was the movie's R-rating, which might have prevented star Depp’s younger fanbase from seeing the film. In a rare move, when Mortdecai was released on VOD Lionsgate put out a PG-13 version of the movie and announced it by saying, “even more comedy lovers can experience the hilarity with the uproarious PG-13 cut of the film.”

Only the R-rated version of Mortdecai was released on home media, but the PG-13 version is still available on VOD and other streaming services. Regardless, it’s unlikely that Lionsgate recouped its massive losses on Mortdecai with the lower-rated version.