Whether it’s Iron Man, Spider-Man, or Captain America, we can all agree that comic book movies have become somewhat bloodless affairs. Sure, these films rack up body counts, but much of the grit and grime of the action gets left on the cutting room floor. All that being said, don’t ever let anyone tell you that comic books are solely for children. Although adaptations of comics and graphic novels typically attain PG-13 ratings from the MPAA, some of us want something a little darker, and a little edgier when it comes to our comic book properties.
With Deadpool about to hit theaters, audiences should prepare themselves for a gritty, gory, and downright vulgar foray into the world of comic books. That being said, Deadpool is hardly the first comic book movie to go all out and strive for the R-rating. Over the years there have been some truly amazing, hard hitting R-rated adaptations. It’s a deep pool to choose from, but we have determined our ten all time favorite R-rated comic book films. Let’s get the ball rolling with number 10…
10. Kingsman: The Secret Service
James Bond sometimes acts like a rambunctious teenager, but what if a British intelligence agency actually enlisted the talents of a genuine adolescent A-hole? Like many of the films on this list, Kingsman: The Secret Service builds itself around the idea tackling familiar ideas and subverting expectations. Based on the famous Mark Millar graphic novel of the same name, Kingsman carefully dissects numerous well-worn tropes of the spy genre, and turns them on their head in gory, profane, and downright brilliant fashion. Although this meta approach to various genres has become common over time, we can’t argue with how masterfully Kingsman balances genuine drama and hilarious violence.
9. The Punisher
We will see what Jon Bernthal brings to The Punisher when Season 2 of Daredevil hits Netflix next month, but to date the character’s best silver screen incarnation came in 2004 when Thomas Jane took on the role. Telling the tale of how Frank Castle lost his family in a brutal mob hit, the film follows Castle on his furious quest to bring down those responsible – only truly becoming the film’s titular hero in the final moments of the movie. Although some criticized The Punisher for its lack of action and depressing tone, it remains a genuinely refreshing take on the superhero origin story – a compelling character study of anger, loss, and purpose. Jane’s take on the character has become so well loved by fans that he even reprised the role in an equally gritty short film titled Punisher: Dirty Laundry in 2012.
Seldom has a film’s title so accurately described the subsequent viewing experience. Like Kingsman: The Secret Service, Kick-Ass is an adaptation of a violent Mark Millar comic that directly addresses the tropes and clichés of a particular genre – in this case, the world of superheroes. Centering on a comic-obsessed teenager who wants to make a difference on the mean streets of New York, the titular green-cad greenhorn hero as he finds himself drafted by the endlessly more talented Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) into a vicious war with the mob. It deftly walks the line between straightforward, brutal realism and hyper stylized comic book satire in a way that few other superhero films have managed to achieve.
7. 30 Days Of Night
In a world where most recent cinematic vampires twinkle in the sunlight and want nothing more than to make sweet, forbidden love to each other, 30 Days of Night reminds us just how terrifying these mystical creatures can be. Telling the story of a moonlit, month long siege in a remote Alaskan town, the film’s survivors must hold out against a legion of undead cannibals until the sun rises. The film takes its time, starting off by mentioning the monsters as mere whispers, then as shadows, before finally allowing them to completely invade the town and tear apart its inhabitants. What makes 30 Days of Night so terrifying is its unreenting nature; the film’s monsters seem nearly unkillable, and no hiding place can provide permanent salvation for our heroes. Night time has seldom looked so truly pitch black on film.
Between the black leather, sunglasses, and headlining actor in the form of Wesley Snipes, Blade is very clearly a product of the 1990s. Unlike many of the sanitized superhero adventures that consistently hit theaters in this day and age, Blade is a hyper-stylized action romp that has no qualms with literally soaking its half-human, half-vampire protagonist in blood. Although the character has somewhat faded from prominence over the years, rumors continue to swirl that we may soon see a Blade revival, and that the character may even join the Marvel Cinematic Universe at some point in the future. If they can get Wesley Snipes on board then they most certainly have our attention.
The supposedly unfilmable comic book; Zack Snyder’s Watchmen polarized fans upon its release back in 2009. While the film certainly missed the mark at certain spots – Leonard Cohen should never play during a sex scene – the overall finished product still represents something remarkable. It's a wholly ambitious film that ensures every iconic character feels true to Alan Moore’s source material and reflects the brutality of an alternate 1985. While the entire cast stands out for their respective takes on the material, it's Jackie Earle Hayley’s Rorschach that deserves recognition for giving audiences with one of the most amazingly damaged and brutal on screen heroes in recent memory.
This is Sparta! No movie has ever made defeat look so damn awesome. Zack Snyder’s 300 tells the tale of King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his 300 Spartans as they gloriously defend their home against an invasion. As a dramatization of the real life battle of Thermopylae – as well as another adaptation of a Frank Miller classic – 300 is chock full of slow motion, hardcore masculinity, and some of the goriest, most pulse-pounding war scenes ever committed to film. It’s the sort of movie you watch before a big game or a major life event so you can remember that it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about fighting for what you believe is right.
Talk about a comeback story. Dredd completely surprised us back in 2012 and took the world of comic book adaptations by storm. After Sylvester Stallone nearly killed the character’s hopes of cinematic greatness, Karl Urban entered the picture and completely revitalized the dystopian cop. Set solely within a massive high rise, the film keeps it’s titular character confined and constantly outgunned, which basically allows him to Die Hard his way through hordes of bad guys intent on taking him and his partner down. Featuring awesome slo-mo gunplay, a grimy aesthetic, and a nearly pitch perfect villain in the form of Lena Headey’s Ma-Ma, Dredd has us all hoping that the character might just stick around to exact justice for years to come after all.
The latest, and hands down one of the greatest, Deadpool represents a shining example of how to excel at vulgar and violent superhero cinema. Unlike the reviled version of the character audiences got to see in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Deadpool’s version of Wade Wilson is vulgar, violent, and downright psychopathic. By dropping more F-bombs than Eric Cartman and more bodies than John Rambo, the newest on-screen incarnation of The Merc with the Mouth seems poised for R-rated greatness. Deadpool’s journey to the silver screen may have been fraught with peril, but at the end of the day we can say the tumultuous journey was well worth it.
1. Sin City
Robert Rodriguez’ Sin City is a noir-tastic journey into the pages of Frank Miller’s landmark series of graphic novels, and when we say graphic, you better believe we mean it. Despite its outlandish style, the titular city feels incredibly lived in – even if you would never want to actually live there, one can almost smell foul stench of booze, blood, and gunpowder emanating from the screen. Armed with an all-star cast including Clive Owen, Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, and Benicio del Toro, Sin City manages to tell three dark, yet equally compelling interwoven stories set in the seedy underworld of Basin City. Beyond those stories one gets the sense of innumerable other unseen tales occurring somewhere in the background of the chaos. If any R-rated comic book film is worth your time, it's Sin City. You'll be forgiven if you skip the sequel though.
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Originally from Connecticut, Conner grew up in San Diego and graduated from Chapman University in 2014. He now lives in Los Angeles working in and around the entertainment industry and can mostly be found binging horror movies and chugging coffee.
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