The Blunt Reason The Killing Joke Earned Its R Rating, According To Its Director

There was once a time when landing a PG rating on an animated film was almost akin to giving the film a death sentence. No one knew that better than Warner Bros, when they released Batman: Mask of the Phantasm with that very rating on its shoulders back in 1993. Much like its predecessor, Batman: The Killing Joke has landed in theaters with a somewhat controversial, but appropriate, rating during its two night engagement. While the rating didn't cause the film to suffer financially, its director, Sam Liu, still kind of takes issue with the MPAA's decision.

During the festivities at San Diego Comic-Con last weekend, Liu spoke to the good folks at about why he felt Batman: The Killing Joke landed its adult oriented rating. His answer is everything you'd expect, and yet still kind of shocking, as he said:

Any time you have psychological torture, that starts going into this questionable area. We've had many films where people get shot and there's blood, things that make me think we're going to get an R-rating! For whatever reason violence is -- there's a certain desensitization that's happened. That's not as shocking anymore. But for some reason, sex and psychological torture is more touchy ground.

Now while "sex and psychological torture" do seem like the standard reasons an R-rated film would become Restricted in the first place, Sam Liu also mentioned another interesting piece of information: he and executive producer Bruce Timm, he of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, both thought the film would get a PG-13 rating! Their reasoning was that while the film contained elements of the criteria previously mentioned, they weren't exploited to a gratuitous extent. Yet in the end, the film was still granted its R-rating, for "some bloody images and disturbing content," as you'll see in the film's trailer below.

Thankfully, as we'd previously mentioned, the R-rating certainly didn't slow Batman: The Killing Joke down at the box office. In just its first night, the film managed to bring in $3.8 million. Should tonight's second night of showings go as well as the last, the film won't eclipse Batman: Mask of The Phantasm's total grosses adjusted for inflation. However, it'll still count towards a hell of a total for a film that's primarily being distributed through home video / VOD. It'll be interesting to see what this latest animated exploit of the Caped Crusader will net, once all is said and done. But we can't help but wonder, how much more could have come in if the film were rated PG-13?

Batman: The Killing Joke is available on Digital HD as of today, and may still be playing at your local theater. Otherwise, the film will see DVD and Blu-ray release on August 2nd.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.