Discuss: Does The R-Rating For 'Prometheus' Mean The Film Is Doomed At The Box Office?

Features
by Oliver Lyttelton
May 8, 2012 12:46 PM
21 Comments
  • |

The hopes and prayers of sci-fi geeks and cinephiles were answered yesterday, as news officially came that Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" had landed an R-rating, as all four "Alien" movies did before it. The director had been non-committal about what rating he was shooting for, and even notoriously interference-happy studio boss Tom Rothman, in a sign of the new filmmaker-friendly side from 20th Century Fox, had promised that the film would "not be compromised," regardless of whatever rating it received. And so it came to pass: the MPAA have given it an R for "sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language."

But for all their public pride and bravado, Fox execs have to be a little nervous. While there's no news on what the studio might have spent on the film, it's likely to be in the $150-200 million range, like most other big movies this year. And with an R-rating, they've managed to exclude a big chunk of their audience. At least, that's the common viewpoint, as studios tend to avoid R-ratings like the plague if they possibly can, especially for big, expensive science-fiction tentpoles.

And there's plenty of stats to back that up. Of the top 100 grossers worldwide, only five were R-rated: "The Matrix Reloaded," "Passion of the Christ," "The Hangover Part II," "Terminator 2" and "Troy." In the U.S., it's six: 'Passion,' 'Hangover II' and 'Matrix Reloaded' plus "The Hangover," "The Exorcist" and "Saving Private Ryan." Only ten movies ever have made more than $200 million in the U.S. with an R-rating, about the number that Fox would probably need to target to make a profit (assuming it does more abroad, if the trend of international audiences flocking to 3D effects-heavy pictures continues).

And of course, the competition is tough. It hits IMAX screens two weeks after "Men In Black 3," with "Snow White And The Huntsman" coming the week before (albeit in 2D, and normal format). Two weeks after "Prometheus" opens, Fox puts out the similarly R-rated, similarly three-dimensional "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," which could cut 'Prometheus' screens, plus "Brave" will start taking IMAX showings too. And while the film might be tied to the "Alien" franchise, the connection in the marketing has been vague, at least to general audiences, and the series was tarnished by the "Alien Vs. Predator" movies. In fact, none of the "Alien" movies made more than $100 million in the U.S., and more than $200 million worldwide. And while it has a host of recognizable faces, like Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba, none are proven box office stars (although Theron's presence in 'Snow White' the week before might help). What was already likely a tough box office battle has been made exponentially tougher by the R-rating.

Except that may not be the case, for a number of reasons. For one thing, when adjusted for inflation, the original "Alien" made $249 million in the U.S., and "Aliens" took $181 million. And that's without any kind of 3D or IMAX bump. And Scott's had big R-rated hits in the last decade or so, with "Gladiator," "Hannibal," "Black Hawk Down" and "American Gangster" all clearing the magic $100 million mark; few directors have had such regular success with adult movies. Adjusted for inflation, "Gladiator" would have taken a whopping $280 million in the U.S. It might have been a while since we had a bona-fide R-rated blockbuster that wasn't a comedy, but such things were once popular. And the signs are there that it might be again.

Look at "The Avengers." A big glossy superhero movie with an audience made up mostly of teens and kids, right? Wrong. According to exit polls at Deadline, 50% of the audience for "The Avengers" were over the age of 25 (that demographic that received Hollywood knowledge has long said doesn't go to the movies anymore). Of course, some would have been taking kids, but only 24% of respondents said they went with their family, and only 21% of the audience were teens. As we've said before, movie audiences are going the way of television and getting older, and an R-rating is no longer the kiss of death it was once deemed to be for a franchise movie.

"Prometheus" is never going to get close to the $207 million that "The Avengers" managed on its opening weekend, obviously. But given the smart marketing campaign, and the sense of a genuine event that's building up over the film, it's entirely possible that it could go as high as half that (although we imagine 60-80 million would be more realistic). At present, there's no box office tracking available (it'll probably start to emerge in the next week), but one early indication are its IMAX figures.

The film went on sale at the U.K. box office a week ago, tied to the premiere of the latest trailer during an episode of "Homeland," and a subsequent TV campaign. As a result, the film, according to The Hollywood Reporter, broke all existing sales records at the BFI IMAX theater, leading to the biggest ever grossing week, and the single highest day of pre-sales, with $221,717 worth of tickets being sold on the first day. And a scan of other showings around the country looks strong, given that it's still four weeks out from release. All this despite the film being labelled with a to-be-confirmed 15 rating in the country.

It's possible that this is all optimistic for the R-rated movie. There are a lot of factors that could slow down "Prometheus" -- middling reviews, competition from other blockbusters, and more -- but our gut says that the R-rating may not turn out to be the box office chestburster that some are concerned about. And that can only be a good thing.

You might also like:
Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

21 Comments

  • TorontoGeekGirl | May 10, 2012 10:24 AMReply

    I'm glad Prometheus is rated R. Who would want to go and see a SciFi horror flick that's been tailored to attract children?

  • Zinjo | May 9, 2012 8:02 PMReply

    Wow an R-Rating! We all know how that hobbled all the other Alien films... (smell that? That's sarcasm!). However, I DO AGREE with his frustration with the inconsistencies of the MPAA though. One just has to see "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" to understand how much of a dysfunctional kagaroo court of a system the organization truly is.
    Be that as it may, sticking to the integrity of the piece will only benefit FOX. Many will see it in the theaters and the rest will enjoy it on DVD/Bluray where the MPAA has no jurisdiction. Either way Fox will get their money back.

    Bring it on!

  • Katie | May 9, 2012 12:27 AMReply

    Well, if it's a good movie Fox should not be worrried. I'm sick and tired of producers and directors washing down their movies to get a PG-13. A PG-13 is a sci fi film with cutesy little animals such as Lost in Space (and that one sucked big time). If you're in the Alien universe it's going to be gory and you won't count the curse words to see if it fits a PG-13. From an European point of view this is utter madness.

  • gonad | May 8, 2012 9:17 PMReply

    Did Sean Harris and Noomi Rapace use the same bottle of hair dye?

  • zatopek | May 8, 2012 4:46 PMReply

    It's only doomed if it's not good enough.

  • cirkusfolk | May 8, 2012 3:10 PMReply

    You all need to stop whining. Ok, so maybe they shouldn't have used the word "doomed" but the discussion is still the same and is a very valid one. Why do you think a film less than a month away from release was just rated by the MPAA? This was always a major concern for both the studio and the director (more on him in a second) even before shooting began. That's why Scott said he would be shooting two versions of the film, one that would be able to get a PG13 rating and one that wouldn't. And it looks like the R rated version was the one actually chosen for theatrical release this time. But, on the other hand, this could be the tamer version that was shot and it just happened to still get an R and not a PG-13 as the reasons for being R are actually pretty tame. This happened to Kingdom of Heaven already, as there was a version shot for PG-13, it still got an R and then the director's cut added even more violence and closeups of blood and wounds. I'm not sure why once the film got an R, that Scott didn't just add all the violence back in at that point. I hope this isn't the case with Prometheus.

    Which brings me to Scott and his "director's cuts." This guy has released more director's cuts on video than any other director in history. Robin Hood was another film shot in two versions with the PG-13 one being releaed in theaters, and the unrated director's cut adding more violence back in. There's also American Gangster, the aformentioned Kingdom of Heaven, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, Legend, Blade Runner (the most notorious of them all) and Alien which is a director's cut that should have never happened. For the Alien release on DVD, Scott just randomly shoterned many scenes by 10-15 seconds to tighten up the pace, but he has since regretted it and said it was a marketing ploy. That is the only case of a Scott director's cut that is actually shorter than the theatrical. The rest range from adding 7 minutes like Black Hawk Down to 50 minutes to Kingdom of Heaven (!!!) and of course punching up the violence. So the main question I have is: Why does Scott do this? No other director bends over backwards to please the studio and compromise their vision by delivering a short and tame film when the story calls for a longer and more graphic one. I'm not sure Scott even has a vision to begin with, otherwise he would not be doing this. I can understand some director's cuts such as David Fincher's for Zodiac but that is more akin to the Blackhawk Down one. Both are only a few minutes longers and were already rated R so violence had nothing to do with them. But Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven and now Prometheus (maybe)...this is unacceptable.

  • Huffy | May 9, 2012 12:58 PM

    There aren't too many directors who work so closely with studios either. Unless your Spielberg or Cameron you pretty much have to listen to the studio when your dealing with movies that expensive; call it the sin of Heaven's Gate. But beyond compromising for studios I think Scott is genuinely fascinated by the idea that films are never finished. It's the same logic that George Lucas uses, though to his credit Scott's alterations are usually more substantial than the CG bullshit Industrial Light and Magic splices into Star Wars every couple of years. In the case of Kingdom of Heaven there was a real reason for the directors cut: that extra hour made it a completely different (and much better) film.

  • kitcon | May 8, 2012 2:58 PMReply

    For a movie of this type a $60M opening will already be huge. If the quality is there good word of mouth should propel it to $150 - 200M. It's a science-horror and clearly not a 4 quadrant film.

  • Zinjo | May 9, 2012 8:04 PM

    "The sin of Heaven's Gate" and now the "Peril of John Carter", which will only server to exacerbate the interference of Harvard Accountants in an artistic endeavor...

  • Nolan | May 8, 2012 1:53 PMReply

    I never had any problems getting into R-rated movies before I was 17. Maybe things have changed (I'm 27 now) but the measures in place to keep kids out of those movies used to be extremely lax. I had one clerk refuse to sell me a ticket to SOUTH PARK. That was it. Granted, I typically hung out with older kids, and I had an older brother, but come on. Buying movie tickets doesn't even require human interaction these days.

  • Tyrannosaurus Max | May 8, 2012 8:41 PM

    Dude, when Kick-Ass came out I took friends with me who were over 17 and two friends who were under 17. They had like specifically targeted that film knowing it would probably attract kids, and had two guys OUTSIDE THE AUDITORIUM checking tickets AND IDs. This was at an AMC. Despite the fact that my friends under 17 had tickets to see Kick-Ass, they were not allowed in. It was the most outrageous thing ever, but it happens these days.

  • StringerBellInSpace | May 8, 2012 1:53 PMReply

    This movie is a pretty huge event for almost every male I've met over 17. The marketing has been spot on there is a huge buzz around it. I've heard a lot of buzz around it being a scarier version of Avatar. Cannot wait for this one.

  • StephenM | May 8, 2012 1:51 PMReply

    Doomed like the first four Alien movies? Doomed like the Terminator movies? Doomed like The Matrix movies? Doomed like Gladiator? Doomed like every R-rated Apatow-style comedy in the last decade? I don't think so. It'll be fine.

  • Mark | May 8, 2012 1:47 PMReply

    No it doesn't mean the film is doomed, quite the opposite. AVP was doomed because of the PG=13 rating, good to see that Universal aren't selling out the franchise this time.

  • Wes Anderson | May 8, 2012 1:43 PMReply

    Who cares!

  • Wes Anderson | May 9, 2012 12:36 PM

    Of course! I was already planning on it!

  • Ridley Scott | May 8, 2012 8:38 PM

    I care, Wes. I care. Hey! If you go see "Prometheus," I'll go see "Moonrise Kingdom." Deal?

  • Scott | May 8, 2012 1:38 PMReply

    Everyone & I mean EVERYONE I know is planning to see this in theaters. Like Avengers, Prometheus just has that very special something in the marketing & look that tells people to see it in the theaters. Short of the film turning out to be an unmitigated disaster there's no way it's doomed. Do we always need everything to be defined with hyperbole?

  • RAINDER | May 8, 2012 1:30 PMReply

    Are teens in U.S. actually forbidden to see an R-rated film ? The rating obviously won't affect ticket sales in Europe but as Timparker said, i don't think many kids would be interested in seeing such a flick or would they?

  • TimParker | May 8, 2012 1:07 PMReply

    I get the point of the article, obviously it's a concern and can even be a concern to people (myself included) who just hope that Ridley Scott can make another movie like this again at this budget and I guess more broadly, that other filmmakers can be encouraged and get financing for their big budget movies that happen to get R ratings. But at the end of the day, aren't we glad that they didnt compromise anything? And isn't the majority of the audience for this movie 17 or over anyway? I would think so.

  • HIM | May 8, 2012 12:49 PMReply

    Please stop writing articles like this one.

    "DOES THE R-RATING MEAN THE FILM IS DOOMED????"

    "...according to The Hollywood Reporter, broke all existing sales records at the BFI IMAX theater, leading to the biggest ever grossing week, and the single highest day of pre-sales"

    MAYBE NOT!

    Content first, news later.

Email Updates