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Box Office Success of ‘Logan’ Shows Superhero Movies Are Freezing Out Kids

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DF-09788 - Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine in LOGAN. Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein.
Hugh Jackman in a rare moment in ‘Logan’ in which he’s not cursing or killing. Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein.

After Logan, with Hugh Jackman cutting off limbs and spitting out F-bombs, clawed its way to a $88.4 million opening, the superhero genre took another bound away from its original audience.

Sorry, kids.

The blockbuster is the first entry in the X-Men franchise to be rated R, but Fox had already scored a similar haul from last year’s raunchy Deadpool, which also catered to the over-18 crowd. So expect more costumed crimefighter flicks that won’t come with a Happy Meal tie-in.

“The rating should cater to the tone and tenor of the main character,”  says Paul Dergarabedian, senior box office analyst for comScore. “And Wolverine doesn’t use these nice, sweet webs or a shield: He’s got sharp claws.

“If this movie wasn’t such a big hit or didn’t do as well with critics and we were doing a postmortem, it might be seen as a mandate that studios should never go R on a superhero movie. But now that it was so successful, it will embolden studios to really push the envelope.”

But all that pushing displaces the core audience that flocked to the original X-Men movies.

And director Zach Snyder even tried to do that with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice last year, with an R-rated version available on Blu-Ray. Even the PG-13 theatrical release, though, proved exceedingly dark—even for the Dark Knight. Ben Affleck’s Batman tortured villains and tried to kill Superman, a departure from the days when Adam West danced the “Batusi.”

Part of that bleakness is a conscious decision by the braintrust at Warner Brothers to stand out from the archrival Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has used humor as a signature ingredient in their successful strategy. But in an effort to make Superman edgier, the optimistic and likable appeal of the character has disappeared faster than a speeding bullet.

Batman V Superman (Warner Bros.)
Great Scott! Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel doesn’t look happy in ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.’ (Warner Bros.)

A similar phenomenon occurred in the comic book industry decades ago: Where once stories were aimed at tweens, by the early ’80s the ethos had shifted to the adult-oriented, edgy stories of Alan Moore (Watchmen) and Frank Miller (Sin City). Antiheroes like Marvel’s The Punisher, who killed criminals without moral hesitation, rose in popularity.

In the process, kids stopped buying comics in great numbers at their local grocery stores, and the market shifted to speciality shops frequented by a niche of adult collectors.

There is a price, however, that those darker superhero movies pay outside the darkened theater. One studio executive who wished to remain anonymous pointed out that those sorts of grim franchises don’t sell many toys, which are still a major part of the puzzle when trying to recoup $300-$400 million in costs for a blockbuster.

The beauty of a movie that’s more kid-friendly like 2012’s Marvel’s Avengers is that it still draws in the adult geeks along with the younger crowds. That’s who those characters were created for in the first place, back when Stan Lee was spitballing ideas with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

“All that freedom [to show violence and use profanity] definitely benefited Logan,” said Nick Guttilla, manager for JHU Comics in Manhattan.

“But they could have made that movie PG-13, and it probably still would have been good.”

—Ethan Sacks for RealClearLife