R-Rated Movies That Crossed The Line: Boundaries Pushed. Limits Tested & Crossed
R-rated movies are meant to set off alarm bells. You can provide all kinds of provocative material if you have the freedom to deliver a truckload of language, blood, nudity, and drug use. This sometimes results in films like “Deadpool” or “The Matrix,” where the ribald or violent content appeals to moviegoers all over the world. Other R-rated titles, such as “Sorry to Bother You” and “Revenge,” use the flexibility of an R-rating to tell boundary-pushing stories about real-world injustices.
However, certain R-rated movies use the creative freedom afforded by this MPAA rating for less savory reasons. These are the movies that go overboard and use an R-rating for material that has no purpose other than a stale notion of what it means to be “edgy.”
Instead of using adult themes for thoughtful storytelling, these films become far too transgressive and soar far beyond the bounds of acceptable taste. “With great power comes great responsibility,” as Uncle Ben once said, and the R-rated movies listed below did not use the power of their MPAA rating responsibly.
Once again, this post contains our view on all-time controversial Hollywood movie R-rated movies that have gone too far.
The Hangover Part II was offensive on multiple levels
“The Hangover Part II,” which was released in 2011, drew harsh criticism for heading too far in its efforts to be “funny.” Numerous individuals were furious when the character of Stu (Ed Helms) discovered he had slept with a transgender woman. Many clearly labeled the depiction of this revelation as “disgusting” as an example of bro comedies using blatant transphobia as a substitute for genuine comedy.
A photo in the end credits drew even more media attention at the time. This image is a parody of a photograph taken during the Vietnam War by photographer Eddie Adams of a South Vietnamese general executing a Viet Cong officer.
The above graphic image reflected the horror at the heart of the conflict… and it was now being repurposed for “The Hangover Part II” as a cheap gag. Critics such as Roger Ebert described the incident as “a desecration of one of… the most famous photos to come out of the Vietnam War.” In this case, a film that was all about shock value crossed the line from providing adult-oriented gags to outright disrespect.
Revenge of the Nerds is incredibly toxic
“Revenge of the Nerds” was once regarded as a film championing the oppressed, a comedic form of voyeurism in which the oppressed could live out their greatest fantasies. After a few decades, “Revenge of the Nerds” is now seen as trivializing rape culture. This is most evident in an infamous scene in which the character of Lewis (Robert Carradine) disguises himself as the jock Stan (Ted McGinley) in order to sleep with the quarterback’s girlfriend, Betty (Julia Montgomery).
This is meant to be a heartwarming scene in the film, but it comes across to any reasonable viewer as an endorsement of rape. Director Jeff Kanew recently expressed regret about including the scene in the film. “I’ve heard a lot of [criticism] this year because of the #MeToo movement — that’s rape because it’s sex under false pretenses,” Kanew told GQ in 2019.
“It was thought to be a switch at the time. It’s not acceptable. I wouldn’t like it if it were my daughter.” The R-rated events of “Revenge of the Nerds” were meant to be viewed as traditional escapism, but it’s clearer than ever that the film is more sinister than humorous.
The Hunt was a target for many
Every generation has its own take on the classic story “The Most Dangerous Game,” and “The Hunt” was this generation’s incarnation. This Craig Zobel film, like any other version of this story, revolved around a group of people who awoke to find out they were being hunted for sport.
The twist this time was that the story was filtered through the current political zeitgeist, with the hunters coded as left-leaning “elites” and the victims as conservatives. On paper, it’s easy to see how the project was approved as something that, like “Team America: World Police,” could spark political debate while also generating ticket sales from moviegoers who wanted to be a part of the conversation and the dark humor.
Even so, the marketing for “The Hunt” sparked a wave of unexpected controversy, largely from right-wing news outlets, and it even elicited an implied response from President Donald Trump, who accused Hollywood of merely attempting to incite violence.
The cause of all the uproar was that many saw “The Hunt” as endorsing violence against conservatives, despite the fact that the conservative characters were the movie’s heroes. Nonetheless, the uproar over “The Hunt” had a significant impact, leading to the film’s six-month delay. So, when it came to making this generation’s “Most Dangerous Game,” the filmmakers may have tried to push a few too many buttons.
The Hills Have Eyes 2 was an R-rated horror flick that went way too far
“The Hills Have Eyes 2,” which was released in 2007, is the type of schlocky horror B-movie that audiences tend to watch because of the tasteless material. This subgenre excels at graphic violence in particular.
However, this particular horror sequel used its trashy sensibilities to continue a long tradition of using sexual assault in a throwaway manner rather than to depict over-the-top violence. “The Hills Have Eyes 2” specifically focuses much of its plot on the possibility of deformed mutants capturing human women for the purpose of forced breeding.
The movie’s emphasis on this element is evident in the opening scene, which depicts an unnamed woman trapped in the mutants’ base solely for the purpose of reproducing children. She’s slaughtered after giving birth to a stillborn baby before she’s even developed a personality. Critics like Scott Tobias chastised “The Hills Have Eyes 2” for its shallow depiction of sexual assault and for failing to give any of the women in the film even basic character development.
It’s an especially heinous detail given that grindhouse films like Abel Ferrer’s “Ms. 45” have received praise for using grimy exploitation cinema to thoughtfully explore the perspective of a sexual assault survivor, making the treatment of sexual assault in “The Hills Have Eyes 2” all the more heinous.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno was too explicit for general audiences
When it comes down to it, “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” like many raunchy romantic comedies, is actually a sweet film about lifelong best friends who may have romantic feelings for each other. However, the inclusion of the word “porno” in the title indicated that the film had already gone far too far for many moviegoers. This was especially true in the film’s marketing, which began with a poster that was so suggestive that it was banned from being shown in theaters.
Following that, the film ran into more problems running TV ads and public billboards with its full title, so it was given the generic moniker “Zack and Miri” on many promotional materials. A film that generates this much controversy can sometimes ride all of the publicity to significant box-office success.
Unfortunately, none of these marketing blunders piqued the interest of moviegoers. “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” which was released at the tail end of October 2008, sank without a trace at the box office.
Despite raunchy scenes like Justin Long as an adult film star listing off the titles of movies he’s appeared in, the Kevin Smith comedy ultimately wants to tug at your heartstrings. Unfortunately, its marketing has a reputation for pushing all the wrong kinds of boundaries.
Natural Born Killers slayed in unintended ways
Few 1990s films were as divisive as “Natural Born Killers,” the story of murderous lovers Mickey and Mallory, played by Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis. Although writer/director Oliver Stone intended the film to be a condemnation of the media’s heavy presence of violence, the general reaction to the film is still divided today over whether or not the film achieved its intended goals.
For example, critic Janet Maslin observed that the film appears to be more in love with graphic violence than critical of it. “While ‘Natural Born Killers’ occasionally shows disgust at Mickey and Mallory’s lurid world, it more often appears enamored of their exhilarating freedom,” Maslin observed.
Critics who saw the film as more of a love letter to this type of behavior dismissed “Natural Born Killers” as a lot of ultra-violent noise with little purpose. Similarly, much has been written about how the film’s treatment of indigenous cultures is nearly as revolting as its most heinous act of violence.
Stone’s intention with this 1994 film was to elicit a reaction from the audience. He was successful… but it sparked a slew of criticisms that Stone had created something as indulgent as the elements of society he intended to criticize.
Postal pushed all the possible R-rated buttons
The opening sequence of Uwe Boll’s 2007 film “Postal” depicts Flight 11 just moments before it collides with the North Tower, launching the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In this version of the story, the two hijackers piloting the plane decide to abort the mission just before they arrive at their destination… only for the passengers to break into the cockpit and inadvertently cause the plane to crash into the tower.
A sequence like this was always intended to establish the film’s tasteless — and if the general critical reception is any indication, humorless — aesthetic. However, the film’s opening gag was far too provocative, and one of its actors believes it harmed the film’s commercial potential.
In Nathan Rabin’s book “My Year of Flops,” actor Dave Foley stated, “I think crashing a plane into the Twin Towers at the start of the film hurt it,” adding that the scene was the equivalent of “[shooting] yourself in the foot entirely.” “Postal,” like its video game source material, wanted to shock and offend, but its opening sequence went above and beyond the call of duty, taking things from vulgar comedy to just plain vulgar.
Boat Trip sank due to a heavy amount of homophobia
Unfortunately, the history of American comedies is littered with homophobic humor. “Boat Trip” from 2002 is one of the worst offenders. The story, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Horatio Sanz, is about two men who sign up for a singles cruise only to find out it’s only for gay men. They then pretend to be gay in order to get closer to the women who work on the boat. One can predict where the plot will go from here and, worse, what kind of jokes will be used.
The entire enterprise makes tired jokes about straight men being terrified of the mere presence of gay people and how “gross” the thought of two dudes kissing is. The film was panned by critics for its rampant homophobia, but many writers also panned it for being too tedious to be fascinatingly bigoted.
The Washington Post’s Rita Kempley, for example, remarked that the tired and familiar attempts at comedy were just as insulting as the rampant gay panic material, adding, “It’s time many of the film’s more offensive gags… went back into the closet.”
“Boat Trip” has only gotten worse with age, and it now serves as a horrifying reminder of what passed for mainstream comedy as recently as the 2000s.
Movie 43 is just a lame attempt at being vulgar
Across its various individual segments, the anthology comedy “Movie 43” provides more stars than there are in the heavens. It also has more vulgarity than a group of middle school boys who have just chugged eight Red Bulls after a night of 4Chan scouring.
Whereas in other comedies, wall-to-wall crudeness can help unearth a deeper truth about humanity or simply provide two hours of escapism, “Movie 43” is now widely regarded as one of the worst comedies ever to hit theater screens. The presence of movie stars ranging from Hugh Jackman to Richard Gere to Emma Stone couldn’t save a film with a sense of humor so immature that calling it sophomoric would be an insult to sophomores.
This box office flop’s only conversation starters were a handful of horrifying moments that demonstrated the film’s desperate attempt to elicit yucks from viewers. “Movie 43” featured yellowface, incest, and a final sequence centered on physical abuse directed at a character played by Elizabeth Banks.
“Movie 43” simply embraced the idea of overloading the viewer with “shocking” material because it lacked sharp writing or clever uses of gross-out humor. However, it also forgot that comedies, in addition to all that shock value, require jokes. Despite pushing the limits of what the R-rating would allow, “Movie 43” was hollow vulgarity at its core.
The Interview blew up … but not in the way it intended
R-rated comedies are sometimes chastised for being too racy with certain jokes, but “The Interview” elicited a whole new level of venom. North Korea reacted negatively to the film about two idiots being forced to assassinate Kim Jong-un, particularly a scene depicting the leader’s gruesome death.
In fact, the film was so divisive that it sparked a hack, allegedly orchestrated by North Korea, that exposed a trove of sensitive information, ranging from private emails to copies of unreleased films, all from Sony Picture. Things got even crazier when the hackers threatened extreme violence against movie theaters that showed “The Interview.”
The film’s provocative humor had immediate consequences. The film’s theatrical release had been largely canceled by mid-December, but that wasn’t the end of “The Interview.” On the contrary, the film sparked widespread debate about how to respond when violent threats are made against artists. In the years since the film’s release, “Interview” actor and co-director Seth Rogen has been open about how difficult the experience was.
“Truthfully, I think [co-director Evan Goldberg and I] were a little traumatized after ‘The Interview,'” Rogen told CinemaBlend. “The Interview,” like many of Rogen’s comedies, was meant to make people laugh while also making them think. Nobody could have predicted the massive and unprecedented response to its material.
Apocalypse Now engaged in unforgivable animal cruelty
Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard witnesses a slew of horrific and unforgettable sights on his journey up the river to find Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz, laying bare the horrors of the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, viewers are also subjected to a gruesome sight late in the film… and it is not the result of special effects or editing tricks.
A water buffalo is killed on-screen for a climactic scene involving an Ifugao tribe ritual. This was apparently a real-life ritual that was already in progress when the cameras began rolling, with director Francis Ford Coppola filming the ritual as it happened.
While the sight of an animal being slaughtered on-screen is meant to be a visual parallel to Willard’s plan to assassinate Kurtz with a machete, the sight of an animal being slaughtered on-screen is jarring enough to render that thematic undercurrent irrelevant.
Coppola has stood by the scene for decades, reaffirming that he was simply documenting reality itself. “I didn’t direct it or anything; that’s just how they do it,” Coppola told USA Today. Coppola made a point of emphasizing that he refused to have an extra water buffalo on hand to kill in case extra takes were required.
“I’m not going to kill an animal for a film,” Coppola stated again. “I will not kill anything for any reason.” Despite Coppola’s claims, this scene of animal cruelty in “Apocalypse Now” stands out as horrifying for all the wrong reasons.
Report Credit: Looper