How Batman v Superman Might Earn That R-Rating

By  · Published on February 24th, 2016

Yesterday the world of Film Twitter was all aflutter with news that the MPAA has rated a version of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with an R-rating. This won’t be the theatrical version of the film, which has already been given a PG-13, but an “Ultimate Edition” that will undoubtedly appear on the Blu-ray. Normally studios will toss a version like this on a home video release and just call it “Unrated,” but Warner Bros. chose to give it to the MPAA. For what purpose remains unclear, unless they have designs on putting this “Ultimate Edition” in theaters at some point. It could also be a marketing stunt in response to the success of the R-rated Deadpool, though that seems less likely. Warner Bros. does want us all to know that their film is hardcore, but that can be done without a stunt over ratings.

Which brings us to the more pertinent question: how exactly did Batman v Superman achieve an R-rating for its Ultimate Edition? What story elements necessitated the jump from PG-13 to R?

We know that there are several ways to get from a PG-13 to R:

  1. More than two F-bombs.
  2. Gratuitous and/or intensely realistic violence (we’re talking blood).
  3. Nudity.

Upon inspection of the MPAA rating announcement (via Film Ratings), Batman v Superman was cited for an R-rating because of “sequences of violence.” This is interesting, because the theatrical PG-13 version of the film was giving that rating for “intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality.”

Potential Spoilers for Batman v Superman Below

So what kind of a scene takes Batman v Superman from having PG-13 “intense sequences of violence and action throughout” to having R rated “sequences of violence”? I have a theory that revolves around this image from the trailer:

It’s long been rumored (and since clarified) that the Robin armor in the Batman v Superman trailer is that of Jason Todd. In the 1988 comic storyline Batman: A Death in the Family, DC Comics held a telephone poll to determine who among Batman’s family would be killed. Jason Todd, then serving as Robin. The result was a horrifying sequence in which The Joker violently beats him to death with a crowbar. It was one of the iconic deaths in all of Batman’s comic stories:

DC Comics

Considering what we’ve seen of Jared Leto’s Joker in the Suicide Squad marketing, it feels right that they might want to cross him over into Batman v Superman for a flashback scene. One of the core themes at work in Batman v Superman is the idea that Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is older and more hardened by his experiences. This feeds into his paranoia about Superman and his less forgiving nature – something we saw in the most recent trailer’s fight sequences. This version of Batman is an angry old man with demons. One of those demons is clearly the loss of Jason Todd.

Next: The Final Batman v Superman Trailer Has Some Fun

This is the perfect kind of sequence that would be unnecessary enough to the core plot of Batman v Superman and also make for perfect fanservice on the Blu-ray release. It also sets up Jared Leto’s Joker as a real nightmare heading into Suicide Squad, which hits theaters in August. With Blu-ray windows being in the vicinity of 90–120 days, that puts the home video release of Batman v Superman sometime in June or July. How better to get fans ready for Leto’s party in Suicide Squad than to show him brutally murdering Jason Todd in an extended cut of Batman v Superman? It’s sort of perfect, if you think about it.

Of course, it could be something else that lands BvS its R-rating. But this feels like a pretty strong theory. That Jason Todd armor is in the trailer (and the movie) for a reason. And beyond something like this, it’s hard to imagine there’s a cut of Batman v Superman that’s any more gnarly than what we saw in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, which ended up with a PG-13 rating while Heath Ledger’s Joker was lighting money launderers on fire, doing vicious pencil tricks and sewing bombs into the abdomens of his henchmen. That’s the gold standard for cinematic Batman violence. So if Zack Snyder isn’t going to use this Jason Todd opportunity to shed some blood, I look forward to seeing what else he comes up with.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)