After Ryan Reynolds' much-anticipated Deadpool film adaptation smashed records at the box office with its February 12 premiere, fans and media outlets expressed hope that the movie's success would lead production companies to make more R-rated comic book adaptations for the big screen. Some, like The Wrap's Jeff Sneider, attribute Deadpool's success to the character's huge fanbase. Sneider observes, "There simply aren’t many name-brand superhero movies who lend themselves to an R-rated adaptation."
But is that true?
Given certain IPs' successes with audiences of all ages, you certainly shouldn't expect an R-rated Avengers, Spider-Man, or even Batman. But that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of popular comics characters who could draw big numbers at the box office.
The Punisher didn't do particularly well when it hit theaters in 2004, but that hasn't stopped Marvel from bringing the character to Season 2 of its popular Netflix series, Daredevil. In 1997, Spawn was a commercial success, despite generally negative reviews, and writer Todd MacFarlane hopes to begin production on Spawn 2 in 2016.
The comics listed here span decades and continents. Some have had Hollywood adaptations stuck in development hell, while others look more like pipe dreams to long-waiting fans. But all 11 would make great R-rated movies, if given the right treatment.
1. Sandman by Neil Gaiman, et al.
Neil Gaiman revived DC's Sandman comic in 1989, and the result was a more-than-cult hit. After years of will-they-or-won't-they speculation from eager fans, the comic might finally get the silver-screen treatment it deserves. In 2015, Joseph Gordon-Levitt embarked on a mission to make the Sandman movie happen, with Gaiman's help, of course.
2. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Despite being a story about the importance and strength of family bonds, Saga would likely get a Deadpool-esque hard-R if brought to theaters. The story of an interracial couple hunted by both sides of an intergalactic war is peppered with plenty of sexual content, from an orgiastic planet to a bare-breasted bounty hunter.
3. Fury Max by Garth Ennis, Goran Parlov, and Lee Loughridge
Marvel's MAX comics are full of adult-only content. Fury Max tells the origin story of S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, beginning immediately after World War II. I don't know about you, but I'd pay money to see Samuel L. Jackson head up his own Marvel movie, especially if it was R-rated.
4. Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
Now, in all fairness, there's already an Akira movie out there, and it's fantastic. But that gory, mind-fucking anime from 1988 hasn't stopped interested parties from wanting to produce a live-action film. That movie has been in Hollywood limbo for as long as I can remember, but the most recent news I could find has Christopher Nolan involved in Akira 's development.
5. Red Sonja by Gail Simone and Walter Geovani
This Conan spin-off got its own movie — with Arnold Schwarzenegger — back in 1985, but given that Conan himself called it "the worst film [he] ha[d] ever made," I think we can all just forget that it ever happened. Red Sonja is primed for a return to the big screen, thanks to Gail Simone's 19-issue reboot. A new film has been in development hell for a while now, but that doesn't mean we won't see the She-Devil with a Sword in theaters soon.
6. Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Suzie and Jon don't know it when they first meet, but they share a rare gift: the ability to freeze time after they orgasm. What starts out as fun and games soon turns into a criminal romp as the two go on a sex-and-bank-robbery spree. As of February 2015, Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick have a deal with Universal to adapt Sex Criminals for television — hopefully on a premium network.
7. Black Hole by Charles Burns
Charles Burns' Black Hole centers on a group of teens in 1970s Seattle who contract an STD that causes mutations in those who are infected. Over the last decade, several big names have been attached to the Black Hole film project, including Gaiman and David Fincher. Director Rupert Sanders, who is currently attached to the live-action Ghost in the Shell movie, hosts a short Black Hole film on his website.
8. Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro
The titular Bitch Planet serves as a prison colony for incorrigible women living in a patriarchal dystopia. Writing for Wired, Laura Hudson says DeConnick's comic "takes some of the most exploitative tropes about incarcerated women, tears out their sexist heart, and shoots what remains into another galaxy." In the right hands, Bitch Planet would make an excellent hard-R comic book movie, one that turns the prison exploitation film on its ear with a feminist bent.
9. Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour
In Southern Bastards, protagonist Earl Tubb returns to Craw County, Alabama, only to find that his hometown is run by a corrupt barbecue magnate — and high school football coach — named Euless Boss. Tubb's the aging son of the former sheriff, and he's pretty damn mad about the way things have gone south in the South. So he picks up his giant stick bat and starts to deal out some justice. If you think this couldn't make a great R-rated movie, you're wrong.
10. Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima
Lone Wolf and Cub centers on a wandering samurai who travels with his young son, hoping to one day avenge the death of their wife and mother. The manga spawned several films and a TV series in Japan, but a Hollywood project has been stalled for years. With plenty of sword fights and court intrigue, Lone Wolf and Cub has everything an action-drama needs.
11. Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez
If you love Deadpool's 4th-wall breaking, murder sprees, and off-color jokes, you'll love Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Jhonen Vasquez's story of a serial killer who can't be caught would be a tough — but not impossible — comic to translate to film. But a good treatment would see JTHM's cult-like fanbase pour out in droves to theaters.
Image: Marvel Enterprises