Vin Diesel Had To Fight For An R-Rated Riddick Film

As of 2018, the Motion Picture Association (formally the Motion Picture Association of America) has given R-ratings to about 57 percent of the films they've rated, according to a report from THR. That number makes it sound like getting an R-rated film made is easy. However, with the advent of the PG-13 rating in 1984, slightly more mature films could get more viewers in theater seats, resulting in bigger ticket sales. Though R-rated films continue to be produced, the big box office take is far more often from ones with a PG or PG-13 rating. There is just a bigger audience, and an opportunity for a family night out with the kids, making them a safer bet for studios. 

This put Vin Diesel in a difficult position with his sci-fi/action "Riddick" films. The first one, 2000's R-rated "Pitch Black," had a fairly small budget of around $23 million, according to Box Office Mojo. It was at PolyGram Filmed Entertainment first but ended up at Universal Pictures as it was getting ready for release. In an interview with Collider on the set of "Riddick," Diesel said that Universal gave them a "Hail Mary" on "Pitch Black," and gave the second film, "The Chronicles of Riddick," a bigger budget — but a PG-13 rating to go along with it. 

Diesel told the outlet that he had to fight to get the R-rating for 2013's "Riddick," which was really important to him.

'They're so few and far between'

Diesel said that it wasn't a given that they'd be allowed to do another R-rated film in the "Riddick" universe. "When do you see a rated-R movie?" he said. Diesel explained that his generation grew up on them and mentioned watching "Alien" when he was 13 years old. "There was a market, place, and purpose" for them, he said, and that they "don't really exist anymore." Well, technically they do, but so far in 2022, they're being relegated to streaming more often, and R-rated films have done worse in 2022 than any time in the last 25 years, according to Axios

In the "Riddick" set interview, which was long before 2022 of course, it was already an issue. Diesel was asked about whether or not he had to push for an R-rated "Riddick." He said: 

"Oh my God, of course they wouldn't nobody's doing them. You can't count on your hands a bunch of rated-R movies that are getting a lot of play. They're so far and few between. In fact, we were victims of that in going the studio route with Chronicles of Riddick. Budget went up, and we went into that film we were going in rated-R, and the first thing taken out was rated-R. You want to spend that kind of money? You want to expand the mythology like that? You'll have to reconfigure the way you're going to produce this movie and make it PG."

Studios do tend to think of their bottom line, and if something can be taken out to ensure a bigger audience, it does make better business sense. As viewers, we might want a film to be more gritty or violent or sweary, but it's very likely going to hurt the box office take.

'An understandable studio mandate'

Diesel does mention in the interview that some people argue about the benefits of a PG film "pushing the R envelope," but said that it means something to him to be able to have the freedom to make the picture he wanted. He said: 

"There's something appropriate and liberating and honest and free about going into a picture like this and being able to make it a rated-R picture and not have to comply with an understandable studio mandate of PG filmmaking for the blockbusters in Hollywood."

This is not likely to change, with the box office for 2022 still down 30 percent from 2019 before the pandemic started, according to the Axios article. In fact, we're seeing what bottom line worries are doing to studios like Warner Bros. Discovery, with the cancellation of near-complete films like "Batgirl" and "Scoob! Holiday Haunt." Axios states that all of the films that have grossed over $100 million in 2021 were rated PG-13. There's always streaming, I guess. Speaking of which, "Riddick" is currently streaming on HBO Max, and "The Chronicles of Riddick" available on Hulu, and "Pitch Black" on Hulu with the live TV add-on.