The movie Kingsman: The Secret Service is described as a spy action comedy film. There are plenty of similar films in this genre, and from the trailers (below) it seems to be yet another similar to the Vin Diesel xXx (1 & 2) films where a spy is chosen to save the world from a villain.
Kingsman Trailer 1
Kingsman Trailer 2
The Success of PG-13 Rated Movies
Despite having lots of action violence, the Vin Diesel movies (such as xXx and the Fast & Furious series) are rated PG-13, since there are no close-up detailed visuals of bloody violence. The PG-13 rating seems to be a sweet spot for movie studios and producers who want to have the maximum audience appeal. Parents are more likely to approve of PG-13 films, and fewer viewers are likely to be offended by the content. Despite the success of PG-13 movies, for some reason, the producers of Kingsman chose to create an R rated action film.
The Problem with Trailers for R Rated Movies
I’ve been to a few movies recently where the trailer and the core substance of the movie were quite different. We all know that trailers can sometimes make a bad movie look good by consolidating some of the funniest or best scenes. However, the problem with trailers for R rated movies is that the trailers are typically rated G for all audiences. So, any of the R rated content is excluded. The intention isn’t to mislead viewers, but to simply make the trailer palatable for all viewers.
MPAA Rating Ambiguity
The challenge with assessing a movie based solely on an R rating is that they may contain an abundance of extreme language, nudity, sex, crudity, substance abuse, or bloody graphic violence. The R rating is assigned to any film that exceeds any threshold for any category. So, we can’t tell based only on the rated G trailer what resulted in the R rating.
Genre as an Indicator of Content
A person doesn’t really know what to expect when going to see an R rated movie, but the genre of film will usually indicate what will be included.
A horror/thriller movie is expected to have gross graphic bloody violence and cruelty. People who don’t like such content, will avoid that genre of R rated movies.
Movies like Fifty Shades of Gray are marketed and promoted as having graphic sex scenes, so prospective viewers know what they are likely to encounter.
A movie like Kingsman: The Secret Service, which is described as a spy action comedy film, would presumably have an R rating due to language, nudity, and sex, along with action related violence. Given that the focus of the movie is about a street kid getting recruited to be a spy, one imagines it might be similar to Disney movies with the same theme. However, these assumptions are all wrong for reasons explained below.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to know what to expect in films being released today due to the rise in crossover films. This is particularly true with R rated films since a broad swath of potentially shocking or offensive content may be included.
With crossover films, movies may include elements of multiple genres. The movie The Interview is an example of this. It was marketed as primarily a comedy, yet contained significant amounts of detailed bloody graphic violence and cruelty similar to a horror movie or first-person shooter video game.
Similarly, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a crossover film with significant amounts of detailed bloody graphic violence and cruelty similar to a horror movie. Were a PG-13 rated (or edited for television) version of the movie to be released, it might have broader appeal. The general plot and much of the content parallels the trailers shown above, yet the other content injected into the film will be shocking and/or offensive to some viewers.
Where Crossover Films Fail
Presumably, producers create crossover films to broaden the potential appeal of their films. By creating a comedy action movie that contains gruesome elements of a horror film, it should be possible to get more viewers and garner more profits in the box office and better long-tail revenue from a film.
The problem with crossover films is that they make some people sit through content they find unnecessary, shocking, and/or offensive. People going to see a comedy or action film, who have chosen not to go see a horror film, will not appreciate seeing graphic violence injected into a comedy.
Movies like The Interview and Kingsman: The Secret Service are examples of crossover movies that make too much of an effort to bring in a broader audience and subsequently offend and disappoint the larger base of viewers.
Crossover Films Under the Radar
One might wonder how crossover films get under the radar of parents who are genuinely concerned about violence in our culture, and watchful of what their children are consuming. A common trick used by producers is to ramp up violence increasingly toward the end of a film. This way, parents who review the first 30 minutes of a film won’t really get a good idea of what is to come later in the film.
An added benefit of this is to ensure that people in the box office don’t walk out in the first few minutes, by saving the most graphic and offensive content toward the end and gradually increasing so the viewer is subtly unaware they are consuming content that they might otherwise have self-censored and avoided.
The reviews for Kingsman: The Secret Service are surprisingly positive. It has grossed over $117 million so far. The movie held an impressive 2nd place on the domestic box office charts for many days. One must wonder how much of the box office financial success was a result of viewers who were lured by the trailers into watching the movie, only to subsequently be disappointed for the reasons explained above.
Reviews aren’t always an accurate predictor of or statement about a movie’s quality. Part of the problem is that online rating systems aren’t scientific, and they can be manipulated. Just as it’s possible to pay for Likes on Facebook, and possible to pay for positive product reviews on Amazon, it’s possible to pay and get a movie’s reviews and ratings boosted.
In addition to deliberate manipulation of reviews, the general interests and preferences of those who are writing the reviews will skew the outcome. For example, if a violent movie is largely attended by and appealing to a subculture of violence, then those people viewing the movie will rate it highly if it contains graphic violence, even if the acting and plot aren’t any good.
In Defense of ‘R’ Rated Movie Trailers
The title of this article is “In Defense of ‘R’ Rated Movie Trailers.” Given the problematic nature of having PG rated trailers for R rated movies, it would seem that a strong case could be made for allowing R rated trailers of R rated movies. This would help people avoid sitting through content they’d prefer not to watch, and similarly, those who want to see more of a specific category of graphic content could make more informed choices.
The current system just doesn’t work. It’s unhelpful to potential viewers, and ineffective for parents trying to preview the content that their children watch.