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The Avengers Scene Marvel Changed To Avoid An R-Rating

When "The Avengers" debuted in 2012, it became the biggest film of that year, grossing over $1.5 billion at the global box office. Upon release, it was met with critical and fan acclaim; many still consider it to be one of the best superhero films of all time. However, in an alternate world, its wide reach could have been muted, as it was initially slapped with an R rating. In the movie, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) stabs Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) in the back. This emotional moment was initially too gruesome for family and teenage audiences.

While speaking with Movies.com (via CinemaBlend), Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige explained that the studio didn't get the rating it wanted. "When we submitted 'The Avengers,' the first couple cuts of it came back from the MPAA rated R. That happened twice. So we went back and had to make adjustments," he said. The producer continued by explaining what specifically in the Coulson death sequence led to the rating. "Whenever you impale somebody from their back and the blade comes out their chest, there are issues."

In the final version of the scene, Coulson is stabbed by Loki's sceptre, but the weapon is barely seen coming out of his chest. The sound effects in the sequence do most of the heavy lifting in terms of conveying just how brutal the SHIELD agent's death is. While it's unclear what major changes director Joss Whedon and Feige made to the scene, Coulson's theatrical passing is effective and isn't missing much. 

Marvel is finally starting to embrace mature storytelling

If Kevin Feige didn't re-cut that original scene, "The Avengers" could have been the first R-rated film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Right now, the franchise's first adults-only flick is Ryan Reynolds' "Deadpool & Wolverine," which folds the X-Men characters into the MCU. The "Deadpool" threequel certainly pushes the envelope for Marvel fans, as it features tons of profanity, gory violence, and suggestive themes that definitely aren't appropriate for children. And if all goes well, Disney and Marvel could produce more R-rated movies, expanding its narrative reach. 

The decision to do so would be interesting, as MCU entries have consistently received PG-13 ratings, which tend to be the most profitable and accessible. However, Marvel hasn't been afraid to push boundaries and go into uncharted territories. In early 2024, Disney+ debuted "Echo," the first Marvel series to receive a TV-MA rating. The animated "Marvel Zombies" series is also on track to receive the TV-MA rating. 

The franchise's cinematic offerings are also evolving to accommodate more mature content. "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" notably features Chris Pratt uttering the MCU's first F-bomb — something Feige tried to initially avoid. While the Marvel architect let that slide, there have been times where filmmakers and actors went a bit too far in terms of maturity. There are tons of R-rated MCU scenes that fans will never see, with many moments going beyond what fans expect from typical releases.