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The Highest-Grossing R-Rated Movies Of All Time

Conventional wisdom in Hollywood says that if you want to score a box office hit, don't make it R-rated. By making a film that's rated R, you're immediately restricting the movie's audience by preventing people under 17 from seeing the movie without a parental guardian.  As a result, Hollywood has frequently avoided spending too lavishly on projects with R ratings, out of fear that films with this MPAA rating will never make a profit. However, over the years, countless exceptions have emerged that demonstrate that, just because a movie is rated R, that doesn't mean box office success is entirely ruled out. On the contrary, some of the biggest movies of recent years had a gigantic R-rating on their respective posters.

All of these adult-skewing titles had something special that made them stand out to moviegoers. Whether it was through savvy marketing, lots of pre-release hype or simply being based on beloved source material, these incredibly lucrative titles had the qualities necessary to defy conventional wisdom and become R-rated box office sensations. 

American Sniper hit a box office bullseye

Since Saving Private Ryan in 1998, R-rated films have rarely topped the annual domestic box office. That's partially because it's always been somewhat rare for R-rated films to secure that spot, since their restrictive rating means less people can see them. Before Ryan, the last R-rated film to top the domestic box office was Terminator 2: Judgment Day seven years prior. However, in the more than two decades since Saving Private Ryan, only one movie has managed to top the yearly domestic box office: American Sniper.

Not only was Sniper a massive hit domestically but it proved lucrative enough overseas to secure a $547.4 million worldwide gross. Making this achievement all the more remarkable is that R-rated films that make a bundle worldwide are usually comedies or action movies, not grim dramas like American Sniper. But the film had a number of advantages on its side, including the fact that it was based on a best-selling book. There's also the fact that the story of Chris Kyle simply struck a nerve with the world when American Sniper hit theaters at the start of 2015. Combining the fame of that story with Sniper's heavy award season presence made it the movie to see as well as the only instance of an R-rated release topping the yearly box office in the 21st century.

Ted was a raunchy phenomenon

In 2012, there were certain things audiences came out by the millions to see. The first-ever big team-up between Marvel superheroes. The first Middle-earth prequel. And, of course, there were the exploits of a foul-mouthed teddy bear with a thick Boston accent. Seth MacFarlane's directorial debut Ted was a massive sleeper hit, dropping at the end of June 2012 and proceeding to gross $549.3 million worldwide, in the process becoming the biggest R-rated non-sequel comedy in history.

It was a particularly impressive feat, given how the genre Ted belonged to sometimes struggles at the international box office. American comedies sometimes have a difficult time resonating with audiences in foreign countries. Specific costumes or references to American culture can get lost in translation. With Ted, though, that wasn't a problem since the sight of a raunchy yet cuddly teddy bear transcended language barriers. No matter where you are, something cute acting naughty will always have a certain appeal. Plus, Deadline reported that the film was redubbed for certain countries, a feat that could be achieved more easily thanks to Ted being a CG creation. As a result, Ted ended up flourishing in countries like Russia and Japan where American comedies usually struggle. Just like with superhero team-ups and Middle-earth adventures, moviegoers around the world in 2012 couldn't get enough of that foul-mouthed bear.

The Mermaid swam to box office glory

The Chinese box office has exploded in the last decade, to the point that it handily overtook America as the biggest movie marketplace in the world in 2020. An early sign that China was becoming a box office force to be reckoned with came with the 2016 film The Mermaid. A Stephen Chow directorial effort, the film was already looking like a box office hit thanks to savvy marketing, the decision to unleash the feature one day after Chinese New Year and the box office track record of previous Chow features.

However, The Mermaid obliterated all expectations with its eventual box office run, which saw it cracking $150 million in China after just four days of release. This made it apparent that The Mermaid would be a hit, but even at that point, nobody could conceive of just how massive it would become. Eventually, The Mermaid managed to become the first movie to gross over $500 million in China alone, surpassing Monster Hunt to become the biggest movie ever at the Chinese box office. In the years since The Mermaid debuted, a handful of other Chinese movies (such as Hi Mom or Wolf Warriors 2) have managed to achieve even greater box office success in that territory. However, all current Chinese box office juggernauts owe a debt of gratitude to The Mermaid for being the one that redefined the level of success Chinese blockbusters could achieve.

Audiences got all tied up with Fifty Shades of Grey

There was a time when Hollywood not only regularly made steamy erotic thrillers but when audiences showed up in droves for such films. Basic Instinct made $352.7 million in the early 1990s while Fatal Attraction made $320 million a few years prior. What superhero movies were at the box office in the 2010s, erotic thrillers were in the late '80s and early '90s. Of course, no subgenre can reign supreme forever. Flops like Striptease resulted in Hollywood largely abandoning the genre by the late 1990s. Fans of steamy, melodramatic cinema cheered in the streets when the erotic thriller made a major comeback in 2015 thanks to the release of Fifty Shades of Grey. In the process of adapting this E.L. James novel, Hollywood got a flashback to when erotic thrillers were go-to moneymakers in the world of film.

Fifty Shades of Grey made $569.6 million worldwide, an outstanding sum of money that proved that Grey was no flash-in-the-pan literary hit. This was a book that had resonated with audiences across the globe, to the point that people just had to see how it was brought to life. This box office haul was even more impressive given that Grey didn't have big-name stars like many past erotic thrillers. It got by just on the brand name of its source material, a lot of hot-and-heavy action and the fact that sex is always capable of drawing a crowd.

Moviegoers gave a hug to The Hangover Part II

The Hangover was that rare breed of blockbuster: something truly original with lead actors who were, at the time, not big stars. Despite that, audiences flocked to it and turned it into a worldwide sensation that completely upended the norm for what R-rated comedies could do at the 21st-century box office. Given that level of popularity, it should be no surprise that The Hangover Part II was an even bigger hit than the original at the worldwide box office.

Given that this follow-up had a built-in brand and would not be a slow-burn steady hit like the original, The Hangover Part II didn't have the longevity of its predecessor. However, it still managed to burn bright while it played in theaters as it grossed a massive $589.7 million. Opening the next Hangover just two years after the initial movie and over the Memorial Day holiday weekend turned out to be savvy moves for the raunchy follow-up. The sequel was banking on audiences loving that first movie so much, and it turned out to be more than enough to make the second one a gigantic blockbuster. The first Hangover was the rare original film to become a hit. Its sequel, meanwhile, is a quintessential example of a tentpole sequel that audiences couldn't get enough of.

The Passion of the Christ was blessed at the box office

Jesus Christ, The Passion of the Christ sure was a box office hit in its 2004 theatrical run. There was a time when it looked like The Passion of the Christ would end up being the next ill-fated passion project from a famous actor a la Waterworld. The fact that it was being distributed independently, along with director Mel Gibson's streak of controversial behavior at the start of the 2000s, also seemed to spell doom for the production ever being able to make back its $30 million budget.

However, Christ didn't just become profitable, it became a box office juggernaut, one that took in $612 million worldwide. This included a gargantuan $371 million domestic haul, which makes Passion, to this day, the biggest R-rated movie of all time domestically. Christ benefited from outreach to Christian groups as well as a perfect release date that allowed it to play all throughout the spring and major holidays like Easter. There was also the fact that its excessive violence and controversial qualities made it a conversation piece that people had to see so that they could be in on the pop culture discourse. With this element at its back, Christ was able to draw in moviegoers for weeks and weeks. In the process, a likely flop turned into a holy box office hit.

Logan sliced above box office expectations

With Deadpool in 2016, R-rated comic book movies were no longer taboo. Suddenly, it was apparent that these movies could be just as lucrative as their PG-13 counterparts. Hoping to continue that trend was Logan, the third solo Wolverine movie and the first time the character would star in an R-rated story. It was a bold gamble for a number of reasons. For one thing, Logan lacked the kind of large-scale set pieces that define most comic book movies. For another, Wolverine's solo outings hadn't set the box office on fire, with The Wolverine becoming the lowest-grossing X-Men movie domestically until Dark Phoenix rolled around.

Despite these issues, Logan ended up becoming nothing short of a smash hit. In its theatrical run, Logan grossed $614.2 million worldwide. Exempting the Deadpool movies, that put Logan ahead of all other X-Men movies worldwide save for Days of Future Past. Taking a bold swing with Wolverine in a gloomy quasi-Western may have seemed like it could alienate audiences, but on the contrary, it ensured Logan stood out in the blockbuster marketplace. This wasn't a run-of-the-mill superhero movie and that uniqueness was combined with the similarly enticing quality of Logan being Hugh Jackman's final turn as Wolverine. Combining those factors with the film's extremely positive reviews and Logan turned into the kind of event film that far surpassed what R-rated movies are typically expected to gross at the worldwide box office.

It wasn't clowning around at the box office

Horror movies aren't supposed to be box office juggernauts. Usually, these movies are cheap enough that they can make a profit without needing to hit $400 million worldwide. However, in recent years, horror films have begun to hit new box office highs that have redefined the standards of financial success in the genre. Nowhere is this more apparent than in It, which not only became the biggest horror movie of all time but, at the time of its release, only the third R-rated feature to crack $700 million worldwide.

It's astonishing $701.7 million worldwide gross was thanks to its beloved source material. It is one of Stephen King's most famous books, but aside from a two-part TV movie starring Tim Curry, it's never gotten a proper feature-length adaptation. Decades of anticipation fueled It's gross as audiences showed up to finally see what a big-budget version of this story would look like. It wasn't just longtime Stephen King fans that elevated this movie's box office grosses either: the adolescent protagonists helped the film lure in younger-than-usual moviegoers for a horror movie. Iconic source material with wide appeal is a recipe for a box office hit for sure, but nobody could have seen It going this high and, in the process, setting a new bar for horror movies at the box office.

The Matrix Reloaded outgunned its predeccesor

Many R-rated films that make over $500 million are surprises, the kind of films that make you stand up and take notice of their unexpected success. The Matrix Reloaded had an impressive box office run but it was the furthest thing from surprising. The original Matrix had become a pop culture phenomenon, one that had helped to reshape the blockbuster landscape. People were eagerly awaiting a follow-up and it was no surprise to see that sequel, The Matrix Reloaded, eventually making a killing at the worldwide box office. Still, even those expecting another home run from the team behind the original Matrix were shocked with just how big Reloaded ended up being.

With $738.5 million worldwide, Reloaded handily surpassed the original Matrix and became, at the time, the highest-grossing R-rated movie in history. What made it an especially impressive haul was that Reloaded outgrossed all but one other live-action title at the worldwide box office in 2003. Promising more Matrix adventures was always going to be a surefire recipe for box office success but a memorable marketing campaign and positive advanced buzz ensured that The Matrix Reloaded had more to lean on than its predecessor's brand name. Common wisdom suggests that an R-rating is supposed to restrict your appeal to the general public. Instead, such a rating was an afterthought for The Matrix Reloaded, which had enough hype to work with almost any MPAA rating. 

Deadpool broke the fourth wall and box office records

It took years for Deadpool to get off the ground. For the longest time, it seemed like the film was destined to be merely a hypothetical, something Ryan Reynolds would get asked about in interviews without ever actually getting made. It took a positive reaction to leaked test footage for 20th Century Fox to finally give the film the green light. Given the eventual success of Deadpool, these struggles to make the movie now feel staggeringly short-sighted. But at the time, R-rated superhero films were persona non grata in Hollywood and the X-Men movies hadn't been able to launch truly successful spin-off titles. The odds were totally against Deadpool.

However, Deadpool overcame those odds thanks to an ingenious, pervasive marketing campaign that conveyed a uniquely irreverent attitude. There had been many comedic superhero movies but never one with this unique kind of levity. The fact that it was dead set on correcting the mistakes of Deadpool's prior incarnation in X-Men Origins: Wolverine made the project extra appealing to die-hard fans of the character. The result was a movie that blew away all prior X-Men movies at the box office with a gargantuan $782.6 million worldwide box office gross. Fox may not have been initially enthusiastic about Deadpool, but with a box office gross like that, they were all too happy to have taken the risk.

Deadpool 2 avoided the comedy sequel curse

With Deadpool 2, it was time to see if The Merc With a Mouth would be able to beat the comedy sequel curse. Save for The Hangover Part II, comedy sequels have a bad history of making significantly less than their predecessors. Ted 2, Neighbors 2, Horrible Bosses 2 – you can throw a stone and find a comedy sequel that underwhelmed financially. With Deadpool 2, there was reason to be concerned that this film would fall prey to the same trend. Sure, it was following up a beloved movie, but so were Caddyshack 2 and City Slickers 2 and those still sank without a trace at the box office. 

These box office issues that had long plagued comedy sequels proved to be no problem for Deadpool 2. Despite opening directly in the wake of the record-breaking movie Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 still took in a sizable box office haul, with an eventual Chinese release of the film's PG-13 cut taking its lifetime box office gross to $786.8 million. Deadpool 2 managed to avoid becoming the next Wayne's World 2 by, among other means, emphasizing new characters like Cable (Josh Brolin) and Domino (Zazie Beetz) in its marketing. Audiences were reassured they'd receive something with Deadpool 2 that they wouldn't just get by rewatching the original. Deadpool is always subverting expectations and that includes going against the box office norms for comedy sequels.

We live in a society where Joker was a smash hit

There's no other way to describe the $1.074 billion worldwide box office haul of Joker than just staggeringly impressive. For one thing, the film was massively profitable considering it cost only $60 million to make. For another, Joker became the first R-rated movie in history to crack $1 billion at the worldwide box office. It's also impressive how it outgrossed the films that creatively spawned it. It beat out the worldwide box office grosses of all but one of the Batman movies and exceeded the grosses of all prior movies produced or directed by executive producer Martin Scorsese.

It's also notable which massive blockbusters Joker managed to outgross at the worldwide box office in 2019. That list included significantly more expensive all-ages tentpoles like Aladdin, Toy Story 4 and even Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The list goes on and on about the feats Joker achieved in its remarkable box office run, which came about due to a confluence of positive factors. Not only is The Joker a beloved comic book character, but the trailers and posters for the movie immediately captured the eye. The fact that it was all anyone could talk about in the fall of 2019 made it the kind of watercooler movie you just had to see. All of these qualities resulted in a box office trailblazer that struck a chord with moviegoers around the globe.