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This year marks the 15th anniversary of Constantine, the movie that saw Keanu Reeves’ bring DC Comics’ occult detective to life in live-action on the big screen. Considering the kind of supernatural and terrifying adventures John Constantine gets into within the comic book pages, it’s not that surprising Constantine was R-rated, but apparently it was never the goal to earn that rating.
According to Constantine producer Akiva Goldsman, the movie’s team was instructed by Warner Bros to make Constantine within PG-13 parameters, and they did so, making it particularly surprising when the Motion Picture Association of America stamped the feature with an R rating anyway. Goldsman recalled:
Warners… dictated that it had to be PG-13 because of what it cost. And we actually got this sort of list of guidelines of what you can do and what you can’t do in a PG-13 movie. And we followed those rules to a T. The amount of times you can say ‘fuck’, the kinds of nudity, the blood, the violence, all of those things. And we screened it for the MPAA, and I remember hearing that they got about five minutes in and put their notepads down and said that we got a hard R for ‘tone.’ And so this is not something that’s on the list.
Constantine is certainly a dark movie and filled with content that’s not intended for the kiddies, so it’s curious that of all the reasons the MPAA rated it R, it was due to tone. It was a decision that Akiva Goldsman felt was unfair, especially after the cast and crew had worked so hard to deliver a PG-13 offering. Continuing in his interview with Collider, Goldsman said:
…I think it was ‘an overwhelming sense of dread’ was what I heard that they had from the opening scene onward. And they didn’t think there was anything that we could do about it. Basically what we had was a PG-13 movie that got an R rating. Which just killed me, because it’s like if we were gonna get an R rating, I would’ve made an R-rated movie. We could’ve really gone for it in terms of intensity and violence and language and all those kinds of things. We got a bit screwed on that front. And we did try to fight, but we obviously didn’t win that battle.
If the Constantine that played in theaters was intended to be PG-13, I can only imagine what the filmmakers would have churned out if they’d been aiming for R from the start. Certainly there would have been room for a lot more gore and cursing. Still, in the end, as Akiva Goldsman sees it, the fact that Constantine revolved its eponymous protagonist battling demons was enough for it to be decided that this movie would be saddled with a primarily adult theatrical audience. As the producer put it:
There’s kind of a weird subset of religious horror, and that seems to get an R much more quickly… We have a lot of demons. Demons seem for some reason to trigger an R rating. There you have it. I’ve now given every prospective filmmaker the key to getting an R rating. Just have demons. You’re welcome.
Released on February 18, 2005, Constantine was met with mixed critical reception and made close to $231 million worldwide. A decade and a half later, the movie has built a cult following, and while later comic book flicks like Deadpool, Logan and Joker have proven that an R-rating didn’t need to be an obstacle to making a ton of money at the box office, I can’t help wondering how Constantine would have performed commercially if it had scored a PG-13 rating, thus expanding the audience that could have seen it on the big screen.
While Keanu Reeves and director Francis Lawrence have expressed interest in making a Constantine sequel, there’s no indication there’s even a possibility of that happening. Fortunately for John Constantine fans, the character isn’t disappearing from the live-action realm anytime soon. Not only is Matt Ryan continuing to play him on Legends of Tomorrow, but there’s a Justice League Dark TV series in the works for HBO Max, and considering Constantine’s history with the team in the comics, it’s only logical if he ends up being one of the show’s main characters.
Keep checking back with CinemaBlend for more DC Comics-related movie updates, and find out what this corner of the superhero movie market has on the way with our handy guide.