What are the highest-grossing R-rated movies in Hollywood history? There are some that you’ll likely be easily able to call to mind, but there are also quite a few surprises in the list. So, without further ado, read on for a comprehensive list of the 40 biggest hits at the box office that were also more than a little unsuitable for younger audiences…
40. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) $389m
From acclaimed director Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street tells the true story of notorious City trader Jordan Belfort. Played brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio, the movie doesn’t go light on the gratuity of Belfort’s expensive, morally questionable and decadent high jinks – hence the more-than-justified R-rating. It’s captivating viewing, but definitely not one for all the family.
39. Prometheus (2012) $402m
Prometheus is a 2012 sci-fi drama with an all-star cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba and Charlize Theron share screen time in the Ridley Scott-helmed epic. As the interstellar team search out the origins of humanity they stumble across some dark forces and things get violent. It’s gripping and terrifying in equal measure, hence the R certificate.
38. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) $404m
The Kingsman movies have really refreshed the spy genre – a modern update on James Bond, if you will. Starring Colin Firth, Taron Egerton and Samuel L. Jackson, among many other big names, this first movie in the series sets the trend with stylish fight scenes reminiscent of The Matrix, combined with modern technology and killer lines delivered by the all-star cast. It’s a fun watch, but perhaps a little too violent for younger viewers, which is why the censors classified it ‘R’.
37. Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) $408m
The second movie in the Kingman series, the sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service took almost identical earnings at the box office. Unsurprising, really, as it contained very much the same cinematic alchemy as the first movie, with director Matthew Vaughan adding some transatlantic banter to this particular story. Once again, it’s pure entertainment but with slightly adult themes.
36. The Bodyguard (1992) $410m
The Bodyguard is probably as famous for the song it spawned – Whitney Houston’s mega-hit “I Will Always Love You” – as anything else. Starring Houston and Kevin Costner, it tells the story of a singer falling for – you’ve guessed it – the muscle hired to protect her from a sinister stalker. It’s not a violent movie, but the stalking aspect, along with some choice language, justifies that R-rating in what was a 1992 smash.
35. Rain Man (1988) $412m
Barry Levinson’s Rain Man is a poignant tale of brothers who couldn’t be more different. Tom Cruise is the selfish younger sibling who at first doesn’t know what to do with his autistic yet mathematically gifted older brother Raymond, played so powerfully by Dustin Hoffman. It’s an incredible journey for the two men and the audience alike, with strong language meaning an R-rating from the censors.
34. Sex and the City (2008) $415m
The popular TV series starring Sarah Jessica Parker was finally made into a movie in 2008. And as the title would suggest, some of the content was considered a little ‘adult’ for general release. That said, those who have seen the movie would attest to it not being anywhere near as steamy as some of the TV episodes were. Still more than enough for an ‘R’ rating, though.
33. Bad Boys For Life (2020) $424m
The Bad Boys series of films, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as a pair of slick cops, have proven to be widely popular pieces of cinema down the years. There are some first-rate comedy elements to the films as Smith and Lawrence bicker like an old married couple. But this reboot included enough adult themes to be firmly classified ‘R’, so it’s not one for a Sunday family movie night.
32. The Matrix Revolutions (2003) $427m
The Matrix Revolutions is the third film in the iconic trilogy written and directed by the Wachowskis. Starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and Lawrence Fishburne, the series of movies set a new standard in cinema with a transcendental plot accompanied with gothic costumes and sets as well as some of the most cutting-edge cinematography ever seen. Some pretty memorable, although graphic, fight scenes ensured this movie was fittingly rated ‘R’ by the censors.
31. The Exorcist (1973) $428m
Widely and culturally acknowledged as one of the scariest movies of all time, no one could ever possibly doubt the R-rated nature of The Exorcist. Dealing in the demonic possession of a young child, it’s not hard to see why this 1973 classic continues to scare the living daylights out of audiences to this day. Whichever way you look at it, this is a movie that well and truly deserves a place on this list.
30. The King’s Speech (2010) $430m
This Oscar-winning movie sees Colin Firth play British King George VI, who just so happened to have a debilitating stammer. That was bad enough when he was born a prince, but it becomes a matter of national significance once he is elevated to the position of King after his brother’s abdication. It’s a fine story with memorable performances by Firth and Geoffrey Rush as the monarch’s speech therapist. Some rather fruity royal language does for the R-rating, though.
29. A Star is Born (2018) $432m
It’s not often a movie is remade three times, but that is exactly what happened with A Star is Born. The 1937, 1956 and 1976 versions may have been a little more family friendly due to the respective eras, but the 2018 remake was not quite so appropriate. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga star in a tale of fame and addiction, with some of Cooper’s scenes harrowing enough to justify that R-rating.
28. Pretty Woman (1990) $432m
Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, was released in 1990 and is now regarded as one of the best-loved romantic films of all time. Not obviously R-rated in comparison to many of the movies on this list, it’s easy to forget Roberts’ character’s profession in the film: she is a call girl. An R-rated job like that means an R-rated certificate for this classic picture.
27. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) £433m
For anyone who has seen one of the Terminator series of films, the ‘R’ rating will come as no surprise. Scenes of graphic violence are seen throughout as humans and machines battle it out across the ages. In this particular installment – much like the incredibly popular Terminator 2: Judgement Day – Arnold Schwarzenegger arrives from the future to protect John Connor from a robot assassin. It’s a fun watch, but not one for the youngsters.
26. Django Unchained (2012) $449m
Django Unchained is a movie about a slave who becomes free. He then immediately seeks to rescue his wife – also a slave – who is under the yoke of a cruel owner, played menacingly by Leonardo DiCaprio. This is vintage Quentin Tarantino, meaning that elements of black comedy and witty dialogue are interspersed with the type of violent scenes that have grown adults hiding their eyes behind their fingers.
25. 300 (2007) $454m
The film 300 retells the legendary Greek battle of Thermopylae at which a mere 300 warriors, led by Spartan King Leonidas, took on the might of the invading Persian army. The movie sticks close to historical events and a graphic novel of the same story. But the style of cinematography does nothing to dampen the lurid violence which puts this picture firmly in the R-rated category.
24. The Last Samurai (2003) $456m
Tom Cruise stars in director Edward Zwick’s 2002 picture The Last Samurai. An American who is originally hired to help crush the Samurai, Cruise’s character quickly swaps sides and learns the ways of the ancient Japanese culture. Plenty of bloody battle scenes ensure an R-rating for this sweeping historical epic.
23. Lucy (2014) $457m
Scarlett Johansson stars as Lucy, a woman who gets caught up with the wrong people and finds herself held captive. Operating as a drug mule, Lucy accidentally ingests the new drug they are pushing, and that’s where the cinematic fun starts as the heroine finds her full potential unlocked in this action-packed revenge thriller that sees the ever-climbing body count lead to a more-than-necessary ‘R’ rating from the sensors.
22. Gladiator (2000) $457m
Ridley Scott’s 1999 saga Gladiator charts the fall and rise of Maximus, first a general in the Roman army, and then a slave. Russell Crowe’s iconic character then works his way up to become a fearsome gladiator who fights in front of the emperor in the Colosseum. Some of the battle scenes are breathtaking, yet gruesome, resulting in a predictable appearance on this list for an epic Oscar-winning movie.
21. The Matrix (1999) $465m
The Matrix, the original movie of the cult series of films created by the Wachowskis, was a cinematic sensation. Using effects and cinematography rarely seen before to create unique fight sequences that have been often aped but probably never bettered, the film remains a classic to this day. It’s those powerful fight scenes which prompt the R rating too.
20. The Hangover (2009) $465m
Adult themes aplenty in Todd Phillips’ surprise box-office smash The Hangover. When four friends embark on a bachelor party evening in Las Vegas, things get a little crazy. Cue mischief involving a hooker, a baby, a tiger and Mike Tyson, and you’ve got yourself one helluva night out, plus an R-rated classic.
19. It: Chapter 2 (2019) $469m
If you have an irrational fear of clowns, it could well be because you read Stephen King’s horrifying novel It back in the day. Or you may have watched the television series starring the terrifying Pennywise – a serial killer clown (not a clown that kills serial killers). In this sequel to the original story, Pennywise is back, which means more gore, more screams, and more hiding behind the sofa.
18. Troy (2004) $483m
Epic Troy tells the story of Greek king Agamemnon’s journey to the ancient land of the same name to reclaim his wife Helen, stolen away by the Trojan prince Paris. The movie subsequently depicts the legendary events of that war, with all the blood and gore you can imagine required, and perhaps then some. A classic story combined with an all-star cast meant box-office success for this eye-wateringly expensive production.
17. Les Intouchables (2012) $484m
The only French inclusion on this list, Les Intouchables, or Untouchable in English, tells the true tale of an aristocrat who suffers horrific injuries when he crashes while paragliding. Unable to care for himself, the man hires help in the shape of Driss, a young man from a less-than-salubrious neighborhood. This is a heartwarming tale that has much to say about the nature of snobbery, prejudice and the human condition. It’s also funny too. The ‘R’ rating is mostly due to the language used.
16. Saving Private Ryan (1998) $485m
“War is hell.” So said General Sherman, and Saving Private Ryan takes you right there. From the beaches of Normandy and beyond, this movie tells the story of Tom Hanks and his company searching for one Private Ryan. Barely has war seemed more real on screen in what is at times a frightening but always riveting journey through war-ravaged France during the carnage of World War II.
15. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) $515m
One of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most famous movies – and that’s saying something – Terminator 2: Judgement Day far outstripped the success of its predecessor. With high-octane action scenes of a distinctly violent nature, this wasn’t a movie suitable for all the family. But that fact didn’t stop it becoming the highest-grossing movie of 1991, banking nearly $202m at the box-office in that year alone.
14. Mei Ren Yu (2016) $525m
Mei Ren Yu, known in English as The Mermaid, tells the story of a – you’ve guessed it – mermaid. But this is no Splash, with a shy creature falling in love with a human. Yes, there is a love story element, but this mermaid is also an assassin in what is a story of ecological destruction. It may be R-rated, but the film also sits in sixth position in the highest-grossing Chinese movies of all time.
13. The Revenant (2015) $532m
Have you ever wondered what it would like to be mauled by a bear? Well, now you don’t have to because you can just sit back and watch Leonardi DiCaprio getting ripped to shreds in a scene that it feels like you’re inhabiting yourself. It’s incredible filmmaking, and more than justifies this movie’s place on our countdown.
12. Tang Ren Jie Tan An 2 (2018) $544m
This Chinese sensation, known in English as Detective Chinatown 2, was a follow-up to the successful Detective Chinatown, or Tang Ren Jie Tan An in its original language. This action comedy film is essentially a classic buddy movie, with Qin and Tang joining forces for a mission in New York City’s Chinatown district. There’s a little bit of profanity, ensuring that R-rating, but that didn’t stop the movie becoming a sensation – it is the fifth-highest-grossing Chinese movie of all time.
11. American Sniper (2014) $547m
American Sniper is a tale inspired by the experiences of actual U.S. Navy SEAL and expert sniper Chris Kyle – played with such distinction by Bradley Cooper. The film is yet another example in a catalogue of memorable movies that deal so delicately with the problems faced by military servicemen and women who struggle after experiencing the ravages of war. Adult themes aplenty in this emotional drama.
10. Ted (2012) $556m
How, I hear you ask, can a movie detailing the adventures of a man and his teddy bear best friend possibly justify an R certificate? Well, watch five minutes of Mark Wahlberg and his furry best friend voiced by Seth MacFarlane and you might just re-evaluate the sorts of things of which your childhood companion is capable. This is one hilarious – and obscene – movie.
9. Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) $570m
E. L. James’ erotic novel became an international bestseller when it was released in 2011. Once it was announced that the book was to become a movie, it pretty much guaranteed a top-ten entry on this list. Reviews may have been mixed, but there’s enough adult content here to achieve several R-rated certificates.
8. The Hangover Part II (2011) $586m
Much like the first installment of Todd Philips’ classic trilogy, The Hangover Part II is high on gross-out comedy of an X-rated nature. This time the ‘wolf pack’ are in Thailand for a wedding. Of course, everything goes awry, and this time the boys have a monkey, a detached finger and a face tattoo with which to contend.
7. Logan (2017) $614m
The 2017 smash Logan is a Marvel Cinematic Universe tale starring Hugh Jackman once again as X-men legend Wolverine. This time set in a future when mutant superheroes are a little thin on the ground, Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine, must spring into action to save a junior mutant. Loads of violent fight scenes and a little bit of naughty language take care of that ‘R’ rating.
6. The Passion of the Christ (2004) $622m
This biblical epic from director Mel Gibson stirred up its fair share of controversy upon its release. The main talking point was the graphic depiction of Jesus’ fate at the crucifixion. Gibson didn’t want to dress it up, and the film holds no punches. Movie critic Roger Ebert called it “the most violent movie I have ever seen”. The picture was still nominated for three Academy Awards, though.
5. It (2017) $701m
If a movie is based on a Stephen King horror novel, then it just has to be R-rated. If that movie involves a clown reappearing from a sewer and proceeding to eat kids, then that ‘R’ rating is well and truly justified. This story sees the master of the macabre at his skin-crawling best and saw the big-screen debut of one of the most enduring characters of all time in the shape of circus-attired Pennywise.
4. The Matrix Reloaded (2003) $738m
The Matrix trilogy of movies from the Wachowski sisters must go down as among the most cutting-edge pictures ever produced in Hollywood. As well as incredibly stylized cinematography, the movies ask philosophical questions about the nature of human existence. The second movie in the franchise may not, as far as the critics are concerned at least, have hit the heights of the first, but its box-office takings and portrayal of violence cements its position on this list.
3. Deadpool (2016) $784m
Deadpool is a superhero-style movie with a dark and humorous edge that proved to be immensely popular with audiences. So much so, in fact, that it currently sits near the top of the pile in terms of R-rated movies that have taken the most money at the box office. Watch Wade Wilson hand out beatings to all-comers in this entertaining movie that is just a little heavy on the fight scenes, expletives and sexual references for younger audiences.
2. Deadpool 2 (2018) $786m
And then there was Deadpool 2. More of the same in terms of Wade Wilson using weapons to ward off enemies. This time the plot centers around Russell, a mutant orphan who needs protection from a time-traveling baddie by the name of Cable. Those weapons and a fair amount of gore join the humor in this well-received R-rated sequel starring Ryan Reynolds as the eponymous character.
1. Joker (2019) $1,072m
And so, here it is, the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. It’s no surprise that it’s a film based on a comic book character, although the sinister edge offered by Joaquin Phoenix to the famous Batman villain the Joker must go down as one of the all-time classic Hollywood portrayals. Dark in the extreme, but brilliant. A richly deserved place at the top of the pile for this Todd Phillips-directed movie. And to be honest, it’s not even close with those takings!