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Category: 300 News
Article Date: April 1, 2007 | Publication: Edmonton Sun | Author: Kevin Williamson

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Hollywood to take more ratings risks on sex and violence in the U.S. in the wake of 300's massive commercial success

300, a movie so blood-spattered they should pass out rain slickers at the multiplex, has now speared and stabbed its way to more than $160 million US.

That's roughly $1.25 for each severed head.

So with the film, based on Frank Miller's graphic novel, projected to top the $200-million mark, it's no surprise its impact on Hollywood promises to be as seismic as its box-office strength.

Among developments in the post-300 world? Gerard Butler, for one, now has a career to accompany his eight-pack. (And not just anyone's career -- Kurt Russell's career; Butler will strap on Snake Plissken's eyepatch in a remake of Escape from New York.) And one can only imagine the hordes of gladiator epics currently being dusted off for imminent production.

But the most significant shakeup may come in terms of the influence 300's beefcake-and-boob-emboldened bloodbath exacts on future cinematic content.

300 wasn't merely remarkable for its $70-million bow in the box-office graveyard of March, but that it was rated R in the U.S. -- a rating nearly as undesirable as Tara Reid's career. Why? Simple economics. More Americans can get into a PG-13 movie -- why not make just PG-13 movies? (See story below for ratings differences between Canada and the U.S.)

Even such formerly R-friendly genres as horror have, in recent years, succumbed to reducing the sex and scare quotient to secure a PG-13.

Many credited the massive success of The Sixth Sense, for example, to its PG-13 rating. A few years later, when The Ring came out, it was edited specifically to slip under the PG-13 banner.

But not every such tampering results in a hit. Sometimes it culminates in real-life horror. Director Wes Craven blamed the failure of Cursed on the studio's insistence the werewolf thriller be PG-13 rated. (Among the items reportedly lost in the editing process was a Christina Ricci nude scene.)

One veteran producer welcoming 300's success is Canadian Michael Pierce, who has clashed with the U.S. ratings board over the on-screen sex in his films The Cooler and Running Scared.

He says the kind of victory 300 is enjoying can't help but inspire studios to "take more chances."

In the case of The Cooler, the Hollywood-sponsored ratings board insisted a shot of Maria Bello's pubic hair be shaved. Similarly, the sexual content in the overtly-violent Running Scared became an issue.

"They didn't have as much a problem with violence as sex. They're puritanical about sex."

In Canada, of course, provincial ratings boards apply their own standards to U.S. films. But if edgier content is being produced in Hollywood, it will undoubtedly be seen here, regardless of its rating. Pierce, though, hopes for more than just an increase in gore and nudity -- but for more mature movies not targeted to teenagers.

"When everything is watered down, it makes it predictable for older audiences. The movies are kind of boring."

Even in recent memory, this hasn't always been the case. Such blockbusters as Terminator 2 and The Matrix succeeded despite their restrictive rating.

And decades earlier, Midnight Cowboy received multiple Oscar nominations despite being rated not R, but X. (By 1990, the X would be replaced by the equally commercially prohibitive NC-17.)

But for the moment, R appears to have some momentum thanks not only to 300, but such racier comedies as Wedding Crashers and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. 300 director Zack Snyder's next movie is Watchmen, based on the seminal Alan Moore graphic novel -- and he has pledged to make it Hollywood's first R-rated comic book movie. Even Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan, who has cannily made all his films PG-13 friendly, will purportedly amp up the blood and scares for next summer's The Happening.

Says Pierce, "I couldn't be happier if 300 is kicking ass."


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