comScore

A Rumor Says Marvel’s Black Widow Movie Could Be Rated R for a Terrible Reason

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff

While it hasn’t been officially confirmed, the Black Widow solo movie appears to be moving ahead, with director Cate Shortland, screenwriter Jac Schaeffer, and star Scarlett Johansson. It’s not surprising that Black Widow could be poised to be Marvel Studios’ first R-rated superhero feature. But a rumored reason for why Black Widow will be the test case sets my teeth on edge.

Thematically, it makes sense that a movie focused on Natasha Romanoff would contain more adult content than previous movies. The MCU films are action-heavy by comic book nature—they hardly shy away from violence and showy battles. But Natasha’s hand-to-hand assassin training and tactics are less given to technicolor fight scenes, and it would fit if they are more brutally and realistically wrought. Her origin story is also considerably darker than many a Marvel screen hero to this point, though it’s unclear what time period we’ll be visiting yet.

It’s more than time for an R-rated MCU production. Movies like Deadpool and Logan show that superhero films can be “for grownups” in nature and still receive big box office receipts and critical acclaim.

As Comicbook points out in regards to the Black Widow rating rumor, however, the studio’s thinking here could be less than daringly experimental. Comicbook cites the Hollywood gossip blog Crazy Days & Nights, which ran the following “Blind Item Revealed” on Black Widow:

If the experiment goes horribly wrong they have a woman to blame for it which is what this studio wanted. The A/A- list mostly movie actress all of you know has a franchise installment that is going to stretch the boundaries of who watches the movies.

Scarlett Johansson/Black Widow first R rating for Marvel movie

“They have a woman to blame for it which is what the studio wanted”—in case, ostensibly, the R-rated experiment for Black Widow goes wrong and the film is poorly received—makes me want to throw my computer across the room. Black Widow will have a female screenwriter, a female director (Marvel’s first on a solo outing, after Captain Marvel was co-directed by Anna Boden), and will be only the second Marvel movie to have a female headlining a feature all her own. The idea that the studio is already looking ahead to potential failure, and would be keen to pin any such failings on the production being female-fronted, makes me hope that when I throw my computer across the room that it explodes and sets the world on fire.

Of course, this is only a rumor, and even if it’s true this could be the sentiment of some random exec and not Marvel Studios’ strategic thinking. But the fact of the matter is that the studio does not exactly have the greatest track record of championing female superheroes and creatives. It says something that I wouldn’t hesitate to believe this bit of gossip. D.C./Warner Bros. beat Marvel to the screens with Wonder Woman, and will be introducing a team of lady avengers first with Birds of Prey. Marvel made nineteen movies with male leads since Phase One kicked off with Iron Man in 2008 before The Wasp got co-billing on its 20th film in 2018.

If Captain Marvel underperforms in March, I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel pumped the breaks on this whole woman-focused “experiment” for, I don’t know, a decade. That seems to be the way Hollywood thinks, ascribing the failure of female-led movies to there being females involved rather than the fact that they made a bad movie (see: Catwoman, Elektra).

Needless to say, big movies starring big male movie stars don’t seem subject to the same thought process. When Thor: The Dark World wasn’t a stellar movie, no one at Marvel Studios was like, “Wow, we really need to stop making superhero movies with attractive men named Chris, it’s clearly not what the audience wants.” When Avengers: Age of Ultron made us scratch our heads and sigh in exasperation, Marvel’s response wasn’t “Hey, let’s scrap this whole Avengers initiative, no one likes it anymore.”

When a movie isn’t great, you need to course-correct, and in the case of Thor, changing directions and creative teams for the character got us the delightful Ragnarok. The Russos took over Avengers from Joss Whedon, and though I have my issues with Infinity War, it does balletic leaps around Age of Ultron.

Movies like LoganDeadpool, and especially Wonder Woman demonstrated that you can bend any previously established boundary as long as the movie is entertaining and worth watching. Studios should keep this in mind. Stop making crappy films with leaden, uninspired scripts and you can do anything.

(Comicbook.com, image: Marvel Studios)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.