5. Jurassic World (2015)
The ‘Jurassic Park’ franchise has always been a bit of an odd duck in this department. Michael Crichton’s novel certainly sits in sci-fi/horror territory, yet Steven Spielberg’s classic adaptation turned the source into a fun-for-all-ages spectacle – a roller-coaster adventure for the whole family that hinted at horror elements, but delivered more on tension and exciting set pieces than full-blown gore and disturbing content.
Well, Colin Trevorrow’s fourth entry certainly comes close in remedying that formula; “Jurassic World” is centered around a revamped park and the hybrid dinosaur that (per usual) escapes and wrecks violent havoc on the visitors. It’s a fun if familiar installment that gives us plenty to enjoy in the strongest the franchise has been since the premiere episode.
Yet for the first time in the series, the little ones should really stay away; the Dino massacres are surprisingly brutal with plenty of bloodletting and a vicious mean streak. The cherry on top, a disturbing sequence where an innocent female suffers a prolonged attack by pterodactyls before being swallowed whole by a water-dwelling sea beast… is pleasant stuff indeed, yet surprisingly PG-13.
4. World War Z (2013)
Brad Pitt’s production of Max Brooks’ seminal novel charting the zombie apocalypse was an enticing proposition. A globe-spanning zombie film with a gigantic budget had never been made before, but as it geared up for production, it started facing plenty of hurdles in a long and troubled journey to screens.
There were constant delays and reshoots (to the extent the entire last third was completely re-filmed), Pitt and director Marc Forster constantly butted heads, and most severely, the film’s costly budget forced it to cut its savage content to a PG-13 level.
Due to this final point, fans of the book and horror films in general wrote the thing off, and all eyes pointed to the film dying a horrible death at the box office. Yet surprisingly, just the opposite happened – it was a big hit.
Despite its awkward rating, the whole thing doesn’t pull its punches; if you wanted, grand-scale, world-charting undead action, “World War Z” brought the goods, with a surprisingly involving story at its center. Certainly, it would’ve benefited from a mature rating, but as is, the film isn’t hampered by it, as was predicted.
3. Red Dawn (1984)
Behold John Milius’ goofy NRA wet dream manifested into a lean feature plot – the USSR and its other sinister communist comrades invade America by air, land, and sea, and a group of 80’s teens hole up in the wilderness and fight to take back their town in this jingoistic action flick.
The whole thing is about as silly and implausible as it sounds, but Milius is able to build likeable characters and even discuss the dark side of combat and its effect on youth (even though he’s championing it simultaneously). Regardless of the surprising quality he gives it, it’s a guilty pleasure at best that won’t being going down in the history books.
Although it did – “Red Dawn” was the first film ever to be crowned with the PG-13 rating, and anyone familiar with Milius’ work will know he doesn’t peter out when it comes to violence. And while this film might be milder compared to its gloriously graphic brethren from that decade (e.g. “RoboCop”), there’s enough blood squids and ruthless battles to make one surprised at its choice of rating.
2. Beowulf (2007)
Whatever your take on Robert Zemeckis’ spontaneous sojourn into solely making motion-capture features throughout the 2000s, his adaptation of the ancient Norse fairy tale was definitely one that got everyone excited.
With its rich fantasy lore, a duo of exciting screenwriters in Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, and a fascinating cast with everyone from Anthony Hopkins to Crispin Glover involved, all eyes were on it to finally deliver the goods on all the game Zemeckis had been spouting about the Mo-Cap revolution.
Well, the film came and went with only adequate box office and lukewarm reviews, with the critics still put off by the dead-eyed computer effects. It’s a shame since “Beowulf” is a rare event film that doesn’t kowtow to its audience, and delivered an exciting spectacle along with dense thematics in a deliciously mature fairy tale. It surprisingly featured plenty of limb tearing, rampant sexuality, and brutal monster slaying that’s usually missing or watered down in Hollywood big-budget fantasy films.
Yet even more perplexing is that Zemeckis’ epic landed a PG-13 rating – one assumes that if it were live-action, it would’ve easily landed itself in the R ballpark. From the countless (and quite violent) DC animated films that land lenient ratings from the board as well, it can be assessed that they don’t put animated features under the same scrutiny as features featuring the real deal.
1. Drag Me To Hell (2009)
After breaking into the blockbuster big time with the (first) “Spider-Man” series, cult director Sam Raimi finally gave into his fans’ demands and returned to the genre that had served him so well in his early career – the splatter horror. What defines this genre? Crass humor, tense scares and, of course, plenty of gore flying all over the place.
With “Drag Me to Hell” he hit those notes to a tee, as a conflicted office worker (Alison Lohman) ends up cursed by a Eastern European gypsy, which leads to all sorts of horrific set pieces and situations as Raimi got back to his old and messy tricks and created a true delight for his longtime horror fans. But did you know it was rated PG-13?
Now the idea of a PG-13 horror film is hardly groundbreaking; in fact, in recent years, the genre has stayed afloat by targeting said teen audiences with split results, with either mediocre watered-down products or cracking good ones that emphasized tense frights over gore. Yet the ‘splatter’ genre has a pedigree that just can’t be avoided with a lesser rating and that’s, well – the splatter.
Somehow it did just that through creative thinking and ingenuity by using every other possible color for body fluid (green! black! purple?), without the infamous red appearing in large quantities. It resulted in an uncompromised scare flick for the director that you would be hard-pressed to know was a cut below an R.