Disney Has Released More R-Rated Movies Than You’d Expect

The movie Stuber, released last Friday, tells the story of an Uber ride gone wrong when a police officer played by Dave Bautista commandeers an Uber driven by a panicky Kumail Nanjiani. It’s also the first R-rated movie released by Disney in quite some time. 

Stuber was originally made for 20th Century Fox, which Disney bought this year, opening the door for the company to put out more R-rated movies. The R-rating and Disney might seem to mix as well as oil and water, but it’s actually not at all uncommon. 

It’s important to understand the Disney company has or at one time had a number of different subsidiaries. Like the Marvel and Star Wars movies, they did not carry the Disney name, but they were still distributed by the company that Walt Disney himself started back in the 1920s.

When Disney became more adult

Disney logo
The logo of Disney | Alexander Pohl/NurPhoto

Once upon a time, it would have been astonishing for the Disney company to release anything other than a G-rated family movie, be it something animated like The Jungle Book from 1967 or a live-action comedy like The Cat from Outer Space.

After Walt Disney died in 1966, the company kept at that formula for a long time – maybe too long, because after a while, familiarity began to breed contempt. 

The company made news when it put out a couple of PG movies. The Black Hole, the company’s 1979 Star Wars cash-in, was the first of these, although even that had a kid-friendly robot.

The company’s first “adult” comedy, Midnight Madness, starring David Naughton and a then-unknown Michael J. Fox, was released the following year. An earlier PG-film, called Take Down, was independently produced but acquired and distributed by Disney. 

But by that point, the company was struggling financially — so much so that it looked like it was going to fall to a corporate takeover. The company that now takes over other companies was once almost taken over itself. 

In came Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, two former Paramount executives, who set about broadening the company’s output. 

Disney’s first R-rated movies

The company created the subsidiary Touchstone Pictures to release more mature fare. Its first release was the mermaid comedy Splash, with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah, and it was a big hit.

That paved the way for Down and Out in Beverly Hills, the studio’s first R-rated movie. That movie was about a family, including Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler, being torn asunder after they take in a homeless man played by Nick Nolte, and it was a hit too.

Disney also created another division called Hollywood Pictures, which also released R-rated movies  like Oliver Stone’s Nixon and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. The company also bought Miramax Films, well known for independent arthouse successes like The Piano and Pulp Fiction.

By the turn of the century, PG-13 films were so ubiquitous, that Walt Disney Pictures, which had been strictly G or PG, started releasing Pirates of the Caribbean movies with the PG-13 rating. Even animated films started being rated PG more often, including Lilo & Stitch and Incredibles 2.  

The R-rating makes a comeback at Disney

Eventually, as the studio bought Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm and began ruling the world with PG or PG-13 blockbusters, the company had moved away from R-rated fare. Before Stuber, the last Disney-distributed movie to receive an R-rating was The Fifth Estate, with Benedict Cumberbatch, and that was six years ago. 

With Fox now under the Disney umbrella, that’s how Disney will start distributing harder fare again.

According to Screen Rant, potential R-rated films coming up include the racing drama Ford v. Ferrari with Christian Bale and Matt Damon and the sci-fi dramas Ad Astra with Brad Pitt and Lucy in the Sky with Natalie Portman. 

There are also the continuations of R-rated Fox franchise films, including Kingsman and Deadpool