The modern film rating system in the United States was established in 1968, when the Motion Picture Association of America devised the ratings of G, M, R, and X – which would later evolve into G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17. As a result, this list excludes all movies made prior to 1968.
The correlation between a film’s rating and box office success is not entirely clear. In 2008, a Nielsen study found that 34% of all R-rated dramas and 17% of all R-rated comedies released between September 2005 and December 2007 would have performed better at the box office with a PG-13 rating. R-rated movies differ by a number of other factors that explain the difference in ticket sales, however.
A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Applied Economics and Finance found that R-rated films released from 2000 to 2014 with a box office revenue of at least $1 million were three times as likely to be a horror film than movies without an R-rating. These films were also 10 times less likely to be animated. While R-rated movies released over the period grossed an average of $36.8 million – compared to $70.0 million for films without an R-rating – the average budget for an R-rated film was roughly half that of movies without R-ratings.
Some of the most successful R-rated films made a bulk of their box office gross overseas. Six of the 50 most successful R-rated films – “The Last Samurai,” “Troy,” “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “The Bodyguard,” and “Schindler’s List” – earned more than 70% of their revenue in international markets. “The Last Samurai,” which is set in 19th century Japan and features a number of popular Japanese actors, grossed more than 75.7% of its total box office overseas.
Action films are also much more likely to perform well overseas and comprise more than half of the 50 most successful R-rated films. Excluding international ticket sales, more comedies and horror films are among the most successful R-rated films by domestic box office. Only one film on the list, “Blazing Saddles”, did not receive an international theatrical release.
To determine the most successful R-rated movies of all time, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the worldwide lifetime gross of all R-rated movies released in the United States with data from Box Office Mojo. Worldwide box office figures were adjusted for inflation using historical average annual ticket prices, also from Box Office Mojo. For films with multiple releases or non-consecutive foreign releases that take place in a later year than the film’s original release, box office figures were adjusted accordingly. Data on production budgets came from film industry research service The Numbers, Box Office Mojo, and other sources, and were adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The reason for a film’s R rating came from the Classification & Ratings Administration, a division of the Motion Picture Association. In cases where the MPAA’s reason for an R rating was unavailable – films released in theaters prior to 1992 – the suggested reasons for an R rating were used from parental guides on IMDb.