Recently, Collider got to help celebrate the 15th anniversary of Constantine by hosting a Comic-Con@Home panel with star Keanu Reeves, director Francis Lawrence, and producer Akiva Goldsman. During the hour-long discussion, a number of different topics about the occult horror comic book film were discussed, including how it managed to receive an R rating despite not really featuring the kind of gore, nudity, and language that usually provokes one.
Lawrence revealed that the production had deliberately set out to make Constantine a PG-13 movie from the very beginning, and were surprised to learn they’d been given an R. He then went on to explain the MPAA’s reasoning behind their decision, which was, for lack of a better word, very dumb.
“Warners… dictated that it had to be PG-13 because of what it cost. And we actually got this sort of list of guidelines of what you can do and what you can’t do in a PG-13 movie. And we followed those rules to a T. The amount of times you can say ‘fuck’, the kinds of nudity, the blood, the violence, all of those things. And we screened it for the MPAA, and I remember hearing that they got about five minutes in and put their notepads down and said that we got a hard R for ‘tone.’ And so this is not something that’s on the list.”
Constantine is admittedly an extremely dark film with several intense sequences, but getting a hard R rating for “tone” is pretty specious. That said, the specific note the filmmakers were given about the content is one for the ages.
“…I think it was ‘an overwhelming sense of dread’ was what I heard that they had from the opening scene onward. And they didn’t think there was anything that we could do about it. Basically what we had was a PG-13 movie that got an R rating. Which just killed me, because it’s like if we were gonna get an R rating, I would’ve made an R-rated movie. We could’ve really gone for it in terms of intensity and violence and language and all those kinds of things. We got a bit screwed on that front. And we did try to fight, but we obviously didn’t win that battle.”
Overwhelming senses of dread aside, Goldsman elaborated on what he felt was a major part of the reason why Constantine got saddled with an unjust rating.
“There’s kind of a weird subset of religious horror, and that seems to get an R much more quickly… We have a lot of demons. Demons seem for some reason to trigger an R rating. There you have it. I’ve now given every prospective filmmaker the key to getting an R rating. Just have demons. You’re welcome.”
You can watch the clip in the player below, and you can check out the panel in its entirety here.