The mass-marketing machine that turns otherwise mediocre movies into household names is truly a magnificent beast. Without it, stars like Eddie Murphy, Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence would likely have had far less success than they did in the last two decades. But the saving grace for all of these actors has been that they have primarily made family-friendly films, complete with all of the necessary ingredients: people falling off of ladders, animals biting genitalia and grown men comically sullying their seemingly simple relationships – all with "PG" ratings hovering over their heads.

In Pictures: Celebrities With Big Dreams That Paid Off

For certain, a G (General Audiences), PG (Parental Guidance Suggested) or PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) rating can do wonders in turning slapstick humor into box office gold. But does this calculation work in the opposite direction? Will a rating of R (Restricted) or NC-17 (Under 17 Not Permitted) negatively affect a movie's box office income?

"MacGruber" (2010)
(Rating: R for strong, crude and sexual content, violence, language and nudity)

About a month ago, the "MacGruber" theme song would have been rolling though your head at one point during the day, whether you liked it or not. The media blitz that accompanied the Saturday Night Live-based farce of the '80s TV show "MacGyver" was phenomenal. Cast members made appearances, often in character, on all of the major media outlets. They hosted a Q&A panel at South by Southwest (SXSW), appeared on Independent Film Channel (IFC) and even during the Super Bowl in a Pepsi (NYSE:PEP) ad. "MacGruber" even "blew up" a WWE superstar on "Monday Night Raw".

With all of the buzz, "MacGruber" was set to be the first big SNL hit movie since Wayne and Garth hit the screen in "Wayne's World" (1992), which happens to be the highest-earning SNL-based film to date and grossed $183.1 million in theaters.

So it was even more of a surprise when "MacGruber" brought in only $1.5 million on its opening night - $4 million throughout its opening weekend. This is a far cry from its $10 million budget, and desperately below what the hype would have you estimate. (Sometimes hype pays off. Find out more in Money-Making Movies With Terrible Reviews.)

"Kick-Ass" (2010)
(Rating: R for strong brutal violence throughout, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity and drug use - some involving children)

Any movie about a group of tween- to teenage non-superheroes starring Nicholas Cage and Christopher Mintz-Plasse should be expected to draw some box office attention. But this film, which featured enough underage swearing to make Art Linkletter burn his archives, far exceeded expectations (and its $28 million budget).

According to, the film brought in $95,364,424 worldwide, which, for an action-comedy movie where the buzz was largely critical and focused on adult-on-child violence, is pretty impressive.

"Zach & Miri Make a Porno" (2008)
(Rating: R*)

Initially, "Zach & Miri Make a Porno" was rated NC-17 for its graphic sexuality and nudity. Director Kevin Smith successfully appealed the rating to the Motion Picture Association of America. He argued that sex should be no more harshly critiqued than violence, and an NC-17 rating would ruin any chances of his baby becoming a hit. Smith noted the movie "Hostel", which was rated R and featured numerous extremely graphic scenes of violence.

After the rating was overturned and the movie released, "Zach & Miri Make a Porno" went on to earn $42,015,263 worldwide. While this was technically profitable, considering the $24 million budget, Smith has stated that the earnings were a disappointment, and he'd hoped this to be his first Judd Apatow-esque hit. Even the star power of Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks couldn't drive this one to mass success – but when you're going up against the multi-layered storytelling genius that is "High School Musical 3", what can you expect? (If you adjust movies' box office income throughout history, the top sellers are surprising. Find out more in The Actual Top Grossing U.S. Movies.)

Comedy and Misery
Comedies generally bring in lower box office returns than other, broader movies do. And usually, PG-13 movies (like "Avatar", "Titanic" and "The Dark Night") are the highest earners – "Avatar" being the highest historically, with $749,434,950 domestically and $2.73 billion worldwide. Even the highest-earning of R movies, "The Passion of the Christ", topped out at $611,899,420, and the top-earning NC-17 movie ("Showgirls") peaked at $20,350,754. There's no word as to whether that number accounts for the tons of soap viewers used on their eyes afterward. (Learn more about how genre can affect box office sales in Movie Genres That Make The Most Money.)

Closing Credits
It's no surprise that writer/directors like Kevin Smith fight for the more widely-approved ratings for their works. Not only do G- or PG-13-rated movies broaden viewer base, but they are also more widely accepted by a greater number of multiplexes and movie theaters. With the huge differences in earnings, to which ratings are most likely a contributing factor, a more accessible rating can certainly make a movie more financially (even if not artistically) beneficial.

Catch up on the latest financial news, read Water Cooler Finance: Billion Dollar Summits and Barack Vs. BP.

Related Articles
  1. Retirement

    Why Some Celebs Say 'No Inheritance for My Kids'

    To some of the super rich, inherited wealth is not the ultimate gift, it's a burden. Here's how their children—as well as charities—stand to benefit.
  2. Investing

    Kevin O'Leary Biography

    Kevin O'Leary is a television personality, businessman and investor from Canada. A brash public personality with a net worth of roughly $300 million, he is considered to be the Canada’s answer ...
  3. Entrepreneurship

    7 Top-Earning Child Stars

    These seven top-earning child stars earned millions through different parts of the entertainment industry, including television, film and music.
  4. Entrepreneurship

    8 Top-Earning Country Singers

    These eight country singers have built careers singing about men and women who’ve done them wrong, and they’ve shared their heartache to the tune of millions of dollars.
  5. Personal Finance

    5 Tips for Vintage Car Collecting

    Old autos. There’s just something about all that shiny metal that captivates our attention.
  6. Personal Finance

    6 Tips for Investing in Antiques

    Historically, antiques are highly appreciating assets, but be prepared for a long-term investment.
  7. Investing News

    How 'Honesty' Could Pay off for Jessica Alba

    Is it possible that Jessica Alba is one of the savviest businesswomen on the planet?
  8. Investing News

    Famous Celebrities Who Love Investing

    Celebrities have a bit of a bad reputation these days. These five celebrities, though, have used their fame and their money to invest successfully instead of spending it on looking good.
  9. Professionals

    The Top 5 Richest Restaurateurs

    The top five richest restaurateurs have proven that it is possible to not only turn a profit in the restaurant business but to become multi-millionaires!
  10. Professionals

    The Top Six Richest Supermodels

    Through excellent investing, brand management and high earnings, these six supermodels have cultivated multi-million dollar net worths.

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Zero-Sum Game

    A situation in which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss, so that the net change in wealth or benefit is zero. ...
  2. Capitalization Rate

    The rate of return on a real estate investment property based on the income that the property is expected to generate.
  3. Gross Profit

    A company's total revenue (equivalent to total sales) minus the cost of goods sold. Gross profit is the profit a company ...
  4. Revenue

    The amount of money that a company actually receives during a specific period, including discounts and deductions for returned ...
  5. Normal Profit

    An economic condition occurring when the difference between a firm’s total revenue and total cost is equal to zero.
  6. Operating Cost

    Expenses associated with the maintenance and administration of a business on a day-to-day basis.
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!