Batman v Superman's theatrical cut received a PG-13 rating for "intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality." Entertainment Weekly's sources pointed out then that Warner Bros. was seeking the widest possible audience during its theatrical run, resulting in the tamed PG-13 rating.
However, an ultimate edition of Dawn of Justice was eventually released, and it was R-rated due to "sequences of violence." This version of the sequel was longer and it includes expanded storylines for some of its minor characters.
Zack Snyder Reflects on Batman v Superman's Original R-Rating
During the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice panel at SnyderCon, director Zack Snyder talked about why the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) initially gave the DCEU sequel an R-rating.
Dawn of Justice VFX supervisor John Des Jardin opened the topic of why the sequel was still getting an R-rating even though they have adjusted some scenes in the movie, ultimately revealing that the reason behind it was MPAA's note about Batman being "too mean to Superman" in the movie:
“Remember when you kept coming back to me, saying… ' The MPAA wants us to take… remember, we couldn’t do the blood splat on the wall for the crate? … But we kept taking all those things out, and it was still getting an R-rating. And then you got that note from them: ‘Well, we just think that Batman’s too mean to Superman.’ And we were like, ’Can you really comment on that?’”
Snyder then reflected on the MPAA's reasoning about giving an R-rating to Dawn of Justice, noting that he didn't think "that was in [their] domain to just not like the idea of [Superman and Batman] fighting:"
“Yeah, I didn’t think that was in your domain to just not like the idea of them fighting and so now it’s R… They were just like, ‘We think it’s rude that they’re fighting.’ And I was like, ‘I’m sorry, it’s in the title…’ ‘Yeah, this is an NC-17. This is an X.’ Yeah, ‘Is there any way you can cut them fighting? How about they just team up and like each other?’ How about that? … Maybe, they like argue at the first act, but then they shake hands, and then like they fight the bad guy together.' I go, ‘Well, they kind of fight the bad guy together at the end. Didn’t you see that?’ And there’ll like, ’Ah, well, there’s a lot of fighting before that.”
Interestingly, in Dawn of Justice's Ultimate Edition, there was a scene featuring a prisoner murdering another inmate inside a prison, and this could've contributed to the sequel's R-rating despite the MPAA's comments about Batman and Superman's clash in the movie.
Did Batman v Superman Deserve Its Initial R-Rating?
It is unknown why the MPAA used Batman and Superman's clash in Dawn of Justice as one of the reasons to give the film an R-rating then. It remains to be seen if the MPAA only wanted a good laugh then or if they are messing with Zack Snyder and his team.
Some would argue that it is somehow dumb to use that as an excuse while others (if using the prison sequence as an example) would agree that the R-rating would've been appropriate.
Still, Warner Bros.' decision to expand the theatrical reach of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice by cementing its PG-13 rating was definitely a business move for the studio.
The DCEU sequel eventually earned a respectable amount at the box office ($872.7 million), indicating that the PG-13 rating helped in ramping up the numbers during its theatrical run.
Despite the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, Snyder managed to still showcase the sequel's R-rated version when the Ultimate Edition arrived, which serves as good news for SnyderVerse diehards and for those casual fans who simply want to watch an extended look at its theatrical cut.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is streaming on HBO Max.