clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Birds of Prey’s R rating gave Harley Quinn ‘freedom,’ director says

Margot Robbie fought for the rating from the beginning

Claudette Barius
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Suicide Squad introduced moviegoers to Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, a sadistic, bubblegum-popping fighter who fell hard for Jared Leto’s Joker. But this week’s new DC comic-book movie Birds of Prey finds Quinn on a quest of self-discovery after a bad break-up. Who is she really?

“I’m the one they should be scared of!” she proclaims, while holding one villain at gunpoint. “Not you, not Mr. J! Because I’m Harley Freaking Quinn!”

Turns out Harley Freaking Quinn is no less deadly than when she’s paired with the Clown Prince of Crime. She may even be a little more malicious. Birds of Prey takes her loony brand of violence to the next level, going full R with B-movie style.

“Margot had pitched it as an R-rated movie, and that was, I think, before she even knew about Deadpool,” director Cathy Yan told Polygon, noting the most obvious comparison to Birds of Prey’s gleeful bloodshed. “This was many, many, many years ago, and certainly before the success of Deadpool. She always wanted it that way, and we kind of leaned into it. I loved it.”

[Ed. note: the rest of this post contains mild spoilers for Birds of Prey.]

Yan and Robbie took full advantage of their R rating. Whereas Suicide Squad pit Harley, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and the other antiheroes against faceless monsters that could be easily gunned down or walloped with an oversized mallet, Birds of Prey drops Harley in the middle of a Gotham mob showdown. Blood splatters, limbs contort, and bodies explode — it’s a circus of Tarantino-esque perversion, laced with … colorful … language.

In one scene, mafioso Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) has his heavy Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) skin the face off the ringleader of another gang that wasn’t playing ball. Later, Harley uses a bat to shatter the bones of Sions’ men, sending their legs in directions that would make the girl from The Grudge squeal. Oh, and any time Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) pops up on-screen, expect a crossbow bolt to rip open the neck of an unsuspecting thug.

This was all part of the artistic initiative of the film, Yan says. “I think [the R rating] really allows us to show an unfiltered version of Harley Quinn. She gets to tell the jokes that she always wanted to tell, say the words that she wants to say, and she’s also someone that is very capable of violence. I think it allowed us all to make that world, make the Gotham that we’re used to, show the villains in all of their villainy, too. I think it was really something that gave us a lot of freedom as filmmakers.”