Glass Should be the Template for How Disney Handles Mature Superhero Movies

By Tom Pritchard on at

Last week saw Glass, the sequel to both Unbreakable and Split, hit cinemas. Like many releases it's a superhero film, but unlike most of them it's not the kind of thing you'd want to take your kids to. That's not surprising, considering the fact it features James McAvoy playing a cannibalistic serial killer with 14 different personalities running around his head. The surprising thing is that Disney, the company famous for trying to maintain a clean family-friendly image, is one of the many parties involved with the film.

There are zero spoilers for Glass in this article

That's right, Glass is a Disney film. Sort of. The subject is a bit complex, so let me explain.

Unbreakable, released back in 2000, was produced by Disney-owned Touchstone and distributed by Buena Vista. Split, meanwhile, was distributed by Universal. This means each studio has certain rights to the previous films and characters introduced within, and would have to collaborate for Glass to come into existence. Reports claim this came about thanks to writer/director M Night Shyamalan, who managed to negotiate with Disney in order to have Bruce Willis cameo as Unbreakable's David Dunn at the end of Split - with Disney granting permission on the condition that it be involved in a hypothetical Split sequel.

Bruce Willis, in a large hooded coat, hanging out in an abandoned warehouse with cheerleaders doesn't exactly scream 'Disney'

Glass was reportedly funded by Shyamalan himself, with Universal and Disney splitting the distribution rights. Universal gets the ever-lucrative US market, while Disney-owned Buena Vista is distributing the film in international markets. According to the end credits, authorship rights to the film belong to Universal and Disney, meaning there's no doubt this is a Disney movie - despite the fact that there's no recognisable Disney branding anywhere to be seen.

Over in the States Glass was granted a PG-13 rating, like Once Upon a Deadpool, because it's way more toned down than it could have been. Graphic violence is kept off camera, bloody scenes are kept to a minimum, and like Venom the only bad language in the whole film is when James McAvoy calls Bruce Willis a 'pussy'. I use those two films for comparison because, like Glass, they all got the higher 15 rating in the UK. PG-13 is roughly equivalent to a 12A, but the obviously the BBFC isn't so easily swayed by keeping the graphic stuff off camera. In fact, all three films are noted as being violent in the board's rating notes, despite the fact it's not as graphic as, say, Deadpool or The Passion of the Christ.

I bring this up because one could argue that the PG-13 rating means Disney isn't going full adult-audience with Glass. But, at the same time, this isn't the same kind of PG-13 rating you'd get with the standard Disney affair - including Marvel and Star Wars movies.

Obviously this handsome specimen will never have his own show on the Disney Channel

It's understandable why Disney might forgo its instantly recognisable branding, given the fact Glass is this kind of film. The idea of the 'Disney movie' conjures up images of cartoons, and the kind of films you can take a small child to without worrying about them being traumatised. Glass is not one of those movies. It's violent, quite disturbing at points, and has a main character who literally eats people - often teenage girls. It's the exact opposite of the kind of film Disney wants to be known for. The problem is Disney's portfolio is huge, and is set to become even bigger when the Fox takeover is finalised.

It's a portfolio that includes a lot of mature content, including superheroes, that will go to waste if Disney sticks to its guns about keeping things kid-friendly. But there's plenty of opportunity to utilise those franchises using a similar template Glass.

I imagine Disney's worst nightmare is to attach its name to something and find that parents take that to mean something is kid-friendly - despite any number of warnings that may be in place. Much like how there were countless unofficial warnings for parents not to take their kids to see Deadpool out of fear that they'd see he was a funny comic character and assume the R rating was a mistake. That same sort of thing happened with Ted to a lesser extent, lest some hypothetical dumb parents make an incorrect assumption because the main character is a teddy bear. As we've seen many times in the past you only need one idiot to kick off a PR nightmare for some big company.

The face you make when you remember the studio won't let you call someone a "motherfucker".

But there hasn't been that same reaction to Glass, and that can partly be attributed to the lack of Disney branding. Of course there's nothing about the film that screams 'appealing to children' in the eyes of those same hypothetical idiot parents.

But, despite Disney's involvement, there's been no controversy. What's more, despite plenty of bashing by critics, Glass is on track to make quite a lot of money. After a single weekend it's been estimated that Glass has made $89.1 million (on a $20 million budget), $48.5 million of which came in via Disney/Buena Vista. That's not Avengers money by any means, but it is money, and there's no reason why it couldn't also apply to a film starring X-Force, Deadpool, one of the Netflix Defenders, or even a character/franchise that's new and original.

Disney may not want to be associated with mature content, but that doesn't mean it can't profit from them, and it's certainly no excuse to either ignore or water down viable adult-centric franchises. Keep the Disney logos as far away as feasibly possible, and maybe do the same with the Marvel branding to be safe. As for TV franchises? Well, just stick that stuff on Hulu and be done with it.

I also quite enjoyed Glass, if anyone cares.