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Suicide Squad

R13: violence, horror and cruelty.

Spoiler alert

This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this movie.

Suicide Squad movie poster

Date registered: 12/09/2016

Why this film was classified

Suicide Squad was classified by the Classification Office following a complaint by a member of the public.

The complainant felt the unrestricted M rating was inappropriate considering the nature of the supernatural horror and violence in the film, noting that the film had been given a restricted 15 classification in the UK.

Questions that [children in the audience] loudly asked of each other...seemed to suggest that they didn't understand what they were seeing which, when it comes to the themes in the movie leaves me seriously worried for what they might have taken away from the experience, for example in respect of the abusive relationship between Mr J and Harley, or the situation of Diablo and his guilt over having killed his family. To name only two of the rather serious and complex matters raised in the movie.

Initial complaint about Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad was originally given an M rating through the cross-rating process - where a film that has been given an unrestricted rating in Australia is assigned the equivalent rating in New Zealand. This is standard practice for commercial films distributed in New Zealand, however the Classification Office has the authority to classify cross-rated films if there is uncertainty about the appropriateness of the rating. The M rating means anyone of any age can view the film, but that it is more suitable for mature audiences 16 and over.

Following examination by the Classification Office, the original rating - M 'violence and offensive language' - was changed to R13 'violence, horror and cruelty'.

Suicide Squad movie poster

About the film

Suicide Squad is a U.S. superhero action film based on the characters and stories of the DC Comics. Intelligence operative Amanda Waller assembles Task Force X, a dispensable team of imprisoned supervillains, to carry out a dangerous anti-terrorist mission in exchange for clemency.

A still image from the film of a number of Suicide Squad members holding weapons

Classification criteria: Sex

The character Harley Quinn is sexualised. Her character is constructed as girlishly sexy, unruly and provocative. On several occasions her body is the focus of view while she is ogled by men, for instance while dancing seductively at a nightclub and while changing her clothing. At the nightclub, the Joker's gangster friend congratulates him on having a 'bad bitch' for a girlfriend, while the Joker also remarks at his own arousal. At the Joker's prompting Harley offers herself to the friend, apparently with sexual intent. In prison, guards openly regard her with sexual intent. She speaks provocatively to them, "I'll sleep wherever, whenever and with whoever I want". Upon joining the squad her outfit consists of skimpy clothing and a jacket emblazoned with "Property of the Joker".

A still image from the film - Harley Quinn sitting on a car in the rain

Classification criteria: Horror

Horror is pervasive in the form of menacing characters and violence. Some of the more scary characters include Croc, a humanoid covered in scales and who speaks with a growling voice; the Joker, a creepy sociopath with a metal-studded grin; and Enchantress, who alternates in form between a feral woman and sinewy witch with glowing eyes and a threatening voice. Incubus is a gigantic mechanical demon who feeds on humans to gain strength, attacking them with long glowing tentacles.

A still image from the film - the character the Enchantress

Classification criteria: Crime

Crime is promoted to some degree as being justified in certain circumstances. The film lacks a clear moral framework to contextualise the high extent of criminal violence. The plot follows a group of criminals who are presented as heroes being deployed on an anti-terrorist mission by a corrupt government official. Virtually all of the characters perform criminal acts, including the prison guards. Squad members are briefly introduced committing the crimes for which they were imprisoned. They are presented as heroes even though they are criminals, and some are even proud of their crimes. Although there is some attempt to suggest that the characters have an inner moral compass this is negated by the way the violence and destruction they inflict is glamourised and focused upon in the narrative. Children lack the maturity, knowledge and life experience to objectively analyse the way crime is presented would likely open the way for their attitudes and world view to be detrimentally affected.

A still image from the film - Harley Quinn and Deadshot in prison

Classification criteria: Violence

Violence is glamourised within the superhero milieu. In all cases, whether it be prison guard brutality, shootouts or spectacular fighting, violence is intensified by loud sound effects and powerful music. The infliction of serious physical harm is extensive but is often fantastical in nature. Prominent are the numerous shootouts and attacks against creatures. When they are slain by swords, bats, bullets or other means, they explode or evaporate into dust. The action is edited to show only fleeting detail of bodily harm, but the sheer extent of these killings has a cumulative effect.

There are moments when the violence is more realistic and has more impact, especially when it involves human victims. For example, Enchantress approaches a man in a public restroom and suddenly smashes his head through the mirror, killing him.

A still image from the film - Katana weilding a sword

Classification criteria: Cruelty

There are some early depictions of cruelty that have quite a strong impact, exacerbated by being inflicted by people in positions of authority and control. Both Deadshot and Harley are provoked into reacting and then punished by antagonistic prison guards. Deadshot retaliates and is restrained and beaten. One strike of the baton is shown before a continued beating is implied off-camera by heavy sound effects. Harley is shocked with a cattle prod, then restrained and force-fed. The Squad members each have a nano-bomb implanted in their necks, designed to be detonated should they rebel or escape. In addition to being forced to join the Squad, characters are sometimes made to perform acts of violence against their will, and threatened with death if they disobey orders.

Also of note is the Joker's treatment of Harley - essentially an abusive relationship presented as romance. The Joker has brainwashed Harley into loving him to the point that she will do anything for him with no regard for her own safety. A flashback shows that after she helped him escape from prison he tortured her, turning her into a crazed, subservient girlfriend.

A still image from the film - flashback scene of the Joker torturing Harley Quinn

Decision summary

The combination of menacing characters, depictions of cruelty, torture and abuse, and the relentless violence would be frightening, shocking and disturbing to younger children. Older children may well feel able to cope with this material given its fantastical nature, however there is risk in exposing children to such matters as entertainment. The sheer extent of cruelty and violence has an inuring effect, which would adversely affect the healthy emotional and social development of children.

Regarding the Joker and Harley, a level of maturity is required to critique the complexities of this abusive adult relationship. Not only is Harley objectified by men but her lover treats her with a combination of affection, manipulation and physical cruelty. Impressionable children may be confused by this or be inclined to view this dynamic as normal.

While some other M-rated superhero films contain a comparable degree of violence, they lack the compounding sexually abusive themes, the moral ambiguity around criminal behaviour, and the overlay of pervasive cruelty. The violence in Suicide Squad is relentless and the cruelty is sadistic, even sexualised. There is no clear delineation of good and evil, and crime and violence are presented as acceptable in certain circumstances. This is likely to have a negative effect on the attitudes of children toward criminal and violent behaviour. Teenagers are less likely to be negatively affected by the stronger content and have the sensibilities to process it as fiction.

Contact the Information Unit if you require further information on a classification decision.

R16 label
R13: violence, horror and cruelty.