The success of 20th Century Fox's DEADPOOL this weekend is sure to send shockwaves throughout the industry, as the film shattered certain preconceived notions. I think we need to take a few moments to really digest exactly what's gone down here, as it's fairly remarkable.
Let's stack up where DEADPOOL stands compared to the first films of Hollywood's other modern day favorite superheroes, in terms of opening weekends.
[Bar Graph That Annoyingly Doesn't Show On The Mobile Version of The Site That Demonstrates The Things I'm Going To Mention Below. Long Story Short: DEADPOOL did better than everyone you can think of in their modern era debut films.]
Yes. You're seeing that correctly. DEADPOOL did better business in its opening weekend than pop culture icons like Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man- all considered to be among the most recognizable fictional characters on the planet earth. And in terms of the vaunted faces of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you'd have to add up two of their PHASE ONE solo films (three if you exclude IRON MAN) to top DEADPOOL.
But that's not all...
The figures for Fox's flick are even more stunning when you consider the kinds of things it had working against it:
- It's Rated R, which cuts off the lucrative family market, and makes it harder for teens to get tickets
- It's a pseudo sequel/reboot of a character that was already introduced- and botched terribly- in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, that is confusingly somehow played by the same actor yet not a follow-up to that film
- No A-list stars
- It had a tight, lower budget than these films typically get
- The studio was against making the film for a long, long time
- First-time director
- It's an X-MEN movie that features no known X-Men except for Colossus- who looks nothing like he did most recently in the 2014 hit DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
- Based on a character that's been around for only 25 years, unlike mainstays such as Spidey, Cap, and Batman who have had over 50+ years to cultivate several generations of fans
- Stars Ryan Reynolds, who's basically box office poison
Yes, I said it. That last one may sting, and I don't even state it as someone who dislikes Ryan Reynolds. On the contrary. I'm actually a fan of his. But if you actually pay attention to his box office production, it's a miracle he hasn't been relegated to straight-to-TV movies where he and Dolph Lundgren team up to take down Carl Weathers and Wesley Snipes.
To say that his box office record has been bumpy is to put it mildly. The actor, when placed in a starring role, has rarely seen a hit. GREEN LANTERN underperformed and tanked DC's plans for a franchise. SELF/LESS came out last year and disappeared. R.I.P.D. bombed gloriously. The animated TURBO made less than even a forgotten cartoon film like Megamind. His comedic team-up with Jason Bateman THE CHANGE-UP, which one would think played right into the actor's strengths, fizzled in its opening weekend and barely made back its meager budget worldwide. In fact, the only film in the last 10 years with Reynolds in a starring role that was considered a major hit was THE PROPOSAL, and that rom-com came out back in 2009. SAFE HOUSE gets an honorable mention as a film that did all right, but there he shared the screen with megastar Denzel Washington.
So, for whatever reason, people just don't flock to see Ryan Reynolds. Not to mention, this was his fourth foray into comic book films, and fans/audiences do not have fond memories of BLADE: TRINITY, GREEN LANTERN, or X-MEN ORIGINS.
DEADPOOL's worldwide opening weekend haul of $260,174,858 is also a thumb right in the eye of the common studio logic that a blockbuster has to be rated PG-13 to do successful numbers. During an era where traditionally R-rated franchises get the PG-13 treatment (I'm looking at you TERMINATOR: GENISYS, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, and THE EXPENDABLES 3), and potentially edgier comic book fare like DC's SUICIDE SQUAD is also made more palatable for wide audiences, DEADPOOL's numbers are even more impressive.
Also notable is that the film isn't marketed as being closely linked to any one particular global brand. While DC is busy preparing for whole slate of JUSTICE LEAGUE-related movies, and Marvel has been all about AVENGERS world-building, Fox didn't go particularly out of its way to say DEADPOOL was part of its internationally-known X-MEN franchise. They've just sort of waved him around out there as a wild card, on his own, free to say/do whatever he wants.
Last week, one of the film's writers, Paul Wernick, commented that they think the film will click with audiences because "You feel like there is an over-saturation of these films in general, and that’s why people are really embracing Deadpool and this idea of making fun of it, because there are so many of them that it really is ripe for parody." And who better to do that than Deadpool, directly to audiences, during his own origin story movie?
James Gunn, who directed GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY for Marvel Studios, has his own theory as to why the film worked so well and is going to be a huge hit. "DEADPOOL was its own thing. THAT'S what people are reacting to. It's original, it's damn good, it was made with love by the filmmakers, and it wasn't afraid to take risks," Gunn said on Facebook. The writer-director took to social media because he's concerned that the industry may learn the wrong lessons from DEADPOOL's success.
"For the theatrical experience to survive, spectacle films need to expand their definition of what they can be. They need to be unique and true voices of the filmmakers behind them. They can't just be copying what came before them.
So, over the next few months, if you pay attention to the trades, you'll see Hollywood misunderstanding the lesson they should be learning with Deadpool. They'll be green lighting films "like Deadpool" - but, by that, they won't mean "good and original" but "a raunchy superhero film" or "it breaks the fourth wall." They'll treat you like you're stupid, which is the one thing Deadpool didn't do.
But hopefully in the midst of all this there will be a studio or two that will take the right lesson from this - like Fox did with Guardians by green-lighting Deadpool - and say - 'Boy, maybe we can give them something they don't already have.'
And that's who is going to succeed."
I was going to write a column saying exactly that, but then Gunn posted that just over an hour ago, and who better than the man who gave us the subversive hit GUARDIANS to make the point for me? And he did it within the PG-13 mold.
So what are we going to walk away with, as we look back on DEADPOOL's legacy (which still has several weeks to be built upon)? Will it be that rated-R comic book films can be successful? Or that the superhero genre is on the precipice of a backlash, so films that poke fun at the formula are going to do better than ones that take themselves too seriously? Or maybe it's that studios shouldn't be afraid to hire filmmakers that truly love the source material and aren't afraid to be original, and just trust them to make the best film possible?
Whatever the case, DEADPOOL could be the start of something. Or it could signal the end of something. Regardless, the champagne should be flowing all over the Fox lot, because DEADPOOL came virtually out of nowhere, and Wade Wilson just showed Clark, Peter, Bruce, Tony, and Steve who their daddy is.