Sunday, February 28, 2016

'Deadpool'- The Rise of a Box Office Supernova

As I've noted many times on this site, 2016 is a crucial year for the superhero genre. Is superhero fatigue a myth? Can R-rated films work in the genre? Will DC crumble? These are all questions on everyone's mind. We'll have to wait for another month to find out about the latter question, but the first two have been answered. And audiences have answered both with an unquestionable "yes." Deadpool is the first major blockbuster of 2016 and its success has been truly stunning. Since it opened on February 12, the bloody, profane film has racked up hundreds of millions at the box office and broken records, all while shattering the idea of what a superhero film truly is. How did this happen? And what does it mean for the future of superheroes?

Deadpool was always considered to be a bit of a gamble for 20th Century Fox. There have been R-rated comic book films before- Watchmen, 300, Blade, etc. But nothing as high-profile as Deadpool and nothing so closely associated with the Marvel label. Fox gave director Tim Miller and star Ryan Reynolds $58 million to work with and sent them on their way, hoping for a solid mid-February hit. Everybody figured that the first true big-screen edition of the Merc with a Mouth would be a hit with the fans, and yet, most pundits kept expectations in check for the mainstream appeal of the film. Forbes' Scott Mendelson called Deadpool the "ultimate Comic-Con movie" back in July, which seems like a wildly off-target statement now. But looking back on it, Mendelson reflected a common sentiment in Hollywood- Deadpool's appeal was thought to be limited to the hardcore fans and nobody else.

As the release date approached, some began to think that Deadpool would be a bit of a breakout hit. Box office projections put the film's opening around $70 million, putting it as one of the highest-grossing R-rated weekends of all time. Fox's violent roll-of-the-dice was set to pay off as a solid little blockbuster. But over the course of a weekend that continued to see soaring box office receipts, Deadpool evolved from being a standard Marvel hit into a four-quadrant smash. It grossed $132.4 million in its first four days, before adding $19.7 million on Monday for a $152.1 million Presidents Day frame. Its worldwide opening totaled $260 million. Over the course of that weekend, Deadpool snagged the record for an R-rated opening, the highest opening for an X-Men film, the highest opening for a February release, and the 17th highest grossing weekend of all time.

In its second weekend, Deadpool added another $56.4 million. In its third weekend, Deadpool raked in $31.5 million. Its current total stands at $285.6 million in the US and $609.8 million worldwide. It's already the highest grossing X-Men film to ever be released in the US and will probably top X-Men: Days of Future Past in the worldwide markets. It's on track to be the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time. By the end of its run, it'll probably end up being the 7th or 8th highest-grossing superhero film ever. Where did this come from? And most importantly- should we be surprised by it?

I think that the clear answer there is no. I went into it a little bit in my review, but it's time to go more in-depth now. Deadpool was a movie that Hollywood didn't realize that people wanted until it hit them right in the face. That's the simple truth of it. Everything about this movie seemed wrong. It was rated R. It had a lot of brutal violence and crude jokes. It features a B-level Marvel character. On paper, Deadpool is a failure. The success of this film is a testament to the power of marketing and the power of fun entertainment. People have shown over and over that they don't want to see self-serious superhero films and that they don't need complexity. They want something fun.

Look at the comic book films that have been successful at the box office over the last few years. The "fun" and "lighthearted" Marvel universe has raked in billions of dollars. Humor-driven, goofy little flicks like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy have become breakout hits. Look at the comic book films that have failed. The "dark 'n' gritty" version of Fantastic Four fell on its face. Man of Steel made less than so many smaller superhero properties. The moviegoers of the world have spoken- they want fun, simple entertainment.

And that's what Deadpool promised. The marketing was crystal-clear to audiences- this movie is different, this movie is a blast, and you're gonna have a terrific time. It was so meta, so tongue-in-cheek and so prevalent over the last few months that it won over broad audiences. This is a four-quadrant hit, a word of mouth success that could evolve into one of the top five films of the year. Deadpool wasn't a hit because it was rated R, or because people thought that the character was great. It won because it was completely unique.

James Gunn's breakdown of this was incredible and it hits right to the point about how Hollywood will learn the exact wrong lessons about this movie. But in my mind, there are two lessons to take away from Deadpool. The first lesson is that people like fun movies. And the second lesson is that people like the same things in slightly different packages. People like to see the same movie, but they want a change of pace every once in a while. Something that shapes the basic concept into something new. Because let's face it- Deadpool is a pretty standard superhero film. But on the contrary, it's an inclusive audience experience and it's new and in-your-face in a way that audiences hadn't seen before. That struck people and they flocked to the movie that everybody was talking about. Deadpool is a triumph of authenticity, a movie that shows that if you stick to your guns and deliver a fresh product, the money will roll in. We may see higher-grossing films this year, but few box office surprises as pleasant as Deadpool.

Image Credits: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Joblo

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