Captain America: Civil War is making cash hand over fist. Some are still arguing over whether or not Batman v Superman was a failure, to the extent that a movie that made more than three times its $250 million budget can be considered such. But it doesn’t matter, because there’s only one superhero who truly matters at the box office, and his movie came from Fox.
While you can argue over what the numbers mean, the truth is, it’d be more shocking if a movie featuring a bunch of Avengers or a movie starring DC’s top three characters wasn’t a globe-spanning hit. Hollywood, increasingly, is making enormously expensive movies based on popular properties, aimed at the widest global audiences possible. Don’t forget, Marvel and DC both can only hope to reach Jurassic World‘s $1.7 billion or The Force Awakens‘ $2 billion. And on paper, Deadpool is the complete opposite of those kinds of movies. While it’s got plenty of action, it’s a comedy-heavy movie, and those don’t generally do well in American theaters these days, let alone foreign ones. In fact, if you look at the IMDb’s list of top-grossing comedies, which doesn’t include foreign box office, Deadpool is the only non-animated movie in the top 10. You won’t find a live-action movie from the last 10 years until The Hangover, at No. 15.
- It stars Ryan Reynolds, a talented actor who has struggled to find a breakout role at the box office for more than a decade.
- Deadpool is rated R, and to give you an idea of how R-rated movies generally do, Deadpool is responsible for nearly half of the total gross of R-rated movies in 2016 so far.
- It was banned in China, a market so important that Captain America: Civil War has its heroes using phones you can only buy in China.
- And if that weren’t enough, it starred a character with a cult following but a low pop culture profile. Yes, Marvel comics fans love Deadpool, and he’s popped up in surprising places throughout the years. But most people only know him as the final obstacle in a terrible movie starring Wolverine that came out nearly a decade ago. If Deadpool hadn’t been a superhero, Fox probably wouldn’t have made this movie in the first place.
All of this added up to, at best, a cult movie. And yet, it was a massive success, grossing nearly $800 million. Part of this has to be chalked up to the marketing campaign, which was relentlessly creative and carefully engineered to introduce Deadpool and his antics to an audience unfamiliar with him. But that doesn’t fully explain Deadpool being a juggernaut that blew away every bit of conventional wisdom Hollywood has ever had.
It’s true that Deadpool is tied, at least tangentially, to the X-Men movies, a popular and long-running franchise, and that likely helped. But it’s hardly a series with a reputation for defying conventional wisdom. Nor does the idea that all comic book movies enjoy some sort of financial halo really hold up, or, if they do have one, it sure didn’t help Fantastic Four.
Oddly, nearly 10 years ago, a movie just like this, on paper, came along and surprised everyone. Zack Snyder’s 300 had a low budget, an R-rating, no obvious appeal to speak of, and was based on a comic book only avid fans had ever read. Its success can at least be partly credited to novelty; there hadn’t been a movie quite like it. And the same is true of Deadpool. A gory, goofy, violent action flick is a rarity in superhero movies these days.
Of course, DC happens to have Suicide Squad, a movie that looks to be fairly close in tone, on the way in August, and Marvel is following up Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that starred a talking raccoon. And perhaps DC and Marvel should rethink how many massive blockbusters they want to make. Lost amid the rush to make gigantic movies are the smaller movies that do something different, whether it’s a superhero movie with a different story to tell, or just something a little further off the beaten path than usual. We could stand a lot more smart-mouth mercs and talking raccoon space pirates at the multiplex.