Understanding The Strange Awards-Season Ascent Of ‘Deadpool’

Why would the Producer’s Guild Awards stiff Martin Scorsese? The prestigious PGAs are more or less the dry run for the Oscars; movies nominated there almost inevitably collect Oscar nominations, and usually the winner goes on to win the Oscar as well. So Scorsese’s latest, the drama Silence, was, of course, a lock. Except that it turns out not to have been: Instead, shocking many awards watchers, Deadpool is one of the ten nominees.

Deadpool is on an unusual awards streak. In addition to the expected MTV Movie Awards it’s getting nominated for, even winning, major awards for which superhero movies generally have no hope of being nominated. It was nominated for two Golden Globes. The film earned a nod in the Best Picture-Musical or Comedy category, and Ryan Reynolds was nominated for Best Actor. It won both in those same categories at the Critics’ Choice Awards and, in addition to the PGA honors, it’s currently up for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Writer’s Guild Awards alongside nominees like Fences, Arrival and Hidden Figures. We’ll remind you this is a movie where we see Ryan Reynolds pleasuring himself with a toy unicorn.

It’d be one thing if superhero movies had a good track record at prestigious awards shows. Deadpool alone has had a better awards run so far than the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Guardians Of The Galaxy was nominated by the Writers Guild, and the MCU’s effects work has gotten Oscar nominations, none of the MCU movies have ever gotten a Golden Globe or Producer’s Guild nomination. In fact, the only superhero movie Deadpool is worth comparing to in terms of awards is 2008’s The Dark Knight. It’s enough that some are beginning to speculate Deadpool might be an Oscars dark horse. So what’s going on?

Deadpool‘s behind-the-scenes story is a classic Hollywood underdog narrative. The movie wasn’t a $200 million heavily focus-grouped “four sector” entertainment product, it was a passion project Reynolds, screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and director Tim Miller made on the relatively small budget of $60 million. It was rated R. It was banned in China. It wasn’t supposed to work. Deadpool was a scrappy underdog that somehow beat the odds being stacked against it to not just be a modest hit, but a worldwide blockbuster, making it the movie everyone in Hollywood dreams of making.

Furthermore, the film gives Reynolds an incredibly showy role. He has to play comedy and drama, and manages to pull off both. He has to act without makeup, in make-up, and wearing a mask. In a lot of ways, Deadpool is the role of a lifetime, not just a comeback role for his career but an announcement that he was more than a pretty face. Once those pieces are in place, it almost doesn’t matter that we’re talking about an action-comedy following a deranged mercenary.

Is Deadpool going to surprise at the Oscars? It’s unlikely. The Dark Knight is instructive not just for its awards streak, but also how, in the end, only Heath Ledger truly got any acknowledgement for his performance as the Joker. The movie was shut out of the major categories in favor of a batch of films that included The Reader. It seems unlikely in a year with movies like Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and La La Land that Deadpool will get much traction at the most prestigious show. But Deadpool is a good reminder, as we swing into the Oscar season, that awards are as much about the story behind the movie as the movie itself and surprises can still occur.