DEADPOOL: When Making a Movie "For The Fans" Actually Worked
When filmmakers talk about making a movie for the fans, things tend to not work out very well. Very generally speaking, three things seem to happen:
- The director is blatantly pandering to fans in order to convince them to pay to see the film in theaters
- The movie actually does respect its source material, but because of that, it's too niche to break out to a larger audience
- The filmmakers actually think they're doing the source material justice, but the fans mostly disagree and the movie isn't received very well
Tim Miller's Deadpool, which set the record this past weekend for the highest-grossing debut for an R-rated movie by pulling in over $280 million worldwide, is one of the very few movies where the filmmakers promised that the fans would love it, and they almost universally do. Here's the important thing for 20th Century Fox, though: it's not only diehard fans who came out to see the movie.
Deadpool is a super niche character that barely has any recognition outside of the comic-loving audience, but because of a marketing campaign that worked like gangbusters, other people were hooked enough to go check it out opening weekend. (Sound familiar? The same thing happened with Guardians of the Galaxy.) Deadpool's opening weekend was bigger than Man of Steel's, which is about freaking Superman. EVERYONE knows who Superman is. Still, more people turned out to see the Merc with the Mouth in his opening weekend than a mega-budgeted Superman movie. The best part of all of this from Fox's perspective? Deadpool had a production budget of only $58 million.
Look at something like Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. That's a similar-sized movie that Universal spent $60 million to make, and though it's critically beloved and its diehard audience went crazy for it, that fan fervor absolutely did not translate into box office success. Ditto with Snakes on a Plane, a movie that seemed tailor-made for the same audience that loves Deadpool (even going as far as to incorporate fan feedback into the actual production).
Even Zack Snyder's Watchmen, a movie that, with the exception of the excised giant squid from the final act, is almost an exact replica of the original comic in movie form, somehow managed to get mixed reviews from diehard fans. That one made decent money for Warners, but certainly not enough for execs to get exceptionally excited about. Obviously, all of this talk about money has nothing to do with a movie's quality. It's just an interesting aspect to talk about.
Even though I like Ryan Reynolds and I like the idea of an R-rated Deadpool movie in theory, I ended up not liking the film very much. But just because I didn't think all of the jokes landed or because the villains are paper-thin characters who have no arc and no satisfying reason for doing anything, that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the way Miller, Reynolds, and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick took a risk, embraced the source material, and actually had the persistence (and the guts) to get an R-rated superhero movie pushed through the studio system and turn it into a huge hit. Will the success of the movie have any meaningful impact on the way studios choose to greenlight other films going forward? Maybe, but the real takeaway for me — even as someone who didn't really dig the film — is that Deadpool has joined a small, elite group of movies that promised to be for the fans and lived up to that promise in a big way.