Editorial: Why Hollywood Mustn't Rate Everything D for 'Deadpool'
by Dan Marcus
February 17, 2016
The box office totals are in. The reviews have been read and audiences have spoken with a mouth as loud as a merc - Tim Miller's Deadpool is a huge success, and not just financially or even critically. It has been universally well received, which is a tremendous accomplishment for a third tier superhero character that (according to 20th Century Fox) had minimal mainstream appeal that languished in development hell for years. It was the vulgar, graphic and unadulterated version of Thomas the Tank Engine, the little irreverent train that could. However, with the success of Deadpool, major movie studios everywhere might not take the best lessons from the film's astronomical success – as James Gunn illustrated so brilliantly last weekend. So let's take a look at what Hollywood can glean from the outrageous success of the Merc with a Mouth.
For the fan-favorite comic book character, the road to seeing a Deadpool movie was filled with about as many missteps as a casual day in the life of Wade Wilson. The projected started as a way to rectify the many wrongs of Wilson's appearance in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine. If Deadpool is the little irreverent train that could, X-Men Origins was the train that derailed and crashed with almost all passengers severely injured. One of those injured prisoners was Wade Wilson, a character known for his smarmy, sardonic sense of humor which was literally sown shut by the end of the movie. After that ghastly appearance, Ryan Reynolds pledged to make a spin-off that would do right by the character. In many ways, Reynolds has been one of Deadpool's biggest cinematic cheerleaders, pushing for the movie to be made even after X-Men Origins: Wolverine neutered him catastrophically.
In that time, a script had been commissioned and written by the scribes that brought us Zombieland, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. The script had actually leaked and was received very positively by most circles who managed to read it. It was fun, witty, raunchy and captured the very essence of Deadpool's irreverent spirit. That was back in 2010… six years ago. So what happened? Well, a couple of things happened. Tom Rothman, who was running 20th Century Fox at the time, was actively happening and probably Deadpool's biggest adversary besides Colossus (you can say he was a colossal pain in the – you know). Then, in the summer of 2011, a little movie called Green Lantern happened. That film was a flop in every way Deadpool has been a success. If Rothman and Fox were leery about greenlighting a movie like Deadpool before, the failure of Green Lantern (and almost every other movie Reynolds had starred in at the time) didn't help.
Just a year before releasing Deadpool, Fox released another edgy R-rated risky movie - Kingsman: The Secret Service. And it ended up doing pretty well - earning a global total of over $400 million. That gave Fox some extra confidence that an R-rated action comedy could open strong in February. Now that it's out, a lot of people have been talking about Deadpool's box office or critical success, but I think one of the biggest lessons for Hollywood to learn is how Fox pretty much let director Tim Miller, Ryan Reynolds and company make Deadpool without compromising the integrity of the character or the material.
Miller didn't have to water down the script to appeal to a mainstream demographic or lose the film's zany humor that occasionally broke the fourth wall and even poked fun at the entire X-Men series. Honestly, as I was watching Deadpool, I was amazed that I was actually seeing this film brought to life as vividly and faithfully as it was. That in itself is a huge, almost groundbreaking achievement for 20th Century Fox – a studio that had been holding back the X-Men series ever since Bryan Singer's first X-Men movie in 2000.
So what can 20th Century Fox and every other studio learn from the success of Deadpool? Well, besides not compromising the initial vision of the director or the material, one of the biggest lessons studios can learn is to embrace the spirit and tone of the character they are adapting. Tim Miller, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick totally embraced Deadpool in a very big, warm and inviting hug and that showed on the screen. They didn't try to change Deadpool for audiences or neuter him (i.e. sowing his mouth shut). Yes, he's a wacky character that defies the conventions of all superheroes and their films, but that's the entire point of the character. Miller and company intrinsically understood that – and fans and moviegoers responded in a big way this past weekend, as evident by the film smashing every box office record conceivable ($132 opening weekend).
The success of Deadpool will have a big impact on Hollywood – and hopefully in smart and intelligent ways. This shouldn't be an excuse to make every film with an R rating – as an R rating doesn't mean the film will be good or financially successful (so, no, let's try to cancel those R-rated Yogi Bear reboot plans, please). There have been many films with an R rating that have flopped – look at any Uwe Boll movie, for example. Deadpool worked because it was made by filmmakers that truly understood and cared about the character. It wasn't because of one element or the other – like any good film, it was a combination of several strong elements working in unison. Who would have thought Ryan Reynolds could lead a successful movie? Well, give him a good script, material that resonates with him, and you have yourself a winner.
We're entering a very exciting era for superhero movies where studios are no longer holding filmmakers back. Warner Bros, for example, is finally getting on the shared universe train with next month's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League soon to follow. Marvel Studios definitely opened some doors with the success of their films and how they embraced their characters and their universes wholeheartedly. That's the approach studios should be taking. I almost feel like the recent marketing for Suicide Squad is in some way a response to James Gunn's own Guardians of the Galaxy – a movie with a group of unsung 'losers' that was fun, exciting, well made with an irreverent sense of humor and tone. It's probably safe to say the success of Guardians undoubtedly helped on some small level in getting Deadpool made. Does that mean every superhero film needs to be lighthearted, fun and whimsical? Absolutely not.
Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn really hit this on the head with his passionate Facebook post:
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.
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.
There is plenty of room for fun and lighthearted popcorn fare like Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool. However, those movies worked because they were faithful to the subject material they were based on. You wouldn't expect a Daredevil or Punisher movie or TV show to be lighthearted and fun, would you? No, because that approach simply wouldn't work for those characters. If studios learn anything from the success of Deadpool, I hope they learn how to treat, handle and adapt these characters properly, regardless of what is currently the No. 1 movie the prior weekend. Audiences are smart, perceptive people with a wide range when it comes to taste and preference. If they can make room for a sarcastic wisecracker, then they can definitely make room for a brooding vigilante or an optimistic alien from another world. Do you agree? Can Hollywood learn correctly from the success of Deadpool? Let us know what you think?