The Hard-R Rises: What the Success of 'Deadpool' Means for the Future of Superhero Movies

'Deadpool' not only exceeded expectations, but it murdered the box office completely. What does this mean for the future of superhero films?

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Complex Original

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When I spoke with Rob Liefeld about the life of Deadpool, I knew he'd be over the moon about Deadpool, the (anti-)superhero film that's currently murdering the box office. He's not one to bite his tongue, and is a magnificent self-promoter, but the fact he kept calling the film a "game changer" stuck with me. Being a life-long Deadpool fan, X-Men Origins: Wolverine pissed me off to no end, but that test footage that leaked back in 2014 had me open; this was the Merc With a Mouth that I was used to seeing. When I sat in the screening of Deadpool​ and heard the laughter coming from a sea of critics (myself included), I knew the film hit its mark, but I had to ask: will the people come out? I knew that it was a sure bet that Deadpool aficionados show up in droves—that might have been why Fox was predicting a $60M-$65M gate—I just wasn't sure if bombarding Viacom networks with ads or Betty White co-signs would bring out the masses, no matter how well Ryan Reynolds nailed Deadpool's, well, everything.

Then I saw the Friday numbers. We're talking box office record-breaking stats: Deadpool owned Fifty Shades of Grey's Friday opening numbers, but that's just one thing. I'm not sure anyone expected the movie to have the biggest opening weekend for an R-rated film EVER. We're talking Deadpool owning everything from Matrix: Reloaded and American Sniper to 8 Mile and The Hangover Part II. This puts things into perspective:

Holy crap: #Deadpool opened with $135M, shattering the record for the top dom. debut of an R-rated film. MORE SOON…

The Hollywood Reporter says that Deadpool​ has already earned $135 million for its opening weekend, and is estimated to pull in a total of $150 million by the end of the four-day weekend (praise Jah for President's Day), making it not only the best R-rated opening of all time (OF ALL TIME), but the movie with the biggest launch in the month of February and the top opening in Fox's film history. The burning question is, aside from Deadpool having stacks of chimichanga cash to play with, what does this all mean? Not in terms of a Deadpool sequel—that's a given. I mean in terms of the entire future of blockbuster cinema.

Off top, it feels like dropping Deadpool in February was a great idea. With huge properties like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of JusticeCaptain America: Civil War, and Suicide Squad due out this year (March, May, and August, respectively), it was wise to drop Deadpool​ in an off-month. It's a similar situation to what 2015's Straight Outta Compton did, dropping in the middle of August alongside no real competition (sorry, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), and earning $60.2 million on its opening weekend. Another interesting parallel between these two films is their smaller budgets: Straight Outta Compton was made for $28 million, while Deadpool​ only got $58 million from Fox. Sometimes, less is more...profit, that is.

The more important factor is what Liefeld spoke of in our discussion, about how there's an audience out there for R-rated superhero films. Deadpool more than proves that. Sure, you can argue that his popularity in the comic world made a huge opening like this inevitable, but you'd also think that Fox wouldn't brickFantastic Four with Michael B. Jordan in it. Nothing's a guarantee at the box office.

The backlash from X-Men Origins: Wolverine was proof positive that Fox had to get this right, and bringing in Reynolds and the squad to really stick to their guns and develop the violent, vulgar, sex-filled flick that Deadpool fans were waiting for has paid off. It's like what Shadow Henderson said in Mo' Better Blues: "The people don't come because you grandiose motherfuckers don't play shit that they like. If you played the shit that they like, then people would come, simple as that."

The bigger issue, though, is how far are these other properties willing to go to bring in these ready and waiting fans? For example, Suicide Squad is due out this August. Their latest trailer, set to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," had the power to turn one of my colleagues into a Margot Robbie fan. Some fans though aren't digging the PG-13 rating that was slapped on Suicide Squad, even though Heath Ledger shined as The Joker in a PG-13 Batman film. Now we have about seven months before this film hits theaters—are editors piping more violence and gore to appease these bloodthirsty Deadpool fans and embrace the R-rating they once thought would be so revenue prohibitive?

And what about the Marvel Cinematic Universe? While Marvel's main films (i.e. the properties they actually have their hands in) are made for a certain, more wholesome demographic, the alcoholic, edgy Jessica Jones show on Netflix was also a hit, especially among critics. The MCU could stand to get a little darker, and Deadpool makes it case plainly clear that it's possible to do without sacrificing quality or cake.

Ultimately, Deadpool​'s opening-weekend success means that we could possibly be on the verge of Deadpool being all up in Fox's X-Men Universe. Similar to how the popular character made his way into a number of Marvel Comics books (both as a guest star and in variant cover form), it wouldn't be shocking for Deadpool to end up in the upcoming Gambit film for some comic relief. Or to see Wade strolling into the next Wolverine film (there are a few jokes at the ready for this one, right?), or wherever else he comes up. Ryan Reynolds is itching to make an X-Force flick, and Stephen Lang is already campaigning to be cast as Cable. With strong hints of a Deadpool 2 already out there, one has to wonder: did Deadpool become the new Fox comic book cash cow? Will schedules be adjusted to give the people that much more Wade?

Whatever the case may be, Deadpool could be the most landscape-altering superhero flick since Iron Man started us down this path in 2008.

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