Imagine the picture. Twenty years ago. Almost to the day: May 16. A deal between small production companies and Marvel Entertainment to co-produce a bunch of films based on their characters, including everyone’s favourite Merc-With-A-Mouth: Deadpool.
This is two years before Tobey Maguire would hit our screens in the first of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. Eight years before Disney launches the much-loved Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man. And 16 years before anyone would ever lay eyes on, a faithful adaptation of, Deadpool displayed on a cinema screen. The less said about the 2009 incarnation in X-men Origins: Wolverine the better.
It is difficult to imagine a world where Deadpool doesn’t come out amongst a torrent of superhero films/films based on comic books. His fourth-wall breaking satirical jokes require a base knowledge of the history and inner workings of comic book movies. Arguably the film benefited from going through development hell.
A roll of the dice for production companies
A Deadpool movie was a gamble for production companies 20 years ago. At the time he was a relatively unknown character. In the new millennium a more pervasive internet helped to build a cult following of the character. Humorous panels ripped straight from comic books featuring him would be shared. I’d argue it was even a risky prospect for production companies in 2016 when we finally did get the movie. No superhero fan worth their salt could argue the film shouldn’t be R-rated. That reduces the potential audience by at least a quarter. While his cachet had increased over the years he was still not a marquee character.
This all contributes to the overall explanation of why Deadpool went through such a torrid time in production. Screenwriters were hired for an accurate adaptation of Deadpool in 2010 after the negative backlash from the aforementioned portrayal. A year later the film acquired a director in Tim Miller. At this point the film was still floundering in development hell. Like that supposed Gambit movie starring Channing Tatum. This small team of writers, director, star and crew cobbled together some test footage to be shown at Comic Con Hall H. This was subsequently “leaked” and, after an overwhelmingly positive response from people, Fox finally gave a green light to an R-rated Deadpool movie.
A risk worth taking
Deadpool, of course flourished; it received the highest grossing weekend for an R-rated movie in America, clocking in at $132.4 million. It went on to make $783 million worldwide making it the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. This success obviously shows a risk worth taking for production companies. It is a success which comes from a unique marketing strategy which leaned heavily on Deadpool’s sending up of the superhero genre and commitment to the fourth-wall breaking, satire. Ryan Reynolds embodied the role for practically a year in the run up to the film.
Here we are 20 years later and Deadpool could spend another 15 years in development hell. Ryan Reynolds has confirmed a third instalment is in the works at Marvel Studios, but with Disney’s child friendly image to uphold. Confidence in this third film ever making it to movie screens is low.
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