'Deadpool' and diminishing returns

Why the merc movie killed at the box office and why it should never be done again

The Spectrum

As the box office hit “Deadpool” nears the $500 million mark – nearly 10 times its original $58 million budget – one must ask the question: how in the world did this happen?

An R-rated superhero film starring every 13-year old boy’s favorite comic book character that your mother has never heard of – and if she had, she’d be horrified – is shattering box office records in a year that should have been dominated by more family friendly blockbuster fare like “Star Wars” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

Conventional Hollywood studio wisdom would tell you that R-rated superhero films simply don’t work.

These huge blockbusters are all about high investment with a high return. Studios invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the tried and true PG-13 formula and audiences of all ages come out in droves to see them due to their relatively innocuous content, suitable for all ages. Every school kid has seen “The Avengers.”

Jamie Light, a sophomore pharmacy major thinks “Deadpool” was R-rated for a reason.

“Movie producers said it wasn’t for kids. They published statements on social media saying, ‘Don’t bring your kids,’” Light said. “It’s definitely an anti-superhero movie.”

The problem with a film earning an R-rating is that the audience is immediately limited.

Anyone under the age of 17 – a large portion of the demographic for these films – is barred from theater showings of the movie without a parent present – and most parents would be discerning enough not to take their 10-year-old to see an R-rated feature.

English professor David Schmid specializes in popular culture. He thinks “Deadpool” is “a real game changer.”

Despite the fact that R-rated action thriller superhero movies have been around for a while, “[‘Deadpool’] kind of tells the studios once and for all that you can make an R-rated movie of a type that previously would have been marketed for younger audiences and still do gangbuster business,” Schmid said.

Cue the “Merc with the Mouth,” whose movie has already grossed more at the box office than any of the other “X-Men”films starring more popular characters such as Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. “Deadpool” currently holds an impressive 83 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Something about this film and this character is clicking with audiences – not just in America, but worldwide. “Deadpool” brought in more revenue than “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in their opening weekend box offices in Russia, according to Moviepilot.com.

“I think that for some time people have felt that superhero movies were getting played out as a genre and something needed to happen to reinvigorate them,” Schmid said. “And I think what ‘Deadpool’ does is reorient itself to a different kind of audience, but also it has a really irreverent take on the whole genre.”

What “Deadpool”gave audiences was a fresh take on the superhero genre.

It’s flippancy and vulgarity and fourth wall annihilation came from an organic, character-driven place and was spun out of a desire by the filmmakers to give audiences something they had never seen before.

The concern of many fans, industry analysts and professional filmmakers such as “Guardians of the Galaxy”director James Gunn, who took to Facebook to voice his opinions on the matter, is that studios will not come away from the success of “Deadpool”with originality as the lesson learned.

“Yes, studios are going to learn lessons from this but they’re going to learn the wrong lessons. They’re gonna basically just sort of like produce a duplicate of ‘Deadpool,’” Schmid said.

Studio heads will attribute the success of the film to the R-rated comedy or the overly self-aware nature of the piece instead of the breath of fresh air that seeing something that had never been done before gave audiences.

Mike Cummings, a freshman accounting major, disagrees with fans who dislike the movie’s R-rating.

“This superhero film was much better because it expands what a superhero movie can actually be,” Cummings said. “If they wanted to make another R-rated superhero movie it’d depend on the character. They could definitely make a R-rated Batman because he’s dark, but ‘The Avengers’ – probably not, that’s more kid friendly.”

There’s already talk of the next solo “Wolverine” film being made with an R-rating as the goal, confirming Schmid’s suspicion that, “now that this has happened we can expect a lot more of the R-rated action films. There’s just going to be a flood of them.”

The takeaway from the success of “Deadpool”needs to be that audiences are tired of the same old thing being thrown up on the screen because that’s what studios think will bring in the most money.

Moviegoers want to be surprised; they want to experience something new.

That’s why they are willing to shell out their hard-earned money for a ticket – not to see different characters plugged in as variables into some money-making equation that a studio exec has scrawled on a white board in some Los Angeles board room.

Studios will try to replicate this success by making bigger, more expensive “Deadpool” clones and expect to garner the same sort of audience turn out. The only thing these attempts will garner them is a harsh lesson in the law of diminishing returns.

David Tunis Garcia is an arts staff writer and can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com