Deadpool & the R-Rated Movie “Revolution” 

The success of Deadpool was not unexpected, but the extent of it’s success has surpassed expectations. The records it holds at time of writing include: biggest opening weekend for a film in February, biggest opening weekend for any film from 20th Century Fox, and perhaps most notably, the biggest opening weekend for any R-rated comic book adaptation. 

It might still be very much in the shadow of some of Marvel’s big hitters, sitting way behind both Avengers movies, the third Iron Man movie, and on the DC side of things, behind two of the three Christopher Nolan Batman movies, in terms of opening weekend figures. Perhaps it is most telling however to compare it to the previous X-Men movies, after all Deadpool does sit within this film universe, and comparatively it made considerably more. In it’s opening weekend Deadpool took $132 million, with its next closest X-Men rival X-Men: The Last Stand, taking $102 million. Add this to the fact Deadpool is receiving mostly very positive reviews, then it is no wonder studio executives are sitting up and taking notice of “the merc with the mouth”.

What we’ll now call “the Deadpool effect”, had an almost immediate impact on this lucrative film industry. It was announced that the third Wolverine movie (which is really only the second in my eyes as I like to pretend Origins doesn’t exist!) will have an R-rating. Fans welcomed this idea, and personally so did I! The idea of seeing Hugh Jackman slicing and dicing his way through a movie with much dismemberment and bloodshed makes me pretty happy. The “kids” who watched the PG-13 films featuring their favourite clawed hero have now grown up, and making an R-rated “grown up” film featuring Wolverine is a smart marketing move. We know Logan is not against dropping the occasional F-bomb as one of his very memorable cameos demonstrated, so it is in-keeping enough with the character not to cause too much alarm.  

It was then announced just last week that there would be an R-rated “ultimate” edition of this year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie; too late for the cinema release, but instead on a special DVD release in late 2016 or possibly even early 2017. Obviously I can’t comment on this unreleased film at the moment, but it did raise the immediate question, does it really need an R-rating? I can’t imagine we’ll hear Superman or Batman dropping many F-bombs, and nudity probably wouldn’t be the reason for this harder rating, so it can only mean more violence and blood. Just to make this clear, this isn’t something I am necessarily against, but I do have some concerns that too many people are jumping on the immediate Deadpool bandwagon and thinking that R-rating = success, and yes maybe it did in the case of Deadpool, but as many of the previous comic book movies demonstrated, the hard rating was not needed for them to succeed.  

Let’s unpack this in a bit more detail…

Deadpool is not the first R-rated comic book movie adaptation. Whilst perhaps lesser known properties, 300, Kick-Ass and Blade are all movie adaptations of comic books, and all of them had R-ratings. To say Deadpool started the R-rated movie revolution wouldn’t necessarily be true, but it has certainly encouraged people to start exploring this topic. Deadpool undoubtedly eclipsed the opening weekends of all those films mentioned previously, but this is in large part due to the fact it arrived at a very good time. The comic book movie genre is ripe at the moment, and in the post-awards season February lull, Deadpool really tapped into a good time of the year. Would it have achieved the same success in blockbuster season, or up against Dawn of Justice or Civil War? Probably not. 

The point I’m trying to make is Deadpool is not revolutionary in the sense it is R-rated; it is not the first movie to feature excessive swearing, nudity and gore. All of this stuff helps make the Deadpool character true to his comic book form, but the reason the movie works so well for me is Ryan Reynolds. Unabashedly passionate about this character from the word go, there is little about this movie that would work for me if it wasn’t for his performance. As one of my work colleagues recently said, “you can teach a trained monkey to swear”, and I haven’t tested this theory, but yes anyone can drop F-bombs and lewd jokes left right and centre, but this isn’t enough to make a film successful. Deadpool needed the R-rating to be true to the comic book character. This is a fact; however it does not mean that every single comic book film which comes in its wake needs to adopt a similar approach. I might secretly love to see Captain America decapitate someone with his shield, but it just would not work with the character that this movie universe has created. The R-rating needs to be used sparingly, and in the situations, universes, and for the characters, that it fits best. 

I think the good thing “the Deadpool effect” could lead to is showing that R-rated movies can be a success. Whilst it might stop teenagers and children seeing the movie, it gives great fan service to the older comic book movie fans who have been crying out for this stuff for years. Comic books are a medium that appeal to a huge spectrum of fans of a wide range of ages, and personally I welcome the idea that we’ll see more R-rated movies of this genre, but I do have that nagging feeling in the back of my mind that says “…but not all of them mmkay?!” 

Yes it’s great that there are grown up comic book movies, but on the flip side, why should we stop kids and teenagers from seeing them? Not necessarily the most important thing, but think about merchandise! An R-rated Spider-Man movie would be a nightmare for example; one, it wouldn’t fit with the character AT ALL, and two, I’d be ready to bet more children are clamouring for Spider-Man lunch-boxes than 18+ fans. That might not be true (I’d love a Spidey lunchbox!), but you see my point! 

I think there is scope for more R-rated comic book movies, and I think Deadpool has opened up some interesting doors here, but that doesn’t mean all comic book movies should be R-rated for the sake of it. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years, and I would absolutely love to know your thoughts on this article in the comments below!

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2 comments

  1. What a brilliantly written piece. Truly impressed with the articulation and thought process which perfectly mirrored mine (and by extension every other intelligent reader) throughout the entire piece. I’m very much looking forward to seeing Deadpool but agree the comic slant could only have worked with Ryan who was the ONLY choice after the ONE (and even that’s a stretch) redeemable thing in Blade 3.

    I would add one other possible reason for its unexpected success, and that is that marketing has always tended to work by generating mass interest in any given product before becoming creating something exclusive – that everyone will hanker after simply because of its exclusivity.

    Still I would agree that r rated movies have their place but the film industry would do well to keep in mind their core demographic and stay true to it. That said the idea of an R rated Star Wars movie keeps me up at night with excitement. Just imagine a Kylo Ren given free rein to be as bad as he wants. F BOMB MOMENT!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] I had reservations at one point that the marketing campaign for Deadpool was a little too aggressive, and indeed it was everywhere! It was impossible to escape the “merc with the mouth”, but it absolutely paid off. Deadpool broke records left right and centre, becoming the highest grossing Marvel movie by 20th Century Fox, and the highest grossing R-rated movie (so far). It’s made people sit up and take notice of the fact that R-rated comic book movies can succeed, opening the doors for others to follow (I wrote more on that in this post). […]

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