This week, Neil Calloway argues that Deadpool’s success should not come as a surprise…
With Deadpool breaking box office records around the world (a bigger opening than The Force Awakens in Russia, oddly), and has been the surprising hit of the 2016 so far, making more than double its budget back in its opening weekend at the US box office alone.
Deadpool has never been in among the most recognised of comic book characters; emerging in the nineties rather than the golden age of comics, Wade Wilson doesn’t have the recognition factor that Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent or Peter Parker do; we didn’t grow up with reruns of campy sixties TV shows about him, there has never been a darker animated series featuring Mark Hamill; to the general public, Deadpool was all but unknown. With that in mind, its success is an impressive achievement. Having said that, Iron Man wasn’t exactly a household name when his first movie came out, and Tony Stark hasn’t done too badly since then.
It’s easy to say that any comic book movie will be successful now, and though that is largely true you still get exceptions like Fantastic Four which fail to set the box office alight (and Green Lantern proved you need more than just Ryan Reynolds to make a superhero movie a hit); Deadpool was in no way a guaranteed success.
Well, it was in no way a guaranteed success until the marketing machine moved into gear. When the test footage was leaked two years ago, that set in motion a slow but steady build up of marketing so that every possible audience member would know Deadpool and know what to expect from the movie. By the time of its release, it was almost certain it was going to be huge.
There is also the fact that since 2002 – when the first Spider-Man movie was released and spawned the comic book genre as a viable box office draw after a hit and miss 1990s – there have been few films that played with the conventions of the superhero movie but was still a recognisable comic book film, rather than something like Kick Ass or Super. Mystery Men, released in 1999, far from being a blot on Ben Stiller and William H. Macy’s CV, now seems to be ahead of its time. Deadpool delivers comic book ultra-violence in a knowing way.
Deadpool is a cool character who is also funny; rather than being laughed at, he winks at us; he knows we know that it’s a movie. A kid who was 12 when Spider-Man came out and has grown up with these movies will be 26 now; he’ll want a little more swearing, a bit more violence, a bit more sex; he’ll want something that is both familiar and knowing, and that is what Deadpool is. It helps that though it is ostensibly part of the X-Men universe you do not need intimate knowledge of that franchise to enjoy the film; a joke about the confusing timelines thrown up by that franchise works well because as films series grow they get more complicated, and it’s nice to see that acknowledged.
Deadpool has been in development hell since 2000, and maybe if it was released then it wouldn’t have been a success, but now, in 2016, the timing is perfect. The viral marketing campaign was second to none, planting the film and the character in the subconscious of its potential audience. It might seem like it came out of nowhere, but Deadpool’s success is not surprising.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.
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