In 1996, relatively alright Baltimore Orioles Outfielder Brady Anderson had a career year, posting off-the-chart offensive numbers from out of nowhere. Previously hitting around .240 on a good day, and a home run high of 21 in 1992, he put up a .297/.396/1.034 line, 50 home runs, 110 RBIs, 37 doubles, 117 runs and 172 hits. Basically, career highs in all departments, and by large margins too. The previous season, he hadn’t come anywhere close to those types of stats. It should come as no surprise that Brady Anderson had taken steroids, and that they had worked.
Over the weekend, Deadpool opened to a massive $132 million domestically, and now sits at $152 domestically and $284 worldwide all against a relatively smaller $58 million budget. It’s not the biggest surprise that Deadpool is doing well; it is a superhero film after all. Studios aren’t busting those out every 3-4 months and making 6-year plans around them just for kicks; they’re doing it because it’s what makes the most lucrative and economical sense to them. Even the lowest grossing superhero film last year, Fantastic Four, made $167 million worldwide. That’s a lot of money for pretty much any other film that hadn’t already spent $120 million on its budget, and seems to be the status quo for comic book films, as the average budget for last year’s comic book films ran at $166.66 million (more on this later).
But at the same time, it is kind of surprising from a statistical standpoint that it is doing this well based on historical box office performance of both R-rated comic book films and Ryan Reynolds-led films. Deadpool is having a 1996 Brady Anderson season, when historically it should be having a average-subpar Brady Anderson season like he had before 1996. Let’s ignore the fact that superhero films are an economy unto themselves, and look at just how much Deadpool shouldn’t make box office sense. The last high profile R-rated comic book film was the fantastic and gonzo-violent Punisher: War Zone. Off of a $35 million budget, it only made $8 million domestically, and foreign markets only tipped it to $10 million worldwide. That was kind of it for R-rated comic book films, since then the popular narrative was “they don’t make money”, even though the Blade trilogy beforehand actually did.
But what really doesn’t make sense statistically with how much money Deadpool is making is the fact that Ryan Reynolds is leading it. I’m not talking quality or how good he does in the role, I’m just talking hard statistics here. He’s not a workable leading man box office-wise. Let’s take a look at his last 5 wide releases where he was a lead/co-lead, and see the overwhelming evidence that shows he can’t land a film, as charismatic as he is. We have Self/Less, R.I.P.D., Safe House, The Change-Up and Green Lantern.
The only film in that group that can actually be considered a hit is Safe House, but the success of that film has more to do with the unstoppable box office power of Denzel Washington than Reynolds. You could have paired Denzel with a bowl of dry oatmeal and expected a payday. The rest of those films range from “Dear lord what happened here” (Self/Less, R.I.P.D., Green Lantern) to “Well we could have done worse” (The Change-Up) on the box office scale. I say this as a fan of Reynolds: he is box office poison, which is why Deadpool shouldn’t make sense as the hit it is.
Even comic book films that fail still make an absurd amount of money, so the only thing Deadpool seems to have done differently than others is not overbloat itself on the budget. $58 million is, make no mistake, A LOT of money, but in the pool (hehe) of superhero filmmaking spending, it’s minute. Deadpool made a smart move of not shooting itself in the foot by overspending on its budget, making the chances of success much more palatable when it came time to debut.
Success always breeds followers, and changes are already happening. Hollywood doesn’t ever react; they overreact. So yes, don’t expect a Deadpool 2 and an X-Force movie; expect a 3rd and 4th while we’re at it. There have already been rumblings of the third Wolverine movie going the R route (which yeah, would be pretty cool to see), and we’re not even a week into Deadpool’s release.
Deadpool is a polarizing dichotomy of the unstoppable force of superhero films in the modern filmmaking marketplace. On one hand, it’s yet another superhero that’s raked in an unholy amount of money. But on the other hand, Deadpool is a total anomaly, statistically and historically speaking. It’s confirmation that the superhero film is too big to fail, at least for now. In a way, Deadpool both met its expectations as a superhero film, yet eclipsed all expectations as an R-rated superhero film starring Ryan Reynolds. Deadpool is proof that comic book films are like steroids. You can pump any mid-range performer with them – Brady Anderson or Ryan Reynolds – and as long as you don’t overbloat the budget, you can make a lot of money – 50 home runs or a $132 million opening weekend. Deadpool only proves one of the oldest truths in modern baseball: Steroids work.