Deadpool was as good a movie as I could have hoped for. Apparently I’m not alone in thinking so, as the film just took the number one spot at the Box Office for the second week running. But what struck me, even more than the wild financial success and the positive reviews, is the overwhelming enthusiasm and ownership that the fans have shown the film all the way through its production.
This enthusiasm has pulled the film from anger at the way the character ended up realized in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, through the leaked test footage that led to the character’s film reboot, to the triumph of the final product. In an era where we are being offered countless comic book adaptations to choose from, the value of the momentum that fan excitement brings a film can’t be overestimated. The lack of such momentum helped to kill the recent Fantastic Four reboot in its cradle.
It’s worth comparing how the two movies treated the fans’ outcries. In the case of Deadpool, the initial reaction to the way the character appeared in Wolverine wasn’t immediately heeded. It wasn’t until the test footage was leaked and fans had the opportunity to display an overwhelming support for a different vision that the powers that be saw that there might be value in giving fans what they wanted. The decision to make the film Rated-R, and use that as part of the marketing, was a risk, but like the initial test footage itself, it was met with overwhelming support by the fans. They had a sense that the film was being made for them. In the case of Fantastic Four, decisions such as the reimagining of Doctor Doom left fans with the sense that the movie wasn’t interested in bringing the characters they loved to life, and when their complaints were ignored, the message the fans received was that this wasn’t a movie that was being made for them. At no point in production did the filmmakers do anything to assuage their concerns, and when the trailer finally hit the Internet, it didn’t offer anything special. Added to this were persistent rumors that In the end, the movie never had a chance.
The success of Deadpool (or any film) can rarely be credited to a single factor. A lot goes into making a movie. And I don’t believe that the R rating had much to do with it. The fact that it was a comedy, a superhero movie in an established film universe, and starred a charismatic actor all helped to make it what it was. But the momentum that the fans gave it at every turn in its production made sure that it landed with an audience that already considered it their own.
That’s the lesson I hope that production companies take to heart. It’s not the sex scenes and the gore that made Deadpool a success. The R rating wasn’t the thing that made the difference (or else films like Watchmen and Kick-Ass might have done better at the Box Office). It was that the online community felt at every stage that the filmmakers were being true to the character and giving them the film they wanted. They felt like the movie was their own even before they saw it… so they went and saw it. Deadpool wasn’t nearly as famous as the Fantastic Four (though if he’s not by now, he soon will be). He doesn’t have any villains that are of the caliber of Doctor Doom. But the fans embraced him as their own and rejected a team of superheroes that they grew up with because they knew they weren’t going to be the characters they grew up with. The superhero craze is not dying down any time soon. Every year more heroes enter the fray, on television and film both, and rake in hundreds of millions of dollars. Characters that almost no one had heard of before, such as the Guardians of the Galaxy and Jessica Jones, are now huge hits. In this world a production can’t afford to alienate its fans from the beginning, as Fantastic Four did. If Deadpool can teach us one lesson that can be applied safely to all the films that aren’t Deadpool, and don’t need swearing and nudity and ultraviolence, it’s that if the sea of superhero fans that are out there feel as though you are making the film for them, then you won’t need to try to convince them to watch it. Their hearts will already be in it.