Two weeks ago, Deadpool had an astonishing opening weekend and is quickly becoming one of the most successful rated R films in cinematic history. It came as a surprise to many in the industry for a couple of reasons. One being that if someone were to list all of the most famous and iconic comic book characters, Deadpool doesn’t necessarily reach towards the top of that list despite an ever increasing amount of popularity over the last five to ten years. The second reason for the surprise is that the R rating itself has been a great fear inside the industry for certain properties due to its namesake’s restrictive nature: the less people allowed access to a film, the less populous available to see a film, and therefore less intake at the box office. Properties once thought too mature to be contained inside a PG-13 rating would be turned down due to fear that they couldn’t pull in enough audience members with a restricted rating. Even Deadpool itself had to fight it’s way to being greenlit by some underhanded tactics such as leaking the test footage to see it become an internet sensation.
Well Deadpool did make its way to the screens, and it made a LOT of money. Now the R-rating is all the studios are talking about as if it were a new gimmick to guarantee more success (similar to the 3D craze). Wolverine III and X-Force are rumored to be aiming for the mature audiences, and just this week it was announced that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will get an expanded Director’s Cut with an R rating.
So I’m going to say this to be clear. Not every property needs to be rated R. The R rating is not what made Deadpool successful, and just by making other properties rated R, will not guarantee them being a success either.
What Made Deadpool Successful?
In short, Deadpool was a major success because it offered something different and something that was appealing to all markets, and it did it while being unapologetically faithful to the character’s roots that called for the mature content to tell the best story possible for that character.
In an era where we have new Superhero movies all the time, there are at least 5 more coming out this year alone, Deadpool stood out for its over the top humor and wacky tone juxtaposed against its equal over the top levels of violence. Sure the MCU has had plenty of funny moments throughout their films, but Deadpool delivered the comedy in a way only that character could, justifying the “Merc with a Mouth” nickname he earned. Not only is it a rapid fire succession of hilarity, but the jokes themselves often border outside the range of capabilities of other Marvel characters. Wolverine can’t joke about the crazy timelines of the X-Men films in the same way Deadpool can nail it, especially with the Stewart or McAvoy reference. Deadpool can talk about how it’s ridiculous there are only two X-men in the mansion due to budget constraints, and then follow it up with a bloodbath of violence that other superhero films can’t show because their main characters are constrained either by morality, or the necessity of showing restraint for the story to remain more accessible to children.
Deadpool goes where other comic films don’t dare because that’s exactly what the property calls for. Without a doubt, Reynolds and company understood that there could be no half measure with this character and they went fully into it with the understanding that this character/property requires “maximum effort” to be the best Deadpool property also. There was no compromise to be had. They made this film as Deadpool as it could be with 4th wall breaks within 4th wall breaks, commentary on the studios and comics themselves, all while unequivocally being faithful to what made this character so popular to begin with. A Deadpool movie needed mature content because that’s what that character called for.
It’s not successful because it’s rated R, it’s successful because it’s weird, different, exciting, hilarious and over the top with action scenes and jokes that can’t be found in other superhero properties, all while unapologetically being what made the very comics so appealing themselves. It’s successful because it went all in with maximum effort to create the best property possible for that character and is appealing to everyone because it stands out so much.
What Can We Learn From It?
The lesson to be learned is not to make the content more mature no matter the property. Shock and awe will quickly lose its effect. We don’t need to see Superman dropping f-bombs or Spider-man cutting people in half. Neither one of those ideas fit those characters. The answer is not make everything with more cursing and more violent.
The lesson to be learned is to stick with what has made these characters so successful over the years and unapologetically do that to the 10th degree. Take everything that has made these characters so appealing for decades, take all the best elements and showcase them in a way that shows people why comic readers have been following them for years. That doesn’t have to be exactly the way the comics did it, because there’s no way to show 40 years worth of stories in two hours, but stay true to the spirit of the what made these characters great.
Superman should be about truth, justice and the American way. He should be a light shining in the darkness as a hand reaching out to help others in their time of need. Batman should be about the justice of the night as he strikes fear into the hearts of those that would do wrong to others. Spider-Man should be him using his powers to help others because it is his responsibility since he was gifted so much. To whom much is given, much is expected. (or insert that other famous line…).
Look at the failure of the recent Fantastic Four. They took a property and twisted it completely to fit some dark and gritty tone that they thought was the key to success in the continuing post The Dark Knight wake. However, what they turned out was something that felt nothing like the original property, and in doing so they created something so bland that people had felt like they had seen plenty of it before. They only way it stood out was in the “Oh God! They made that?” manner. It failed miserably because by sacrificing what made the property unique to be more like other successful properties, it appealed to no one.
There can be justification for the next Wolverine film being rated R. Wolverine has a long history of violence and is really one of the bloodiest characters in Marvel history. So telling a story that fits that tone can fit that character. That makes sense. Some kids will want to see it, and that will be up to their parents on whether or not is appropriate. (Side Note: Don’t Take You Kids To See Deadpool!!!!)
In regards to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice getting an R rated expanded Blu-ray, the only positive I see is that it will be an option. You will be able to take your kids to see it in theaters without problem. Superman should not be rated R. There is nothing about that character that deserves an R rating, and nothing about him that fits in one. Batman on the other hand can fit in that world. Even though Batman appeals to many kids, he has had plenty of dark storylines over the years that deserve to be told in a mature manner (The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, Death in the Family). Combining the two characters together? That should be PG-13 film, but offering the expanded version with more extensive scenes of Batman’s brutality offered afterward is a good way to get the best of both worlds.
You don’t have to make every property rated R for them to be successful. Make each movie and character to the best that’s able to showcase their strengths. For Deadpool that does mean f-bombs and sex jokes, but for other characters it means simply sticking with what makes them great and allowing everyone to enjoy them.
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