(Author’s note: Spencer’s Soapbox is a weekly column here on SHH where yours truly tries to spur a conversation on specific topics. Dive in!)
After years of fan outcry, and a little help form some leaked test footage, 20th Century Fox is actually making a Deadpool movie. Ryan Reynolds is going to star, it’s going to be directed by Tim Miller, and the Zombieland writers wrote the screenplay, and fans are pretty ecstatic. That is until it was revealed the film could be rated PG-13. Some weren’t crazy about this idea, but Deadpool doesn’t have to be rated R to work. It’s the smart move, not only for the character, but financially.
Let’s just start content wise, Deadpool has appeared in countless comic books (he’s about to celebrate issue #250!) and the only one with any sort of adult themed violence is Deadpool Max which clocks in at a whopping 19 total issues. Every other Deadpool comic is no more violent than anything else going on in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps more decapitations take place, but it’s seldom an excessive amount of gore that in MPAA terms would warrant an R rating. Beyond the violence is the style of humor that has become integral to Deadpool, which ranges from meta-irony to sheer crudeness, which can be hilarious when executed well. As the other “X-Men” movies have told us, you can get away with saying a certain word just one time in PG-13 movies and I’m sure Deadpool will have a great one liner for it, but he doesn’t have to talk like a character from a Tarantino movie despite outcry from a small segment that he should talk like a sailor.
On the business end of this argument, it’s simple, R-rated comic book movies don’t make money. The highest-grossing R-rated comic book movie was 2008’s Wanted which brought in $134 million domestically and $341 million world wide. This is a great total, especially for a comic book that wasn’t A-list at all, but have you noticed a sequel to the movie has never come around despite insistence that it was being worked on? After that is Watchmen ($107 million domestic, $185 million global), Blade II ($82 million domestic, $155 million global), and a few others, though many of them land on the low end of the scale such as Kick-Ass with only $48 million domestically and $96 million worldwide (it’s sequel netted only $28 million in the US) or The Punisher, which had $33 million domestically and $54 million worldwide (the 2008 reboot “War Zone” brought in just $8 million in the states).
Some of those numbers are nothing to scoff at certainly, but this is a post-Avengers world and studios expect giant returns on these movies. If Man of Steel can gross over $700 million and still be considered a disappointment to WB, then you know that the criteria has changed. X-Men: Days of Future Past brought in $233 million in America and $748 million globally. It’s unrealistic to think that Deadpool will even touch those kinds of numbers, but it’s going to have to reach for a big return to be seen as anything but a waste of the studio’s resources. If a solo Wolverine movie (2013’s totally great The Wolverine) can only bring in $132 million domestically, what hope does a character that the general public doesn’t know about have?
I don’t want Deadpool to fail, I love that character and it’s been a long time coming for the character to really appear on the big screen, but there is a lot at stake if his solo effort misses the mark, more than just box office returns. Like the future of “solo” X-Men movies. Wolverine is the only character to get his own movies and though a “Gambit” film is also being planned, a poorly-received Deadpool could damage that project and other potential films. Furthermore, the studios won’t cave to fan pressure ever again. Deadpool has been in development for years and if the test footage had never leaked, it would still be lingering in limbo. Fans were begging Fox for the Deadpool movie for years, and if it fails they’ll retreat back to “what works” and not take the chances on crazy concepts that the community demands, at least for a little while.
Maybe I’m wrong and a hard-R, hyper-violent comic book movie is the next logical step in the pantheon of superheroes, but I doubt it. Money talks, and if a PG-13 film can make two, three, or four times the money an R-rated movie can, then there’s not even a question of what a studio will bet on. Plus, isn’t it funnier if Deadpool curses but it’s censored like in a comic book? That allows him another joke where he acknowledges he can say anything but all that the audience hears is a La Cucaracha car horn. I’d rather Deadpool play it safe and tackle the meta-aspects of the character than just try to be a vulgar and violent cheese-fest that panders to fans. Lest we forget, these movies are being made for kids too, and the youngsters of the world should get to enjoy a Deadpool movie just like the rest of us.