Box office is a precision science, and the studios can often predict almost exactly how much a film will make in its opening weekend before the audience at the first screening during the first night has dumped their empty popcorn buckets in the trash. So when a movie surpasses expectations by more than 100 percent, studio executives sit up straight and start making phone calls that ping-pong between euphoria and panic.
Deadpool‘s record-breaking box office haul of $135 million likely has every studio thinking about how their upcoming slate is positioned to take advantage of the Deadpool effect — a raunchy, violent, irreverent, self-referential R-rated superhero movie. The last time the industry felt such an earthquake was when Guardians of the Galaxy proved there was gold in those third-tier comic-book heroes — IF the film was treated as an opportunity to do something original.
Guardians‘ director and prolific Facebook poster James Gunn warned the industry not to jump to the wrong conclusions about the success of Deadpool. “After every movie smashes records people here in Hollywood love to throw out the definitive reasons why the movie was a hit,” he said. “I saw it happen with Guardians. It ‘wasn’t afraid to be fun’ or it ‘was colorful and funny’ etc etc etc. And next thing I know I hear of a hundred film projects being set up ‘like Guardians,’ and I start seeing dozens of trailers exactly like the Guardians trailer with a big pop song and a bunch of quips. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.
“Deadpool wasn’t that,” he continued. “Deadpool was its own thing. THAT’S what people are reacting to. It’s original, it’s damn good, it was made with love by the filmmakers, and it wasn’t afraid to take risks. For the theatrical experience to survive, spectacle films need to expand their definition of what they can be. They need to be unique and true voices of the filmmakers behind them. They can’t just be copying what came before them.
“So, over the next few months, if you pay attention to the trades, you’ll see Hollywood misunderstanding the lesson they should be learning with Deadpool. They’ll be green lighting films ‘like Deadpool‘ — but, by that, they won’t mean ‘good and original’ but ‘a raunchy superhero film’ or ‘it breaks the fourth wall.’ They’ll treat you like you’re stupid, which is the one thing Deadpool didn’t do.
“But hopefully in the midst of all this there will be a studio or two that will take the right lesson from this — like Fox did with Guardians by green-lighting Deadpool — and say, ‘Boy, maybe we can give them something they don’t already have.’ And that’s who is going to succeed.”
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Gunn, who recently completed a script for the Guardians sequel, is probably correct to expect that Hollywood will misdiagnose the Deadpool effect. After all, no one runs a good idea into the ground like Hollywood. But it would certainly help matters if the studios understand what exactly the correct good idea to run into the ground was in the first place.