Deadpool versus Disney: A David And Goliath Story

Deadpool 2 is imminently upon us. The movie has opened internationally and is less than a week away from its domestic landing. The Merc with a mouth is ready for his sophomore effort, and early reviews make it sounds like a hit. The fourth-wall-breaking anti-hero is in a tight spot though. It has to compete with the white-hot Infinity War and the upcoming Solo, which is garnering favourable early impressions. Are we in the one universe out of 14,000,605 where Deadpool 2 bests Thanos and outruns the Millenium Falcon?

The Reality (Stone) Of The Situation

Infinity War opened like gangbusters in China and has a solid grasp on the domestic box-office into its third week. Will it slow down enough to make room for the sequel to the R-Rated fan-favourite? While sequels tend to perform better than originals, that’s only half the story. There’s a rating issue with Deadpool 2 that locks out potential audiences from the theatres. There are obvious workarounds, but there will not be as significant a built-in audience as Infinity War. If Disney manages a $50 million third week, can they realistically expect similar in week four?

While $50 million won’t beat Deadpool 2 in revenue, it’s a potential chunk out of Fox’s pockets. Even if Deadpool made over $135 million in its 2016 opening weekend, it only had Zoolander 2 as it’s primary competition. Beating Infinity War in revenue for a week isn’t going to be difficult, but that’s not the only genre-movie to worry about.

A Galaxy Not So Far Far Away

Exactly one week later Solo smuggles (sorry) his way into theatres and provides another hurdle for Deadpool 2. Star Wars is a mega-franchise with no signs of slowing. Early reviews have been very kind. Maybe not to the level of excitement as Deadpool 2, with creators crying with and proclamations of the best post-credit scene ever, but reactions are favourable. Even with some less-impressed critics, most seem to be happy so far. Donald Glover, firmly in the social-conscience with “This is America,”  may also be the show-stealer that Solo needs. The rating differential comes up again here, as Solo is for a wider audience than Deadpool 2. That’s not a death knell, but it won’t help the latter. The math is simple – if two movies are releasing with equal hype, but one can show to twice as many people, the broader appeal will win the day.

Speaking To A Different Audience

If there’s something the original Deadpool and Logan showed everyone, it’s that there’s a space for R-Rated superhero movies. Other’s have tried, some failing commercially and critically, while others gained cult followings. Even with critical success, a financial win wasn’t always guaranteed. Deadpool, against all the odds, became the highest-grossing R-rated film in history during its theatrical run. That’s nothing to scoff at, considering the film barely got green-lit in the first place. Many people don’t enjoy the brightly-coloured MCU and others who have little interest in a young Han Solo story at all. The numbers show that even if adult comic fans are torn, they’ve seen Infinity War already, likely twice.

 

Something For Everyone

Disney’s Bob Iger has stated that he thinks there’s room for R-rated movies in the Disney MCU.

“It [Deadpool] clearly has been and will be Marvel branded. But we think there might be an opportunity for a Marvel-R brand for something like Deadpool. As long as we let the audiences know what’s coming, we think we can manage that fine.”

That’s an interesting take considering Disney as a company, but Igen clearly understands the audience. With a merger still looming the last thing Disney needs is an uproar for even suggesting that things like Deadpool can’t exist in their purview. Deadpool needs to show Disney that an R-rating can be genuinely lucrative for them. Early buzz is in favour of the doubling-down of the rating, so that’s good, but will Disney see the value if it can’t compete with their two PG-13 hits on either side? There’s plenty of alternative comic properties that can exist in the more restrictive ratings, so why should Disney feel compelled to compete?

Money Talks Even More Than Deadpool Himself

Unless Deadpool 2 proves a massive hit, there’s no reason for Disney to continue the series. Everything boils down to the numbers. Josh Brolin has already spoken about an apparent four-movie arc for Cable, so it’s clear that 21st Century Fox has plans for the franchise. Ryan Reynolds seems to think the smaller budget helps the character remain focused, which will help the justification. Not everything needs to reach $1 billion to be financially successful. Smaller budgets = less risk and more opportunity to turn a profit. Perhaps Disney can use Marvel MAX or Knights branding, both of which have comic roots, and aim for Blumhouse-budget movies to keep the R-ratings alive and profitable. Beyond these characters, what reason would Disney have to explore an R-rating with other heroes?

The question may seem unnecessary, but one only has to look at the Netflix series’ and imagine if those representations had to confine themselves to PG-13. In no world would they have had the style and grittiness that garnered praise. Why leave money on the table? With interest in characters like Moonknight mentioned in interviews, why limit where those characters can be taken? Netflix, or the upcoming in-house SVOD service, can’t be Disney’s home for adult-themed stories forever.

An X-Force To Be Reckoned With

Reynolds and Fox exceeded expectations once already with Deadpool, and Deadpool 2  sounds to be an improvement in every way. The original Deadpool brought in audiences not usually drawn to superhero flicks, and this is unlikely to be different. The audience might be equal parts “general audience” as much as “the nerd elite.” Plus, there’s not encyclopedic-knowledge needed to enjoy the entirety of Deadpool 2. With a decade of cumulative storytelling, Infinity War comes with more baggage than the average movie-goer is used to.

Ultimately it’s a matter of branding, and while the Marvel marquee has existed on every non-Disney Marvel movie to date, once they’re all in-house, will Disney care to protect their image more carefully? Money talks, so audiences need to show up and prove that a moderately-budgeted R-rated superhero flick has a place among the more moderate action of the existing MCU.

Deadpool 2 release May 18 in North America, and is out now in Europe and other International markets.

 

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