Image: Marvel Studios
For years, certain Marvel fans have been clamouring for a movie based on the character of Deadpool; a wisecracking, fourth-wall-aware, ultraviolent assassin. The idea for this project had been floating around since 2004, so when it was announced that Ryan Reynolds would be playing the cult-favourite character in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it looked like fans might finally get their wish. Unfortunately, the film flopped and once again it seemed like Deadpool was never going to happen.
That all changed this summer when Fox announced that yes, a film is in the works, and confirmed a 2016 release date. However, there was still one problem that needed resolving: the filmmakers were insisting Deadpool be rated R.
An R-rated comic book movie is something we haven’t seen in a long time, and for understandable reasons. With movie budgets getting bigger, there’s a real pressure on filmmakers to maximise profits, and often the best way to achieve this is with as low an age rating as possible. If you take a look at the top 50 highest grossing films of all time, not one of them has a rating higher than PG-13. Put simply, if Fox carried through with the R rating, the studio would be cutting themselves off from a massive chunk of potential revenue, making it far harder for the Deadpool movie to achieve the kind of success the studio is used to.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that those fans who are under 18 might be frustrated, viewing the violence in Deadpool as an arbitrary level of gore in what is essentially a comic book movie. Fox’s X-Men franchise has already amassed a sizable dedicated audience, who would no doubt be keen to watch any superhero movie the studio release. Is it worth creating a film that a large percentage of your fans can’t see for the sake of including a level of violence that reflects the source material.
In short, the answer is yes, but not for that reason alone. In 2009 Deadpool’s fan-base had been waiting a long time for a movie, and were understandably thrilled to hear that he’d be appearing in Origins. That film then proceeded to strip away everything that makes the character what he is; the jokes, the genre-savvy awareness and yes, the violence. If Fox now want to earn back some goodwill from their audience then they will have to create a movie faithful to its subject, even if this means the dreaded R rating.
But can an R-rated comic book film possibly be a financial success? Marvel have already proved that it can. Way back in 1998 Bladewas released – an R-rated Marvel adaptation that kick-started the modern superhero craze and earned back its $40 million budget more than three times over. Like Deadpool, Blade wasn’t one of Marvel’s A-list names; in fact, he was probably even less popular. The film succeeded because the developers recognised what made the comic special and cared enough about their project to make it good. It was rated R because that was what their vision required. Beyond the Marvel canon, movies like Kickass and Watchmen also prove that adult-only superhero films can enjoy commercial as well as critical success.
So there’s no reason why an R-rated superhero film shouldn’t easily succeed if its makers are passionate enough about it. Sadly however, the team that has been struggling for 10 years now to get Deadpool made seem to have sold out in pursuit of their passion.