2016 is a big year for the superhero movie genre. While the previous years have naturally been big, there has rarely been a year with more riding on it for several different franchises. The success of failure of several of the 2016 films could affect the future of the genre. Fan4stic was the first major flop from one of the major companies in the past few years, but it won’t affect the superhero genre as a whole. It’s failure wasn’t a sign of the genre beginning to slow down, it was merely a sign that a crap movie with bad advertising and an unconvinced core demographic will flop, which is true for just about any movie. You might not like the Transformers movies, but they market themselves to the right people and please them. Fan4stic didn’t do that, and so it failed. But the genre as a whole won’t be negatively affected by this flop. This year though, there are a couple of movies that, if they fail, could impact the broader scope. The two I think will be the most influential in this regard? They would be Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Deadpool.
Fox had earnt some goodwill with their most recent X-Men movies, and while Fan4stic might throw some of that confidence, there is still reason to think X-Men: Apocalypse will do fine, both commercially and critically. And Civil War (it’s easy to forget it is technically Captain America 3) will succeed regardless of its quality. Even if you are in the camp (like me) that Age of Ultron wasn’t amazing, the company can afford a slip up or two by now and still draw in numbers, especially considering the impact Civil War will have on the MCU.
As for the others next year? The other Marvel production, Dr Strange, should at least do as well as Ant-Man, which in all likelihood will be considered a success. Suicide Squad is a bit of an experiment for DC and part of its success will hinge on Dawn of Justice, especially given the Batman link, but as long as they aren’t expecting massive numbers it is unlikely to disappoint. The two that would have carried the highest likelihood for flopping: Gambit and the Sinister Six (Fox and Sony respectively) are either being pushed back or are currently in limbo.
Now I shouldn’t need to explain why Dawn of Justice is important. Marvel have established themselves in the cinematic market, and for all of the ups and downs that Fox have experienced they have a platform built. For DC, this is their roll of the dice. If the collective force of their holy trinity, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, can’t work then they are in a world of trouble. The movie is guaranteed to make money, even if critics blast it there will be enough curious and die hard fans (myself included) who will pay the price to find out themselves – something Fantastic 4 didn’t have. But financial success isn’t the concern here, it’s the public response. I really liked Man of Steel, but there are a lot of people who didn’t. It certainly didn’t do well enough to secure the foundation for their cinematic universe. If Dawn of Justice doesn’t either, they might not be able to properly recover, especially with so much already planned. If Dawn of Justice fails, the DC side of the superhero genre might not able to be saved, which will kill a large portion of the market.
But even before that, another movie carries a lot on its shoulders. Fox aren’t just releasing Apocalypse this year. The first superhero movie of the year will launch in February, and the success or failure of Deadpool could influence the genre in a lot of ways, beyond any one brand or company.
Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, is one of the more popular Marvel characters among the hardcore circles. Go to any convention and there’ll be several Deadpools, he continually pops up in the various Marvel comics and he’s never hard to find in any toy or collectors shop selling merchandise. Some would say we’ve already seen Ryan Reynolds play him in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but they would be mistaking him for some cheap imitator.
It is not so much Deadpool as a character that is important, but the film. There have been plenty of hardcore comic fans who have wanted to see more superhero movies breach the R genre, rather than the PG or PG-13 movies most tend to fit in (which translates to the M15+ rating in Australia). We’ve seen a few attempts at R movies in the genre before, the most notable being Zach Snyder’s Watchmen. It did…ok. But that’s the problem. It only did ok.
From a producers standpoint, the desire to avoid the R rating is simple. It blocks a large part of the market from seeing the movie. While any opening weekend for these movies will be flooded by adult fans, there is a still a large target demographic that are under the age of 18 that equals money. By cutting off that source, you’re effectively cutting off part of the movie’s money making limbs. It becomes a big risk, especially since a lot of the films that have reached that R rating aren’t movies that carry a big mainstream appeal. Watchmen is a literary classic (and I don’t just mean for comics, I mean for books), but it won’t necessarily draw in the average movie goer. The same can be said for Blade or Spawn, which have also had R rated movies made. Right now if DC wanted to make a Constantine movie, they’d be afraid of it breaching that R rating.
But Deadpool can change that.
If Deadpool succeeds and does well financially (and preferably critically too), then it sets a precedent that success at R is possible. There have been some that worked: V for Vendetta and Sin City did well enough (and Blade is important in the history of the genre), but they didn’t do enough to alleviate concerns. Deadpool has enough broad appeal that it might be able to do well in spite of its rating. The R rating is kind of important for the character to work on the big screen, trying to do Deadpool at PG-13 would be effectively neutering him. The movie should also get a decent amount of hype from both media and fan sources so that the average movie goer will know about it. Then the test will be if the people follow.
That’s not to say the industry will flip it’s policy and start mass producing them. The majority will still aim for that PG-13 rating as a max. But what it could do is allow for some flexibility. There are graphic novels that would benefit from being made for an R rating, but they need an industry to back them as they venture into that market. They will always be considered a risk, but if the creatives can point to movies like Deadpool and show what’s possible, then the industry executives might sign off on them.
The reverse is true. If Deadpool manages to flop, then it might as well be a death sentence for the R rated comic book film. Nothing short of an R rated Batman or Wolverine film (Old Man Logan springs to mind) would be more marketable than Deadpool right now, and if he can’t bring in the money, the rating will be reserved for only the niche films with low budgets. The Sin City sequel certainly didn’t help the case.
And honestly? There’s no guarantee Deadpool will succeed. I assume it will, as are a lot of fans, but while he has some strong mainstream appeal and the early stuff we have seen has been well received, it is still an R rated comic book movie. And I’m not convinced the humour we’ve seen in the trailers (or of Deadpool in general) will hold up for a large audience across a 2 hour movie. It won’t be a movie that appeals to everyone. To me, Deadpool works in small doses. Across a feature length film where he is the constant presence? It is just as likely to start grating on me fifteen minutes in as it is to win me over. It’s going to be needlessly violent and crass, so the execution of it could be the difference between it sinking or swimming.
Again, for hardcore fans of the character they’re after this kind of movie, and they’ll likely love it and hail it as one of the best in the genre. And for them it might be, but if the movie is going to cut off a large part of the market by being rated R, it’ll need to win over more than the hardcore fanbase to be considered a success. It needs to win over the casual fans as well, and their taste may be more fickle.
To get an idea of what to expect, here are some movies to compare Deadpool’s potential gross against. Only two R rated comedies have grossed over half a billion: Ted at $549 million and The Hangover 2 at $586 million. The highest grossing R rated comic book movie? Zach Snyder’s 300 at $456 million. If we broaden our search to R rated movies in general we get two standouts: The Passion of the Christ (a slightly different demographic…) and that topped out at $612 million and Matrix Reloaded at $742 (impressive, but riding off the massive wave of the original).
To consider these numbers against the typical superhero movie, lets go back to the last genre movie worth comparing (sorry Fan4stic). The PG-13 rated Ant-Man (who Marvel wouldn’t have expected to do more than middling numbers) earned $518 million, which is near enough to the top grossing comedies in the R demographic. To me, that half a billion mark needs to be the minimum benchmark for Deadpool to potentially convince others to take the risk in the R market. Deadpool is a far more recognisable property than Ant-Man, but if the R rating restricts it to similar box office numbers than Ant-Man, those in charge will notice. Sure an R rating essentially lets Deadpool be Deadpool, but it affects how much green goes in the pockets of that red suit. And that’s is generally what is most important. If the movie can challenge Passion and Matrix numbers however, then a precedent has been set. Reaching that would also put Deadpool in line with Days of Future Past, the most recent X-Men movie from where he more or less belongs (DOFP earned $747 million). Being realistic, losing the younger market that X-men can draw will likely keep Deadpool from that level, but going beyond $600-650 could be enough to make the executives take note.
So yes, 2016 could decide whether DC can stand in the ring with Marvel, but the success or failure of Deadpool could affect the very notion of the comic book movie as we move forward. It could help decide if we get many more R rated genre movies. That’s a lot of pressure on the guy who has played two separate superheroes and failed to bring success to either one. I’m not blaming Reynolds for Green Lantern’s script or the knockoff Wade Wilson we got in Origins, but it isn’t a good track record when fans everywhere are staking their future R rated Punishers and the like on Van Wilder.