Did ‘Deadpool’ Save the Superhero Genre From Fatigue?

Experts say the Ryan Reynolds action film was a “wake-up call” for the genre

Ryan Reynolds‘ “Deadpool” was a “wake-up call” for the genre amid increased talk of superhero fatigue following several flat movie releases and debate on the subject among Steven Spielberg and several studio heads, say box office analysts.

“‘Deadpool’ only served to enhance goodwill and interest in future superhero films,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst at comScore told TheWrap. “It was a wake-up call for the genre.”

Talk of “fatigue” began when Warner Bros. chief Kevin Tsujihara dismissed the notion last March ahead of the releases of Disney’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and Fox’s “Fantastic Four.”

Shortly after, “Ultron” grossed $459 million in the U.S., a significant drop from the $623 million its predecessor generated in 2012, although it played massively overseas. That was followed by the flop of “Fantastic Four,” which made just $56 million and earned a 9 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Steven Spielberg fanned flames further in September when he forecast a dim future for superhero films similar to that of “when the Western died.” Kevin Feige, president of Marvel studios, retaliated in October, saying that the genre is far from fatiguing with so much unexplored territory in the Marvel universe. 

Then along came “Deadpool,” the first superhero film of the year. The ultra-violent, ultra-hilarious shoot-‘em-up doubled initial estimates of $65 million to gross a whopping $150 million over the four-day Valentine’s/Presidents’ Day weekend, breaking numerous records along the way, including the biggest opening for a Fox movie ever. Ryan Reynolds‘ anti-hero also received stellar reviews of 83 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and an A on CinemaScore. All of a sudden, people are all ears for superhero movies again.

You can thank multiple factors, including a new, absurdist take on the genre as well as an R rating, territory where no Marvel movie had previously tread. James Gunn‘s “Guardians of the Galaxy” was already considered unconventional in the best possible way with its use of comedy to break up the blowups, but “Deadpool’s” filmmakers based the movie’s entire plot and character on humor — R-rated humor, at that. Dergarabedian believes future superhero films will mimic “Deadpool’s” approach.

The first sign came on Tuesday, when it was revealed that “Wolverine 3” might release with an R rating following the success of Reynolds‘ Merc with a Mouth.

“Amping up the content of other such films to an R rating could provide a boost and increased interest on the part of potential moviegoers and fanboys/fangirls in particular,” said Dergarabedian. “‘Wolverine 3’ is a perfect candidate for the R-rating treatment given the hard drinking, hard fighting and intense nature of the character.”

However, Dergarabedian fears that if future superhero films attempt to duplicate “Deadpool’s” success, those stabs at the formula may miss the mark.

“Though many lessons can be learned from its success, any manufactured and inauthentic attempts to replicate it may fall flat,” he said, adding that the additional interest “Deadpool” has generated in R-rated fare “just ups the ante and the pressure on the upcoming films to deliver.”

This year will see the release of “Batman v Superman,” “Doctor Strange,” “Gambit,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “X-Men: Apocalypse” and “Suicide Squad,” which will test fans’ appetites for the genre. But Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations, foresees them all enjoying huge openings, as most of them offer something new: ‘Batman v Superman’ will set the stage for Justice League; “Doctor Strange” is an unexplored character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

One superhero film, however, lacks that novelty and therefore is this year’s most vulnerable to fatigue, experts say.

“Out of all of them, ‘X-Men’ will suffer the most because of what it isn’t offering, which is something new to the franchise, like ‘Deadpool’ did,” Bock said. “If you look at the history of superhero movies, for example, looking back to Michael Keaton in ‘Batman,’ people never tire as long as someone puts a new spin on it.”

Or, as long as “top tier talent” is at work behind the franchises, Bock said.

“They need people like Gunn, who has a lot of passion for what he does, and he finally found his niche with ‘Guardians.’ Ryan Reynolds has never been better than when he stepped into Deadpool’s spandex suit. And no one knew who Iron Man was before Robert Downey Jr. became Tony Stark. Chris Pratt and Star Lord was pretty damn close too. If you keep finding that perfect marriage, yes, these films will continue to exist.”

“Deadpool,” the 43rd live-action Marvel film, may have proved they can make 43 more, with favorable box office results.

“It’s up to Hollywood to keep making products and you will survive the fatigue if you keep adding new dimensions,” Bock added. “Until we see bad films come out of Marvel, then we can’t talk about fatigue.”