Now that the character is the cornerstone of one of the best and most promising blockbuster properties in recent years, it’s a genuine headscratcher for a lot of people as to why Fox didn’t get their act together sooner concerning Deadpool. His first movie was a record-breaking smash hit on a relatively light budget in the blockbuster off-season. And, if the early word on the sequel is any indication, Deadpool 2, with its upgraded release date and studio support, is looking to be cut from the same cloth.
By rights, Deadpool really didn’t have all that much going for it compared to those Wolverine movies (or even, really, all those terrible Fantastic Four movies) and yet it turned out to be one of the best movies of the year, both critically and commercially. It paved the way for other R-rated X-Men spinoffs, like Logan, and singlehandedly changed the way that we thought of the X-Men movies.
Looking back on the history of Deadpool on the big screen, though, it’s a genuine head-scratcher as to why it took so long for somebody to make a decent movie out of the character. Even if he never had the same mainstream appeal of Marvel’s other mutants, he has proven to be an enduringly popular character whose notoriety has only grown with the increasing ubiquity of the internet and “meme culture.” He offered some much needed respite from the relatively doom-and-gloom X-teams (especially given how they appeared in movies since 2000: black leather and brooding as anything).
Interestingly, the character was pitched for spinoff movies in the early aughts: even before X-Men Origins: Wolverine and all of the planned, and subsequently canceled, solo mutant movies. Understandably, at least for the time, the idea was met by considerable resistance within Fox. Pretty much everything about the character screamed the need for an R-rating: an aberration in the genre under even the best of circumstances, and resoundingly not in line with where the industry had been heading for the past decade.
The last R-rated super franchise was Blade, which was so obscure and distanced from costume crime-fighters that one could be excused for thinking that it was an original property, and certainly not one chasing after X-Men‘s, Spider-Man‘s and Batman‘s successes. And while there were a couple more to come out of the 90’s, pretty much all of them fell under the radar and resisted comparison to other superhero series. Darkman, which Sam Raimi came up with when he failed to secure the Batman film rights, was dark, brooding and had more immediately in common with the deranged Phantom of the Opera than Gotham’s Dark Knight. The Crow was a sadistic, supernatural revenge flick based on an obscure comic.
And so Deadpool was shelved, only to be partially resurrected when X-Men Origins needed a third-act bad guy to punch. But even then, it was hardly the Wade Wilson that we had been promised. A victim of the 2007-2008 Hollywood Writer’s Strike, the film was rushed into production without a finished script, with Ryan Reynolds forced to improv most of his own dialog. And in the end, director Gavin Hood and Fox themselves decided to write off the issue and just sew the character’s mouth shut when he resurfaced near the end of the movie. Thus, the “Merc with a Mouth” failed to even live up to the name.
Another few years came and went, but Ryan Reynolds simply didn’t let the issue go. Between his constant pushing for a true-to-form Deadpool movie, and parallel rumblings from the Wolverine camp to let that character off of the short-and-profitable leash that Fox had weighed him down with, they eventually got the go-ahead on the movie.
Here’s where things get a little wonky, and the story changes depending on who you ask, but the impression that I always got of the situation is that Fox never greenlit the full project. Either that or they greenlit it on far too low a budget to really make work. So director Tim Miller shot (most of) the opening action sequence from the film and leaked the test footage to the public. Regardless of whether it was a calculated proof-of-concept or a genuine accident, the footage resonated with audiences and began the long and overwhelmingly positive press that followed the film’s production into the theaters nearly a year later.
And, well, that’s the shifting and often bizarre story of how Deadpool went from a comic book fan favorite to what is going on one of the most dominant franchises on the planet. Even with the pending buyout of Fox by Disney, I don’t expect that the character will change much, if at all. We’ll get a few off-color jokes about the rights transfer or joining up with the Avengers or maybe even a few of his supporting cast dissolving like half of the A-listers at the end of Infinity War. After that, though, the series will chug along, unhindered, same as it would have otherwise.