How ‘Deadpool’ Returned Ryan Reynolds to the A-List and Saved R-Rated Comic Book Movies

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Deadpool’s” record-obliterating success is really a tale of two comebacks.

First there’s Ryan Reynolds. Going into this weekend, the genetically-blessed actor was on the ropes. Following “The Proposal” and “Buried,” Reynolds was anointed the Next Big Thing, but the twin failures of “Green Lantern” and “R.I.P.D.,” catapulted the actor off of the A-list, seemingly dooming him to a career of being Helen Mirren’s sympathetic ear in the likes of “Woman in Gold.”

But Reynolds found redemption in “Deadpool,” a physically deformed mercenary, whose jaundiced worldview makes him the rare costumed avenger who is as interested in slicing up the PC-police as he is in saving the world. It’s a role that plays off Reynold’s gift for comedy in a way that his bland leading men roles have failed to capitalize on, and it’s a movie that the actor willed into being.

“This is like his Iron Man,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore. “Just as Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man personified, you couldn’t have cast an actor more perfectly as Deadpool.”

“Deadpool’s” box office dominance also revives the R-rated comic book movies after failures and disappointments such as “Watchmen,” “Kick-Ass” and “The Punisher” movies threatened to consign them to novelty status. The prevailing wisdom had been that in order to bring in the broadest possible audience, movies featuring superheroes had to be rated PG-13.

After “Deadpool” racked up $135 million this weekend, Reynolds has the kind of franchise role that will allow him to have his pick of top scripts and projects. Fox, the studio behind the picture, has already begun working on a sequel.

Reynolds may owe his second chance in part to his personal charm. Industry executives have always praised his willingness to campaign for the movies he makes, finding him to be an affable trooper. When his movies faltered, there wasn’t the sense of schadenfreude there was when, say, Shia LaBeouf decided to napalm his public image by taking the party to Walgreens and heckling the cast of Broadway’s “Cabaret.”

It also is a credit to his drive. After playing the character in 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” Reynolds campaigned to bring him to the screen in a way that was truer to the comics’ irreverent spirit.

“He took control over his own destiny,” said Jeff Bock, box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations.

“Deadpool’s” penchant for four-letter words and ultra-violence helped a genre that was threatening to reach saturation levels mine fresh ground. Fox domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson called the rating “the differentiator,”  while acknowledging that green lighting the film with an R took “a lot of courage.”

The studio has yet to release demographic numbers for the opening weekend crowd, but rivals say that despite its R-rating, “Deadpool” attracted a broad range of moviegoers. That spelled trouble for other new releases, such as Paramount’s “Zoolander 2” and Warner Bros.’ “How to Be Single,” both of which struggled to attract crowds.

“You can handle another big movie in the marketplace, but a phenomenon is tough,” said Megan Colligan, Paramout’s worldwide marketing and distribution chief.

Because no original idea stays that way for long, expect other studios to quickly follow “Deadpool’s” lead. With an endless array of comic book movies flooding the market, filmmakers are looking for ways to set their films apart. In the wake of “Deadpool’s” success, speculation on social media platforms turned to “Suicide Squad,” a super-villain team up that could also target adult crowds and teenagers with permissive parents.

“If you’re editing a superhero movie right now, you may figure it’s worth amping up the language, action and attitude because audiences seem to love it,” said Dergarabedian.

But don’t just drop F-bombs for the sake of being labeled edgy. As “Deadpool” demonstrates, the movie and the marketing both have to be true to the source material. The reason the Comic-Con crowd flipped at the initial footage from the film, and that social media embraced images of Deadpool on the toilet or stretched out on a bearskin rug doing his best Burt Reynolds impression, was that they were cheeky parodies of a genre that has grown self-serious. That’s true of the Deadpool from the comic — he is a mercenary, fourth-wall shattering figure, more interested in landing the perfect put down than he is in saving the world.

Perhaps the most refreshing thing about “Deadpool” is that an age where every superhero film deals with the looming threat of planetary, nay galactic, extermination, the stakes were comparatively small. In place of stopping a super villain bent on global domination, Reynolds is obsessed with saving his girlfriend and exacting revenge on the people who left him a horribly disfigured “Merc with a mouth.”

That may be “Deadpool’s” most radical element and an important reminder that there are only so many times filmmakers can lay waste to major cities before it starts feeling stale. Plus, nothing beats a killer, post-credit’s “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” parody.

The reasons for “Deadpool’s” success are manifold, but in the wake of its staggering grosses, two things that were perceived as being out to pasture — R-rated comic book movies and Ryan Reynolds — are suddenly back on top. This is what redemption looks like.