Deadpool v Batman v Superman v Daredevil v Punisher...
- by Leo Stableford, 14 April 2016
The "R" Rated comic book movie has not enjoyed an untroubled history. The recent kerfuffle surrounding the monstrous success of Deadpool at the Box Office (US Domestic Box Office: $358 mill. on a $58 mill. production budget) would have had you believe that Deadpool was the first ever attempt to sell a comic book movie where younger viewers were excluded.
It's easy to take a cynic's eye view on this and point out that Deadpool is regarded as such by Hollywood folk because it is the first *successful* R-Rated comic book outing. Indeed to the casual observer it might even appear that Deadpool's success is quite sudden and that the whole shape and form of the R-Rated super saga has bloomed full formed, with only a couple of notable failures in the history of the endeavour.
To understand why that's complete piffle, you have to readjust your view from that of a comic book/pop culture enthusiast and look at the problem the way movie producers look at it. Deadpool is a comic book movie, and recently, selling comic book movies has become big business, but you can't attach an R-Rating to your comic book movie, because that's box office poison. Let's look at the "facts" surrounding that limited world view.
Waaaay back in 2007, Zack Snyder brought us the very first successful R-Rated comic book movie in the shape of 300. Previous to this, there had been a little dabbling. 2005's adaptation of Sin City from Robert Rodriguez had brought in $74 mill. US Domestic on a $40 mill. budget, but that's nothing special and it took a decade to get to a sequel that only raked in $13 mill. domestic on an undisclosed budget.
By contrast, 300 grossed $210 mill. domestic on a $65 mill. budget and therefore was seen as a decent performer. Even so 300's sequel only hit screens 7 years later and significantly underperformed, with a terrible $106 mill. domestic from a $110 mill budget.
Post 300, other contenders stepped up to crack the R-Rated comic book nut. None of them fared particularly well. Wanted (2008) managed $134 mill. domestic on a $75 mill budget. Stepping back up to the plate Snyder's lovingly crafted visual museum and tribute band to the king of graphic novels, Watchmen, pulled in a flat $128 mill. domestic on an $81 mill. budget. The first sign that Snyder might not actually have the chops to dominate in this one area that he appears to be so dedicated to.
In 2010, Kick-Ass raked in $48 mill. domestic on a $30 mill. budget (and was hailed as a success at the time). It only waited four years for an R-Rated sequel to pull in $28 mill. domestic on a $28 mill budget. The best performing R-Rated sequel so far, therefore, was also a massive failure.
Then, in 2012, the Dredd bomb dropped. Two things are clear about the newer adaptation of 2000ADs favourite fascist super cop. One is that Pete Travis, Alex Garland, Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey et al. did amazing work in producing an incredible movie. The other is that it managed a paltry $13 mill. Domestic on a $50 mill budget. The worst bomb so far (with the possible exception of "A Dame To Kill For" because we don't know how much that turkey cost to produce).
After Dredd's appalling box office performance, in a landscape dominated by MCU blockbusters, the accepted wisdom became that you could not make a decently profitable R-Rated movie. Matthew Vaughn returned to the R-Rated comic book movie with the modestly successful (domestically) Kingsman: The Secret Service. It is probably worth noting that Kingsman had the biggest foreign uplift thus far, making $414 mill. internationally. Even so it did far less well on just the domestic pulling in $128 mill. on an $81 mill. budget.
Given the chequered history detailed above, you can see why an R-Rated comic book property pulling $756 mill international on a $58 mill budget is quite staggering to the people who keep track of such things. It is hard not to picture both Snyder and Vaughn completely speechless as Tim Miller's outsider property just left in the dust all that they had been working for so far. It is also quite easy to picture Snyder's chagrin as he swiftly announces an R-Rated DVD cut of his latest effort, the ponderously titled "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice". Snyder has been trying to achieve some darker, grittier comic book movie success for virtually his entire career. Now this chimichanga fuelled, potty mouthed, fourth wall breaking upstart has just bloodied his nose with a movie released, for added salt in the wound, on Valentine's Day.
In case you weren't aware mid-February is something of a release graveyard. It's right before the Oscars and way too soon for summer blockbusters. February is a place for unloved movie misfits. kind of appropriate in some ways.
To make matters worse Bats v Supes already had some release date woes before it had even started shooting. originally it was pitched to go head to head with Captain America: Civil War. Cooler heads prevailed, but releasing in March does smack of a attempt to steal some thunder. How ironic that it should find itself with its thunder stolen already.
There's room now, all of a sudden, for R-rated super hero fare. How fortunate that a little time after Deadpool whetted everyone's appetites Daredevil's Netflix show should return for a second season, this time with added Punisher.
The devil of Hell's Kitchen is a darker, moodier kind of adult super than the mouthy merc. In fact the gritty tone the Netflix show has earned is exactly the kind of pitch BvS was attempting to sell new minted. More thunder stealing ensued.
Before we head into a May filled with Marvel supers, Doctor Strange in November and the first of the new line of Star Wars spin offs let's consider the fallout of an unusually exciting February through April. Deadpool made a ton of bank and that's an attention grabber. The real question is "Does it prove anything?" The unfortunate answer is, no. A single incident cannot be a trend.
You could say that Marvel magic, a committed and competent production team and stocks of good will at an all-time high form a recipe for R-rated success but really only the Marvel factor is unique to this particular effort. It's not really saying much to point out Marvel are enjoying something of a streak at present.
For that reason I think the only things we'll get out of this situation are a funnier version of Suicide Squad, a Deadpool sequel with a bigger budget and the possibility that Warner/DC will give Zack Snyder even more money to pump out some grimdark nonsense filled with gore and nudity. These prospects range from the acceptable to the tedious but, in the end, none of them are a Dredd sequel now, are they?
Are you optimistic about the sudden popularity of R-rated comic book movies? What do you think Deadpool did right that Dredd didn't? Let us know below!
Tagged: movies & TV.