[Movie Club] Deadpool: Return of the Mid-Budget Comic Book Movie

[Movie Club] Deadpool: Return of the Mid-Budget Comic Book Movie

Deadpool

I hope that Deadpool is wildly successful. I hope it makes $800 million dollars and everyone in every nation around the world loves it. I mean obviously I want movies to be good, but I want this movie to succeed in particular. Not because I am a huge fan of the character or anything (I probably haven’t read more than two issues of Deadpool comics in my life), but because I don’t want every superhero movie to be a $150 million – $250 million dollar blockbuster. I want more mid-sized budget comic book films.

I don’t hate big budget superhero movies; they’re big, loud, fun, spectacle driven event blockbusters and I love going to the theater with a group of friends and shoving handfuls of popcorn in mouth while Iron Man and Thor beat up bad guys. But I feel like the focus of studios has been too heavy on these types of films. While the Avengers and the Justice League are obviously big parts of superhero comics, there are thousands of other characters in both the Marvel and DC universes that aren’t part of these big teams or don’t work in the context of massive, effects driven blockbusters. Moon Knight doesn’t fight Thanos and Ultron; he is a mentally unstable vigilante who may or may not be possessed by the spirit of an ancient Egyptian god. She-Hulk isn’t Bruce Banner; she is a lawyer who beats up B-list villain on her days off. Starman isn’t the Man of Steel; he is some guy who was passed down the mantle of an obscure Golden Age superhero from his elderly father. All of these are really interesting characters who, in the current studio environment, have a snowball’s chance in Hell of having their own movie.

But you know what? It makes perfect sense that these characters don’t get movies made. Look at the over $9 BILLION dollars that the MCU movies have made since 2008, not even counting home media sales and merchandising. Studios like 10 figure box-office grosses because they are first and foremost a business, and that is one hell of a profit. Now look how smaller budget comic based films have performed since the rise of the ultra-profitable big budget superhero movie. Sin City 2, Jonah Hex, Dredd, and even Scott Pilgrim were all flops and while others like Kick-Ass 2, Cowboys and Aliens, and Hellboy 2 at least broke even, they weren’t nearly as profitable as the big franchise movies. It makes sense that a studio would rather invest in the franchise building up to a team-up movie method than smaller films, even despite failures like Fant4stic and Green Lantern.

This is where I hope Deadpool can make a change. While the film doesn’t have an official budget yet, estimates place it as low as 1/4th the price of a typical superhero movie, so it likely cost around $50 million dollars. If the number is accurate, that is an insanely low budget for a comic book movie; the cheapest film based off of a Marvel franchise since Punisher: War Zone, and ignoring that, it is only slightly more expensive than 1998’s Blade. While it is impossible to make an Iron Man or Avengers for this price, there are tons of smaller scale superhero films that could work at this budget. Obscure characters, characters that deal with darker themes and subject matters, and minority characters would all be much more attractive to studios at this level, as they are likely to draw in an audience due to their connection with the larger franchises without the risk of them not being as “marketable” as their buddies already on the screen.

While they still have pretty large budgets when compared to most films, Ant-Man and Kingsman: The Secret Service are two examples of successful comic book movies that don’t follow the established comic movie formula. Ant-Man is a heist movie that only crosses over with a (relatively minor) MCU character for a joke and didn’t serve as a means to set-up a larger crossover film apart from the token post-credits scene. Kingsman is an action-comedy-spy movie that isn’t connected to a larger universe at all. These aren’t perfect examples, since Ant-Man cost well over $100 million dollars to produce and Kingsman still cost around $81 million, they are still substantially cheaper than the movies like The Avengers and tell much smaller stories that don’t exist as engines to set up larger crossover movies. Moviegoers are still interested in comic movies even if they aren’t about alien invasions or massive robot armies, and if a movie potentially 1/6th the cost of Age of Ultron is successful then studios will be much more likely to test the waters with other small scale comic movies. Maybe I’ll actually get Howard the Duck 2.

Hopefully Deadpool’s mix of action and comedy, Marvel/X-Men stamp, and (hopefully) high quality will lead to a renaissance of Marvel and DC movies based on no-names and B-listers, but there are still obstacles that it has to overcome on the path to box-office gold. Deadpool is R-rated, helmed by a relatively unknown director/screenwriters, coming out in February, and, maybe worst of all, many moviegoers’ only experience with the character is the butchered interpretation from the less than stellar X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but I’m still rooting for it. I won’t even mind the increase in the number of Deadpool cosplayers that will probably happen this con season, as hellish as that will be. Just let this movie make money so I can get more weird superhero movies. Worst case, we can always turn to Netflix’s Marvel shows for our B-list superhero entertainment, and I can think of much worse worst cases.

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