Unsurprisingly, Deadpool 2 opened to the rare, one-two punch of astoundingly good reviews and box office mega-success. When all the dust had settled following its opening weekend, it clocked in as the second-best opening weekend for an R-rated movie in history, beaten out only by the first movie in its franchise, the original Deadpool. And even then, the difference between them is shockingly little: a mere $7 million ($132 million for the first movie vs $125 million for the second) after moving from the relatively barren release slate of mid-February into the relatively crowded release slate of mid-May, in turn having to contend with soon-to-be $2 billion dollar-earner Avengers: Infinity War as opposed to instantly forgettable How to Be Single and “nobody asked for this” Zoolander 2.
On top of its near-record-breaking $125 million opening in amidst the broader listing of R-rated movies, it is notable for being – by a fairly wide margin – the highest opening weekend in May for an R-rated movie. It’s next nearest competition is The Matrix Reloaded: a movie that was released FIFTEEN years ago and made over $30 million less than it. Add to that its rave reviews and glowing word of mouth – praise which includes an 83% rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and a positive 66/100 rating on Metacritic – and it is not only a standout for the genre (especially outside of the powerhouse of Marvel Studios), but a success that is can reasonably be expected to weather the summer box office glut fairly well (especially given the general dirge of adult-oriented entertainment between April and August every year).
Perplexingly, however, I’ve seen some entertainment outlets trying to spin what is unquestionably a resounding success for the movie and, by extension, Fox Studios, into some kind of proof-positive of the genre’s flagging, slagging or otherwise waning appeal. A weird subsect of film critics, commentators and writers have decided to latch onto the fact that the movie only made $125 million dollars stateside and $175 million elsewhere in the world off of a presumed $110 million budget over the course of its opening weekend and, in the process, resoundingly dethroning Infinity War from its otherwise unchallenged perch at the top of the US box office.
Yeah…. Let’s just take that in one more time. $125 million domestically. $300 million worldwide. Reviews that, on Rotten Tomatoes’ good-bad binary, are about as good as most of last year’s Best Picture nominees and exactly as good as the movie it’s following up. All added up together, it’s supposed to mean that audiences… are somehow getting tired of superheroes.
What most of these poo-pooing commentators are trying to get at is that Deadpool 2’s $125 million opening is less than Infinity War’s $257 million, which therefor denotes a rapid down spiral in profitability. Of course, this also means that said commentators are outright ignoring the fact that Deadpool 2 has a far more audience restricting R-rating and (at least judging by what the previous two Avengers budgets were) cost around one third as much to produce. That ignores the fact that the strong reviews and word of mouth, not to mention the decidedly different demographic that it purports to service means that it has a real set of legs undernearth it: making objectively less money, yes, but sustaining those incomes for a far longer period of time as more family friendly fare like Solo, The Incredibles and Jurassic World will as they come and go from the box office.
By all accounts, audiences aren’t tiring of superhero movies. If anything, they’re clamoring for more and more of them as time foes on, as evidenced by the continued success of movies like Infinity War, Deadpool 2, Black Panther, Logan and so on. The thing is, though, that audiences, their cup running over with genuinely great movies in the genre, are starting to demand more from their caped crusaders than a pretty face to mug for the camera and some Bay-esque explosions for the final blowout action scene.
This is why, for instance, that the DCEU movies (other than Wonder Woman) have consistently underperformed at and quickly exited from the box office and how Justice League, aka “the one that was actually supposed to work and fix the DCEU’s troubled production thus far,’ actually lost money (and, by some reports, a lot of it). It’s why Dark Phoenix and New Mutants are allegedly being pulled from their previously planned spots in the release schedule and being retooled from the ground up while Fox waits on that Disney deal to fully go through.
So, no, all present evidence points to audiences loving superheroes and their four color worlds just as much as, if not more than, they ever did. With so many movies to choose from, however, they are becoming more discerning consumers. And, yes, a movie being R-rated, does mean that it has a lower box office ceiling than something that’s rated PG-13 (and thus can market directly to children). That’ not a revelation, that’s just business (and, if budgeted for correctly like Logan and Deadpool 2, it’s smart business).