What Does the Success of 'Deadpool' Mean for Comedy?

Superhero movie? Nah, 'Deadpool' is a very, very successful comedy.


Deadpool is popular, everyone. We have to face facts. He’s technically the most popular X-Men character if we’re talking good old American dollars and cents. Who knew that a bloody, R-rated, C-list Marvel antihero who spouts off a litany of dick jokes in the midst of decapitating random bad guys would be box-office dynamite? 20th Century Fox’s gamble hit big, and now writers and studio executives are scrambling to predict how this will affect the future superhero titles hoping to capture the same fanboy appeal. But who cares about all that. What is Deadpool going to do for comedy?

To get there, we have to detour through the oversaturated realm of superhero flicks — the highest risk, highest return genre in cinema today. Will Marvel react by throwing in some swears and pulling an R-rating for once? Will we have Wolverine suddenly stop in the middle of a fight to address the audience with a signature catchphrase? What will be the next semi-obscure fan-favorite character to get their own movie? Will every single movie ever made have to be a comic book movie from now on? Calm down, folks. It’ll all be better soon.

It was the type of fear-of-the-unknown panic that Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn directly addressed in a now-famous Facebook post praising Deadpool while pointing out what was wrong with the reaction. “Deadpool was its own thing. That’s what people are reacting to,” Gunn explained. “It’s original, it’s damn good, it was made with love by the filmmakers, and it wasn’t afraid to take risks.” While not everybody can agree with Gunn that the movie was “damn good,” there’s no denying that it wasn’t afraid to do something different.

Arguably the one thing it did most differently — but actually managed to pull off — was embedding a prominent sense of humor in its comic book mythology. It definitely took awhile to get to that point in terms of comic book movies. Where something like Kick-Ass and its sequel at least attempted to be humorous, and Guardians of the Galaxy used it as a framework to support what was essentially a Star Wars-esque space opera (let’s not talk about Ant-Man), Deadpool* could be categorized as a straight-up comedy. Where do you think the movie will end up in the iTunes genres? If anything, some Apple robot might mistake it for “Action/Adventure,” but all human appraisal points directly toward the funny-ha-ha genre.

It’s Deadpool’s comedy that hasn’t steadily been addressed, or at least what the effect of its comedy will have on the genre because of its success. It’s not like Judd Apatow or some alt-comedian will be intimidated by a Marvel movie all of a sudden cutting in on their expertise. If anything, the success of Deadpool could be the antidote to the grim and gritty trend that’s taken hold of previously light but still mythologically robust blockbusters need. Being humorous, even for someone like Superman, turns out to maybe be beneficial. And it’ll only pave the way for studio comedies like Spy and Trainwreck — two of the highest grossing comedies of 2015 — to inch up the box office charts even more. Apatow has been trying his whole career, but who knew incessant superhero dick jokes could do that?

Though its comedy is below sophomoric and its demographic skews toward the types of people (wait, who are we kidding, it’s almost all dudes) with permanent Doritos and/or Cheetos dust on their fingers, Deadpool is an undeniable success because it didn’t mince words on-screen and off. The entire marketing campaign stressed the funny as a way to separate itself from the regular Captain America explosions and punches and kicks to save the world. It was kind of a relief even for skeptics to see, especially since the normal Marvel movies don’t seem to want to change one bit. The most recent Captain America: Civil War trailer culminates in a shot of nothing but grown men in superhero suits continually pummeling each other.

This is obviously what Civil War will be about, because it’s essentially what the other Marvel movies are about. Who cares if we’ll get bloodier and more vulgar superhero movies from here on out. Deadpool made everyone at least chuckle once — the opening credits alone had more laughs than the last Avengers movie. The least it could do is convince filmmakers that it’s okay to have big, broad themes along with some comic relief. Gunn ended his Facebook diatribe by saying, “Hopefully in the midst of all this there will be a studio or two that will take the right lesson from this.” There’s nothing funny about that because he’s right.