Ryan Reynolds lived and breathed Deadpool for 11 years, and his insistence paid off. Two Golden Globe nominations — one for Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture and Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy — four nominations (and two wins for Best Comedy and Best Actor in a Comedy) from the Critics’ Choice Awards, and a Writers Guild Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay later, and there’s real chatter about an Oscar nomination too. The Avengers might have their extended universe, but Deadpool is rolling around by himself in the dirt and loving every minute of it.

Deadpool is the first superhero film to make it this far into a prestige category. Even if Reynolds and his labor of love don’t win anything this award season, Deadpool has done what none of the corporate-churned keystone superhero films have been able to — score non-technical nominations at major industry award shows. It’s adored by both fans and critics alike. Now, this sex joke-driven gore-fest with a heart of gold is standing outside of Marvel’s ivory tower, waving a pair of torn tighty-whities and dancing on a pile of money.

Ryan Reynolds is, for lack of a better phrase, a professional fanboy. He’s built a persona for himself as the only actor who truly understands Deadpool, fighting over years for the sanctity (if not the, uh, purity) of Wade Wilson, taking on the role of star, producer, script doctor, editor, and marketing executive to rave reviews and international success. A superhero film with a $58 million budget (bare bones for the genre) raked in $783 million worldwide on Ryan Reynolds’s spandexed ass and quick wit.

How the hell do you replicate that?

If you’re Disney — the multibillion dollar international lawsuit specialist that owns the rights to the Avengers — the answer is: You don’t worry about it. Captain America: Civil War rounded out 2016 with $1.15 billion worldwide, making it the top-grossing film of the year.

On the other hand, Wade Wilson is electric in a way the Avengers aren’t: He’s mouthy, sarcastic, and just as funny as he is violent, making him the perfect character for the big screen in 2016. 20th Century Fox (holders of the rights to Deadpool’s cinematic visage) also owns the X-Men franchise and paid little attention to Deadpool for a very, very long time. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) literally sewed Deadpool’s mouth shut, infuriating Wade Wilson fans and potentially killing off the merc’s movie legacy forever. But, luckily for fans — and Fox — it seemed to be the kick in the ass Reynolds needed.

Instead of relying on the tried-and-true superhero assembly line that’s been in place since Marvel launched its Cinematic Universe with 2008’s Iron Man, Deadpool was a singular movie made by a singular voice. It was perfectly contained, not tripping itself up with sweeping, multiple narrative arcs or loose threads while still creating a world ripe with potential. That potential lies entirely in the fact that people fucking loved it. A sequel is already underway for a 2018 release, and the pressure is only mounting as Deadpool rakes in the nominations.

In a world where a new superhero movie seems to blow up the box office every six months, where nostalgia has been franchised and refined into a money-making machine, Deadpool is there, dancing around in a French maid costume on his respectable slice of the pie. The results of the Golden Globes, Writers Guild Awards, and, perhaps, the Oscars could turn “respectable” into “iconic,” into “revered,” and that shouldn’t just turn heads. It should scare a hell of a lot of people. If the Ryan Reynolds of the world can successfully combine their passion projects with the same kind of powerhouses that spit out Avengers and Justice League films, making superhero films popular money makers and worthy of consideration by the Academy, some big changes are coming.

Granted, that’s a huge “if.” Wade Wilson would have a lot of remarks to make about the size of that “if.” But Deadpool has presented the world with that “if,” and it would be foolish to ignore him.

Photos via 20th Century Fox, Collider, GQ

Caitlin Busch is an entertainment staff writer at Inverse. Based in Brooklyn, Caitlin hails from Kansas City, Missouri, and loves large dogs, overpriced coffee, superheroes, and science fiction.

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