Fox's Go-Small Strategy with Comic Book Movies

Around these parts, we're on the record as being generally bored with the direction of Hollywood's most bankable properties right now. By that, of course, I mean comic book movies. Sure, we still show up for them, but, between Marvel's antiseptic, safe above-averageness, and DC's aimless, overpowered gritty take on its own universe, that's more out of a sense of duty than it is enthusiasm. In that context, Deadpool is far and away the most interesting thing to happen to the genre this year. It's $363 million domestic box office gross ought to cut a familiar figure with Hollywood execs, but its R rating, and all the violence and foulmouthed language that came with it, is something quite unusual given how family friendly most comic book movies aim to be.

All of that makes what Fox, the studio that took a risk on the film, mostly at the behest of its star Ryan Reynolds, does next so interesting.

The Verge's Kwame Opam has a great read on just that topic, explaining why Deadpool director Tim Miller abruptly left the upcoming sequel earlier this year, and how that might be indicative of what Fox is going for overall as it tries to compete with the two more established behemoths in this space.

By going with a smaller sequel — and not even trying to replicate the bigger-than-bigger strategy employed by most franchises — Fox can let the next Deadpool focus on character rather than budget-inflating effects, floating apart from the competition in a sea of superhero movies.

It’s an approach that already seems to be reflected in Fox’s larger strategy, as well. Next year’s Wolverine swan song Logan will be rated R, something that would be a definite no-no for Disney-owned Marvel. And given that Deadpool exists in the X-Men film universe, it’s all too easy to imagine the Merc with a Mouth — and all of his raunchy attitude — stepping in to prop up that otherwise mediocre franchise. If anything, not trying to simply play Marvel’s game is slowly becoming a virtue when it comes to genre properties in Hollywood.

In the end, I didn't particularly care for Deadpool as a film. Its gleeful obsession with winking at anyone who would pay attention was incredibly grating and far too self-congratulatory for my liking. Even so, I certainly appreciated that it went for something so different, and committed itself fully to that end. If its success gives a major studio the freedom to be more experimental in a genre where experimentation seems so routinely discouraged, well, then the comic book movie might be saved from its own tropes.