‘Deadpool’ Has Biggest Opening on Record in North America for R-Rated Film
LOS ANGELES — Welcome to the A-list, Deadpool.
In a triumph of audacious marketing, risky filmmaking and cost consciousness — at an old-line movie studio, no less — 20th Century Fox’s extremely R-rated “Deadpool,” starring Ryan Reynolds in a career-defining role (at last), broke box office records over the weekend, taking in about $135 million at North American theaters.
Going into the Valentine’s Day weekend, Hollywood expected ticket sales of roughly $70 million. But multiplex audiences, apparently hungering for the originality promised by Fox’s unusual advertising campaign, powered “Deadpool” to the biggest domestic opening on record for an R-rated movie. The previous record-holder was “The Matrix Reloaded,” which took in $118.3 million in May 2003, after adjusting for inflation.
“This tells me without any question that new and creative is what audiences want,” said Chris Aronson, Fox’s president of domestic distribution. Mr. Aronson said “Deadpool” could take in another $20 million on Monday, when many Americans are off work for Presidents’ Day. “My wrists are getting a little tired, but I will tape them up,” he added, joking that he had spent the weekend doing cartwheels.
Comedic, violent and sexually charged, “Deadpool” stars Mr. Reynolds as the title character, a Marvel Comics antihero with freakish self-healing powers. Directed by Tim Miller, a first-time feature filmmaker, the movie openly mocks Marvel films and finds Mr. Reynolds doing unconventional things for this genre, like talking directly into the camera.
The “mind-boggling” turnout could have ripple effects across Hollywood, said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at comScore. From a business perspective, other studios — namely the Disney-owned Marvel — could face pressure from investors to spend less. Fox made “Deadpool” for a relatively inexpensive $58 million. To compare, Marvel’s “Ant-Man,” starring Paul Rudd, arrived to $57.2 million in ticket sales in July but cost $130 million to make.
3-D? Who needs it? “Deadpool” was released in a traditional format, relying instead on Imax theaters and a network of extra-large screens known as Premium Large Format, both of which charge higher prices, to bolster ticket sales.
Another takeaway involved advertising, said Shawn Robbins, a senior analyst at BoxOffice.com. Rather than playing it safe, Fox allowed its president of domestic marketing, Marc Weinstock, to go for broke. His subversive campaign included billboards depicting the red-suited Deadpool holding handguns in provocative positions; an extremely raunchy online trailer; having Mr. Reynolds live-tweet an episode of “The Bachelor” in character; and stunts tied to the Super Bowl, including Mr. Reynolds (as Deadpool) serving chimichangas from a food truck.
One of the more bizarre efforts included fake billboards that make “Deadpool” look like a Nicholas Sparks-style romantic drama. Mr. Weinstock also advertised the movie on billboards using an emoji for excrement; they were placed in fewer than 10 locations yet generated coverage from hundreds of websites and trended across social networks.
“The film ended up generating more mentions on Twitter than any movie other than ‘Star Wars’ over the past few months — and significantly more than ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ to boot,” Mr. Robbins said in an email. The sharp-edged campaign succeeded in attracting not just the built-in in comic-book audience, but also what has become Hollywood’s hardest-to-reach audience: young men. Fox said that 60 percent of the audience was male.
“Deadpool” could do for Mr. Reynolds what “Iron Man” did for a struggling Robert Downey Jr. in 2008. (“Deadpool,” to compare, easily beat the first “Iron Man,” which arrived to $108.5 in adjusted ticket sales, spawning two blockbuster sequels.) Until now, Mr. Reynolds has struggled to find his footing in Hollywood. He notably suffered a misfire in 2009 by playing a sanitized version of Deadpool in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Comic book fans had a fit.
After suffering a mega-flop last summer with “Fantastic Four,” Fox has lately been on a roll. The studio also had the No. 2 movie for the weekend, “Kung Fu Panda 3,” which took in $19.7 million, for a three-week domestic total of $93.9 million. Third place went to “How to Be Single” (New Line and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), a $37 million romantic comedy. It collected about $18.8 million.
Ben Stiller’s heavily hyped “Zoolander 2” (Paramount Pictures) flopped in fourth place, taking in about $15.6 million, or roughly 24 percent less than the original, after adjusting for inflation. The movie, which cost about $50 million to make and is loaded with celebrity cameos, received dismal reviews and was poised to generate poor word of mouth. Ticket buyers gave it a C-plus grade in CinemaScore exit polls.