Can ‘Deadpool’ Finally Make Ryan Reynolds a Bankable Star?


Deadpool needed Ryan Reynolds, and Ryan Reynolds needed Deadpool. The comic book antihero had been a favorite of Marvel fans since 1991 and the hopeful subject of a film franchise for more than a decade, but until test footage starring the voice of Reynolds was leaked, the character was dead in the water, fated to appear only in Marvel spin-offs. Deadpool the character is an amped-up Spider-Man, in both appearance and tone, smart-alecky and decked out in red but also violent and polyamorous, prone to decapitating thugs and then joking about how great that new orifice would feel. This, and jokes like this, require deftness to not be awful the first time around. Two hours of ’em? Probably nobody but Reynolds could’ve pulled that off.

And pull it off he does. Deadpool the film is a teen’s wet dream, filled with blood and dick jokes and tits and ass and (it must be said) briefly, Reynolds’ own charred cock. It’s fueled by Reynolds’ charm (and abs), and that charm has broken some R-rated box office records: the film has made a reported $150 million domestic in its opening weekend. The last R-rated record-holder was, oddly enough, 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded, which pulled in $91.7 million in its first weekend. Deadpool broke the record for a Presidents Day opening, too, which was previously held by (the also R-rated) Fifty Shades of Grey at $85 million. And let’s not ignore the feat of director Tim Miller, who, with an R-rated flick, scored the all-time best opening weekend for a first-time director. This is a huge score for Miller, a big win for Marvel, and great for Fox — their best opening weekend ever. But it could be even better for Reynolds, who for years has struggled to establish himself as a bankable leading man.

The 39-year-old Canadian actor blipped onto Hollywood’s radar in 2002 with National Lampoons Van Wilder, in which he played what might as well be a neutered version of Deadpool, all gropes and slurs but no guns. He went on to play tamer variations of that character, most notably in 2005’s service industry classic Waiting… He also starred in never-seen action movies (also, his first foray into comic land, Blade: Trinity) and began a still-lucrative voiceover career. Eventually, appeared as Wade Wilson (Deadpool’s plainclothes counterpart) in the first Wolverine spinoff, in 2009. His name wasn’t on the marquee with that flick, though, and it wouldn’t be until DC Comics’ 2011 effort Green Lantern that Reynolds would finally have his chance at superstardom and all of the riches of a comic book franchise. Only it didn’t go that way.

The movie was a famous flop, scoring a scathing 26% at Rotten Tomatoes and earning, in total, $116 million domestic — less than Deadpool made in its first weekend. Oh, and that was against a $200 million production budget. Reynolds’ career didn’t tank, though, and he went on to co-star in Denzel Washington’s winner, Safe-House, along with voicing in The Croods and Turbo. Then, unfortunately, came the laughably bad Men In Black-aping R.I.P.D, which made $33 million against a $130 production budget. For all intents and purposes, Reynolds should have been forgotten by Hollywood, thrown to the wolves of the rom-com wilderness, forced to beg for a part in True Detective. And yet he wasn’t.

It was all thanks to the Deadpool test footage that leaked in 2014. Though any reliable clips of the footage have been removed from the Internet by Fox, the video was essentially a CGI mockup of the film’s opening scene, all smirking side-eye and violence as voiced by Reynolds. It was his voice not only because he had starred as Deadpool in Wolverine, but also because he had been the project’s sole long-time supporter, having hung on to the script since 2005. If that footage hadn’t leaked, and Fox hadn’t seen the uproar of Deadpool’s online fans, this film could have never happened. But it also wouldn’t have been the hit it became if it were released 10 years ago, when comic book films were just becoming their own genre.

The success of the film is probably the only tangible proof of general superhero fatigue we’re likely to see this year, in which at least seven comic book movies are confirmed for release. Throughout its running time Deadpool makes good on its fourth wall-breaking source material by addressing the budgetary limitations (only two X-Men!) placed by Fox, joshing on Hugh Jackman, satirizing Green Lantern several times, and pointing out any and all of the storyline tropes it would, inevitably, fall into. Without the public’s awareness of superhero films, Deadpool wouldn’t hit so hard. And without the jabs at the world it’s born into, the film would be one prolonged dick joke.

That’s all to say, Deadpool would not have made it to the big screen if Ryan Reynolds hadn’t willed it into being. And it’s very likely that anyone other than Reynolds would’ve whiffed on the sardonic tone, giving us two hours of eye rolls. But this thing doesn’t live off its own quality. Just as much as Reynolds is to thank for the film being made, unlike other perpetually stalled films, this one probably only worked because it wasn’t made ten years ago. And so, as much as Deadpool needed Ryan Reynolds to get made, Ryan Reynolds needed Deadpool to resuscitate his career. Whether he’s able to ride this wave into further box office success is a giant question mark, because without the sex, gunplay, X-Men, and explosions, Reynolds’ personality in concentrate is an endurance test best doled out in bitesized bits. The closest analog to Reynolds would be Captain America‘s Wonder Bread-white Chris Evans, who hasn’t even attempted to headline a blockbuster outside of the Marvel world in his entire career. Unfortunately for Reynolds’ superstar potential, Deadpool is a rare case in which a charismatic actor is only able to shine in the context of a bloated superhero flick and, in fact, shines all the brighter because of it.