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Top 10 Takeaways: How R-Rated Marvel Action Comedy ‘Deadpool’ Rewrote February Box Office History

Top 10 Takeaways: How R-Rated Marvel Action Comedy 'Deadpool' Rewrote February Box Office History

The much sought-after calendar event—Valentine’s Day on the same weekend as President’s Day—pushed box office totals to strong results. Credit Marvel’s sleeper box office breakout “Deadpool” (20th Century Fox) starring a perfectly cast Ryan Reynolds in an R-Rated franchise. And resurgent 20th Century Fox is enjoying happy days that studios only dream about. The more conventional two openers (“How to Be Single” and “Zoolander”) combined did only a quarter as much business as “Deadpool,” as several holdovers are still thriving.

The Top Ten

1. Deadpool (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: A ; Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 65; Est. budget: $58 million
$135,050,000 in 3,558 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $37,957; Cumulative: $135,050,000
2. Kung Fu Panda 2 (20th Century Fox) – Week 3; Last weekend #1
$19,650,000 (-7%) in 3,844 theaters (-143); PTA: $5,112; Cumulative: $93,912,000
3. How to Be Single (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 52; Est. budget: $37 million
$18,750,000 in 3,394 theaters; PTA: $5,609; Cumulative: $18,750,000
4. Zoolander 2 (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: C+; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 35; Est. budget: $50 million
$15,650,000 in 3,343 theaters; PTA: $4,611; Cumulative: $15,650,000
5. The Revenant (20th Century Fox)  – Week 8; Last weekend #4
$6,900,000 (-1%) in 2,266 theaters (-752); PTA: $3,045; Cumulative: $159,165,000
6. Hail, Caesar! (Universal)  – Week 2; Last weekend #2
$6,590,000 (-42%) in 2,248 theaters (+16); PTA: $2,931; Cumulative: $21,355,000
7. Star Wars – The Force Awakens (Buena Vista)  – Week 9; Last weekend #3
$6,194,000 (-11%) in 1,810 theaters (-452); PTA: $3,422; Cumulative: $914,839,000
8. The Choice (Lionsgate)  – Week 2; Last weekend #5
$5,250,000 (-13%) in 2,631 theaters (unchanged); PTA: $1,995; Cumulative: $13,260,000
9. Ride Along 2 (Universal) – Week 5; Last weekend #8
$4,130,000 (-9%) in 1,564 theaters (-608); PTA: $2,641; Cumulative: $82,661,000
10. The Boy (STX)  – Week 4; Last weekend #9
$2,913,000 (-29%) in 1,450 theaters (-764); PTA: $2,009; Cumulative: $30,779,000

Timing & Elements Aid ‘Deadpool’

Every studio and talent agency is trying to figure out the secret formula that turned “Deadpool” from what had been projected as a mid-winter surprise into the first major smash of 2016, with a $350 million-plus domestic total a real possibility. “Deadpool” had the biggest (adjusted) weekend ever for a film opening between January and March. Last year’s “Furious 7” is the only opener through April to open bigger. That’s a huge chunk of calendar to lead (in adjusted grosses it ranks #28). This continues a recent trend of breaking into the all-time high chart: four 2015 releases made the 20-best ever (again adjusted) after only two made last list in the previous two years. And as an R-rated film, “Deadpool” is best in both actual and adjusted numbers (just besting “Matrix Unloaded” on a mid-May non-holiday weekend).

So what happened? First was positioning on a holiday usually freighted with movies targeting women with more romantic fare. When Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend and coincides with Presidents’ Day, date movies are attractive. Fox guessed that not going with the tried and true for this time of year would take advantage of a period when a range of moviegoers were looking for something fresh.

And “Deadpool” qualifies. Though it took an established Marvel character (Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson from “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), the movie elevated him to lead, changed the comedic tone, made it more adult with the R rating (with advance materials pushing that in terms of violence, sex and language) and added active female characters and romance to the mix. When couples go to movies around Valentine’s Day, women have more say than normal. Put out a comic book film that attracts them and the gates opened for bigger results.

“Deadpool” also was aided by weak competition. Last year the two openers (“Fifty Shades of Gray” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service”) combined grossed $135 million, while less directly competitive “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” took in a second weekend $40 million and the long-running “American Sniper” chipped in another $19 million. The other two openers this year—”How to Be Single” and “Zoolander 2” —were much weaker, combining to a bit over $33 million. This year showed a decent 12% ($25 million) increase over last year’s strong Top Ten total, but much of that gain came from a single movie.

Looking back at last year does reveal something central to the “Deadpool” appeal. “Kingsman” was a similar R-rated spoof of an existing genre (the James Bond caper) with a similarly charming romantic and comedic actor with variable marquee value (Colin Firth). So another lessons for Hollywood: develop smart, witty action films for knowing adult audiences who want a different take on the familiar. 

Director Tim Miller made his future debut after experience in shorts, visual effects, video games and second unit work. Few live-action feature film debuts come close to this sort of number. Though the budget was a modest $58 million), that’s still a big risk. It’s an incredible start in the world of big-time studio moviemaking.

The (Fox) Empire Strikes Back

Those with institutional memories had a hard time over the last few months with a “Star Wars” film not being from 20th Century Fox. With Disney dominating the year-end and early 2016, Fox kept itself busy with three releases at Christmas— wide-release “Joy” and the fourth “Alvin and the Chipmunks” entry, neither quite reaching hoped for levels. But the third, “The Revenant,” opened limited, then has soared since (possibly hitting $200 million domestic or more after the Oscars). And since then they have done decently with “Kung Fu Panda 3” (Dreamworks Animation). And now the biggest yet with “Deadpool.” That gives them three straight films to reach #1 (a total of four overall, with “Deadpool” likely adding more), four weeks in a row with three very different films. All three are in the top five this week.

That’s dominance, and places them in the early year studio gross to date lead over Disney/Buena Vista by about $150 million and by the end of the holiday weekend likely close to an astounding 30% of all studios 2016 to date. That will of course be tough to sustain, but after a year where they ended up fourth (“The Martian” at $225 million marked their best), they could be positioned as the studio to beat, as Universal was last year. And they seem to be following their course with a busy schedule of smart and varied films, some franchise, some animated, but also with originality thrown in.

‘How to Be Single’ – Another Weak Romance

Romantic comedies, as opposed to female-centered comedies (“Trainwreck,” “Sisters”), have been in low supply of late. This Valentine’s Day seemed to be a smart date to try to rekindle interest. Surprisingly there have been few in recent years around the date (in part since most of the time the holiday falls during the week). “About Last Night” in 2014 opened to $25 million, “Just Go With It” to $30 million in 2011, “Valentine’s Day” to an astounding $56 million in 2010 (it fell on a Sunday).

So “How to Be Single” is hardly stellar for the date, and with the emphasis on date night, struggles to get to more of a double multiple. It was hurt as by “Deadpool,” but the bigger issue seems to be the taste in romance-centered films has gone to either edgier comedic, more adult (“Fifty Shades”) or more middle-American/wholesome (“The Fault in Our Stars”). Whatever the problem, this won’t encourage similar efforts (already burdened by less international appeal).

”Zoolander 2′ Lessens Chances for Other Cult Sequels

The notion of making a sequel to 2001 fashion satire “Zoolander” was a bad one. The first effort (adjusted) scored a $23 million opening and didn’t quite double its total domestic gross, with foreign only a fraction additional. That hardly made it a natural, but it has had a strong ancillary life and this was an excuse to bring back Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson. This didn’t have drop-dead disaster numbers— the $15 million-plus estimate includes a nice second-day jump. But it was hardly was a smart choice to go against the no-one-saw-this-coming “Deadpool,” and placing third out of three new entries makes it look worse. Maybe its after life will be better than typical for this level of opening as fans from the earlier film see it at their leisure.


There’s no better formula for a small drop than to follow Super Bowl Sunday with a double holiday weekend. That left six of the seven Top Ten holdovers to a 15% or less drop, led impressively by “The Revenant,” with less than 1% as it enjoys an Oscar surge. Also falling less than 10% are sequels “Kung Fu Panda 3” (-7%) and “Ride Along 2” (-9%). The latter though still falls far behind its first go-round. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 7th still only fell 11%. For a horror film “The Boy” continues doing well, down 29%. The loser in the bunch is the Coen Brothers’ Hollywood comedy “Hail, Caesar,” 42% down.

Extending beyond the Top Ten, “Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies” dropped to 13th and 53%, looking like it will struggle to reach even $15 million.

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