Will 2017 be the year a superhero movie with fart jokes gets an Oscar nod? Though just about everyone in Hollywood would be surprised to hear “Deadpool” announced as an Academy Award nominee later this month, director Tim Miller’s comic book adaptation has exceeded expectations time and again since its release last February. Few people would have guessed a movie released a week before the 2016 Academy Awards would be part of the Oscar conversation a year later, let alone a long-gestating tale about a superhero obsessed with chimichangas.
Ryan Reynolds’ pet project for nearly a decade, “Deadpool” follows Marvel’s most unconventional anti-hero: Wade Wilson, a former Special Forces operative given superhuman healing powers after a malicious experiment that almost destroys his life. Made for $50 million, the movie grossed nearly $800 million at the worldwide box office, becoming the highest-earning R-rated movie of all time. It also received two Golden Globe nominations: Best Motion Picture for a Musical or Comedy and Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical or Comedy for Reynolds.
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Though “Deadpool” didn’t take home any awards at the Globes this past weekend, it will also compete for the Producers Guild’s Darryl F. Zanuck producing award and the Writers Guild of America’s Best Adapted Screenplay award, alongside such heavy hitters as “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hidden Figures” and “Nocturnal Animals.” That’s quite an achievement for a raunchy comedy that pokes fun at the superhero genre.
Reynolds’ foul-mouthed Wilson stays true to the Marvel comic book character by repeatedly breaking the fourth wall, mocking other superhero movies and even taking a jab at Fox’s X-Men franchise. According to “Deadpool” co-writer Paul Wernick, the film’s original voice and refusal to play by Hollywood’s rules made it stand out from the crowded field of potential award contenders.
“It was so different and so refreshing for audiences, and I feel that’s also partly the reason that we’re being recognized by our peers and critics,” Wernick recently told IndieWire. “Audiences and voters are seeing it as a breath of fresh air.”
Though Wernick and co-writer Rhett Reese were first hired to write the screenplay back in 2009 and wrote many drafts before the project was eventually greenlit, the modest budget for a superhero movie helped prevent interference from the studio, allowing the pair to avoid the movie-by-committee process.
“The mandate was: let’s make the movie we want to make and worry about whether the studio will make the movie later,” Wernick said. “It somehow ended up being an R-rated, four-quadrant movie.”
One distribution executive not associated with “Deadpool” said the film’s Oscar buzz makes sense considering how the superhero genre has evolved in recent years. “People like to forget, but one of the reasons we have more than five best picture nominees is that everyone said they should have given one to ‘The Dark Knight,'” the distributor said.
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Another reason has to do with the fact that superhero movies have become much more of an established genre, with several new titles each year. “When one of them grossly exceeds expectations, I think it makes sense for it to be discussed, like ‘Someone did something special here. How can we reward them for it?’” the distributor said. “That’s a fair conversation.”
For Reese, the X-factor of “Deadpool” has always been Reynolds. “He’s one of the two or three geniuses we’ve ever worked with in this town,” he said, adding that Reynolds has a “brilliant comic mind” that guided the script at every part of the way. “When you hear that voice, you understand the vulgarity, immaturity and kind of femininity to Deadpool too sometimes. These various qualities that Ryan imbues the character with seep into you.”
Reynolds’ unique sense of humor even shaped the movie’s unconventional Oscar campaign. In November, members of the academy received DVD screeners of the film with a letter written by Reynolds.
“Despite countless roadblocks, the incredible team of Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Tim Miller and I continued onward until somebody at Fox accidentally said ‘Yes’ thinking we were a Maze Runner spin off,” Reynolds wrote in the letter. “I can offer you complimentary backstage passes to my heart, along with my sincerest thanks for supporting our Deadpool film this year.”
Though Reynolds may be going the extra mile for “Deadpool’s” Oscar push, veteran awards strategist Cynthia Swartz noted that there’s a big difference between landing a WGA Awards nomination and an Oscar nomination. “It’s not unusual for a more commercial film to take one of those WGA slots,” she said.
While Brad Bird’s 2004 animated superhero movie “The Incredibles” received the same Golden Globe nomination as “Deadpool” — Best Motion Picture for a Comedy or Musical — and later landed a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination, “The Incredibles” was a family-friendly film that avoided the crude humor of “Deadpool.”
Even if Reynolds’ passion project doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination, it will get a sequel.
Fox Co-CEOs Stacey Snider and Jim Gianopulos confirmed “Deadpool 2” was in the works at CinemaCon last April. Fox even began developing the sequel during the production phase for the original film. Miller was attached to direct the sequel before falling off the project in November, citing creative differences, but the split was reportedly amicable. “John Wick” filmmaker David Leitch is currently attached to direct the movie, which is being written by Reese and Wernick and is expected to go into production next year.
“We’re getting closer and closer to the movie that we think the sequel can be,” Reese said. “We’re definitely going to get there.” In the meantime, the original continues its journey.