Deadpool swears all the way to the bank with new box office records

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Feb 17, 2016, 6:52 PM EST (Updated)

Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds as the notorious Merc With a Mouth, shattered all expectations and blew past all previous box-office records for this time frame with what Variety estimated to be a $135 million opening weekend haul at the North American box office. And that's just over three days; by the time he's finished with the four-day holiday (today is President’s Day), the mutant mercenary is likely going to be sitting on a total of $160 million. His closest competitor, Kung Fu Panda 3, was a distant second with just under $20 million.

That is huge. Let's put it this way: Initial estimates said that the movie would make $75 million in its first weekend -- and even that was being called a victory for Reynolds, director Tim Miller and 20th Century Fox, which bankrolled the modestly budgeted (in superhero movie terms) $58 million film. The fact that Deadpool is going to more than double that estimate by the close of business on Monday is staggering.

Why is this so jaw-dropping? Well, you're talking about a comic-book character that has a cult following but nowhere near the mainstream recognition of a Batman, Superman or Spider-Man, or even an Iron Man, for that matter. Outside of comic-book fans, Deadpool has been largely unknown to the public. Second, this is an R-rated film, and a hard R at that, meaning that there's a certain segment of the public -- namely anyone under 17 -- that theoretically would like to see this movie but can't get in without an adult along. And finally, the leading man has not proven himself to be a big draw at the box office, while the rest of the cast doesn’t feature a lot of star power either (although it's probably safe to say that Reynolds now gets out of the superhero jail he's been in since Green Lantern bombed).

Not only did Deadpool open well, but it's broken every previous box-office record for this time of year, including largest February opening weekend (previously held by Fifty Shades of Gray with $85.1 million), largest four-day President’s Day weekend (also once held by Fifty Shades with $93 million), largest R-rated opening weekend (that one used to belong to The Matrix Reloaded, with $91.7 million), largest R-rated comic adaptation (300 held that with $71 million) and largest winter opening weekend (Deadpool shot down American Sniper's $89.2 million record for that).

It's also the largest opening ever for 20th Century Fox, beating the previous mark of $108 million held by Star Wars -- Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and you can bet that the execs at the studio are eager to get Reynolds and company back in front of the cameras for a sequel as quickly as possible, perhaps this time with Cable along for the ride. And by the way, Deadpool now has the biggest opening weekend of any X-Men movie as well (box-office figures and records via Collider/Box Office Mojo).

So, what does this all mean? Well, for one thing, I expect that all those "is superhero movie fatigue setting in?" thinkpieces will be given a nice, long rest. It's also possible that studios could start adapting riskier, raunchier, more "adult" comic-book fare -- although if they do the typical Hollywood groupthink thing and start insisting that every superhero walk and talk like Deadpool, that is bound to fail. Deadpool succeeded because the movie and the brilliant marketing campaign were true to the character, and my guess is that any attempt to shoehorn other comic-book heroes into that template to "be more like Deadpool" will be greeted with skepticism by the public.

But what this so richly proves is that the comic-book universe is large, diverse and capable of delivering many different kinds of entertainment. Each time we've seen a "risky" superhero movie released -- a Guardians of the Galaxy, an Ant-Man, and now Deadpool -- we've watched it exceed expectations. It doesn't just have to be Batman, Iron Man or the Avengers all the time. Even a potty-mouthed, scarred, immature antihero can become a star, as Deadpool, himself, would no doubt be pleased to tell you.

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