Going into the weekend, the projection for Deadpool 2 was $130-150 million. The estimate for its opening weekend, though, is a below-expectations $125 million. Now, that’s hardly a failure. That’s a nice number for anyone, and the Deadpool movies are lower cost than other superhero extravaganzas, so it will certainly make Fox money. But back in 2016, Deadpool opened to $132 million, which means that while the franchise hasn’t really fallen off, it hasn’t grown, either. Over two years, despite the breakout popularity of the character and the career rejuvenation of Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool stagnated. Why?
Indiewire suggests Marvel fatigue, a spin on superhero fatigue. Yes, Deadpool 2 is the third Marvel movie this year, and yes, it has a markedly lower opening weekend than the other two. But Avengers: Infinity War is steaming toward $2 billion worldwide, and it will top $600 million domestic this week (though it probably won’t top Black Panther domestically, as its runway is now gone), which hardly looks like fatigue. If anything, Deadpool 2 is the first clipped bumper of the summer box office car crash. Infinity War sucked a lot of the air out of the room. Casual viewers, having just seen that movie, might not feel the urge to go back out for another one so soon, even one with a novel R-rating. And that R means the box office, naturally, will be lower than something the whole family can go to. Deadpool 2 is missing kids and women, with less than 40% of the audience being female, so that’s two of your four quadrants gone right there. This is not a franchise that will ever open over $200 million.
But I am a little surprised, given the perceived popularity of the character, that the franchise didn’t grow AT ALL. John Wick is also a cartoonishly violent R-rated franchise, and it grew about 57% between its first and second entries. Deadpool started out from a high platform, and thus had a lower ceiling for growth—again, R rating—but it should have grown SOME. So I say “perceived popularity” of Deadpool, because I now think the character might be internet famous. I’m not sure Deadpool is as popular in the real world as he is in the viral videos.
I also wonder what the effect of Friday’s mass shooting had on Deadpool’s weekend. I saw it at a full Saturday showing, but people were palpably not interested in long swaths of the movie. And they were hardly a prudish audience, having laughed uproariously at the red band trailer for The Happytime Murders. But halfway through Deadpool 2 I was surprised by how muted the response was to the movie, and I wondered if Friday was weighing on anyone else’s mind as another slo-mo gun montage unfolded on screen. I think people are generally smart enough to distinguish between the fantasy of a comic book movie (or, say, John Wick) and real life, but it was just so immediate and so I wonder if there were a few people who stayed home just because they didn’t feel like a violent action flick on yet another day after.
Superhero fatigue is just such an easy target when a superhero movie doesn’t break records. (I wonder what they’ll blame if Solo underperforms?) Not everything is going to have a record-breaking opening weekend, but it’s hard to cry “fatigue” when the audiences are still obviously so big and movies are still making money. The takeaway from Deadpool 2’s opening weekend is that the threshold for Deadpool has already been reached. It’s a no-growth franchise, but luckily, it started out huge. A secondary takeaway is that the summer box office car crash is just getting started (the most vulnerable to a full-on collision? Venom).
But we’re going to keep having some variation of this fatigue conversation as not all of these blockbusters are actually going to bust their blocks. And then maybe we can have the real conversation about how audiences aren’t tired of a specific genre, they just can’t afford to go see more than one, maybe two, movies a month. Hollywood has to figure out either how to get people back into theaters on a regular basis, or go back to making movies for less so they can survive on smaller returns.