Deadpool red-band trailer

Deadpool didn’t just win the box office this weekend. It absolutely slaughtered it, smashing about half a dozen records on its way to a $132 million opening weekend — the biggest ever for an R-rated movie, and a whole lot better than many PG-13 superhero pics that should theoretically appeal to a much wider audience.

Naturally, this means Hollywood is scrambling to figure out how exactly Deadpool did it, and how it can replicate that success. And Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn is very, very worried that these studio execs will take away exactly the wrong lessons from Deadpool‘s success. In an expletive-filled rant, he rips into Hollywood for failing to grasp the real reason Deadpool did so well. 

Gunn’s Facebook rant was sparked by this quote in Deadline from an anonymous “suit” about Deadpool‘s appeal:

The film has a self-deprecating tone that’s riotous. It’s never been done before. It’s poking fun at Marvel. That label takes itself so seriously, can you imagine them making fun of themselves in a movie? They’d rather stab themselves.

Gunn wastes no time ripping into the exec, whom he calls “the dumbest fucking Hollywood exec in the history of dumb fucking Hollywood execs.” And maybe it’s not surprising that Gunn — who points out that his own Guardians is “a movie that survives from moment to moment building itself up and cutting itself down” — is annoyed by this criticism of his nice employers at Marvel Studios. But Gunn’s issue extends far beyond the Marvel-bashing:

After every movie smashes records people here in Hollywood love to throw out the definitive reasons why the movie was a hit. I saw it happen with Guardians. It “wasn’t afraid to be fun” or it “was colorful and funny” etc etc etc. And next thing I know I hear of a hundred film projects being set up “like Guardians,” and I start seeing dozens of trailers exactly like the Guardians trailer with a big pop song and a bunch of quips. Ugh. […]

So, over the next few months, if you pay attention to the trades, you’ll see Hollywood misunderstanding the lesson they should be learning with Deadpool. They’ll be green lighting films “like Deadpool” – but, by that, they won’t mean “good and original” but “a raunchy superhero film” or “it breaks the fourth wall.” They’ll treat you like you’re stupid, which is the one thing Deadpool didn’t do.

However, Gunn argues, the real lesson of Deadpool should be that audiences crave originality (or at least, as much originality as they’re going to get in a spinoff about a decades-old comic book character who previously appeared in a different spinoff from the same long-running franchise). “Deadpool was its own thing,” writes Gunn. “THAT’S what people are reacting to. It’s original, it’s damn good, it was made with love by the filmmakers, and it wasn’t afraid to take risks.” According to Gunn, the right lesson for studios to take from Deadpool should be “Boy, maybe we can give them something they don’t already have.”

Gunn definitely has a point here. How many films have we seen try to ape Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, with severely diminishing returns? How many studios have we seen rush to create their own “Marvel-style” shared universes, without building a solid foundation first? How many fantasy epics look like carbon copies of Lord of the Rings? It’s easier to copy a successful formula than it is to come up with a new one, and there’s no doubt some studios will assume that Deadpool‘s success is a sign that audiences want an endless stream of raunchy, violent, fourth-wall-breaking superhero movies.

There have been a lot of arguments about whether the superhero movie genre is a bubble about to burst, or a new classic that’s here to stay. Which side comes out on top will depend largely on how open superhero movies are to innovation and reinvention. This year alone, we’re getting six major superhero movies (or seven if you count Gambit, which seems likely to be delayed to 2017). That’s enough to test the patience of even the most dedicated comic book geek. Movies like Deadpool are crucial because they prove you can still wring fresh life from an old formula, not because they prove it’s possible to curse while wearing spandex.

To read Gunn’s full essay, click over to his Facebook page. To watch Deadpool, get yourself to your nearest movie theater.

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