Tales From The Box Office: Deadpool 2 Is, Against All Odds, Brad Pitt's Biggest Movie

(Welcome to Tales from the Box Office, our column that examines box office miracles, disasters, and everything in between, as well as what we can learn from them.)

Brad Pitt may well be the first image that comes to mind for a great many people of a certain age when they hear the words "movie" and "star" in conjunction. The two-time Sexiest Man Alive and Oscar-winner has been a staple of the silver screen for more than three decades, and is arguably doing some of his very best work more recently. Just look at what he accomplished in Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," for example. He's a box office draw, classically handsome, talented, and can do both blockbuster fare as well as arthouse cinema, transitioning between the two seamlessly. He's one of the very best we have.

But in those many decades of filmmaking, with classic hits under his belt such as "Seven," "Ocean's Eleven," and "Inglourious Basterds," Pitt's biggest financial hit was, amazingly enough, 2018's "Deadpool 2." While the actor only appears on screen in the superhero sequel for mere blink-and-you'll-miss-it seconds, he plays a core member of Deadpool's short-lived superhero team, X-Force. As such, "Deadpool 2" is Brad Pitt's highest-grossing movie ... technically speaking.

In honor of the release of Pitt's latest action movie, "Bullet Train" (in which he has slightly more screen time), we're going to look back at "Deadpool 2," how Pitt got involved, how it became his highest-grossing movie almost by accident, and what we can learn from it in hindsight. Let's dig in, shall we?

The movie: Deadpool 2

One of the biggest box office surprises of 2016 (if not ever, frankly) was "Deadpool," with the R-rated superhero film that fans essentially demanded Fox earning a shocking $132 million on opening weekend on its way to $782 million worldwide – without a release in China. That being the case, a sequel to the Ryan Reynolds-fronted vehicle was assured and was put into motion in a hurry. Creative differences led to director Tim Miller departing, with David Leitch, who co-directed "John Wick," taking over. As it just so happens, Leitch is also the man who directed "Bullet Train." Connections!

Given that the first "Deadpool" movie made so much damn money, the filmmakers were permitted to go bigger with the sequel, meaning a bigger budget. Part of that had to do with bringing in Cable, a very popular character from the world of Marvel Comics who had yet to appear in live-action. Additionally, the film would put together the group of mutants known as the X-Force for the first time ever in the history of the "X-Men" franchise — yet another very big deal. "Deadpool 2" had a pretty unique way of handling that introduction: killing the whole team off mere minutes into their first mission. That's where Brad Pitt comes into the picture. Sort of.

Before Pitt was offered the smallest of small roles as Vanisher, who appears briefly during the X-Force sequence, the actor was considered for the role of Cable. Ultimately, Josh Brolin nabbed the part but, as Leitch explained ahead of the film's release:

"We had a great meeting with Brad, he was incredibly interested in the property. Things didn't work out schedule-wise. He's a fan, and we love him, and I think he would've made an amazing Cable."

Brad Pitt becomes Vanisher instead

When scheduling conflicts ruled out a leading role for Pitt in "Deadpool 2," Reynolds hatched a plan to get him into the film in another way. The X-Force lineup was filled with big, fun, glorified cameos, with the likes of Terry Crews and Bill Skarsgård making up the mutants who would die horrible deaths whilst parachuting into their first mission. Pitt rounded out the team as an invisible mutant named Vanisher, whom we don't actually see until he collides with some power lines and dies. It all happens in a few, priceless moments. But it does get Pitt into the film and thus, he technically is one of the stars. So, he gets to count it on his resume.

Reynolds pitched getting Pitt on board in this capacity and it all happened very late in the process. As the story goes, the whole thing was filmed in about a half hour, with the actor coming and going in a hurry, leading to one of the most unexpected and brilliant cameos in superhero movie history. Co-writer Rhett Reese explained how the whole thing came together.

"It was the very last thing we shot on the 'Deadpool' movie was Brad Pitt came to set. He agreed to play Vanisher in return for scale, which is a very, very low number, a low, low salary and a cup of coffee from Starbucks delivered to him by Ryan Reynolds. So Ryan had to hand over that coffee to Brad in order for him to do the part. He came in, he was willing to do it because his kids love Deadpool and he's a great guy. And Ryan just asked him and he said yes, and next thing you know, boom, he's standing there, and we had a ton of fun."

And so, 30 minutes of Pitt's time, a cup of coffee, and a little bit of money technically led to the biggest hit of his career.

The financial journey

"Deadpool 2" was released by Fox (a little less than a year before the Disney merger) on May 18, 2018. Unsurprisingly, it topped the charts with $125 million on its opening weekend, unseating "Avengers: Infinity War" for the number one spot. The only downside is that its run at the top would be short lived, as it would surrender the crown to "Solo: A Star Wars Story" the following weekend, dropping 65.4% for a $43.4 million second weekend haul. Be that as it may, the steep dropoff really didn't matter in the end.

The R-rated superhero sequel earned $318.4 million domestically to go with a truly great $416 million internationally for a grand total of $734.5 million. Given the reported $110 million budget it didn't ultimately prove to be quite as big of a moneymaker for the studio as its predecessor had. However, making nearly seven times your production budget back is one heck of a return on investment, even when accounting for expensive marketing costs.

For comparison's sake, Brad Pitt's next biggest movie was "World War Z" ($531 million), which makes it a pretty distant second. Somewhat ironically, that was meant to be a franchise starter, with a sequel planned that never quite got off the ground. Yet. a sequel Pitt hardly appeared in supplanted it as his highest-grossing movie. From there his top five finishes out with "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" ($486 million), "Troy" ($483 million), and "Ocean's Eleven" ($450 million). Some of his most cherished films such as "Seven" ($328 million) or "Fight Club" ($100 million)? Not even close.

The lessons contained within

Now, would anyone look at the career of one Mr. Brad Pitt and say "'Deadpool 2' is a Brad Pitt film"? Probably not. It's a superhero movie he had a cameo in, seemingly for sweet reasons. He also clearly liked Leitch as he re-teamed with the filmmaker for "Bullet Train." But this is probably not going to be the movie that anyone thinks of first in reflecting on Pitt's impressive career.

Yet, here we are. In an era of Hollywood when superhero cinema continues to define the landscape, 30 minutes on set and a cup of coffee was all it took to make the highest-grossing movie of Brad Pitt's career. Forget all of the timeless classics he's been in. Forget all of the Oscar-winning films he's been a part of. Forget great action films like "Fury" he's done. Standing tall above the rest is a superhero movie he appears in for just a few seconds. It is, in an odd way, a reflection of the times we live in, where franchises are king. It would be a little different if Pitt had played Cable but, in this case, it's more of an odd statistic than it is a true entry in his filmography.

My take on it is that it only makes me appreciate what Pitt has accomplished during the course of his career up to this point. "Deadpool 2" aside, the man's only sequels are the "Ocean's" movies. He was only going to do "World War Z 2" when David Fincher was going to direct it, he continually made interesting choices, and he helped turn uncertain gambles into big hits. Plus, the sheer range of performances in the man's catalog. Just look at the difference between "Snatch" and "Moneyball." It's hardly the same guy. Yet it is the same guy! It's the guy that made perhaps the most sympathetic vampire ever in "Interview with the Vampire" and, yes, the guy who made the Vanisher gag ten times funnier merely because it was him. The lesson here? Let us movie-loving folk never stop appreciating Brad Pitt.