How Deadpool’s Success Blew Up Hollywood Conventional Wisdom

February 16, 2016, 10:55 PM UTC

The first surprise blockbuster is already here after R-rated superhero flick Deadpool cussed and kicked its way to a record-breaking opening over President’s Day weekend.

The movie earned its R-rating through a mix of strong language, extreme violence, and sexual content far beyond that typically found in the Marvel universe from which it hails. It easily made back its modest, $58 million production budget. Deadpool became the first R-rated movie to top $100 million in domestic box office sales over its opening weekend, pulling in an impressive $135 million in North America and a whopping $260 million worldwide, according to box office research firm Rentrak.

That massive intake makes Deadpool the biggest movie released so far this year; already a sequel is in the works.

The movie’s impressive opening also has the potential to change certain things about Hollywood and how the movie industry makes (and thinks about) the superhero movies that are flying into theaters at an ever-increasing pace.

1. Test your idea with a leaked video

While star Ryan Reynolds has remained somewhat mum on the subject, what is known is that someone leaked test footage of the movie online. That succeeded in stirring up fans’ interest enough to earn a green-light from movie studio 20th Century Fox, a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox (FOX).

Fox’s decision to finally move forward with the film followed a years-long process in which Reynolds, director Tim Miller, and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick had to fight through various obstacles (including the box office failure of another Reynolds superhero movie, 2011’s Green Lantern) to get the movie made.

Deadpool‘s path to production and, ultimately, box office millions at least creates an example of how a non-major (but cult-favorite) comic book character can yield a blockbuster at a relatively cheap (by superhero film standards) price. The model for other studios to follow here would seem to be to, first, test your potential audience with more than just a vague idea and then deliver a product that is both true to its source material while also offering something beyond what viewers have already come to expect from typical superheroes (in this case, that would be the comedy, sex, and violence).

2. Don’t be scared of an R-rating

In the past, movie studios producing big-budget blockbusters have shied away from including content that would saddle a film with the dreaded R-rating, with the theory being that the rating would hurt ticket sales. Director Christopher Nolan’s dark, violent Batman trilogy successfully skirted the line between R and PG-13 ratings out of fear that the former rating would weigh on its revenue.

However, Deadpool‘s record-breaking weekend is another reminder that some R-rated films can still succeed at the box office, particularly when fans see the rating itself as validation that the film is true to its source material. A new Warner Bros. Batman adaptation already is being mentioned as a possible candidate for the R-rating.

3. Expect to see Deadpool in other Marvel flicks

Given Walt Disney’s (DIS) family-friendly image, it is unlikely that the version of Deadpool currently in theaters would have been released by the Mouse House as it is (if at all), if Disney owned the rights to the character played by Ryan Reynolds. But, while Disney owns the rights to most of the Marvel universe, the media giant does not hold the rights to a handful of Marvel characters, including Deadpool, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men.

Other studios have had mixed results with the Marvel characters they own (see: Fox’s 2015 Fantastic Four reboot), but Deadpool‘s success could pave the way for that character to find his way into future films from the successful X-Men series, to which 20th Century Fox also holds the rights. (The character’s first comic book appearance came in a spin-off of the X-Men comics.)

Meanwhile, Vox recently floated the idea of Fox going all-in on Deadpool by launching a film series, similar to Disney’s The Avengers series, that would see his character team up with others from the X-Men comics to form a group known in comic books as the Uncanny X-Force. The idea might seem a little far-fetched, but it already has Reynolds’ support.

After Deadpool‘s surprising box office success, anything could be possible.