EXCLUSIVE All Fox wants for Christmas are 12 more days of Deadpool — that’s certainly one valid interpretation of the studio’s plan to revamp, rename and re-release the year’s biggest R-rated hit, Deadpool 2, as a PG-13 film called Once Upon A Deadpool. There’s more to it than that, however. Deadline has all the details about the studio’s unconventional plan — a plan that may have intriguing relevance when viewed through the prism of the Disney-Fox merger and the future of the red-hot Deadpool franchise.
First some of those details: Once Upon a Deadpool will have a limited-engagement that begins Dec. 12 and concludes on Christmas Eve, positioning it as a box-office play aimed at young teens on holiday break from school. The lion’s share of Once Upon Deadpool is footage from Deadpool 2 that has been edited to meet PG-13 thresholds of violence and language. There’s also new footage in the form of a framing sequence that was conceived by Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Working with a small film crew, Reynolds and his cohorts filmed all the framing scenes in a single hectic day of guerrilla-style filmmaking.
There’s a major charity component to the limited-engagement release, too, as Reynolds explained to Deadline that for every ticket sold $1 will go to the audaciously named F-ck Cancer campaign, which will be temporarily renamed “Fudge Cancer” for the purpose of tie-in fundraising effort.
It’s funny to note that Deadpool is such a native of hard-R filmmaking that even its charity partner has an f-bomb name that requires editing to soften it for a PG audience. Reynolds famously championed the idea of a Deadpool movie for a decade and maintained his position that the scabby, subversive superhero from the pages of Marvel Comics could be a commercial winner — but only if it bravely bucked the Hollywood mindset that superhero franchises naturally belong in the PG-13 pack.
The actor was right and Fox’s faith in the formula was rewarded with a history-making franchise. The February 2016 opening weekend of Deadpool ($132.4 million in domestic box office) stands as the biggest bow by an R-rated film in Hollywood history. Second on that all-time list? The May 2018 opening of Deadpool 2 (S125 million). The sequel finished its 22-week theatrical release in October with a global haul of $734 million.
Even with that success, Hollywood has been reluctant to release R-rated superhero films. Sony’s Venom, for instance, was scrubbed to a PG-13 level after considerable internal debate about the best balance between content and audience reach. When Venom set a new record for an October opening weekend it likely added considerable steam to Fox’s interest in taking Deadpool to a younger audience. The masked mutant mercenary character was one of the top-selling Halloween costumes this year and is popular among grade-school fans that know him from toys, video games, comics, Slurpee cups, etc.
“Fox has been asking for a PG-13 basically since the start in 2006,” Reynolds told Deadline on Monday. “I’ve said no since 2006. Now, this one time, I said ‘Yes’ on two conditions. First, a portion of the proceeds had to go to charity. Second, I wanted to kidnap Fred Savage. The second condition took some explaining…”
Savage, of Wonder Years fame, co-stars with Reynolds in the framing sequence for Once Upon A Deadpool, which hijacks its bedtime-story set-up from The Princess Bride, the 1987 classic that also famously featured Savage as a child actor. In eight scenes were filmed that will be used as interstitial additions to the existing sequel’s footage. The running time of Once Upon A Deadpool is abut three minutes shorter than Deadpool 2 but Fox declined to be more specific about the new footage duration.
Reached last week by Deadline, Savage was still playing along with the spoof concept and the irreverent meta-spirit of the franchise: “While my participation in this film was anything but voluntary. I am happy to learn that Fudge Cancer will be the beneficiary of this shameless cash grab.”
For hit-hungry Fox, Deadpool 2 was the studio’s biggest bright spot this year. The sequel ranks as the fifth highest grossing film of 2018 but no other Fox release cracked the Top 30. The reconstituted PG-13 version of the hit offers the studio a chance of a “Christmas bonus” and could also be repurposed as the franchise’s first viable play in China. The response to the PG-13 repackaging is also being watched closely by the leadership at Disney and its Marvel Studios and may inform the way they incorporate Deadpool into their plans.
With wall-to-wall violence and relentless profanities, the Deadpool films present a tricky fit for Disney, which is banking on the cache of Marvel’s brand not just for feature films but as a core piece of its ambitious subscription streaming service. That service launches next year as a family-safe gateway to Disney’s content. Will Disney keep Deadpool at arm’s length (as a discrete Fox brand, for instance), tame him down for duty in PG13 fare or find some hybrid of those approaches? Time will tell.
The hollow-point humor of Deadpool is the cinematic superhero equivalent of an Eminem album (adult in its content, gleefully sophomoric in its tone) or Beavis and Butthead (retooled, perhaps, as Beaten and Headbutt). “We’ve driven a wedge between parents and their tweens and we hear about it all the time,” Reese said. “This [PG-13 revamp] is a way to try to appease those parents.”
Reese and Wernick hatched the idea of using the Princess Bride motif and Reynolds made the call to Fox to pitch the idea to executives who eagerly embraced the notion as a way to test the flagship franchise in PG-13 waters. Still, the writers know the challenge facing the project is one of their own making. “Deadpool has been a unique property and, by definition, what’s in a Deadpool movie is all the stuff that can’t be in any other superhero movie.”
That’s about to change, one way or another, on Dec. 12. (The same weekend as Aquaman from Warner Bros. and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse from Sony.) There’s not much in the way of historical precedents that lend themselves to comparison but the closest may be Saturday Night Fever. The December 1977 hit drama earned its R-rating with drug use and prominent sexual assault and abortion themes but appealed to younger moviegoers with its hit soundtrack and cultural cache. A PG version was released in 1979 and added $8.9 million on top of the film’s original haul of $85.2 million.
On Monday, the always-witty Reynolds embraced the Saturday Night Fever history as a good omen for Once Upon A Deadpool. “Eighty percent of Deadpool 3 takes place at a 1970’s disco so it only makes sense we’d find a connection to Saturday Night Fever.,” the actor joked. “Plus, Deadpool loves Stayin’ Alive. It’s literally his only superpower.”