Movies usually stay in their lanes. It’s rare for a character from an R-rated franchise to appear in a PG-13 film, for instance. That’s one reason Sony made Venom to be rated PG-13. It creates the possibility that your friendly neighborhood, and very lucrative, Spider-Man could appear in future films.
The Deadpool franchise, which pushed boundaries for an R-rated superhero movie in 2016, is testing limits again with its latest installment—a cleaned up, PG-13 version of the Deadpool sequel that came out earlier this year. The re-cut from 20th Century Fox, which licenses the foul-mouthed, super-human mercenary from Marvel, features 20 minutes of new footage filmed for a family friendly audience, including scenes from movie trailers in which Fred Savage fulfills an old role from the 1987 movie The Princess Bride. Once Upon a Deadpool, as the rerelease is being called, will get a limited holiday run in the US, from Dec. 12-24, with $1 of every ticket sold going to the charity Fudge Cancer.
Reportedly released to fill a gap in Fox’s theatrical schedule, the movie will also test whether the R-rated character can resonate with people when his raunchy bravado is toned down, and whether the character could conceivably fit into the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. Disney is set to acquire most of 21st Century Fox’s assets, including its movie studios, for $71 billion in the first half of 2019. After the merger, all of Fox’s Marvel franchises, including the Deadpool and X-Men movies, will fall under the purview of Marvel Studios, which has taken a decidedly cleaner approach to its films. None of Disney’s Marvel movies are rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America, like the Deadpool films and Logan are.
Disney CEO Bob Iger hasn’t said how the Marvel movies will be integrated and whether the current Fox and Marvel Studios characters will exist in the same universe—save that the Marvel movies will be supervised by one entity, Marvel Studios, which is led by Kevin Feige. “Kevin’s got a lot of ideas,” Iger told The Hollywood Reporter, when asked in September whether Deadpool could be an Avenger. “I’m not suggesting that’s one of them. But who knows?”
The movies in Fox’s X-Men universe have been hit or miss, but Deadpool has so far been a tremendous success for Fox. The first film, which fans practically demanded Fox make, was unabashed fan service; it was brutal and full of the graphic language, chimichangas, and inappropriate behavior people expect from the comic-book character. It took in $783 million at the global box office, more than 13 times its production budget, and more than any X-Men film, unadjusted for inflation. Deadpool 2, which also set up another super-human team, X-Force, generated $734 million worldwide against an estimated $110 million production budget.
The Deadpool franchise could serve Disney well, especially if it can be rolled into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where characters frequently crossover into one another’s films and team up in titles like the Avengers movies.
“This is a test for Disney to see if it will work,” said Jeff Bock, senior analyst at entertainment research firm Exhibitor Relations. “That’s all it is. … They’re testing to see if they can get away with a PG-13 Deadpool.”
To be sure, other movies have been cleaned up or edited to meet standards on TV, airplanes, and other secondary movie markets. A year ago, studio Sony also announced a plan to re-release censored, family friendly versions of some older movies like Spider-Man and Ghostbusters on home video, but creators that work with Sony like Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow pushed back on it and the effort has stalled.
If the PG-13 version of Deadpool 2 does well, it gives Marvel more room to experiment with the character. Disney could use a family friendly version of Deadpool in other Marvel films, boost sales of toys and other merchandise tied to the anti-hero, or use the character in its theme parks. The media conglomerate is known for stretching its entertainment properties across its distribution engine.
If the movie flops, there’s little harm done. The reshoots cost less than developing a PG-13 Deadpool movie from scratch. The prospects for the R-rated franchise are still strong, considering how well the first two movies did. And fans at least seem to be getting a kick out of the promos for the movie.