Hollywood’s association with Marvel has produced pretty reliable returns for Paramount (early films in the Avengers series) and Sony (Spider-Man), and Disney’s $4bn acquisition of Marvel Entertainment in 2009 has proved a cash bonanza for the studio, with more Avengers films, Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man.
Over at Fox, which arguably kick-started the current cycle of comic-book blockbusters with 2000’s X-Men, results with Marvel characters have been more mixed. X-Men 2 (£20.7m) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (£27.3m) are the only two in the series to crack £20m at the UK box office, while two attempts at Fantastic Four never got the formula quite right. Spinoffs X-Men Origins: The Wolverine and The Wolverine managed £16.4m and £13.8m respectively.
Based on the performance of those films, expectations might have been modest for Deadpool, a spinoff featuring a character briefly introduced in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and starring an actor (Ryan Reynolds) who had already commercially failed as a superhero in DC Comics’ Green Lantern. Director Tim Miller, known for animation and visual effects, had never helmed a feature film, and Deadpool didn’t look an obvious fit for the Valentine’s Day audience.
At the Baftas on Sunday night, with Rentrak returns flooding on to attendees’ hand-held devices, executives across the UK film industry confessed themselves stunned by the Deadpool numbers. A debut of £13.73m including previews of £3.76m – that result is way bigger than anyone expected. It’s bigger than the opening weekends of all three of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films (although Spider-Man 3’s £11.8m debut has the edge if Deadpool’s previews are stripped out). It’s pretty much dead level with the opening of Iron Man 3 (£13.71m including £2.32m in previews), and far ahead of the debuts for Iron Man and Iron Man 2. Guardians of the Galaxy kicked off with £6.36m, including £1.37m in previews – numbers that were considered a surprise success at the time.
Deadpool is rated 15 for “strong bloody violence, strong language, sex references” and its tone and content clearly distinguishes the film from other Marvel properties. While that represented a risk for Fox, its distinctiveness was also an opportunity to offer audiences something different in an increasingly crowded space. The risk has paid off handsomely.
The runner-up: the Chipmunks
Fox has even more to smile about this week, as Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Road Chip is convincingly winning the battle for the half-term audience. The fourth film in the series begins its run with £4.30m including previews of £1.70m. Previous entry Chipwrecked began in December 2011 with £2.36m including £675,000 in previews, when it faced direct competition from Arthur Christmas, Puss in Boots, Hugo and Happy Feet 2. Predecessor The Squeakquel kicked off with £5.35m including very extensive previews totalling £4.00m. The Road Chip is benefiting from its February half-term release date – a key slot that in past years has been nabbed by big hitters such as Big Hero 6, The Lego Movie and Wreck-It Ralph. Alvin is facing off against family adventure Goosebumps and lesser titles.
Third place: Zoolander 2
Although the original Zoolander film enjoys significant affection with film fans, it was commercially modest on its cinema release (2001), grossing just £2.18m in total in the UK. Still, the same is also true of the first Anchorman film (grossing £1.59m here) and the sequel went on to huge success (£14.51m). Paramount had every reason to expect a big opening for Zoolander 2, with media happily exploiting images of Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and other cast members performing photo stunts at a series of premieres (technically billed as “fan screenings”) all around the world.
The result: a UK debut of £2.09m, including previews of £670,000. While Paramount will take comfort from having already almost matched the lifetime of Zoolander, it must surely be disappointed not to have pushed the number higher. Zoolander 2 enjoys a weak 5.3/10 IMDb user rating and a 35/100 MetaCritic score. Prospects do not look great for a strong sustain, although this week’s half-term holiday will work in the 12A-rated film’s favour.