Look, we’re going to need all of you to calm down.
Today, Deadpool was nominated for Best Picture by the Producer’s Guild of America. Joining it in contention for the prestigious Oscar signifier are Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight. Conspicuously absent from the list are Martin Scorsese’s Silence, Jeff Nichols’ Loving, and Pablo Larraín’s Jackie. Since ‘09, the PGoA has predicted 54 of the 63 titles nominated for the Academy’s most coveted annual award. That’s 85%; better than most of us did in college. That means there’s a solid chance the World’s Sexiest Merc will have a highlight reel showcased on February 26th.
It’s totally easy to understand why some folks are upset by this news. Though it currently sits at 84% on Rotten Tomatoes (70% amongst “Top Critics”), the very mention of the title sends elitist cinephiles into a tizzy. Many believe the movie is only beloved by douchebags, Redditors, and Scott Wampler (plus it’s debatable as to whether or not these circles don’t overlap completely). But Deadpool’s massive box office success ($783 million worldwide) points toward the unabashedly R-rated superhero picture as having crossed over to markets well beyond die hard comic book enthusiasts and Internet trolls. Deadpool grabbed the zeitgeist by the throat, kicked it in the crotch, then made a quip that will most likely become dated by tomorrow. Now, this isn’t some half-assed argument trying to equate financial success with artistic merit, merely an illustration of how the movie thrived in an entertainment culture that is commonly diagnosed with “superhero fatigue” and “rampant homogeneity”. It’s a boffo blockbuster, as Peter Bart would say, somewhat against the odds.
Though economic triumph no doubt influences a film’s chances at achieving awards greatness, simply stating Deadpool’s stats doesn’t seem like it fully acts as an explanation for its inclusion on both the PGoA and Gold Globes’ shortlist of 2016’s Best Films (not to mention a WGA nod for Best Adapted Screenplay). The “why” behind these big bucks could serve as a rationalization of sorts for Ryan Reynolds’ hyper-violent passion project’s otherwise inexplicable awards season recognition. The movie taps into the meme-ification of our current society, distilling the zinger method of discourse that’s become prevalent on many social media platforms into a 108-minute shoot-em-up. Even this article’s title is a clickbait play on how Film Twitter™ exploded when the PGoA press release dropped. “They’re saying Deadpool’s better than Scorsese! This is insane!” echoed in the digital corridors, while certain critics chimed “Does this mean I actually have to watch Deadpool now?” Were Wade Wilson not blowing the heads off of bad dudes, he’d probably still have 25K followers, as his snappy retorts would fit right in with a society that sees Pepe Frogs lobbed at any challenge of Donald Trump’s latest digital temper tantrum. Deadpool may not be the hero many need right now, but he’s certainly the one most deserve; a smartass profiteer who hangs in his own bubble (in this case, a bar full of assassins), sarcastically mourning the loss of a past that was much, much better.
Even if you removed all of this historical context, perhaps the simplest reason for Deadpool possibly becoming the first superhero film to get nominated for Best Picture is the fact that it is so markedly different from the established Marvel and DC Universes while still maintaining a distinct sense of X-Men familiarity. What’s been fascinating about the response to Deadpool is that many film fans have rejected its irreverent tone, while simultaneously complaining out of the other side of their mouths that every movie in the MCU/DCU “looks the same”. Superhero cinema is, for better or worse, here to stay, so watching a picture buck against PG-13 trends and carve out its own niche is remarkable in an industry where 50% of 2016’s Top 10 Grossers are adapted from comic book properties. Many of the titles nominated by the PGoA were made almost exclusively to compete for Oscar Gold at the end of year. Deadpool was made to compete within a field already overcrowded by studios looking to keep their respective cash cows chewing up the green before the superhero trend is finally put out to pasture. The fact that Tim Miller’s movie succeeded on its own terms to the extent that it did (while maintaining a top tier critical score) is an objective triumph. So while you may not like Deadpool or superhero cinema in general, there’s no denying it did something special in 2016. Whether or not it deserves an Oscar Nomination (or will get bumped off for one of the movies the PGoA snubbed) is another story entirely.