You probably know enough about Deadpool to be reasonably impressed - it's well-known that it was pretty cheap to produce and did really good business at the box office (coming in at $782 million). But the thing is - you should be WAY more impressed. Like, multiply your impressed-ness by - let's say - 6.25 (there's a reason for that number that we'll get to later). Why? Well, let's explain...
As crazy as it seems in hindsight, there was a time when no one in Hollywood thought much of Deadpool. After being almost sadistically ruined on-screen in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, actor Ryan Reynolds hoped to do the impossible and resurrect the character in a solo film that would completely ignore the events of his introduction. And while there was some tepid progress in 2011, the project languished in development hell for years - until a fortuitous "leak" of the test footage created for executives, at which point the studio reluctantly agreed to produce the film...at the lowest budget of any major studio superhero film since 1998's Blade.
Even 2000's X-Men, the film that kicked off the modern superhero movie genre, had a higher production budget than Deadpool - $75 million, compared to Deadpool's $58 million. And that was in pre-inflation 2000 dollars.
It's almost as if Fox wanted it to fail - and miraculously (again, only to them - the rest of us saw it coming) it was one of the biggest box office success stories of the year. Like, it did ridiculously well, and we should acknowledge exactly HOW well it did, particularly when it had so much going against it.
The idea of "Hollywood accounting" is a notorious one that makes it somewhat difficult to accurately gauge how much things actually cost - Batman v. Superman's official production budget (before marketing) was listed at $250 million, but rumors have it at costing somewhere more in the range of $400 million. Studios don't want to admit how much these superhero movies cost, because then you run into cases like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - where a movie makes over $700 million worldwide and is still considered a financial failure.
That all being said, the listed budget for Deadpool is damn paltry - and pretty specific, which inclines us to trust the numbers a bit more: $58 million. To put things in perspective, here are the listed budgets of the other major superhero releases in 2016:
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice - $250m
Captain America: Civil War - $250m
X-Men: Apocalypse - $178m
Suicide Squad - $175m
Doctor Strange - $165m
Deadpool was produced for about 1/3rd of what the next lowest budget superhero film of the year (Doctor Strange) was - and that was after the budget got slashed multiple times in mid-production. Oh yeah, which brings us to our next point!
See, Fox did NOT want to make Deadpool. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming through the whole process - only after a massive groundswell in support and hype on the internet due to the leaked test footage did they finally formally greenlight the film, and even then they only did so with a low budget (a budget so low that Reynolds himself had to pay out of his own pocket to have the writers on-set).
But on top of the insanely low budget, Fox balked and chopped away $7 million midway through production - forcing Reynolds and director Tim Miller to completely reconceive the climax of the film (primarily a big gun battle, which is why in the finished film Deadpool accidentally forgets his gun-bag in the cab - which is honestly a pretty funny gag, so good on them).
Just to really keep things in perspective - the Deadpool videogame cost more than the Deadpool movie. Yep, the Deadpool videogame (which is unconnected to the movie) cost $100m.
Studios are very careful to hedge their bets when it comes to major tentpole action films - they want them rated PG-13 (so that teenagers can get in) and want them to have a 3D release (for increased ticket prices). Deadpool had neither of these things - it earned a hard R rating (as is befitting the character) and zero 3D bump.
But there's one more thing Hollywood has grown to depend on increasingly that Deadpool was also denied: a release in China. The Chinese box office has grown to become a major player in release strategies for tentpole films - with box office results that can make or break a film. Of course, there are lots of caveats - studios receive a much smaller percentage of the box office from China than domestically, all films must be approved by Chinese censors, etc. But to keep things in perspective, Captain America: Civil War brought in $190m in the Chinese box office, so there's some major dollars at stake.
That all said, it probably wasn't a surprise that Deadpool wasn't approved for release in China - it includes much more graphic violence and language than your standard superhero film, along with a fair amount of sex and nudity (none of which typically goes over too well with censors). The important thing is that Deadpool did insanely well at the box office DESPITE this handicap, while other films are literally shooting additional footage in China purely to play to that audience.
And again, that R-rating...
Deadpool's worldwide box office total came in at over $780 million - with $360m domestic and $420m foreign. Domestic is the key number here, because that's box office where the studio gets to take in the largest percentage of box office receipts. Keeping this in mind, Batman v. Superman only took in $330m domestically.
That's right - a solo film about Deadpool with 1/4th the budget (according to the official numbers, at least) outgrossed the most-hyped superhero movie in years - the first on-screen pairing of Superman and Batman (and Wonder Woman!) that was ALSO the celebrated official launch of the DCEU (given that Man of Steel doesn't really hint at the whole 'extended universe' thing). Not only that, but Deadpool outgrossed it by $30m. That's A LOT. All from a character that was largely unknown to the wider audience in a movie that cost way less and had significantly less of a marketing budget.
So far, Deadpool stands at the 5th highest grossing film at the US box office in 2016 - surpassing Zootopia (a marquee Disney animated film rated PG), Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, and...well, everything except Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, The Secret Life of Pets, and The Jungle Book (which barely nudged past Deadpool by less than a million dollars).
The main thing to keep in mind when looking at this is that Deadpool was rated R - none of the top 20 highest grossing domestic films of 2016 are rated R except for Deadpool. The fact that it made this much money while having to turn away massive swaths of potential buyers is basically unheard of. But to put it in perspective, it holds the record for opening weekend box office for an R-rated film (at $132m, wildly surpassing The Matrix Reloaded's previous record at $90m) and is the 2nd highest grossing R-rated film EVER (domestically), only beaten by a few million by The Passion of the Christ - which was literally having entire church congregations bussed in.
But maybe more importantly, it's the highest-grossing (worldwide) R-rated film ever released (it should be noted that MPAA ratings don't apply to other countries, who may rate things based on their own scale or have differently-edited versions of the film made to fit into their ratings standards).
What may be even crazier than the fact that Deadpool beat all expectations is the timing of it - Deadpool came out in February 2016, just a few months from another major 20th Century Fox release - X-Men: Apocalypse. And Deadpool MORE THAN DOUBLED the domestic box office of Fox's own vaunted MAIN FRANCHISE FILM OF THE YEAR. Yep, X-Men: Apocalypse made a paltry $155m in the US, or about 57.3% less than what Deadpool took in.
The franchise Fox had been building for 16 years, with a budget 3 times that of Deadpool, made less than HALF of what Deadpool made at the domestic box office. Hell, Deadpool outgrossed X-Men: Apocalypse's entire domestic run in 5 days - no joke, Deadpool hit $163m the Tuesday after release. Deadpool was an essentially unwanted spinoff of X-Men that had already been brutally mistreated in the first Wolverine spinoff film, and even went so far as to make jokes in the film about how they weren't allowed to use any of the important mutants...and ended up outperforming the year's big X-Men film by leaps and bounds.
...all of this is not to say that foreign box office doesn't matter. It matters A LOT. Pacific Rim is getting a sequel entirely based on its foreign box office success. And - despite NO Chinese release - Deadpool did ridiculous business overseas, making around $420m.
To keep this number in perspective, here are the other major superhero films' foreign totals (not including Doctor Strange, which was released too recently to have a final tally):
Here's an interesting note - Deadpool did nearly identical foreign box office numbers to Suicide Squad, which ALSO didn't get a theatrical release in China, and also prominently featured a character who was HUGE on the internet and amongst geeks but was largely unknown to the broader audience: Harley Quinn. And Suicide Squad managed to do pretty comparable box office numbers with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, despite having a much lower-tier of characters and significantly less marketing/production budget. Not to get too off-track here, but DC would be wise to make that solo Harley Quinn movie sooner rather than later.
Like, do that NOW, DC/Warner Bros. Forget all of your Zack Snyder stuff and fast-track that Harley Quinn solo film ASAP, because it will bring in a literal fuckton of dollars.
Anyways, back to the point: Deadpool made a shitload of money overseas.
Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Superman, Batman, Ant-Man, Wolverine, and even Guardians of the Galaxy all have one thing in common: they were all outgrossed by Deadpool in their debut films. Like, ANY of their debut films - from Batman Begins to the 1978 Superman film to any of the Marvel origin films to Batman's intro when he v'd Superman - all were outgrossed by Deadpool. A film that cost a fraction of what most of those cost, featuring a character who was basically unknown to the broader audience, with an R-rating no less.
The ONLY solo superhero debut to outrank Deadpool goes to Deadpool's fellow motor-mouthed spandex'd hero, Spider-Man, whose 2002 debut outgrossed Deadpool's worldwide box office by a decent amount (made more decent by the fact that it was in 2002 pre-inflation dollars).
Not only that, but it stands as one of the most profitable superhero films ever made - it made 6.25x its budget domestically. No comic book superhero film comes CLOSE to that kind of rate of return - the next best rate of return was Spider-Man, which made back 2.85x its budget (a $139m budget that grossed $403m domestically).
Keep in mind that none of this is a judgment on the quality of the film - but however you ultimately feel about Deadpool, it's objectively one of the most fascinating successes in the superhero movie genre to date. And if there's any lesson to be learned here, it's that Fox has absolutely no idea what they're doing - between wasting tons of money on awkward, convoluted X-Men prequels that underperform and one of the most disastrous film flops of the past 5 years (Fant4stic) while simultaneously trying to sabotage the one promising property they have (Deadpool), it's a miracle the entire executive board hasn't been shitcanned yet.