Oscars blitz to sell Deadpool as rooting for the underdog

Ryan Reynolds, star and one of the four main film-makers behind Deadpool, who refused to let the film die.
Ryan Reynolds, star and one of the four main film-makers behind Deadpool, who refused to let the film die.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • Few modern Hollywood advertising campaigns have maintained a long-term, multi- layered narrative better than Deadpool. And ahead of the Oscar nomination announcements on Jan 24, the machinery is staying brilliantly on message.

Last Thursday evening, Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds tweeted a 30-second "for your consideration" video aimed at the Academy. And right down to its open-ended chaps, the tone is perfectly cheeky.

Yet it is not just Reynolds' familiar, smart-alecky comic delivery as charred superhero Deadpool/ Wade Wilson that matches the spirit of the film. More important are the precise words that Reynolds utters with a wink in voiceover.

Because soon after he cites "600 lbs. of chimichangas" as an ingredient in the hit film's winning recipe, he gets to the real meat of the matter: "42 rejection letters from Fox. 1 leaked video. And 783 million fans."

The film grossed US$783 million (S$1.1 billion) worldwide.

With just those three numbers, the upstart arc behind the making of Deadpool is sketched.

Because Oscar campaigns are a rigorous performance unto themselves - ideally, a deft strategy that blends smiling access with a stump "story" to pitch as part of the multimillion-dollar politicking - and Deadpool is selling a tale of long-term grit and commitment.

The narrative: Deadpool is the feel-good underdog that defied the doubters and succeeded far beyond all expectations because - much like the superhero himself - the four main film-makers refused to let this die.

The stations of the film's long cross are well-known: It was more than a decade ago that Reynolds, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and director Tim Miller began trying to adapt the Marvel character for a feature film.

But the project seemed dead in the water after a double dose of misfortune: Reynolds had to play a dreadfully conceived version of the character in director Gavin Hood's X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) - the "merc with a mouth" was bizarrely rendered mute, lips sewn shut - and then two years later, the Reynolds-starring Green Lantern from Warner Bros/DC bombed at the box office.

A future Deadpool solo film appeared to be dead in the water.

But shortly before Lantern tanked, Fox had given Miller a low-six-figure budget to make a Deadpool test reel. Fox had too many concerns to move forward.

Then, in the summer of 2014, test footage leaked - and the fanboys ate it up. Interest was stoked, Fox suits were assuaged - and the underdog had a green light.

To this day, the four-man creative team refuses to disclose which of them leaked the test reel; they recently joked that it was Russian President Vladimir Putin.

From there, Deadpool had to figure out how to market itself with a budget significantly smaller than that of most studio superhero films.

By necessity, Reynolds and the writers got creative, with a minimal buy of scatological emoji billboards that went viral; with a Halloween trick-or-treat video shot on an iPhone; and with a Valentine's Day advertisement in which the mutant antihero lounges on a bear rug, a la the iconic 1970s Burt Reynolds centrefold in Cosmopolitan.

Throughout it all, hawking while in costume, Reynolds seemed in his element.

"I can channel this guy in a way I just can't seem to channel anything else," he told the Hollywood Reporter last fall.

"When it comes to Deadpool's sensibility and certainly his sense of humour, I feel like we were born on the same end of the spectrum."

The sustained blitz helped Deadpool become the highest-grossing R-rated film of the year, with the sequel in the works.

And two of the early awards that the film reaped were Grand Clio Key Art Awards - marketing honours bestowed last October for best integrated campaign and best out-of-home advertisement (for the emoji billboard).

Now, the film's advertising takes full aim at the Oscars, riding a wave of surprise critical recognition from the Golden Globes (two noms), the Critics' Choice Awards, the Producers Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America and American Cinema Editors.

Reynolds even seems to stay in character when responding to the prospect of an Oscar nod.

After The Washington Post recently asked whether Deadpool could actually be nominated for an Oscar, he tweeted: "If by chance this happens, prepare for the world's most ridiculous reaction video."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2017, with the headline 'Oscars blitz to sell Deadpool as rooting for the underdog'. Print Edition | Subscribe