Recently (say, in the past week), you might have heard about how Deadpool left Hollywood aflutter by making all the money. And because a large portion of Hollywood exists in the perpetual state of trying to replicate past successes, a lot of theories have been going around as to why and how it did that. “It’s making fun of Marvel!” they say. “It’s the timing!” they say. “It’s the R-rating!” they say. (And that, unfortunately, seems to be the one that’s sticking, going by the new R-rating for the third Wolverine film currently going into production.)
But I have a different theory. People went to see Deadpool because everywhere that merc’s face popped up in the past year, his message to the audience was all too clear: I want you, baby.
At the end of the day, it’s always hard to pinpoint precisely what gets a film big bucks, particularly when its riding on a lot of unknowns. That’s the case with Deadpool—though a popular character in Marvel comics, his circulation is nowhere near wide enough to bring in the numbers that the movie saw last weekend. (No, but really not. Even the most popular comics characters do not have readerships large enough to translate into blockbuster money, even when you account for word-of-mouth. It’s simple math.) With that in mind, the marketing team for this movie had to be smart. They had to think about what would get people into the theater to watch a superhero they knew nothing about, when there have been plenty of other superheroes to chose from for the past several years.
Some of their moves were obvious: the trailers for the film were good about highlighting the humor, the irreverence of the character. There were some knockout parody posters, putting Deadpool in conversation with other popular properties—including Ryan Reynolds’ failed turn as Green Lantern. (This is par for the course regarding Deadpool as a character; his comics often provide parodies and outside meta references to pop culture.) But the sharpest move by far was to offer up poster after poster of our favorite mercenary… flirting.
Flirting, quite specifically, with you.
This was the genius of the Deadpool marketing team. They were constantly showcasing Deadpool coming on to his audience. Batting his masked eyelashes and staring adoringly at us. And that flirting was equal opportunity as well, catered to both male and female gazes. Here’s what I mean—
Way back in March of 2015, Ryan Reynolds tweeted the first picture of him in Deadpool’s official costume:
To start, he’s on a bearskin rug in front of a fireplace. He’s all pose-y. It would be impossible to think of this image as anything but flirting. But to a keen eye, this display might also touch a nostalgia bell. In fact, it near-exactly mirrors a nude spread that Burt Reynolds did in the ’70s… for Cosmopolitan Magazine. So Deadpool is posing the way a very manly guy once posed for a woman’s publication a few decades ago.
One of the main tag lines for the the film was “Wait ’til you get a load of me.” Obvious double-entendre is obvious. Then made more obvious by the choice of prop in the posters where it was used:
The first poster is a bit more standard in terms of masculine objectification—the focus, the powerful stance, the visual pun that plays into the tag line, suggesting that his gun isn’t really a gun—get it? GET IT. While the second poster is more of a come-hither sexy sprawl, still harping on that gun placement. (This was the one I saw coming over on the train every day to my office. I always smirked at it. I think I may have even winked at the damn thing a couple times. It was totally effective.)
Here was the image they released via Twitter to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving:
He’s laid out on your dinner table. Where your Thanksgiving “feast” is meant to be served. Though it looks like we’ve only got one thing on the menu that really matters this year. And to make it extra clear, the quote that came along with it was “I forget. Is a turducken stuffed with three additional meats, or four?” Ahem.
There was also the tagline “Justice Has A New Face” in the poster campaign, and this one was definitely my favorite version:
Justice has an adorable face that just can’t believe you noticed him!
Of course, there was Christmas. You already know what the tagline for that poster is bound to be, right?
And if you’re very good, Santa will bring you a—you know what, I’m gonna stop right there. I think you’ve probably got the picture.
It gets even more fun when Deadpool assumes a classically female-standard pose. You know the one. The infamous “butt pose.” Here he is with Lara Croft side-by-side for comparison:
So now Deadpool is flirting with you in a deliberately feminine-typical manner. He’s wearing a black and pink backpack and foot-popping and being coy with you. He’s turned around so you can check out his assets. But unlike Croft, Deadpool needs to make sure that you know where to look. So he directs you to his posterior for good measure. (What, no, he’s just grabbing for his gun! Wait, that doesn’t sound better.)
But what if you’re not into the leather get-up? What if you prefer as less direct come-on? Don’t worry, Deadpool’s got you covered:
Standard rom-com schmaltz. Just in case you really needed to see Ryan Reynold’s face smiling. Without the double-entendres.
And if, after all the work he put in, you still weren’t sure that Deadpool loved you, here’s the final film poster:
He actually hearts you. Zero ambiguity. He’s ready to go get some milkshakes and hold hands.
Do you see now? Even if you knew nothing about Deadpool specifically, even if you weren’t a fan of superhero movies at all, whenever you thought of the name, you were likely to remember one thing—that guy was into me. And that makes it some of the savviest marketing a film has ever received.
I feel like we all learned an important lesson: If you want people to be intrigued by a character they’ve never heard of, there’s a simple way to their hearts. The oldest way in the book.