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How The Deadpool Movie Really Got Made

February 2016 saw the release of Deadpool from 20th Century Fox, an R-rated superhero action comedy set (loosely) in the X-Men movie universe. Despite its rating and its relatively unknown lead character, Deadpool doubled its opening weekend predictions, earning $135 million in the United States alone. Even more amazingly: Deadpool almost never got made.

1991: An ode to Deathstroke

Back in the early 1990s, badass characters with pouches, knives, guns, and mysterious backstories were all the rage in comic books. That's what led Marvel Comics artist Rob Liefeld to create Deadpool, a sword-and-gun-wielding assassin named Wade Wilson, who first slashed his way through issue number 98 of The New Mutants back in 1991. Readers could tell immediately, of course, that Deadpool was a thinly veiled "homage" to a DC Comics character named Deathstroke the Terminator: a sword-and-gun-wielding assassin named Slade Wilson, who first appeared in the pages of Teen Titans back in 1980. Over the years, however, Deadpool's insane sense of humor, over-the-top violence, and tendency to talk directly to the reader helped him stand apart from his inspiration. Before long, Deadpool would become one of the most popular characters to appear in the pages of any Marvel comic book. Of course, considering how totally nutso his adventures tend to be, no one could've imagined he'd be high on anyone's list for a big budget movie.

2000: Marvel's movie deal with Artisan Entertainment

After the success of other licensed Marvel movies like Blade and X-Men, the comic book company was hungry for more. To that end, the publisher inked a deal with Artisan Entertainment to make a whole slate of Marvel properties into movies and television shows: in addition to a Deadpool movie, Artisan planned to create movies based on Captain America, Ant-Man, Black Panther, Iron Fist, and some even more obscure characters. As you probably know by now, none of this actually happened.

2004: New Line steps in, Ryan Reynolds signs on

By 2004, the rights to Deadpool wound up at New Line Cinema, at which point actor Ryan Reynolds was attached to star. That same year, Reynolds starred in another Marvel movie from New Line: Blade Trinity. Allegedly, the actor became interested in playing Deadpool when he found out that an issue of the comic book Cable & Deadpool referred to the character as looking "like Ryan Reynolds crossed with a shar-pei." But when production snags kept the studio from moving forward on Deadpool, the rights were sold off to 20th Century Fox in 2005...which also happened to be home to Marvel's franchise of X-Men movies.

2009: X-Men Origins screws everything up

In Wolverine's first solo movie in 2009, appropriately called X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Reynolds appears as Wade "Deadpool" Wilson, though that particular appearance was pretty much bungled by the end. While Wilson's early action in the film are true to the comics—lots of wisecracking, killing dudes with swords—Deadpool's transformation at the end of the movie was clearly the result of some very bad production meetings. Deadpool gets every mutant power in the book, and his mouth is sewn shut, keeping him from delivering the jokes for which the character became famous. Still, X-Men Origins' success at the box office spurred plans to spin Deadpool off into his own movie, despite fans' reaction to how the studio had already ruined the character. Fox hired screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese to create a new script that brought the character back to his roots...and that caused yet another mess.

2011: The hard-R script leaks

Wernick and Reese wrote a screenplay featuring tons of violence, in-jokes, and lots of Deadpool talking directly to the audience watching the film. The script didn't shy away from embracing what fans loved about Wade Wilson and his cast of crazy misfits. Unfortunately, a hyperviolent, R-rated superhero movie starring a character most moviegoers had never heard of wasn't exactly something 20th Century Fox wanted to fund. Conventional wisdom dictates that R-rated movies won't earn as much as those rated PG or PG-13, since the latter two allow for more kids and families to attend. Fox's execs likely thought an R-rated Deadpool flick would tank, and eat the studio's investment, so the movie was shelved. At least, it was, until the script leaked online in 2010 and fans went berserk. Fox changed course by 2011 and commissioned test footage to be created by visual effects artist and animator Tim Miller.

2014: More leaks, more crazy fans

Tim Miller had never directed a feature film before, so it's possible that Fox's execs didn't have much faith in what he could do. Maybe it would be enough to prove that commissioning an entire movie wouldn't be practical. And it's not clear what reaction the studio execs had to the footage when it was delivered in 2012, but needless to say, the film was apparently dead in the water. Two years later, however, the footage leaked online, and Deadpool fans once again went completely bananas. The CGI footage boasted Reynolds' voice acting, and showed Deadpool talking to the audience, performing insane stunts, and killing loads of dudes in ridiculous and hilarious detail. In an age where online petitions and viral videos could sway corporate policy, 20th Century Fox couldn't keep Deadpool from embracing his destiny as a movie star: the studio gave the movie a greenlight and production finally began in 2015

2016: Deadpool murders box-office records

Actor Ryan Reynolds was quoted in the press as saying that the test footage leak was "100 percent" the reason that Fox gave the movie the go-ahead. "I would have [leaked it], if I had known it would have caused that," he said. "We don't get to make it with the budget of most superhero movies, but we get to make it the way we want to make it." And that's exactly what happened: with a budget of only $58 million—paltry compared with other superhero movies—Deadpool earned $135 million during its first three days in theaters. Even more impressive is the fact that Deadpool also broke the earnings record for an R-rated movie's opening weekend. The previous record holder? Fifty Shades of Grey from 2015, which took home a comparatively laughable $85.2 million. Chances seem good that Deadpool 2 will have a much bigger budget, and will earn even more when it slashes its way to theaters.