Deadpool was one of the biggest surprises of 2016. An irreverent take on the superhero genre with a slick mix of jokes and action, it thrashed away memories of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and ended up making even more money than 20th Century Fox’s big 2016 superhero gambit, X-Men: Apocalypse. And Deadpool is continuing to surprise eleven months on from release, somehow becoming a part of the awards discussion.
The film ended 2016 on a massive high; in addition to helping Ryan Reynolds get crowned Entertainer of the Year, Deadpool picked up Best Comedy and Best Actor in a Comedy at the Critics’ Choice Awards. Then it made history and became the first superhero movie to be nominated for a Best Picture award at the Golden Globes. This is unprecedented, with even high watermarks of the genre like The Dark Knight and The Avengers being mostly ignored by mainstream awards (the only major break through the glass ceiling being Heath Ledger’s lauded turn as the Joker in the former).
All of this coming after months of sustained hype and praise, and with Mad Max: Fury Road‘s domination of last awards season (at least on the technical side – it won six Oscars from ten nominations) has got everyone asking a question that would have been laughable at the start of 2016: is Deadpool a serious Oscar contender?
2017’s Outside Contender
On paper, Deadpool’s chances should be next to nought. In fact, on paper they don’t even exist – it doesn’t even factor into outside odds on any of the gambling sites. It’s not been in the discussion seriously yet, and that’s simply because Deadpool belongs to two key categories that awards tend to ignore: it’s a genre blockbuster. Only one of those has ever won the Best Picture Oscar, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and that was over a decade ago when awards season was a very different beast and had the benefit of two warm-up films to bring the Academy round to the idea of rewarding fantasy. Aside from that, no movie has ever really cracked it. The Dark Knight’s widely decried snub in 2008 did lead to the expansion of the Best Picture nominees, which allowed the likes of Inception, District 9 and Avatar to get some recognition, but the whole thing felt very “honourable mention-y”.
What most ups Deadpool chances is, as already stated, how in last season’s race Mad Max: Fury Road delightfully emerged as a core contender – it may not have won any of the big awards, but it dominated the race all the same. Deadpool‘s distinct style may be a world away from Fury Road, but it is still distinct and, while played mostly for laughs, doubles as a show of genuine filmmaking skill. That’s not to suggest for a second Tim Miller’s direction is anywhere close to George’s, but if Deadpool does break through, it’s ultimately down to this key factor.
Deadpool’s Journey So Far
For Deadpool to have legs it needs positive awards press – word-of-mouth is as powerful with mantlepiece fillers as it is box office – and what it’s had so far may be a tad deceptive. While Miller’s film definitely got some headline-grabbing noms and wins, they were in the two major awards most predisposed to Wade Wilson’s charm. The Critics’ Choice Awards can be less oppressively old-school and snooty than some of their counterparts, while the Golden Globes are notorious for forsaking measurable quality in favour of populist choices to ensure a glitzy red carpet to the ceremony That’s a broad category that Reynolds and Deadpool slot right into – they’re proven draws and guaranteed to be game for an evening (see also: Meryl Streep and Florence Foster Jenkins). It’s hard to see other bodies, especially the acting, producing and directing guilds (the former didn’t recognize the film in its nominations last month), being quite so open-armed.
Beyond that, what both these ceremonies have that their contemporaries don’t is multiple film categories. Alongside an overall Best Picture, CCA has awards for Best Comedy, Best Action Movie (both of which have acting counterparts) and Best Sci-Fi/Horror. Deadpool was nominated for Comedy, not coming close to the main prize (and losing in the Action categories to Hacksaw Ridge), so while it has the title “Best Picture,” it’s not quite a big winner. The Golden Globes, meanwhile, has two Picture categories, one for Dramas, another for Comedy or Musical – a choice typically made so the evening isn’t solely dominated exclusively by dour movies (and, of course, to further increase the celebrity reach). This makes Deadpool more of an outsider entrant there than it may seem, and its chances of trading in on the nomination are low, with the “musical” part of the category mean it’s up against current race favourite La La Land.
Compare this to Fury Road, which got 13 noms and 9 wins at the Critics’ Choice, then two at the Golden Globes (Picture and Director – Drama, neither of which it won). It’s a stronger start and one that showed real attention was being paid. There’s not that same certainty with Deadpool.
The Race To Come
What most important here is that Deadpool’s success has come from comedy – those are the exclusive categories it was in at both awards, with little recognition elsewhere (it shared Action at the Critic’s Choice Awards with standard, under-appreciated blockbuster fare). With that in mind, it’s worth noting that there have not been too many comedies this year that really hit the mark. The major exclusions from the Globes are The Nice Guys and Hail, Ceasar, which were recognised at the Critics’ Choice Awards, but both have their own quirks that make them alternative to usual awards films. With that in mind, it could be that Deadpool simply slotted into an empty hole for high-profile comedy. This sort of thing won’t help in later major awards when every film is on a level playing field (especially as comedy is another less-revered genre along with sci-fi).
What could really help Deadpool’s awards chances would be an astutely-run marketing campaign. The biggest lie about the Oscars is that they relate in any direct way to the quality of the movies being discussed – that plays a part, certainly, but at the end of the day it comes down to “For Your Consideration” campaigns targeted at the awards voters. And what do we know the Deadpool team are excellent at? Marketing. The trailers and posters and tweets and PSAs and interviews and other promo videos were key in building hype and selling audiences on a very different character in the months before release (to the point the adverts were in many ways better than the finished film), so, should Fox want to mount a campaign, it could have some degree of success.
Of course, that doesn’t seem likely. Not only are its chances too low for a few fourth-wall breaks to really push it up, but based on everything we’ve seen the film’s entry in the race has taken even those involved by surprise; Reynolds’ “Thank You” tweet after the Golden Globes tweet used an old Christmas-pool image from last year, and we’ve had very little since, suggesting they don’t have a gameplan due to a lack of expectation.
What Categories Does It Have A Chance In?
Let’s hide the ugly face of truth and put our hypothetical masks on – what are the film’s best chances?
Deadpool getting a Best Picture nom would be the biggest Oscar shock this side of Crash, so is pretty much unattainable. In fact, the only major category it has a shot at is Best Actor for Reynolds, who delivers such an on-point, movie-dominating turn Academy members may look past it being in a superhero comedy. However, to do that he’d be pushing past a lot of serious contenders – Denzel Washington (Fences) and Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) are locked in for a nomination and Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Joel Edgerton (Loving), Andrew Garfield (both Hacksaw Ridge and Silence) and Tom Hanks (Sully) are all strong contenders for the other three places. Supporting Actor is where performances like Reynolds sit best (see: Robert Downey, Jr.’s nomination for Tropic Thunder), and there’s no way that pitch would fly.
After that you have Best Adapted Screenplay, which is the film’s best non-technical hope – so much of the appeal lies in the script, and this is where not-so-serious movies can flourish. But, again, there’s a lot of top tier competition from the likes of Arrival, Fences and Silence.
So, where it really stands a shot is in those technical awards. Although, again, La La Land stands in the way – that movie is sumptuous and evocative, showing classic Hollywood craft (and there’s nothing Oscar loves more than things evoking itself). What that leaves us with is where we always expected to be – Visual Effects. Conventional wisdom would say this award goes to the most extensive and audacious CGI, but it tends to actually wind up with the most adept and singularly artistic case. Deadpool can’t quite boast that, but what it does is a seamless world complete with that slow-mo opening on a relatively small budget, which can count for something (see Ex Machina swooping in for a win last year). The main competition here would be Arrival and The Jungle Book, which provides much better odds than with others.
Deadpool continues to defy expectations, but while its Golden Globe recognition is definitely worthy of compliment, it’s unlikely to see it become a threat to the likes of La La Land, Moonlight and Fences. However, if one 2016 blockbuster is going to get a look in this awards season, then this one is the most angled to get some cursory glances from the Academy and their peers; it’s something fresh, self-aware and, crucially, separate from the rest of the pack to be worthy of notice. Just don’t hold your breath too long – you may wind up developing superpowers.