[Deadpool will hit theaters in early 2016. Read on for the details!]

When Ryan Reynolds popped up in a small capacity in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, he had the chance to get moviegoers on his side to help launch a spinoff for his character, Wade Wilson – the talkative mercenary who becomes Deadpool. While that film’s odd adaptation of the Deadpool character represented just one of the many problems that forced the studio, Fox, to pretend the film didn’t happen – ignoring it almost entirely when it came to the standalone followup, The Wolverine – viewers at least witnessed Reynolds becoming a scene-stealer as Wilson, before the experiments changed him into some weird concoction of mutant powers.

Deadpool film has been in the works for quite some time, having begun development almost immediately after Wolverine’s first solo adventure. It has a script which, by all accounts, is not only true to the character as depicted in Marvel Comics (breaking the fourth wall and all), but is actually wonderfully entertaining and action-packed. It was penned by Zombieland writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.

Some time ago Tim Miller was attached to direct with Ryan Reynolds (of course) attached as the lead, but development went nowhere. We even heard word of test footage made to pitch the feature to Fox’s decision-makers, footage that Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld described in detail during convention appearances, and praised. That footage just so happened to conveniently leak online in July, on the last day of San Diego Comic-Con, and became one of the most exciting bits of news coming that week, even though it wasn’t part of the convention.

Although it went completely under the radar at the time, Sun Media’s Liz Braun had the chance to chat with Ryan Reynolds over the phone that very same week, not long after the Deadpool test footage leaked online. The call was mainly an interview for The Captive, his latest project, but they did chat about the Deadpool footage leaking. Reynolds says the leak was disappointing but followed up with:

“But who cares. The movie has been in a state of limbo for a while. There was such an overpowering reaction to the footage, you sort of feel like, ‘Oh, so we weren’t crazy for our reasons for loving this character, for loving this role.’ It’s interesting to see the power of the Internet. It’s awe-inspiring, actually.

“And it’s neat that Twitter and Facebook and Instagram can move mountains when used in the right way.”

Needless to say, from the overwhelmingly positive response to the test footage, fans are on Reynolds’ side. From a career perspective, after Green Lantern and R.I.P.D. failed critically and financially, Deadpool could be the big franchise he needs and deserves. We thought it would happen first with the X-Force movie, another team-based X-Men film that was being written (and potentially directed) by Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2) but it seems that project is also at a stalemate, possibly canned entirely thanks to Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg taking over the franchise reins with X-Men: Days of Future Past and its 2016 followup, X-Men: Apocalypse.

Days of Future Past was a home run for Fox and broke box office records records for the series while also garnering high review scores. It no doubt solidified where the series is heading and before it even hit theaters, the sequel already had a release date, along with a second Fantastic Four film and Wolverine 3. There is however, an unannounced and untitled X-Men film scheduled for 2018, but with all the talk of Channing Tatum potentially getting a Gambit movie (and the need for more team-based core X-Men installments), it’s anyone’s guess at this point whether Deadpool still has a chance.

If it were up to us, this would be a no-brainer greenlight. Why not have a (somewhat) lower budget, more hardcore and edgy superhero film? At least it’s something different from the usual releases. And look, we’re getting over 40 DC and Marvel Comics movies in the next six years. How is Deadpool not among them? Even Hugh Jackman wants another stab at sharing the screen with Deadpool.

BREAKING: Oh wow. Just as I typed this, Twentieth Century Fox just announced that Deadpool is coming in 2016. You did it, fans! Reynolds is not signed but is expected to. Miller is still going to direct with a release date set for February 12, 2016, which means production will begin early next year. It also means Deadpool hits theaters before X-Men: Apocalypse – meaning, we may finally get to see Reynolds and Jackman share the screen as mutants once again (and under much better circumstances…).

Fox is shifting release dates and perhaps the long-delayed realization of Deadpool has something to do with Assassin’s Creed being delayed out of 2015 (it’s currently sitting without a release date). Fantastic Four’s release date is also shifting from June (where it was delayed to from March, initially) to Assassin’s Creed‘s old date on August 7, 2015, where Guardians of the Galaxy saw much success this year.

[Update: Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld responds to the news]

Deadpool is scheduled to hit theaters on February 12, 2016, followed by X-Men: Apocalypse on May 27, 2016, The Wolverine 3 (not the official title) on March 3rd, 2017, and some as-yet unspecified X-Men film on July 13th, 2018. In other Fox/Marvel film news, Fantastic Four opens August 7th, 2015, followed by Fantastic Four 2 on July 14th, 2017.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes

Sources: Fox, The Niagara Falls Review via (TheDailySuperHero)