It’s already been a momentous year for superhero movies, but we’ve still got a few key releases before we cap off 2018. Leading up to Christmas, there’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Aquaman, and—wait, another Deadpool movie?! Really? Yes, really. This isn’t an elaborate troll by Ryan Reynolds (well, it sort of is); we’re really getting another theatrical Deadpool release for the holidays, dubbed Once Upon a Deadpool.
The only F word in this movie is Fred Aaron Savage. #OnceUponADeadpool #AsYouWish pic.twitter.com/fkzhLhWrPj— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) November 9, 2018
Why is 20th Century Fox releasing two Deadpool movies in the same year? Is this actually an entirely different movie? When on earth did Ryan Reynolds have time to film this? And why is Fred Savage, of all people, involved? Don’t worry, we’ll provide all those answers and more with this handy Deadpool FAQ—though I can’t promise that you won’t still be confused by the end of it.
What is Once Upon a Deadpool?
Once Upon a Deadpool is, essentially, a holiday rerelease of May’s Deadpool 2—with one crucial change. This iteration of Deadpool, which will be in theaters from December 12 up until Christmas Eve, is going to be rated PG-13; meaning, yes, whoever goes to see this movie will watch a toned-down version of the sequel with (presumably) less gore, less sexually explicit material, and less F-bombs.
It won’t be completely sanitized, of course—Venom was also PG-13, and its main character wanted to eat people’s brains and occasionally accomplished this goal—but this Deadpool will be more accessible, family-oriented superhero programming, like an edgier cousin of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Why a PG-13 Deadpool?
To quote the man himself: “It’s a family movie. Also money. Also Disney.”
But seriously—why is Fox doing this?
All right, so there are actual Business Reasons behind Once Upon a Deadpool, and the primary motivation isn’t that 20th Century Fox couldn’t get enough of its foul-mouthed moneymaker. As Deadline reported in September, Fox reshuffled some of its big blockbuster releases at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019—originally, the Once Upon a Deadpool release slot was to be occupied by Robert Rodriguez’s action flick Alita: Battle Angel.
Alita was then moved from its December slot to February, so that it could both coincide with Lunar New Year (the hope is that the film will be big in international markets, and especially China) and avoid a Christmas box office clash with the likes of Aquaman, Mary Poppins Returns, Bumblebee, and Welcome to Marwen. With so many big releases facing off at the box office, the chances were greater that one of these films would tank at the box office, and Alita—compared to a Mary Poppins sequel, another entry in the DC Extended Universe, and a Transformers spinoff—was the film with the biggest information gap to bridge, since it isn’t based on a well-known intellectual property.
To make way for Alita, Fox moved its newest X-Men film, Dark Phoenix, from February to a summer slot in June. So what did that leave for December? The studio needed something to fill the space very quickly—and they knew the blockbuster competition was fierce—and re-editing a PG-13 version of Deadpool was an easy (and most importantly, cheap) solution.
Is there anything else that’s different in Once Upon a Deadpool?
Yes! You might’ve noticed the presence of Fred Savage, a 42-year-old man lying in a child’s bedroom, while Deadpool (Reynolds) reads him a story. “Fox has been asking for a PG-13 [rating] basically since the start in 2006,” Reynolds told Deadline in November. “I’ve said no since 2006. Now, this one time, I said ‘Yes’ on two conditions. First, a portion of the proceeds had to go to charity. Second, I wanted to kidnap Fred Savage. The second condition took some explaining.”
The Savage stuff is, yes, an homage to the framing device of The Princess Bride, where Peter Falk reads the eponymous story to his sickly grandson, played by a then-youthful Savage. Of course, the imagery is a little less wholesome here, as it’s revealed that Deadpool kidnapped the adult Savage and tied him to the bed. (It’s on-brand for Deadpool, at least.)
Deadpool explains to Savage that he’s a fan of The Princess Bride (same), which is why they’re utilizing the same storytelling device for Once Upon a Deadpool. It also falls in line with the character’s metatextual tendencies, in a way that caters to a PG-13 audience.
Deadline’s November report also noted that the Savage-Deadpool scenes only took a day to film, so while it’s a new approach to the Deadpool sequel, it was a lot easier to put together than completely restructuring an entire movie. Once Upon a Deadpool is, basically, a censored version of Deadpool 2 where Fred Savage will occasionally interject in the same way he did with The Princess Bride. I bet he’ll still be grossed out by kissing.
Did Ryan Reynolds steal the Fred Savage idea from Twitter?
In December 2017, a Twitter user jokingly tweeted to Reynolds that if Fox ever asked him to do a PG-13 version of Deadpool, he should kidnap an adult Savage, Princess Bride–style. That is, of course, exactly what Reynolds ended up doing nearly a year later.
@VancityReynolds If Marvel forces you to make a PG-13 Deadpool, just copy the framing device from The Princess Bride and have Deadpool censoring it for Fred Savage as a bedtime story. A kidnapped adult Fred Savage. There, I fixed it.— M.V.B. (@MVBramley) December 7, 2017
Because the internet is never bereft of drama, when this tweet was uncovered in November, the outrage police quickly set their sights on Reynolds. Thankfully, within a couple of days, the user who initially suggested the idea—a New York–based comic book writer and artist named Michael Vincent Bramley—tweeted that the actor reached out to him and that they were able to clear things up.
.@VancityReynolds and I had a brief talk and I believe he was as confused as I was. It seems like this may all just have been a big, insane coincidence and I'm happy to leave it at that. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie in December! #deadpool #onceuponadeadpool— M.V.B. (@MVBramley) November 22, 2018
The TL;DR version of this mini-drama is: No, the idea wasn’t stolen—they just had similarly mischievous ideas for a holiday special. Nothing to see or be angry about on this corner of the internet.
Could Fox have any other reason for doing this?
Even if Reynolds insists that he doesn’t want to do a PG-13 Deadpool movie under normal circumstances, how Once Upon a Deadpool fares (with very modest expectations given its last-minute addition to the December slot) in a crowded Christmas theatrical slate could be an interesting litmus test for Disney. The Disney-Fox merger, once it’s official, will have big ramifications in the entertainment industry; on a micro level, what it means for Fox’s superhero franchises is still in the air.
The X-Men and Fantastic Four would ideally fit right into what Disney has done with the MCU, but Deadpool is a trickier nut to crack. Would a fourth-wall-breaking antihero with a penchant for ludicrously gory, R-rated violence work under Mouse House? Will Disney be all right keeping the Deadpool franchise as is, or will the company want to dull its edges?
This is all very speculative: For starters, the Deadpool franchise has justified its existence with two huge box office hauls. But if a PG-13 holiday version of Deadpool can still bring people to the box office in droves—and again, the expectations for a holiday re-release with some kidnapped Fred Savage footage thrown in are modest—it could give Disney some food for thought.