Can the 'Merc with a mouth' pull it off again?
Heading into the release of "Deadpool 2," it might have been hard to imagine how leading man, script-writer and producer Ryan Reynolds could top the social media blitz he waged on behalf of the franchise's first installment.
The chief Deadpool evangelist could do worse than a slickly produced music video starring fellow Canadian, Celine Dion.
Back in 2016, that sort of self-aware social media stunt helped propel Twentieth Century Fox's feature about a deformed super-powered mercenary into box office record books. The formula appears to be working once more: The hotly anticipated "Deadpool" sequel is generating a huge volume of online chatter, on its way to one of the biggest U.S. openings of the year.
"Deadpool 2" is currently on pace for a $150 million-plus U.S. premier, a figure that would top the first film's $132 million debut.
Comic book fans are sure to flood multiplexes next week for the continuing adventures of Wade Wilson, Marvel Comics' gun-toting, sharp-tongued mercenary whose code-name is Deadpool.
This time around, Fox is padding out the cast with Cable, Domino and "X-Force" — characters who debuted alongside Deadpool in the early '90s heydey of hard-edged "X-Men" comics.
Reynolds and his fellow filmmakers appear to be taking nothing for granted, though. They've been churning out a steady stream of content to slake the offbeat thirst of Deadpool's cult following. They are trying to remind the general movie-going public that Fox's wonderfully weird breakout hit of 2016 is returning for another violent romp through theaters.
And "Deadpool 2" appears to be every bit the viral juggernaut that the original was, according to readings by several social media firms.
Teasers, trailers and other content on YouTube for "Deadpool 2" generated five times as many emotional reactions as videos for the original, despite the first film drumming up more views, Canvs reports. That indicates that fans are more passionate about the sequel's release, according to the firm, which analyzes how people react to online content.
There were 534,600 tweets bearing the hashtag #Deadpool, #Deadpool 2 or #DP2 in the month leading up to May 10, according to social media software provider Sprinklr. That compares with 395,000 tweets hashtagged #Deadpool in the 30 days before to the original's premier.
Reynolds is once again a big driver of that conversation. This year, the star's Deadpool-related tweets were retweeted about 913,000 times, reports marketing technology company Amobee.
"His grassroots efforts on social channels ... shows how Reynolds was able to leverage his personal social media accounts to introduce a mainstream audience to his even more sarcastic alter-ego," Jonathan Cohen, Amobee's principal brand analyst, told CNBC in an email.
Amobee notes that a much smaller percentage of the sequel's digital content engagement is coming from Facebook, compared with "Deadpool." However, a much bigger proportion came from searches for "Deadpool 2" and views of online articles about the movies. Amobee chalked that trend up to a higher volume of media mentions, now that the franchise is well-known.
Despite the buzz, the superhero sequel will likely have a short reign atop the U.S. box office, though. One week after it opens, Walt Disney releases "Solo: A Star Wars Story," which will almost certainly unseat "Deadpool 2" from the No. 1 spot.
It's a more challenging release window than "Deadpool" faced when it premiered in February 2016. Back then, the idea of a mainstream superhero movie with a hard R-rating was a risky concept. But the film blew away expectations, ultimately earning close to $800 million around the world, and convincing Fox to give the sequel a blockbuster season slot.
"Therein lies the rub with graduating a movie to the summer movie season: The idea — and it's often true — that audiences will migrate from one big blockbuster to the next," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. "So it's hard to have a stranglehold on the box office."
However, "Deadpool 2" could have legs, even as the eagerly anticipated Han Solo standalone film muscles its way into cineplexes, according to analysts.
"Deadpool 2" comes on the heels of several Disney and Sony movies based on Marvel Comics characters that have scored high with audiences and critics. Deadpool, a spin-off of Fox's X-Men franchise, does not overlap with Disney and Sony's 19 interconnected movies, but Dergarabedian thinks the success of those films is a tailwind for "Deadpool 2."
"To the average movie-goer, it's all about the branding, the characters, that Marvel magic that is undeniable," he said.
While "Deadpool 2" will have to compete with "Solo" and "Infinity War" for the adult male demographic, it also offers an alternative to the family-friendly Disney films, said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com.
"If there is such a thing as a counter-programming blockbuster to a blockbuster, this is it," he said. "It's kind of like the 'Hangover' of superhero movies because most people go into it as a comedy rather than an action or superhero movie."
Still, Boxoffice.com is forecasting a fairly conservative $120 million to $145 million opening for "Deadpool 2," due in part to the busy May release schedule. Boxoffice.com's projections for comic book movies are often higher than the consensus.
"I would say 150 [million dollars] is in play," Robbins said. "I think reviews, if they come out as strong as for the first film, would up our expectations a little bit."
It's somewhat ironic that "Solo" and "Infinity War" present the biggest box office challenges to "Deadpool 2." Disney is poised to buy Fox assets including the movie studio for $52.4 billion — provided it can fend off Comcast's bid to spoil the acquisition.
The merger would bring Fox's X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises into the House of Mouse, consolidating Disney's control of Marvel Comics film rights and giving it even more influence over the year's release calendar.
While "Deadpool" doesn't exactly jibe with Disney's conservative image, CEO Bob Iger calmed fans' fears last year by assuring them that the franchise would remain the R-rated exception to the superhero movie rule.