Superhero film Deadpool sees former Special Forces Operative turned mercenary, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), undergo a life changing experiment in a bid to cure himself of terminal cancer. Being put under extreme stress disfigures Wade, but also activates superhuman healing abilities and paves the way for a plot that sees him transform into the wise cracking antihero Deadpool. In this persona, and fuelled by rage, he is determined to track down those who tortured him.
The distributor submitted Deadpool to the BBFC in December 2015 for an advice viewing. This is where the distributor submits a work, often with a category in mind, and asks the BBFC to view it, often in an unfinished state. In the case of Deadpool, there were some unfinished visual effects and CGI. Luckily, there was enough finished content for our Senior Examiners to let the distributor know that the BBFC would be likely to pass the finished film at 15, as requested.
The formal viewing of the finished film took place at the end of January and though the effects were complete, it was to all intents and purposes, identical to the version seen for advice and was therefore passed uncut at 15.
Unlike most other superhero comic book films, Deadpool has a stronger focus on violence: blood, injury and process detail feature much more heavily. Despite some mitigating factors, such as the fantastical nature and comic tone, the visibility of such detail removes it from the 12A category where related films often omit blood and injury and lessen the impact of heavy blows with rapid editing.
As opposed to the moderate violence permitted at 12A the violence in Deadpool is strong and frequently bloody. While some is only implied, other moments are very graphic. During the opening scene a man is decapitated with a piece of metal, with full process detail before bloodily smashing into a billboard. Even here the shots are quite brief so the focus on the detail is minimal and the infliction of pain is not dwelt upon – keeping it firmly within the 15 category. It is also worth noting here the comic tone of this and many other violent sequences. The comic tone is contributed to by the script, the music and the performances (including "breaking the fourth wall") and acts as a strong mitigating factor, again keeping it within the BBFC Classification Guidelines at 15.
Sadistic violence is unlikely to be acceptable at 15 and Deadpool doesn't venture far into this area - the focus is much more on fighting skill, outrageous humour, and the high octane action, along with the lead character's deadpan delivery and the cartoon nature of the villains. There is some focus on injury and pain in the experimentation/treatment scene, but as the main focus of the scene isn't deriving pleasure from inflicting pain and injury, Senior Examiners determined this also fell within the boundaries of 15. It is also a key plot point and presented within an increasingly unrealistic, comic book-style film.
The BBFC Guidelines at 15 state that 'sexual activity may be portrayed, but usually without strong detail. There may be strong verbal references to sexual behaviour.' There are strong sex references but they are comic and most are in the form of comic verbal quips or innuendo. There is one standout sex scene, the so-called calendar year scene, which sits at the high end of 15, primarily due to some mechanical detail. However, the comic nature of the scene, the rapid editing and the relative lack of detail provide enough mitigation to keep it within that category.
Other issues include strong language: over fifty uses of 'fuck' and almost 20 uses of 'motherfucker'. Strong language is permissible within a 12A but the frequency of use in Deadpool puts it firmly at 15. There is no upper limit on the number of uses of strong language at 15.
The BBFC ratings info, then called BBFC Insight, noted the film contains strong bloody violence, strong language and sex references.
Deadpool generated the largest amount of public feedback regarding BBFC classification decisions in 2016, with 51 complaints. Some viewers were concerned about the level of violence in the film as well as the sex references and strong language.
In the same year, we received 30 complaints about Suicide Squad, which was also classified at 15. Most of the feedback was from children under the age of fifteen, or their parents, who had hoped that the film would achieve a lower classification. The sustained threat, moderate violence and dark tone in Suicide Squad were too strong to warrant a 12A
Given the public interest in Deadpool, it was included in the list of films to be commented upon in the BBFC's large-scale public consultation in 2018 – which formed the basis of the new Classification Guidelines launched in 2019. Despite being the most complained about film of its year in 2016, researchers found only 2% of film viewers that saw Deadpool disagreed with its rating.