Well, it’s official – 20th Century Fox’s final X-Men movie Dark Phoenix is the worst-performing film in the franchise to date, with its final worldwide box office total tens of millions of dollars below even the very first X-Men movie released in 2000.
Given these results, along with the continued delays and rumoured unhappiness about the final cut of horror spin-off The New Mutants (which Disney apparently might pull from movie theatres altogether and release on demand) fans would be forgiven for worrying about the franchise – especially given the big changes on the horizon.
With Disney’s acquisition of Fox the stage is set for the X-Men to be rebooted, with Marvel boss Kevin Feige teasing future films involving “mutants” at 2019’s San Diego Comic-Con. But after the critical and commercial disappointments of both 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix and the no-show of New Mutants we have to wonder – will even the mighty Marvel machine be enough to save the Children of the Atom?
After all, the recent X-Men releases haven’t been the most successful. 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse was a muddled mess that found little love with either audiences or critics, and while it grossed over half a billion dollars it was a 200 million drop from the commercial success of 2014’s Days of Future Past (which also enjoyed critical acclaim).
Now, with Dark Phoenix receiving similarly negative reviews and an even lower box office return of $254.4million, we have to face facts – there hasn’t been a truly successful core X-Men movie for half a decade, and even that film didn’t come close to Marvel’s biggest successes. Is there even something here worth saving? Or have fans moved on from the X-Men to pastures new?
With the Fox deal now closed and the X-Men IP brought firmly into the Marvel/Disney fold, these are the sorts of questions Feige and his team will be asking themselves as they begin development on any X-Men ideas. And of course, there are some bright lights.
Ryan Reynolds’ offbeat Deadpool duology was a big success story for the X-Men franchise, each film bringing in around $785 million on significantly lower budgets than other movies in the series. Accordingly, Feige has indicated that Reynolds’ version of Deadpool will survive the handover to Disney, a change that will probably go surprisingly smoothly given the character’s tendency to break the fourth wall and comment on movie studio tactics.
The commercial success (and Oscar screenplay nomination) for the similarly low-budget Logan (Hugh Jackman’s swansong as lead character Wolverine) also suggests there’s some life in the characters yet, if only the right focus and ideas are brought to the table.
Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool 2
Maybe, then, more future solo films are the answer. Assuming that an entire reboot is on the cards and Marvel doesn’t just introduce the James McAvoy/Michael Fassbender cast of the last few films via some strange multiple universe trickery (a topic apparently broached in the upcoming Doctor Strange movie), it might be that immediately introducing a full team of X-Men won’t be the approach Marvel goes for. After all, it took five movies over four years before we got to the Avengers – who’s to say the MCU won’t take a similar softly softly approach to the world of mutants, introducing one character at a time?
Alternatively, it could be that Marvel focuses on another of its Fox acquisitions, the cosmically powered Fantastic Four, before it even goes near the X-Men. Notably, the Fantastic Four IP doesn’t have to worry about comparison to a well-known earlier incarnation (the most recent attempt to reboot the series in 2015 was an unpopular flop) and through the character’s trademark travels into deep space and alternate universes the MCU could even introduce a reason for mutants’ sudden appearance in the MCU; unlike other heroes, the X-Men’s powers are a natural genetic mutation rather than a change imposed upon them.
Perhaps the FF’s travels could open a parallel world where a portion of humanity has already been secretly developing powers for a few decades, or accidentally unleash an energy wave that will unlock the latent mutant powers of humanity.
Or it could be that another Marvel movie will unleash the concept of mutants on the MCU. Doctor Strange’s exploration of the multiverse is a strong contender, but who’s to say that another Marvel movie couldn’t reveal that mutants have been living in secret for years, only now revealing themselves to the world now that they’re not the only superpowered kids on the block?
This kind of groundwork over years of releases is what Marvel does best, and after a slow introduction of a character or two and the concept of mutants in general, audiences could be ready again for the X-Men. And after a bit of a break, and with some new fresh faces and new story ideas (let’s leave the Dark Phoenix saga for a while) the movies could be better than ever.
Whatever happens, there is definitely hope for the X-Men. Once upon a time, Spider-Man was languishing in Sony’s own private movie universe and played by Andrew Garfield. Now, thanks to a special deal between Sony and Marvel (though not a takeover) Tom Holland’s version of the webslinger is more popular and successful than ever.
Latest film entry Far From Home has crested well over a billion dollars, beating all previous Spidey movies AND all previous Sony releases in general, proving that a Marvel rehabilitation of other studios’ superheroes really can work.
Then again, the X-Men are a more challenging prospect than bringing one character into the MCU. An ever-evolving, shifting cast of varied characters with a weighty onscreen history and some truly iconic performances, the X-Men franchise is a much more unwieldy beast that will have to be handled carefully.
Given their track record, Marvel are probably the studio to do just that, and I’ll be intrigued to see what approach they take to revamping the X-men universe. Just so long as they leave Wolverine exactly where they found him…