With the release of new movie Dark Phoenix, the long-running X-Men franchise comes to a close, finally concluding the ongoing saga of the superpowered mutants nearly 20 years after the release of 2000’s X-Men.
But if you’re a casual fan, you might be wondering – why end the X-Men movies at all? What does this have to do with 20th Century Fox and Disney, and does it mean MORE X-Men movies with a new cast are imminent?
Happily, we can answer those questions. Though before that, we have to travel back to the 1990s, when the all-conquering Marvel was facing bankruptcy…
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The first X-Men movies
If you’re wondering why the X-Men movies were separate from the other Marvel films in the first place, there’s a fairly simple explanation – a couple of decades ago, in pretty bad financial straits, the Marvel comics company ended up selling the movie rights to their most popular properties to various movie studios.
Eventually it wound up that Fox got their hands on the X-Men (and later the Fantastic Four, via Paramount), and kicked off the modern superhero renaissance with their X-Men franchise. At the same time Sony got Spider-Man, and made the popular Tobey Maguire movie series.
After a few years, however, Disney had bought Marvel and the remaining un-adapted Marvel characters for its own – essentially, the characters nobody else had wanted, the rights reverting back to Marvel – which is why there were at one time three separate universes of Fox, Disney/Marvel and Sony superhero movies, all based on characters from the same comics universe.
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All that began to change when Marvel struck a deal with Sony to include Spider-Man in their connected universe – and when it came to Fox, an even bigger shift was coming.
Disney and Fox
While it’s possible these X-Men movies could have come to a close on their own, it’s hard to imagine that would have been the case if it wasn’t for the fact that entertainment corporation Disney recently purchased 20th Century Fox and its intellectual property, including the X-Men characters.
Notably, this is different from the deal Marvel have with Sony for Spider-Man, as Sony remains a separate company with its own interests while Fox is now a subsidiary of Disney.
While the takeover was in no way based on Marvel getting their hands on the X-Men and Fantastic Four properties (it’s as much likely that Disney wanted some of Fox’s archive of TV shows like The Simpsons for their upcoming Disney+ streaming service), the upshot of the deal is that Marvel CAN now incorporate the characters into the MCU, finally bringing together the entire Marvel universe as it appeared on the pages of comics for the first time.
However, it also meant the kibosh on this particular incarnation of the X-Men – with some exceptions.
The future of the X-Men
Arguably, the return of the X-Men to Marvel hands didn’t HAVE to mean the end of the franchise as we know it, but it always seemed likely.
With their own decades of continuity and expensive actors, all set in a parallel universe that would somehow have to be reconciled with the MCU, the current iteration would be pretty difficult to include – and that’s before considering previous instalment X-Men: Apocalypse's poor critical performance which didn’t exactly suggest affection for the current set-up.
So, yes, whatever future the X-Men do have, it looks like it will be with a new cast, rebooted just like Spider-Man was from Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s versions – though not for a while just yet.
At the moment, no official plans seem to be in place for the X-Men’s future in the Marvel universe, with Marvel boss Kevin Feige suggesting their inclusion will be a few years down the line if it happens at all.
“It’ll be a while,” Feige told IndieWire.
“It’s all just beginning and the five-year plan that we’ve been working on, we were working on before any of that was set.
“So really it’s much more, for us, less about specifics of when and where [the X-Men will appear] right now and more just the comfort factor and how nice it is that they’re home. That they’re all back. But it will be a very long time.”
To be fair, we might need a bit of a breather before fans are willing to accept a new Wolverine…
What about Deadpool?
The exception that proves the rule, Ryan Reynolds’ critically-acclaimed take on the fourth-wall breaking mercenary does seem to be surviving the move to Disney, primarily because the character’s huge success is too big an opportunity to pass up.
“There’s no question that Deadpool is working, so why would we change it?” Feige told Variety, while Reynolds himself appeared to welcome the move to Disney on social media.
Given Deadpool’s tendency to poke fun at comic-book movies, it’s not hard to see him picking up plenty of material from his new presence in the MCU – and it’s nice to know that a little piece of Fox’s 20-year relationship with the X-Men will live on, even if new actors end up taking on Professor X, Jean Grey, Magneto and the rest.