How Will Audiences Remember Fox’s X-Men Universe?

Fox set a path and blueprint for other comic book films to follow.

The X-Men. Whether it’s the animated series, video games, comic books, or films from 20th Century Fox, you’re familiar with them. Of all the comic book movie series’ that we’ve had, the X-Men film series might be the most interesting. What’s stranger than having your film be one of the ones to jumpstart the boon in comic book films? That film would spawn a series that soon fizzled out at the very end due to a variety of factors.

Prologue

There are a lot of noteworthy years when it comes to comic book movies. For example, the landscape changed in 2008 with the release of The Dark Knight and Iron Man. Before that, we owe a deal of debt to Sony’s Spider-Man and 20th Century Fox’s X-Men. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not overlooking Blade. It was a successful film and one could attribute the rise of rated-R comic book films to it. Still, Fox’s X-Men series is a different sort of beast.

This isn’t a history lesson on Fox’s time with the X-Men universe. Sort of. You’re already familiar with that. But what’s interesting about this franchise is how, like the mutants themselves, it’s been all over the place. The cinematic X-Men have faced highs and lows, with the mutants to soon join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. History has a strange way of operating, wouldn’t you say? When it comes to us fans , nowadays we look at the past with disdain. We see past films as dated or less desirable because of a new incarnation.

With X-Men and Spider-Man, though, the conversation is a bit different. If those films hadn’t succeeded, would we have a Marvel Cinematic Universe or DC Extended Universe? When Iron Man kicked things off, there was no hint of radioactive spiders or mutants.

After Spider-Man made his MCU debut in Avengers 3: Civil War, minds changed. Suddenly, previous incarnations were never good. You’ve seen them, especially if you’ve spent any time on Twitter. If you’ve made similar sentiments, then you know who you are. Once Disney acquired many of Fox’s assets, you saw the same conversations start with the X-Men.

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Also the Fantastic Four, but that’s a different story. With X-Men, though, some of the same folks who previously praised the films changed their tune. All of Fox’s past X-Men successes became failures overnight. Every single one of them.

Revisionist history is funny in that sort of way. What we once loved, we now deride because we’re about to get a newer, shinier version of it. That’s not to say that what Marvel Studios does with the X-Men won’t have improvements from Fox’s efforts. Nor does it mean that every single thing that Fox did with Marvel’s mutants was a bust. The series would not have lasted as long as it did.

There has to be a reason that audiences still turned up after The Last Stand. There’s a reason that Fox continued to expand the X-Men universe with other projects… though many of those never came to be. The folks at Fox deserve a level of respect for carrying the X-Men series as long as they did.

Ultimately, the Disney acquisition halted this. The latter years showed real attempts at innovating the X-Men films and comic book films as a whole. There’s a reason that many in the general audience cite Logan and Deadpool as some of the best recent efforts. I won’t sit and pretend that Fox’s X-Men series was perfect. Oh, it was very much flawed and we will get into that.  This isn’t an attempt to tell you whether the series was good or bad.

Fox crawled from the abyss after The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. After that, the studio found new life First Class. That’s no accident. It’s proof that any studio, Fox or otherwise, can innovate after seemingly running out of ideas.

This isn’t going to be a history lesson on the X-Men films and Fox’s handling of them. I’m also not doing any breakdown of the plots for each movie because you already know them. We’ll be focusing on some key aspects from the films, their impact, and audience reaction. This will stretch across the entirety of the X-Men series. We’ll also be looking at the TV side of things. So we’ll discuss both Legion and The Gifted because they are based on the X-Men property. It’s only fair to include them.

It bears repeating that, at the end of the day, taste is subjective. I’m not out to tell you that Fox’s efforts with the X-Men were the best thing ever. However, I also won’t demonize everything they did with the Marvel property. There are truly highs and lows through the years Fox had the X-Men property. Like any origin story, it all starts with a guy named Bryan Singer.

X-Men (2000)

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Well, technically, it almost started with a guy named James Cameron, but that’s a different story. When X-Men came onto the scene in 2000, it was in the aftermath of films like Batman & Robin. Not a film that brought the comic book movie industry to a halt, but very much hindered it. Consider that audiences in 2000 probably had one main attachment to the X-Men property: the animated series. You can hum the theme song by heart even if you only have a scant knowledge of the cartoon. But like the 1994 Spider-Man series, normies were aware of it.

So translating that to film is itself a challenge because the property takes itself very seriously. Plus, the X-Men roster is huge. That’s a daunting task for any director.

I said that this wouldn’t be a history lesson on Fox’s history with the X-Men films. Still, with the first film in particular, there’s something worth discussing. Unlike the comics, this film does not start with the core five of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman, and Angel. But it wasn’t always like that with the original script. No Rogue until Bryan Singer boarded the project. Bolivar Trask and Sentinels played a role. Xavier would recruit Logan into the team, which already included the original five X-Men.

Not to mention Magneto’s backstory included him as the cause of the Chernobyl disaster. You decide whether that’s more or less destructive than him apparently killing President Kennedy in Days of Future Past. Now why do I mention any of this? Fox’s many original scripts for X-Men borrow heavily from the animated series. Sounds like something that could appeal to the comic crowd. But what about to the masses? X-Men, like Batman 1989, would have to be more than that.

After all, you don’t have the mutants running around in colorful costumes. It’s eerie looking back at how prophetic the “yellow spandex” line was. At this point, Fox didn’t embrace the colorful, brighter side of X-Men lore. That turning point wouldn’t come until X-Men: First Class. For right now, Fox wasn’t going to take that risk.

Fox had to make a film proving that these sorts of properties could be enjoyed by all. Before 2000, few comic book films had the same impact that Batman and Superman did. In the year 2000, X-Men brought in a lot of social commentary and the discussion of discrimination. Bryan Singer told a more intimate story, rather than a big-budget, flashy spectacle.

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In addition, it’s not a big-budget spectacle at all. Compared to what we have now, the action in X-Men feels stilted by comparison. Bryan Singer worked with what he had and focused more on the story than the action. The plot and cast drove X-Men to become such a memorable film.

Fox helped establish a new status quo for comic book films. The studio reaffirmed that, with the right story and cast, these properties could be taken seriously. That’s not to say you can’t have light-hearted moments.  Compared to the multitude of at comic-book films in the 1990s, X-Men was a breath of fresh air. More than that, it landed on its feet. Had X-Men flopped right out of the gate, the landscape of comic book films would be quite different.

Could the MCU and DCEU have come to fruition had Fox’s X-Men franchise floundered right off the bat? Possibly, but the comic book film landscape would no doubt look different. At the same time, would Fox would have continued if the first film was a flop? Imagine those X-Men rights reverting earlier than they did because Fox decided to throw in the towel early. Of course, this is all needless speculation about something. Still, it’s worth noting how much rode on this film’s success.

Back then, one can’t assume there was a plan to craft out a 20-year long film series. At that point, Fox, like Sony and Spider-Man, just put out a film. A film that hit the mark not just with its social commentary, but performances as well.

Yes, some characters get the spotlight more than others. Looking back, you can see the start of Fox’s difficult juggling task. Most comic films have one main hero and protagonist. With X-Men, Fox had to balance an entire team. In addition, the first film wasn’t even an origin tale. The X-Men are already as a team. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how some characters fall by the wayside.

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The obvious one is Cyclops, for example. What do we know about him in this film? He’s in a relationship with Jean Grey, doesn’t get along with Logan, and is the leader of the X-Men. Despite that, the character has little to do. Not like X-Men: Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix would Scott receive any sort of development. Even then, that was a new timeline, a new actor, and new story. Fox already started setting a precedent: its inability to give meaningful development to its X-Men roster.

Instead, the key players are Wolverine, Xavier, and Magneto. Considering the impact that Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Ian McKellen have with their performances, that’s not a bad thing. Again, though, it demonstrated how some characters would receive more prominence than others.

This remains a constant for comic-book or science fiction films. Think about the Next Generation movies: Picard, Data, and the villain received the most focus, for example. Even with The Avengers, Joss Whedon couldn’t devote enough screen time and development to every hero. Considering Wolverine’s popularity, can we really be surprised he was front and center with Fox’s X-Men films?

In the end, this paid off, with X-Men receiving critical acclaim for its tone and direction. I’d go as far as saying that, like Batman and Superman before it, X-Men is revolutionary. That doesn’t make it perfect. Anything seen as revolutionary or having a massive impact is hardly perfect. X-Men is important, but 20 years later, it’s been eclipsed by every subsequent X-Men film.

That’s no fault on Fox or the film itself. Each subsequent X-Men film had an opportunity to learn from what X-Men and Spider-Man did. That’s a luxury that those two films didn’t have. It’s what to expect when you’re first out out of the gate. That’s not to disparage X-Men at all. This was an experiment to see if the X-Men property could be turned into a film. More than that, could it have a more serious direction than prior comic films throughout the 1990s?

It worked. Neither you nor I could claim that X-Men didn’t work. The story is solid, if not straightforward. The action sequences are good, though dated by today’s standards. The performances all hold up, even if some actors and characters receive more prominence than others. It helped jumpstart the boon of comic book films. Still, as good as X-Men was and still is, this has been done since and done better.

X2: X-Men United (2003)

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Thus bringing us neatly into the sequel three years later, X-2: X-Men United. The best sequels take what worked in the original and expand on those positives. X-Men could have been a one-and-done. But with its success, of course Fox would greenlight a sequel. Rather than a straightforward introductory tale to the X-Men, this time Singer dug into comic lore for the sequel. In this instance, he pulled from God Loves, Man Kills influencing the William Stryker plot.

Consider X-2’s larger budget, but also the larger box office gross. Audiences were still hungry for more X-Men films. Right off the bat, Nightcrawler’s attack at the White House became an instant classic. The same can be said about Logan’s attack on the soldiers at the mansion, sanitized as it was.

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The film also managed to balance two villains at the same time. Up until then, few could do that well without killing off one. Sure, Magneto isn’t fighting against the X-Men here, but Singer didn’t have him as the main antagonist, either. That went to Stryker. Both are “villains” in the traditional sense, but they’re also enemies of each other. Sure, Senator Kelly opposed mutants in the first film, but he wasn’t talking about outright genocide of them.

X-2: X-Men United ups the stakes with the introduction of a formidable antagonist. Plus, Stryker isn’t even a mutant, though he’s still got one in the family through his son, Jason. This, in turn, results in a brainwashed Charles using Cerebro to target and kill all mutants.

Again, you know the plot, so I’m not going through everything. As much praise as X-2 gets and deserves, you still have characters who are shafted. The exception being Alan Cummings as the scene-stealing Nightcrawler. But Scott? Put out of commission for most of the film, and then mourns Jean at the end. Lady Deathstrike? Sure, her fight scene with Wolverine is fantastic and ups the fight choreography from the first film. Despite this, she’s nothing more than a brainwashed henchman and is presumably killed in her debut film.

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Jean Grey at least gets a bit more to do. Her powers glitching throughout are a nice setup for the Phoenix. Admittedly, there’s no reason she had to get off of the jet to get it moving. Even still, Fox had another hit on their hands. This proved that audiences still thirsted for more of the mutants on the big screen. However, that unfortunately leads us right into the third installment of this series.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

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X-Men: the Last Stand isn’t the worst comic book film ever made. It’s not even the worst X-Men film. There are interesting ideas throughout, but it’s muddled underneath a bad script and less than enthusiastic direction. The problems here start behind the camera. Somehow, Bryan Singer managed to bring two superhero movie franchises off the rails at the same time. He brought X-Men off the rails by leaving it to do Superman Returns. Then, he did one long, love letter to Richard Donner with Superman Returns.

So instead, Fox brought in Brett Ratner. This is a sequel to the first two films, but the tone and feel are different. Consider a few thirds in comic book films, like Superman III, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, and Batman Forever. What they have in common is that there’s a distinct tonal shift from prior installments. Characters act and feel differently from what came before and the film feels set apart from what had been established.

There are obvious reasons for this, sure, different directors for example. But let’s get the numbers out of the way. The Last Stand was no financial bomb for Fox. It made $459 million off of a $210 million budget. To date, it’s the fourth highest-grossing of Fox’s X-Men films. Obviously there was still an appetite from audiences. But between this and the next film to follow, the cracks began to form.

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Is it killing off Cyclops and Professor X in one film? Turning Rogue into a completely different and unlikable character? Giving Juggernaut one-liners that we should laugh at? Trying to do a big Magneto story and adapt the Dark Phoenix Saga at the same time? How about all of the above? Say what you will about Dark Phoenix, but that is a focused story. The Last Stand, by comparison, felt like Fox throwing everything they had. That’s not to make The Last Stand look like an outright failure.

Really, there are good ideas and casting decisions. That’s a constant for some of Fox’s X-Men films: good ideas, but bad execution. Kelsey Grammer as Beast feels ripped right from the comics. Angel gets a decent mini-arc, yet for one of the original X-Men, he’s underused. The seams come apart when looking at this as a whole. You can’t do two big stories at the same time, but who wanted the Dark Phoenix story? The writers. Who wanted the cure story as a reason to justify including Magneto in the film? Fox.

Yes, the same Fox that felt the tone of the Dark Phoenix story was too dark for a summer blockbuster. For a 2006 comic book film, I can sort of see Fox’s point, even if I disagree with it. The comic book film scene was still evolving. However, audiences were more than willing to embrace darker comic book films. Just a year prior, Batman Begins found success. We’d see this trend continue with Warner Bros. getting cold feet on Justice League. There, though, you know how that story ended. So perhaps Fox was unwilling to give audiences enough credit.

Perhaps they felt being too faithful to the source material would alienate the masses. The ones who show up in droves, and not just those of us who live, eat, and breathe comic books. So in that regard, Fox wants to appeal to a general audience. But for the seemingly end of the main X-Men films, it ended on a whimper rather a high note.

There’s a desire to go bigger and better with each subsequent installment, especially if the prior installments do well. Fox doing so with X-Men: The Last Stand is no exception. With studio interference and a new director, Fox almost reached its low point with the X-Men. It makes you wonder how different things might have been if Matthew Vaughn ended up directing this. Then again, who knows if he would have done First Class?

But I said almost reached its low point. Between the release of The Last Stand in 2006 and the next film, the genre changed. There were highs like Hellboy IIThe Dark Knight, and the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man. The superhero film was seen less and less as a subgenre. It was a category that could stand shoulder to shoulder with your typical blockbuster. Where does Fox take the X-Men after The Last Stand? Well, why not make a movie starring the most popular character?

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

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The idea of a solo Wolverine film makes sense. Hugh Jackman had already solidified himself in the eyes of moviegoers as Wolverine. Centering a film around him and exploring Wolverine’s origin has merit. There’s also plenty. Some examples include the six issue “Origin” comic. Or Barry Windsor-Smith’s “Weapon X.” One of the writers, David Benioff, looked to “Weapon X” for inspiration. Yes, we’re talking future Game of Thrones writer David Benioff.

Sounds like a winning formula, right? Well, if The Last Stand was the shot, then X-Men Origins: Wolverine was the chaser.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine disappoints because of its untapped potential. You can at least laugh at an outright comedy like Batman and Robin. But Origins has a lot to make it a great film. When looking at Fox’s X-Men franchise as a whole, there’s still merit here. Because of how much wrong Origins did, future films could course-correct this one. The fault does not all lie at the feet of director Gavin Hood.

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Everyone is well cast. We know what the future would hold in store for Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson. The decision to sew the mouth shut of the Merc with the Mouth still makes no sense. Danny Huston makes for a good, militant younger William Stryker. However, the script doesn’t give him much to work with. Liev Schreiber has a ton of energy as Sabretooth. Also, while he’s nothing more than a cameo, Taylor Kitsch is fine as Gambit.

Actually, full stop for a moment. Why include Gambit here? Maybe Fox wanted to shoehorn in a fan favorite. To put him in a film centered around Wolverine makes little sense. When watching the featurettes of the film, Kitsch, Hugh Jackman and X-Men producer Lauren Shuler Donner talk of how fans wanted to see Gambit. But why this movie?

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The inclusion of Gambit makes little sense. Whether that’s purely the fault of Fox or Gavin Hood, I don’t know. Origins feels aimless. As a film that would finally peel back the layers on Wolverine, it’s sanitized. Not that this had to be an R-rated blood fest. That would come later. There’s no passion in Origins. Sure, the film made $373 million off of an $150 million budget. That’s not enough to breathe new life into the franchise.

Need I remind you of the unfinished print that leaked before the film’s release? You talk about film torrents or #DontSpoilTheEndgame in these days. Compared to the next Wolverine films, Origins doesn’t feel like a director-driven film. It’s a film-by-committee. Here, Fox has a chance to explore the beast within. Instead, we get a standard action movie starring Wolverine.

Plus, Hugh Jackman put in a lot of work bringing Wolverine to the big screen. The first attempt from Fox to explore the character’s depths ended up stumbling. Origins didn’t end Fox’s tenure with the X-Men franchise, but you can call it the nadir.

It represented a slow, but steady shift with the X-Men film formula. Fox could experiment with the mutant franchise. They didn’t need to stick to trilogies. They could do one-offs or tie-ins. Starting with Wolverine makes sense. Fox could attempt to tell interesting stories with the X-Men. As you’ll recall, after Origins, Fox planned a Magneto origin story.

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How could it not be Erik? After all, like Logan, he has a rich backstory worth mining. The first X-Men film just scratched the surface on his background. Follow Erik’s upbringing, see what led him to becoming Magneto. Sounds ripe for a film, with the right director and writer in mind. Fox even planned to shoot this film, with Ian McKellen opening and bookending the project.

Obviously, this film never happened. The concepts and ideas kept interest going to warp this into something else. That “something else” became the first film to rejuvenate life into Fox’s X-Men franchise. It convinced audiences that Fox found its second wind. In 2011, the audience responded in kind. Thus, we get X-Men: First Class.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

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Having already struck gold once with Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn breathed new life into the franchise. First Class is the shot in the arm that the franchise desperately needed.

What Batman Begins and the 2009 Star Trek did, First Class did for Fox’s X-Men. Coupled with Vaughn’s directing style and energy, the film told the team’s origin. It contained a vigor not yet seen with the series. This is an X-Men film made by a director with a vision. Still, Vaughn still honored what came before with many homages and nods. He even replicated the opening scene at Auschwitz from Singer’s X-Men film. But here, we continue that thread and use the Cuban Missile Crisis as a backdrop.

There are some caveats. First Class isn’t a complete reboot of the series. Once more, fans wouldn’t see the original five X-Men. It also doesn’t completely tie in with the original series. For example, in the original trilogy, Erik helped Charles build Cerebro. Here, Cerebro is built by Hank McCoy. Charles also does it by himself in Legion. But we’ll get to that.

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First Class took the first step of embracing the spirit of comic book costumes. Sure, they’re flight suits instead of outright costumes, but baby steps, you know? Erik and Charles’ relationship is explored in great detail. Though Erik makes the turn to Magneto by film’s end, their friendship is believable.

Prior to First Class, Fox seemed to think that these X-Men films couldn’t live without Wolverine. Yet, he’s nowhere to be seen here, save for quick F-bomb. This gives the film time to explore other elements not yet seen in the X-Men films. The films hadn’t explored the Hellfire Club or Sebastian Shaw, so here’s a perfect opportunity.

Under another director, and with such a huge cast, First Class could have fallen apart. But Vaughn delivered a stylish film and left his stamp on the X-Men franchise. At the same time, audiences were convinced that the X-Men franchise still had some life in it. Not everything in First Class works, mind you. Erik and Charles get most of the focus. With so many characters to balance, some get lost in the shuffle.

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Havok, another Summers, is a prime candidate to lead a team. Not much development there. Emma Frost only seems to be here to have telepathic battles with Charles. Meanwhile, Darwin’s death, despite serving a purpose to motivate the team, is downright insulting. I don’t know if that’s down to the director or script, but still a bad call.

Either way, First Class was a triumph for Fox. It renewed audiences’ interest in the franchise. While The Last Stand made money, the franchise was running out of steam. First Class didn’t set to undo the events of that film. Fans and audiences alike gave the film a chance. They came away believing that the franchise could indeed pick up steam again. Matthew Vaughn took a chance with the X-Men license and it paid off.

Yet First Class doesn’t necessarily set itself up for a sequel. Profitable as the film was, First Class could easily have been a one-and-done. But Fox had begun to get on the right track with the X-Men. The seeds for a sequel to this film would be planted by the next movie in the series. Still, as comic book films continued to evolve, so did the X-Men films.

The Wolverine (2013)

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You’ve gotta give it to Hugh Jackman for caring so much about Wolverine. He’d made his mark since Fox’s first X-Men film. Despite that, Wolverine himself hadn’t been explored that much. Origins didn’t explore the beast within. Until Logan, we did not get that solid character study. But that’s not to say that The Wolverine is without merit.

It’s the opposite, actually. The Wolverine is a stellar film. It’s the second step Fox took to win back audiences to the X-Men films. It’s just as much of a character study as Logan is. Though the comic book-y third act we can probably attribute to Fox than James Mangold. I doubt even Darren Aronofsky had that in mind. Yeah, remember that name?

Before Mangold came on board, Fox first set its eyes on Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky himself already had two recent hits under Fox Searchlight between The Wrestler and Black Swan. So he had experience under the Fox umbrella. Interestingly enough, had Aronofsky directed, the film would have been written by Christopher McQuarrie.

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One of the endings for Origins had Logan drinking in a Japanese bar. The Wolverine isn’t a direct continuation of that. Aronofsky and McQuarrie intended to make a film that didn’t feel like a superhero movie. At all. No visions of Jean Grey. Logan would be the only mutant present. The film would draw inspiration from Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa. Sound familiar?

Perhaps McQuarrie and Aronofsky were ahead of their time. Their ideas sound, on paper, similar to the end result we got in Logan. However, we know that Aronofsky bowed out of the project. He wanted The Wolverine to springboard him into larger projects. Not uncommon for directors. Still, Mangold delivered with his own direction. While Origins made money, it didn’t do anything new for Wolverine’s character.

So why would audiences put their faith in another solo film? Fox was anxious to make the film, and Jackman wanted to explore another side of the character. Wolverine had already hit rock bottom. Figuratively by the end of Origins, and quite literally by the end of The Last Stand. You can only go up from there. Mangold managed to do just that.

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First Class managed to right the ship with the X-Men. The Wolverine convinced audiences that more could be explored with Wolverine. It’s in the X-Men world, but works as a standalone film. Imagine if Mangold did not return for Logan. He might have been satisfied with the end result. Audiences enjoyed it, as The Wolverine became a a rebirth for the character.

In hindsight, it’s impossible to not see The Wolverine as a primer for Logan. No one could’ve imagined the leap that Mangold would make between this film and Logan. With what we know now, minus this film’s third act, you can see a blueprint for the next film. That’s not a knock against the film. It left us wanting more of Wolverine’s journey. Plus, this film works as both a solo film and main X-Men film.

Logan’s journey here factors into the role he’d play in Days of Future Past. There, he becomes the mentor to the younger Charles. In The Last Stand, Logan lost both Xavier and Jean in one film. Here, Mangold has Logan rediscover himself. Through this journey, Logan becomes a mentor figure to the younger, disillusioned Charles.

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It also humanizes Wolverine, lowering his defenses. He falls for Mariko. He’s not a third wheel in a pre-established relationship this time. More than that, Mangold strips Logan of his healing abilities. Logan isn’t the invincible beast we’d seen in other X-Men. That doesn’t make the film perfect, mind you. Many of us have criticized the film’s third act. The inclusion of Viper feels more like a studio mandate than a decision from Mangold.

Hey, it was 2013. Comic book films had blown up by this point. Just the year prior, we had the likes of The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. Fox allowed Mangold to tell the story that he wanted to tell. It worked well as a solo piece. In addition, it prepared audiences for what came down the line.

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On a side note, Logan getting his classic comic suit didn’t make it into the film. The scene of Yukio giving it to Logan exists only in the unleashed edition. Still, it’s great that Mangold included it at all. The costume looks great. Crumpled in a box, I mean. We don’t see Jackman wear the damn thing. It would’ve been completely earned and applause-worthy fan service. Just like the costumes shown at the end of Apocalypse. But that’s a different story altogether.

Again, much as this film worked as a standalone piece. Still, no one expected to see Erik and Charles in the mid-credits sting. Especially considering where The Last Stand left them. So that’s two pluses for Fox between First Class and The Wolverine. Fox slowly regained the trust of moviegoers. After the tease here, the best came one year later.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

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2014 was quite the year for superhero movies. On one side, we have the bloated The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But what else did we have? Guardians of the GalaxyCaptain America: The Winter Soldier. X-Men: Days of Future PastLoganFirst ClassX-2Deadpool are great films. No question. But Days of Future Past is arguably the magnum opus of Fox’s X-Men franchise.

Note, I said the X-Men films, not necessarily the spin-offs or one-offs. When talking about the team-up films, the series wouldn’t get much better than this. I’ll explain why down the line.

When looking at Days of Future Past on its own, you have to look back to 2006. Deadpool was right: the timelines are confusing. Lauren Shuler Donner pitched this storyline as far back as 2006. Bringing Matthew Vaughn back would be a no-brainer. Especially after he found success with First Class. But as we know, he only helped produce and script the film. At the time, Kingsman had his full attention.

Enter the return of Bryan Singer. Until this point, the X-Men timeline had been fairly linear. Fox began to right the ship between First Class and The Wolverine. Still, Fox had The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Again, First Class could have been a one-and-done. But now, Singer returns to direct a sequel to First Class and X-Men 4 at the same time.

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That director rewrote the X-Men’s film history and hit the soft reboot button. It’s  similar to what J.J. Abrams did with the 2009 Star Trek film. But Abrams reinvented the franchise with Star Trek. Days of Future Past does not reinvent things. Everything that happened up until here still indeed happened. This couldn’t be done in 2000. Still, Singer brought a lot of ambition to the project and it paid off.

To right the wrongs of the prior X-Men films sounds like a pipe dream. Still, Fox signed off on the project and this showed more willingness to be daring with the X-Men.

Timing is also key. We’re doing a sequel to two separate timelines at once. We’re also introducing new characters. We don’t get a ton on Bishop, Sunspot, and Blink in the future. However, we receive enough to understand their motivation. Plus, we’ve had an entire film to get to know the younger cast in First Class. Their inclusion does not feel shoehorned, given the time travel angle.

This X-Men film gave audiences a look at a bleak timeline they’d lived. With that in mind, it’s still a refreshingly optimistic film. Even with all of the drama, Days of Future Past has plenty of levity.

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-2014-Fox-Marvel-Evan-Peters-Quicksilver

Need I mention how instantly memorable Quicksilver became? His scene became arguably the film’s most talked about moment. And that came before The Flash showed off how to do speed on television.

X-Men: Days of Future Past proved to audiences that Fox had more to prove. That’s three solid hits for the studio. This film made $746 million at the box office and bids farewell to the original cast.

In a way, it feels like a finale. It closes the book on the original trilogy. It rights past wrongs by removing Origins and The Last Stand from continuity. Plus, especially with The Rogue Cut, it course corrects Rogue’s characterization.

Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix have come and gone.  Days of Future Past could have been the swan song for the main X-Men films. Keep doing the spin-offs, sure. Do Logan, Deadpool, or Alpha Flight, to name a few. Get that Gambit movie out of development hell. Before talking about the downfall of the main X-Men films, Fox had one more ace up its sleeves.

Deadpool (2016)

Deadpool 2016 Fox Marvel Ryan Reynolds

Much like 2014, 2016 was another noteworthy year for comic book films. Marvel and DC had the clash of the titans between Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Meanwhile, Fox entered unprecedented territory with Deadpool. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s hard to imagine the superhero movie genre without Deadpool. It’s a testament to Ryan Reynolds’ commitment to the character. Not to mention Fox’s dragging its heels on greenlighting the project.

Had X-Men Origins: Wolverine done well, we might not have Deadpool. But the leaked test footage in 2014 can’t be ignored. Unlike Origins‘ print leaking, this ended in Fox’s favor due to the positive reception. First-time director Tim Miller made the most of the miniscule budget that Fox provided. Coupled with a tight script from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and you’ve got a hell of a surprising film.

$782 million worth of a surprising film on a shoestring budget of $58 million. Deadpool made a massive splash on the comic book movie scene. At last, fans had a chance to see a proper Deadpool portrayed on screen. Like LegionDeadpool firmly takes place in the X-Men world. However, it does not lean on that preexisting continuity.

Rather, this being Deadpool, it takes a sledgehammer to established tropes. That happened with Kick-Ass as well. Not to downplay prior R-rated comic book films. Kick-Ass, Watchmen, or Blade all left their mark. Deadpool further proved that there’s an audience hungry for mature, comic book films. The opening title sequence told us just what we needed to know about this film.

Deadpool breaks all of the rules. Yet it still tells a very human story through Wade and Vanessa’s relationship. Deadpool could’ve portrayed Wade as the joke-making anti-hero who can kill the Marvel universe for hell of it. This film finds a happy medium. From a commercial standpoint, it’s a brilliant marketing move. Not from Fox, mind you, but Reynolds and company. Some of the producers such as Simon Kinberg helped safeguard the film’s tone and rating. However, this film would not have happened without the passion of the team behind it.

Deadpool 2016 Wade Vanessa Fox Marvel Ryan Reynolds Morena Baccarin

That passion translated into the film’s success. Deadpool broke many records for an R-rated film and films released in February. We’re still seeing how studios will learn from Deadpool’s success. Logan had already been in early production by the time Deadpool had been released. Had this film done poorly, would Fox have been as confident in Mangold’s vision for an R-rated Wolverine film?

Would we have even gotten other R-rated films like Joker or Birds of Prey? Will we ever get to see Todd McFarlane’s R-rated Spawn film? Who can say? We’ll see what lessons, whether right or wrong, will come from Deadpool’s success. For now, the film was another hit for Fox. It further cemented that Fox had more to prove with the X-Men films.

That goodwill started to erode with the next film.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

X-Men Apocalypse 2016 Bryan Singer Fox Marvel

The contrast between Deadpool and X-Men: Apocalypse showed a growing disinterest in the main X-Men films. With how well Days of Future Past did, of course Fox would fast track a sequel. Perhaps a more lowkey film would fare better after Days of Future Past. Still, the tease of Apocalypse just couldn’t be ignored.

With a new cast and fresh start, Fox could chart a new course for the X-Men. Now we can do more things with the First Class cast. But having Apocalypse as your main villain once again gives us larger than life stakes.

X-Men Apocalypse Oscar Isaac

It also didn’t help that audiences already got a bad first impression. Those early images of Apocalypse that drew comparisons to Ivan Ooze didn’t help. Sure, this would be corrected by the film’s first trailer, but that’s strike one right there. We’ve already spent two films with the First Class cast. This film has to walk a tight rope. It continues the story of First Class and sets up a new series of X-Men at the same time. After saying goodbye to the original cast, we’re being thrust into a disaster film two years later.

I don’t say this to imply that Apocalypse was the wrong villain to use. The stakes are already way too high when we’re being new characters into the fold. X-Men and First Class have very low stakes with the focus more on the story. There’s character development to be had here, but we’re dealing with another antagonist who wants to end the world. Perhaps Singer didn’t have the heart in him this time. That and maybe Matthew Vaughn had the right idea to step away when he did.

On paper, Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix have elements that should make them great X-Men films. We’re dealing with a new, fresh cast and introduced to Scott, Jean, and Storm in one film. Other favorite mutants such as Psylocke and Angel are brought into the fray. Though it can be argued that Psylocke belongs in Deadpool’s pocket universe. Even Olivia Munn agrees with that. We get more of the new mutants interacting, such as in the mall scene.

The Weapon X sequence, needless as it is, does help set up Logan. It hints at Mister Sinister through the introduction of Essex Corporation. Plus, we get to see Wolverine unleashed. It’s also bloodier than the entirety of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Quicksilver reveals that he’s aware of Magneto being his father, but not to Erik himself. The full force of Jean’s power is put on display, hinting at the Phoenix Force.

X-Men Apocalypse Danger Room 2016 Fox Marvel Bryan Singer

Need I mention the final Danger Room sequence? The X-Men finally receive costumes ripped right out of the comics. No payoff in Dark Phoenix. There’s a lot about Apocalypse to admire. It made money, but compared to Days of Future Past and Deadpool, it’s a step down. Going bigger doesn’t always mean better, and audiences agreed.

The main X-Men films hit a high point with Days of Future Past. Rather than do something smaller scale, Fox had to follow-up on that Apocalypse tease. Things slowed down for the main X-Men films. However, the spin-offs had plenty of life in them.

Logan (2017)

Logan X-Men James Mangold Hugh Jackman Patrick Stewart Fox Marvel 2017

The first trailer to Logan, set to Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” did its job. This wouldn’t be like other X-Men films. Returning director James Mangold made the film he wanted to with next to no studio interference.

Logan is a triumph of a film. The final performances for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. The film’s R-rating finally gave viewers a bloodier, more unleashed Wolverine. It’s a bleak future where many mutants are gone. Charles and Logan are on their last legs. One last trip before heading off into the sunset.

James Mangold’s filmography, coupled with his interest in westerns such as Shane and Unforgiven, show his influence in Logan. The lack of a bombastic score or end-of-the-world stakes allows for a smaller, intimate story. It was the opportunity that Hugh Jackman had sought. Until now, he didn’t get it during his tenure as Wolverine. Now, with the success of The Wolverine and Deadpool, Fox could go forward with riskier projects.

Logan has the advantage of a more focused story. It feels like the closing chapter of the X-Men saga. The death of Wolverine, in a way, symbolizes the end of an era.

Logan Laura Hugh Jackman Dafne Keen Fox Marvel 2017

It was Jackman whose performance stood out the most in the first X-Men film and resonated with audiences. Now, many years later, this was his swan song. But that ferocity would live on in a fantastic breakout performance from first-timer Dafne Keen as X-23. Logan is a noir first and a comic book film second with no need for theatrics, costumes, or big explosions. It’s a road trip with plenty of heart that connected with audiences. It earned $619 million and an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Mangold delivered the Wolverine film that many had longed for. Like Days of Future Past, it was the end of an era. But not the end of the X-Men series.

Before moving to Deadpool 2, let’s talk about The Gifted and Legion.

The Gifted (2017-2019)

The Gifted Fox X-Men Marvel TV Matt Nix

The Gifted examines how everyday people react to mutants. At first, there existed a plan for an X-Men TV show based on the Hellfire Club. However, The Gifted shows the day-to-day troubles for mutants coming to term with their powers. It highlights the people responsible for sheltering them. More than that, it focuses on their never-ending run from Sentinel Services.

The Gifted has more in common with what you’d find on The CW’s Arrowverse. Mostly in regards to budget, storytelling, and tone. That isn’t a knock against the show, though. Putting this on Fox meant targeting a specific demographic.

Still, X-Men has some advantages on television versus on film. Especially considering the large roster. A character such as Blink receives far more development compared to Days of Future Past. The Stepford Cuckoos, while not explicitly tied to Emma Frost in the series, showcased similar abilities. In addition, other aspects of X-Men lore such as Trask Industries and the Morlocks received prominence.

The Gifted Polaris Emma Dumont Fox Marvel X-Men

The crowning jewel of the roster is Emma Dumont as Polaris. For one, there’s an instant connection to Magneto. Trust me, The Gifted loves to remind you of that. More on that in a moment. Polaris here goes from being a soldier to a leader. She soon leaves the Mutant Underground to join the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club.

Polaris goes through one of the more interesting character arcs of the series. As a nice nod to X-Men lore, she turns Magneto’s medallion into her iconic headpiece. Well before Scarlet Witch got her comic look in WandaVision. But that’s not the only nod to the comic lore. The two main children of the series, Andy and Lauren Strucker, inherit the abilities of Fenris. Minus the nod to HYDRA, of course.

The Gifted Skyler Samuels Frost Sisters Fox Marvel X-Men

You never saw players from the film side of things appear. But the series loves to remind you that this is in the X-Men universe. This extends to the multiple references to Polaris’ father without mentioning him by name. Why skirt around this? The audience is smart enough to connect A to B.

Sadly, The Gifted only received two seasons. Whether that’s lack of interest, a new timeslot, or Disney’s acquisition, I cannot say. The Gifted had its wings clipped only two seasons in. The second season finale set up a Days of Future Past-seque third season. So it’s unfortunate that the series did not get to continue.

Legion (2017-2019)

Legion FX Fox Marvel David Haller Noah Hawley X-Men

The Gifted didn’t get to tell its full story. That doesn’t apply at all to Legion. FX, like AMC, plays by completely different rules when it comes to comic adaptations. Showrunner Noah Hawley had been here before. Through Fargo, he could take an adapted property and expand on it with his own story. Hawley had three full seasons to tell his story. Still, I’m sure many people didn’t even know about Legion.

Oh, some knew about it, no doubt. Not just because of FX’s marketing, but the existing X-Men connection. But unlike The GiftedLegion had the confidence to not lean on its X-Men connections. You don’t even hear the word “mutant” that much. There’s no X-Men team here. Hawley focuses on David Haller, son of Charles Xavier.

Of course, you wouldn’t know that until the third season. That’s when Charles finally appears. Instead, we focus on the psychology of David Haller. We spend time with him in a mental institution. He learns that he’s an all-powerful, Omega-level mutant. We follow his external battles with the Shadow King. He struggles to not become the villain of his own story. Legion truly stands out among X-Men adaptations. You can see this in Hawley’s storytelling and the visual flair of the psychedelic series.

Legion FX Fox Marvel X-Men Harry Lloyd Professor X

Legion wasn’t about power displays. Though Legion doesn’t skimp out on those in the series. This is a character study first and foremost. At times, it teeters on horror territory as David went from hero to villain. It delved into the strange and psychological just as Deadpool delved into the zany and ridiculous. The series didn’t have monster ratings. Had this been on Fox, no way would it have lasted very long. But FX deals more with quality than ratings.

Despite Legion existing in its own bubble, it had its X-Men connections. As mentioned, it hints at David Haller’s father many times until Charles shows up in Season 3. Not played by Patrick Stewart, mind you. Although he and Dan Stevens both expressed interest in the idea. The Shi’ar race is casually name-dropped in Season 2 well before Dark Phoenix hit theaters, though the film adaptation replaced them with the D’Bari race. Some of the original mutants share traits with those of X-Men lore. For example, Syd Barrett’s shares similarities to Rogue in that her powers activate through physical contact.

Legion FX Noah Hawley Fox Marvel X-Men Aubrey Plaza Shadow King

But if there’s one thing people no doubt would take from Legion, it’s the casting. In particular that of Aubrey Plaza as one form of the Shadow King. I say this with absolute certainty: this performance alone is worth watching Legion. It’s a truly transformative performance unlike anything you’d expect from Plaza. She stood out as the MVP of the first season. It’s a far cry from April Ludgate, that’s for sure.

Legion was a series that didn’t spell everything out for you. Rather, Noah Hawley kept you guessing from episode to episode. It was more focused on telling a story first, rather than telling an X-Men story. The series felt confident enough to not lean on the X-Men connection as a crutch. It could stand on its own. But it also didn’t shy away from its comic roots, either. The series served as another way to expand the X-Men universe and explore unchartered territory.

Honestly, the series has more in line with the Marvel Netflix series than anything from Fox’s line of X-Men films. Like those shows, Legion demonstrated that you could have variety with your projects under the same tentpole. Fox gave Hawley full creative freedom to tell his X-Men story.

Deadpool 2 (2018)

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Don’t call it a comeback.

Deadpool was a success. The sequel still had a hill to climb. The departure of director Tim Miller could have spelled disaster. A new director for a sequel doesn’t always spell disaster. Not everything turns out to be like Kick-Ass 2. Still, Miller’s involvement was a huge part of the first film’s success. Replicating that would be like capturing lightning in a bottle.

It’s known by now that Miller left due to creative differences. He and Reynolds differed on how to approach the sequel. Still, the success of the first film was a collaborative effort. We’ll never see Miller’s take on the second Deadpool sequel. But what we got in the end still triumphed.

Incoming director David Leitch was no slouch either. Even before the film’s release, Leitch gave audiences a tease. The short “No Good Deed” gave people an indication of the tone and style he’d bring to the sequel.

Like other Fox X-Men sequels, Deadpool 2 did go bigger and better. It brought in Cable and X-Force. However, Leitch didn’t lose what made the first film special.

Josh Brolin Cable Deadpool 2 Rob Liefeld

At this point, Deadpool 2 spared no comic book film from scrutiny. Wade refers to Cable as Thanos. He calls Domino “Black Black Widow.” Plus, of course, Martha. The audience knows these references because they’ve seen these films. The cast of Dark Phoenix has a quick cameo. As does the kid who played young David Haller on Legion. They’re just fun winks and nods to X-Men lore.

As a sequel, Deadpool 2 did what many sequels do best: go bigger and better. The change in director and slightly different color palette didn’t deter audiences. In fact, quite the opposite. We live in a time where Deadpool 2 is the highest grossing X-Men film of all time. How does that happen?

That’s a testament to proof of its quality. Audiences wanted more of the X-Men spin-offs, especially Deadpool. However, the next two films proved that Fox’s goodwill with audiences ran out.

Dark Phoenix (2019)

Dark Phoenix Fox X-Men Chris Claremont

How does one even begin to talk about Dark Phoenix? Dark Phoenix had an uphill battle before the cameras started rolling. Days of Future Past wiped The Last Stand from continuity. So if Fox wanted another crack at the Dark Phoenix Saga, they could. That doesn’t mean they should. Still, the opportunity to do the story justice now existed.

But when “The Last Stand” trends on Twitter with the debut of the first Dark Phoenix trailer, that’s a problem. Perhaps, at this point, audiences wanted to move on from the main X-Men films. The Disney acquisition didn’t help. Soon enough, the mutants would move into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s not a reason to write off a universe that had been going since 2000. Still, that mindset existed.

Still, despite what many clamored for, Fox had no intention of shelving Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants. Fox had many X-Men projects in the pipeline. Many of them would be scrapped, but we’ll get to that. At the moment, one question lingered in regards to Dark Phoenix: why?

X-Men Dark Phoenix Scott Kurt Charles Ororo Fox Marvel 2019 Simon Kinberg

Why would Fox willingly revisit the Dark Phoenix Saga? There are plenty of other X-Men stories and villains to mine. This would just draw unnecessary comparisons to The Last Stand. You can have another crack at the Dark Phoenix Saga, but this certainly wasn’t the time.

The audience just got acquainted with these younger versions of Scott, Jean, Ororo, and Kurt. Yet, already, the status quo for the new X-Men has already changed. We’ve barely had time to know these young mutants as a team. Despite that, their first big outing is one of the X-Men’s most prolific stories. There’s no proper buildup leading into Dark Phoenix. It’s simply too big of a story to tell right after meeting your new X-Men. Hell, it’s certainly too big of a story to tell in one film.

For a story of this magnitude, you need more time to flesh out this story. We already saw studios cutting corners on big blockbusters with Warner Bros.’ handling of Justice League. In that regard, the blame lies solely on Fox instead of first-time director Simon Kinberg.

Dark Phoenix Erik Beast Fox Marvel X-Men

However, this film had advantages going into it compared to X-Men: The Last StandDark Phoenix pulls more elements from the Dark Phoenix Saga compared to The Last Stand. It’s also more focused film than The Last Stand. Yet Dark Phoenix only clocks in a scant 10 minutes longer than The Last Stand.

How is that even possible? Well, Dark Phoenix tried to do a lot with very little. At first, Kinberg planned this as a two-parter. In the first half, audiences would grow to love Jean. Considering how little we got to know her and Scott in Apocalypse, this makes sense. You can’t rush that development and expect audiences to just go along with it through telling instead of showing. So where, my friends, did Dark Phoenix go wrong? Fox executives wouldn’t invest in two movies after Apocalypse’s lukewarm reception.

X-Men Dark Phoenix Fox Marvel Simon Kinberg 2019

So we have another truncated attempt at the Dark Phoenix Saga. An attempt deemed by those involved as grounded. Not what you’d want to hear when we’ve been down this road already. You’ve got the X-Men going to space. Check. The Phoenix Force destroyed the home of an alien race. Check. Dazzler’s here…for a little bit. Kinberg pulled from more elements of the Dark Phoenix Saga, but that’s just it — they’re only elements. It’s not the full-on space opera that you remember from the source material.

With an audience that expected more from comic-book films, that’s going to be a problem. It no doubt contributed to Dark Phoenix’s $252.4 million at the box office on a $200 million budget. You also have the shifting release dates for this and The New Mutants. In the end, we have an X-Men film that feels too little, too late. Instead of being the start of a new series, it brings an abrupt end to the main X-Men movies.

This film centers around Jean, as it sound. There’s no B-plot involving a mutant cure. Hans Zimmer’s score helps elevate the film. The cinematography stands out. Magneto doesn’t enter the film until Jean seeks him out. There’s no Quicksilver sequence this time. However, it’s a nice change of pace to see the X-Men working as a team. But what separates Dark Phoenix from The Last Stand beyond a younger cast?

Dark Phoenix X-Men Fox Disney Jean Grey Sophie Turner

We as an audience haven’t grown attached to Scott, Jean, Kurt, and Ororo. Still, we’re told to accept that Jean herself will be a major threat. The Dark Phoenix Saga shouldn’t have followed Apocalypse. Why not Proteus? Apocalypse set up Mister Sinister, so why not him? Fox could have taken the X-Men in so many interesting directions after Apocalypse. Despite this, Fox had no problem with Kinberg reminding people of a film they’d rather forget.

Kinberg being a first-time director probably didn’t help much, but stranger things have happened. Tim Miller hadn’t directed a feature length film prior to Deadpool. We saw how great that worked out. There’s little to no imagination in Dark Phoenix. Looking at the box office, audiences felt the same. So rather than end on a triumphant note, the main X-Men films went out with a whimper.

Plus, just looking at the early trailers, you can see all of the footage left on the cutting room floor. Unlike Zack Snyder, Simon Kinberg has no interest in seeing his original cut come to light. I imagine Disney isn’t, either. So while Zack Snyder’s original vision of Justice League is now on HBO Max, we can only imagine how Kinberg’s original ideas for Dark Phoenix would look.

One more film to go.

The New Mutants (2020)

The New Mutants X-Men Josh Boone Demon Bear Marvel Cinematic Universe Disney MCU Apocalypse Henry Zaga Bobby Disney Mulan Coronavirus Comic-Con

In a better world, The New Mutants wouldn’t be the forgotten X-Men film it is. It wouldn’t have had the unfortunate circumstance of being pushed back time and time again and ultimately coming out in the middle of a global pandemic. In a better world, Josh Boone would probably get to do that planned trilogy. Alas, that’s not the case. People now know The New Mutants not for its reception, but whether it would even be released at all.

That’s not Josh Boone’s fault, mind you. He had an idea to create a comic book horror film. Based on the success of the 2017 It film, Fox banked on that idea. We hadn’t really done comic book horror films. The first teaser showed that The New Mutants would be unlike any other comic book film. So audiences noticed something new done with the genre.

Back when Fox gave this film a release date of April 2018. Then February of 2019. After that, April of 2020 under Disney. Finally, all parties settled on August 2020. Well, at least the film finally came out. Especially amidst the speculation that it would be dumped on Disney+ or Hulu or Amazon. When the San Diego Comic-Con panel pokes fun at the release date changes, all bets are off.

The initial intrigue for The New Mutants went from “That looks interesting” to “Who cares?” to “That film’s still coming out?” But like Dark Phoenix, that’s not the fault of the director or actors. Even they didn’t know the film’s ultimate release date. Disney had already put Mulan onto Disney Plus. Doing the same for The New Mutants would not seem that strange. More than that, why would Disney have any incentive to market it?

Deadpool Colossus Josh Boone Charlie Heaton The New Mutants X-Men Fox Disney Charlie Heaton Josh Boone

Disney and Marvel Studios would reboot the mutants anyway.  At worst, Disney and Fox would just lose a little on a film that had been all but forgotten. Could The New Mutants make more money with its original release date? Absolutely. But this and Dark Phoenix had the unfortunate circumstance of coming out after Disney’s acquisition was completed. Audiences were already ready for the next interpretation of the X-Men.

But The New Mutants isn’t specifically an X-Men film. Like Logan and Deadpool, it takes place in a world where the X-Men exist, but it does not lean on pre-established continuity. It tells its own story. The end result is more creepy than an outright horror film. Still, Fox took a risk with the X-Men. A pity that the film finally came out during a global pandemic. Dark Phoenix at least had the advantage of coming out in the before times.

Much like Wonder Woman 1984 and its original release date, these films could have come and gone already. If they had stuck to their original release dates, at least. It’s still admirable that Fox took a chance on Josh Boone. He delivered something new and different with The New Mutants. It doesn’t fundamentally change the genre like Deadpool and Logan did, but it was something new. In the end, this film will live on not for what it did, but for its numerous delays.

Cancelled Projects

X-Men Marvel Comics Fox Disney

This isn’t even getting into the planned spin-offs. As stated, Days of Future Past could have marked the end of the mainline X-Men films. If the box office for Deadpool 2 is any indication, audiences still wanted the experimental X-Men projects.

At this point, we know that Deadpool 3 will be integrated into the MCU and rated-R. But what about Drew Goddard’s planned X-Force film? James Mangold and Dafne Keen’s planned X-23 film? Brian Michael Bendis and Tim Miller’s Kitty Pryde film? Or Simon Kinberg once saying that Alpha Flight could be a film? The James Franco Multiple Man film? How about Channing Tatum’s Gambit? We could talk all day about how that project just sat in development hell and went through numerous directors.

Fox indeed had the potential to build a sprawling cinematic universe with the X-Men. Origins was the starting point that proved the studio didn’t need to just tell a linear set of stories. The series plummeted, rose up, and and then plummeted yet again to end on a whimper. Not just due to the reception of Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants. Also, not just because of the Disney acquisition.

No. By 2019, audiences had seen what comic book films could do. The genre had evolved since the days of Spider-Man and X-Men. Those two films breathed new life into the comic book film genre. Despite Fox’s highs and lows, audiences stuck around through the X-Men’s best and worst. However, audiences had come to expect more. Fox may have found its creative spark when it was too late to save the X-Men franchise as a whole. Deadpool can only do so much, after all.

Conclusion

X-Men Logan Ending Fox Marvel

Fox still had what it took to take the X-Men franchise in new, creative directions. But that creativity never came to fruition, and this didn’t help the dwindling interest in the main X-Men films. But we return to our main question: how will audiences remember Fox’s X-Men series? As a studio that hit an uneven balance with Marvel’s mutants? A studio that managed to hit the mark with one Marvel property, but being unable to develop a solid, truly memorable Fantastic Four film (memorable for the right reasons)? A studio that lost the steam needed to keep the main X-Men films going?

We have Fox’s X-Men to thank for helping pave a path for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Extended Universe. That cannot be denied. When Fox got it right, the studio really got it right. Since we’ve yet to see Marvel Studios’ take on the mutants, we have no comparison just yet. But until that day comes, Fox set a path and blueprint for other comic book films to follow.

More than that, throughout its run, the series stuck to the more serious tone that the first film established. There were stumbles along the way, of course. No studio is without its flaws. As the years went on, Fox’s issues with the main X-Men films became more apparent. Some will view the X-Men under Fox as a mixed bag. To others, a success, but only time will tell. In the meantime, though, what do you think?

Now that Fox’s X-Men universe has come to an end, how do you view it? What are your experiences with the X-Men films? Is there anything you’ll miss about this universe? What do you look forward to when Marvel Studios brings the mutants into the MCU? Let us know your thoughts in and let’s get this conversation going.

Omari Daniels

Omari Daniels

Guy mostly into journalism and interested in geek culture. So...why not write about it? Get the best of both worlds that way.