Back in 2000, Bryan Singer’s X-Men was a one-of-a-kind movie. The first installment in the mutant-centric franchise predated the first Spider-Man film by two years, and arrived eight years ahead of both Iron Man and The Dark Knight. For better or worse, there’d be no superhero franchises in Hollywood today without X-Men blazing the trail at the turn of the century. Sixteen years later, 20th Century Fox’s once-lucrative franchise is having some serious problems, and it could lead to major changes across the board.
The state of the franchise as it stands now is murky. Deadpool has quickly evolved into the cash cow of the series, but it exists entirely independent of the main storyline. Production for the standalone Gambit movie still hasn’t gotten off the ground after losing its director, Doug Liman. That leaves the primary set of X-Men movies, last represented by the May 2016 release of X-Men: Apocalypse. With Apocalypse pulling in a box office take well below even the first X-Men movie, it’s led to rumblings of a full-blown reboot.
There’s little doubting that the timing would be good for Fox. Logan will send Wolverine into retirement with Hugh Jackman’s final appearance in the franchise. Meanwhile, the studio’s three-picture deal with James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence has officially expired, and re-signing the trio could prove to be prohibitively expensive. That leaves Fox with one of two options: follow Sony’s lead and make a deal with Marvel, or reboot the franchise themselves and hope for the best.
So what exactly would a reboot look like? Sans Bryan Singer, Jackman, McAvoy, Fassbender, or Lawrence, it would force Fox to retool their focus entirely. The core group of mutants that have occupied every major film would need to change, while bringing in a new director to act as the creative leader of the saga. The Hollywood Reporter points out that “one of Fox’s best hopes may be The New Mutants, a spinoff featuring superpowered teens with some overlap with the flagship X-Men.” This would certainly be a clever way of getting audiences familiar with a cadre of new characters.
The question then becomes whether that would actually work. Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man reboot is a great cautionary tale for Fox, having gotten the studio through just two films before forcing them onto Marvel’s doorstep with hat in hand. That, of course, led to the integration of Spider-Man into the MCU, a deal that’s already reaping benefits for both studios. Fox will attempt to go at it alone with X-Men at least to start, but given how they’ve already bungled their Fantastic Four reboot, there’s definitely cause to be concerned.
Ultimately, it’ll be a tough sell for audiences as the studio moves away from the decidedly more familiar team of mutants that we’ve been following since 2000. It’s hard to imagine an X-Men movie in the prime storyline that doesn’t include the likes of Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Professor X, or Jean Grey, among others. That’s not to say a new team wouldn’t at least be intriguing. That said, character name recognition also goes hand-in-hand with hefty box office numbers.
All hope isn’t lost for Fox’s X-Men franchise though. Deadpool stands tall as the highest grossing film in the history of the series, beating out second place by a cool $300 million. With a sequel already in the works, the future looks bright for the R-rated Merc with a Mouth. More than that, it could very well be what ends up keeping the lights on for the X-Men franchise moving forward, giving them a valuable bargaining chip should they ever decide to strike a deal with Marvel Studios.
For now, the reboot rests solely in the hands of 20th Century Fox. Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars) is signed on to direct The New Mutants, and production for the film could start as early as next spring. Whether it can make itself into the flagship of the X-Men franchise is entirely unclear, but it has a long road ahead of it. There’s a lot to be said for losing four A-list stars and the original director of the series, and Fox will have a whole lot of ground to make up as a result.
It’s not hard to see a path leading toward Marvel, with the studios sharing the mutants after a Sony-esque deal. As Captain America: Civil War proved with Spider-Man, the best home for Marvel characters is with their original creators, who fully understand how to utilize them in the best possible way. Any such decision would still be a ways off though, so it’s all aboard The New Mutants train for the time being. Toot toot.
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