Rather than going out in a blaze of glory, 20th Century Fox’s ‘X-Men’ franchise has been snuffed out like a cigarette. The franchise has been on a steady decline for years now, with ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ earning $65.8 million on its opening weekend, and ending its domestic run with $155M, and $544M worldwide. But this weekend’s ‘Dark Phoenix’ opening of just $33M is the worst of the entire franchise, even lower than the $54.4M the first movie made back in 2000. ‘Dark Phoenix’s production budget + global marketing is believed to be over $350M, and projections have now pegged it at topping out worldwide with $300M-$325M, which will equate to a loss of $100M-$120M.
Reviews also record lows for the brand, with a 22% Rotten Tomatoes score, and has the worst audience reaction, with a B- CinemaScore, and 3 stars on PostTrak.
No one lays the blame on Disney, who bought out Fox earlier this year. Principle filming of ‘Dark Phoenix’ was completed two summers ago, prior to talk of the merger even becoming public in December 2017.
What went wrong?
For starters, this picture was completely unnecessary on nearly every level. ‘Apocalypse’ was extremely poorly received by both fans and critics– 47% on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 65% audience score. Yet this was the third of the “new” ‘X-Men’ movies, following ‘First Class’ and ‘Days of Future Past’, with ‘Days of Future Past’ being one of the top-grossing films in the entire series. Since movie series tend to run in threes, it would natural to just consider that the end of this particular storyline.
Of particular irony, ‘Apocalypse’ director Bryan Singer inserted a dig at 2006’s ‘The Last Stand’, the top-grossing team film in the entire franchise, but also generally considered the most hated. As the new younger X-Men leave a theater showing ‘Return of the Jedi’, Sophie Turner‘s Jean Grey snipes, “The third one is always the worst.” Oh, how true that turned out to be.
But after the disappointment of ‘Apocalypse’, the franchise hit a new high note with ‘Logan’, the first comic book film to ever receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. So even though ‘Logan’ was an outlier in most respects, it was still a strong ending to the franchise. (I’m not counting the ‘Deadpool’ movies here, just because they are really their own brand.)
But after ‘Apocalypse’, there was no NEED to make another team movie, especially after Singer was reported to have been chronically MIA from the set during its making, and was later embroiled in multiple sex abuse allegations. But longtime scribe Simon Kinberg was selected to direct his first movie ever with what became ‘Dark Phoenix’, after gaining the support of the cast, including Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence. While this was Kinberg’s first real movie directing gig, he was previously charged with finishing up Josh Trank’s terrible ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot after Trank was fired. Not a great precursor.
Another questionable decision was to adapt the “Dark Phoenix Saga” from the comic book, the same story that served as the basis for ‘The Last Stand’. Kinberg’s intention was to tell the story “the right way,” but why would viewers want to see the exact same story retold just over a decade later, even if it’s done somewhat better. It would have been like the recent ‘Hellboy’ reboot being a literal remake of the 2004 movie. On top of that, ‘Dark Phoenix’ still isn’t a direct adaptation of the comic book story (which is more than a little bonkers, especially for anyone who has never read it, involving extraterrestrial empires, “telepathic time travel,” and more).
It has since been revealed that Kinberg originally planned to make ‘Dark Phoenix’ two films, but late into pre-production it was decided that it would only be one, so Kinberg had to retool it fairly late in the game.
Once the film was completed, it was reportedly dogged by negative test screenings. In one, Jean died at the end (which she did in the comic), but audiences didn’t like that. Another ending had Jean, Scott (Tye Sheridan) and Professor X (James McAvoy) battling the villain alone, but audiences wanted all of the X-Men involved with the climax. These changes and reshoots are largely responsible for the frequent delays in release.
As Deadline points out, reshoots are completely normal. Nearly every movie needs them. But it seems that when the press (*ahem*) pounces on them, it negatively influences audiences’ opinions– see ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’.
There are conflicting reports on whether or not ‘Dark Phoenix’ was changed because the climax too closely resembled that of ‘Captain Marvel’. True, ‘Dark Phoenix’ opened after ‘Captain Marvel’, but it’s seemingly been sitting in the can for quite a while, well before ‘Captain Marvel’s release.
And though it may seem minor, in October, Fox made the decision to drop ‘X-Men’ from the film’s title, making it just ‘Dark Phoenix’. It was explained that this was to give this film its own identity, but it seems to have only added to the general confusion among general audiences. Was this an ‘X-Men’ movie or not? It appears that Disney felt differently, as in the weeks leading up to ‘Dark Phoenix’s release, TV spots for it once more referred to it as “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.”
As Deadline points out, it’s too bad that this didn’t go the way of Sony’s ‘Venom’. That picture was also dogged by nasty behind-the-scenes drama, and dreadful reviews. But once the film opened, it blew everyone away, as audiences flocked to it in droves and enjoyed it! ‘Venom’ went on to make $855M worldwide.
Did you see ‘Dark Phoenix’ over the weekend?