This month has seen the release of two films from popular and well-established film franchises, the seventh and final installment in the main X-Men series in the form of ‘Dark Phoenix’ and the fourth installment of the ‘Men in Black’ franchise in the form of “Men in Black: International”. Although, “Men in Black: International” is set to break-even at the box office (its estimated budget is between $95-$110 million), the film has received some absolutely dismal reviews with ‘The Guardian’s’ film critic Peter Bradshaw calling it “Meh in Black, making another intensely tiresome and pointless reappearance” and giving the film a 1 star review. It is worth adding that the film currently holds an approval rating of 24% on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Men in Black: International” may be set to make money, but it is a different story for “Dark Phoenix”, which has had the worst opening weekend of any ‘X-Men’ film and is set to lose Fox Studio $100 million. The film’s director Simon Kinberg has accepted the blame, stating in an interview that “[It] clearly is a movie that didn’t connect with audiences”. Whether Kinberg is partly to blame, or whether he is having to accept the blame, the failure of “Dark Phoenix” potentially marks an interesting turning point for the film industry. It would seem that maybe audiences are finally beginning to turn away from Superhero franchises and comic book adaptations.
The franchise film has been driving the film industry for a number of years with many studios scrambling to create their own cinematic universes to rival Marvel’s own cinematic universe. This has seen the emergence of Warner Bros. DC cinematic universe, and the “Fast and Furious” cinematic universe (which sees its first spin-off film “Hobbs and Shaw” being released later this year).
However, some cinematic universes pushed by studios such as Universal’s “Dark Universe” have failed to take off. Universal’s “The Mummy” (2017) was set to be the first film in their new cinematic universe which would incorporate the studio’s classic monster movies of the 1930s. Upon its release, “The Mummy” bombed and grossed $410 million worldwide. With a combined production and advertising budget of around $345 million, it had a projected loss of $95 million and resulted in the “Dark Universe” franchise being shelved.
In regards to “Dark Phoenix” bombing at the box office, there are a number of factors to consider. Firstly this was Kinberg’s directorial debut, taking over from Bryan Singer who has faced numerous accusations of sexual abuse towards underaged men. On December 7, 2017, Cesar Sanchez-Guzman filed a lawsuit in the state of Washington against Singer, alleging that he had been raped at age 17 by the director in 2003. And, On January 23, 2019, Alex French and Maximillian Potter published an investigative report in The Atlantic in which four more men alleged that Singer sexually assaulted them when they were underage.
Singer denied the allegations and removed himself from the public eye. Whether these accusations have had an effect on the ‘X-Men’ franchise isn’t really known, but one can assume that since the fresh wave of accusations and pressure from the Times Up Movement, Fox Studio has been working to distance itself from Singer.
Kinberg had been a writer for the ‘X-Men’ franchise but as debut films go, “Dark Phoenix” is a mess. It could be argued that Fox executives should have gone with a more seasoned director, but for some unknown reason they decided not to. Dark Phoenix was originally planned to be two movies, but the decision was made to have the complex storyline bundled into one film. This was heavily criticised by fans who felt that film format was not best suited to tell the complex narrative.
Filming of “Dark Phoenix” was completed in October 2017; the entire third act was later reshot in late 2018 following poor test screenings. Fox delayed the film’s release in March 2018, pushing it back to February 14, 2019. However, the release date was pushed back again to June 2019. This meant the likes of Marvel’s “Captain Marvel” and “Avengers: End Game” being released prior to “Dark Phoenix”.
The Marvel films aren’t the only superhero genre related films to be released this year, with Warner Bros. “Shazam!’’, the reboot of “Hellboy” and “Glass” also making their way to the big screen. It could simply be that viewers are suffering from ‘Superhero fatigue’ and that lack lustre films such as “Glass” and “Hellboy” have meant that fans of the genre have become disillusioned.
A case could be made that “Dark Phoenix” was poorly marketed by Fox. The film’s promotional campaign was underway while the Disney/Fox deal was being finalized, which perhaps meant its marketing was put on the backburner while the studios concentrated on more pressing matters. According to reports, Fox didn’t know the best way to advertise “Dark Phoenix”, which definitely hurt its awareness ratings with general moviegoers.
With Disney buying 20th Century Fox, and with it the rights to the X-Men movies, it has led to a lot of planned projects being scrapped and a total reboot of the series is imminent. The franchise had become slightly complicated which may have led to casual moviegoers to become put off by following different timelines. It hasn’t always been the case for X-Men, the franchise began with two solid and successful entries which were well received by critics and had impressive success at the box office.
“Dark Phoenix” has not only underperformed at the domestic box office but it has failed to impress the global audience. The film was projected to gross $120–135 million, including $50–60 million from China, for a global debut of around $170 million. In fact, it went on to only make $13 million on its first day in China (including previews), and ended up debuting to just $103.7 million internationally and $136.5 million worldwide.
Kinberg initially said in May 2016 that he hoped Dark Phoenix would be the first in a new line of films focusing on the younger versions of the original X-Men characters. However, in April 2019, Fox executive Emma Watts confirmed Dark Phoenix would be the last main installment in the Fox-produced X-Men series. The X-Men will most likely not have their own solo film until phase 5 of the MCU, by then maybe the dust from the “Dark Phoenix” fallout would have settled by then.
Of course, that’s whether there will still be a live audience for this franchise or superhero films in general. Regardless, it’s a shame to see a once great franchise going up in smoke.