Fox is having an X-Man problem

So let’s just get this out of the way: That happened. I don’t know what to say. Except—I’m sorry. For all of us, but mostly for those who now legitimately fear for their rights, and even their lives. We’ll get through this, but it’s going to suck.

But the world keeps turning, and today that means news out of Fox that the X-Men franchise might be in a little bit of trouble. Aren’t we all. This is not entirely out of the blue—Deadpool just ran into some trouble, and Channing Tatum’s Gambit movie is a developmental nightmare. And if you follow box office, you know that this summer’s X-Men: Apocalypse didn’t perform nearly as well as the previous franchise entry, Days of Future Past, and compared to the likes of Marvel, it got curb-stomped.

In fact the X-movies, for being the thing that kicked off the superhero boom, have never done as well as other comic book franchises. Their high-water mark is Deadpool’s $782 million haul—a sign that maybe they’re finding a way forward with individual characters—Logan looks VERY promising— but the problem in the mainline franchise persists. These movies cost a lot to make, and they’ve never performed as well as they should, regardless of on-the-record rhetoric. The X-Men do not have the same impact, financial or pop cultural, as the likes of the Avengers, or even the budding Justice League. Everyone hated Superhero Face Punch and it still out-earned Deadpool by almost a hundred million dollars.


And now Fox is staring down the barrel of losing key franchise stars. Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult are all at the end of their contracts. And Fassbender and especially JLaw are WAY more famous now than they were when they signed on over six years ago. I feel like McAvoy wouldn’t fuss too hard about coming back for more because he just seems the type to enjoy work for work’s sake, but to get JLaw back? They’d pay through the nose for her, and this is where those diminishing returns matter. They don’t make the kind of money that justifies those paychecks.

So the X-Men will be “reconfigured”, including a potential New Mutants movie, which is a group of teenaged superheroes who skirt around the edges of the main adult X-Men group. This might be the key for Fox, especially with Hugh Jackman retiring his iconic Wolverine after Logan. Focus on new characters and use the ones we already know, like Professor X and Jean Grey and Mystique, sparingly.

This franchise has never cared about continuity, so they could get away with making a series of films that don’t really connect except that they use the same locations, like Professor X’s school, and a few of the same crossover characters. And that would be a refreshing counterpoint to the ponderous worldbuilding of the Avengers and Justice League. Fox is going to keep making these movies. There’s no world in which they let these rights lapse and revert to Marvel, so they’ve got to figure out how to make superheroes work for them. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I will be under my desk contemplating the darkest timeline.

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