Whether you’re a comic fan who can’t get enough of summer spandex or one of the people who believe that superhero-movie fatigue is a real thing, you have Marvel’s merry band of mutants to thank for helping create today’s trend of summer superhero movies.
It seems like forever ago, but back in 2000 — before Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies and the formation of Marvel Studios — a then-unknown Hugh Jackman popped his adamantium claws for the first time, as he and “X-Men” director Bryan Singer proved that superheroes on the big screen have big-time, box-office potential.
Though 20th Century Fox’s X-Men movie franchise gave birth to the current era of superhero films, being first doesn’t guarantee continued relevancy or demand. From the moment images first began appearing online for Singer’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” which hits theaters Thursday night, the debate began as to whether this was a movie people wanted or one that was given to us whether we liked it or not.
X doesn’t mean guaranteed box-office success anymore. Whatever advantage 20th Century Fox once had by being first in the genre is gone, as Marvel Studios, now owned by Disney, has its successful Avengers and Captain America movies. If studios show even the slightest sign of faltering, it usually results in the waving of a white flag and a plea to Marvel Studios to help. (See: Sony, who now has to share the rights to Spider-Man with Marvel Studios or risk losing the character’s money-making powers.)
This is not to say Fox is in trouble — far from it. The X-Men movie rights will more than likely always remain with them, as they would be foolish to give them up. But if the mild-at-best reception that “X-Men: Apocalypse” has received from those who have seen it is any indication, the X-Men themselves may no longer be Fox’s go-to superhero/comic-book movie franchise.
It’s time to start thinking about X-pansion.
The studio has cast young “Game of Thrones” actress Sophie Turner as the new telepathic/telekinetic wonder Jean Grey, which may allow them in a future film to try a redo of the classic “Dark Phoenix Saga” that was so horribly adapted in “X-Men 3.” And the unexpected success of “Deadpool,” an (anti) superhero movie in the X-Men universe that made money despite an R-rating because fans were hungry to see the proper execution of the character, changes everything.
(It’s important to note that director Tim Miller and star Ryan Reynolds were practically begging for “Deadpool” to be made, and if not for the intense fan reaction of leaked test footage, we may never have had a movie. That shows a studio not in tune with the pulse of its fan base that thinks as long as they make an X-Men movie every few years, everything will be fine.)
While “X-Men: Days of Future Past” was a good superhero movie, it leaned on the star power of Jackman’s Wolverine. Jackman is on his last X-leg, making it clear that the next Wolverine movie will be his final performance as the character. Even Old Man Logan is feeling the “Deadpool” effect.
Wolverine has always been an R-rated character hovering in a fairly family-friendly world. His lethal claws, berserker rage and ability to heal from any beating are all bottled and manufactured for PG-13 profitability. “Deadpool” showed that characters such as Wolverine can succeed and make money without sanitizing anything, and now our last Jackman/Wolverine film will have an R-rating that will show the character in his purest form.
As for expanding the X-Men universe, “Deadpool” was able to succeed with no help from Fox in terms of a recognizable supporting cast (except for Colossus), so imagine what he could do with bigger names.
If we’re to believe the end-credit scene of “Deadpool” — when the “merc with a mouth” promises that Cable (one of most popular characters in the X-Men universe who is not directly affiliated with the X-Men team) will be in the sequel — then Fox already holds the key to the survival of the X-movie brand in their hands.
If executed properly, the appearance of Cable in a “Deadpool” sequel could lead to an X-Force spin off. (X-Force is a Cable-led team of mutants). Fox is reportedly also looking into making a New Mutants movie, another Marvel mutant team of youngsters. And we already got our first taste of what “New Mutants” could be like with the appearance of Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Briana Hildebrand) in “Deadpool.”
Deadpool sequels, Cable, X-Force, New Mutants: Fox’s future X-Men films have no end in sight. They’ve just been looking in the wrong direction.