X-Men at 20: A Look Back

Twenty years ago today, Bryan Singer’s X-Men arrived in theaters and it’s not hyperbole to call it one of the most influential pictures of the 21st century. The 20th Century Fox release found the comic book genre at a rather low point at the end of that said century. While Blade was a nice size hit in 1998, the years prior found at a lot to be desired with the quality of the genre. 1995 brought us Judge Dredd and 1997 saw the release of Batman and Robin, which found the Caped Crusader with Bat nipples and bad reviews.

X-Men, though it’s hard to remember now, was released at a time where the idea of superhero tales was an uncertain box office prospect. This is two years before Spider-Man broke all kinds of financial records. This is five years prior to Christopher Nolan reinvigorating the Bat franchise with his Dark Knight trilogy. And this was eight years before Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Tony Stark/Iron Man, officially kicking off the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In the summer of 2000, X-Men was by no means a guaranteed hit. It did, however, have credibility with the behind the scenes talent and cast. Bryan Singer was known for his heralded The Usual Suspects. Acclaimed actors Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen (fresh off an Oscar nod for Gods and Monsters), Anna Paquin, and Halle Berry were among the onscreen players. And it was another casting decision that provided its most enduring legacy. Russell Crowe, who headlined that summer’s Oscar winner Gladiator, originally turned down the part of Wolverine. Dougray Scott was then cast in the role, but had to drop out when his role as the villain in Mission: Impossible II (also out that summer) prevented him from filming. So it was the unknown Hugh Jackman who donned the claws. He would go on to make it his signature role as he played Logan/Wolverine in numerous sequels and spin-offs (including three stand-alone projects of wildly divergent qualities).

Let’s back up. Before the 2000 release, X-Men was in development for over a decade and a half. At one point, James Cameron was slated to produce with his then wife Kathryn Bigelow attached to direct. Later on, Robert Rodriguez turned the project down. A gander at the pic’s Wikipedia page is an entertaining read (Mariah Carey was in the mix for Storm at one juncture and Angela Bassett was first choice). X-Men was rushed to make its summer release date 20 years ago today after it was originally intended for Christmas 2000.

That rushed feeling does show on up on screen a little, but the overall end result speaks for itself. What occurred two decades ago is a major mark in the comic book movie renaissance that continues to this day. The franchise has certainly had its ups and downs. X2: X-Men United was the first sequel in 2003 and it is generally considered a high point. Three years later, Brett Ratner took over directorial reigns with The Last Stand and (while a huge hit) the quality took a dip. Matthew Vaughn would reestablish critical kudos in rebooting the series in 2011 with First Class (bringing Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence to the screen playing younger counterparts to key characters). Jackman’s first spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine faced deserved backlash while 2017’s Logan was lauded and landed an Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination. And a cheeky and R rated offshoot called Deadpool with Ryan Reynolds would dazzle audiences and critics alike. Last summer’s Dark Phoenix didn’t do any dazzling and was another low ebb in the series. Spin-off The New Mutants has seen release date changes that began in 2018 and it’s pretty much a running joke as to whether it will ever come out.

That long road began in 2000 and has shaped the cinematic universe since. And if you had to mark a spot for the comic book landscape today as it stands now on the screen, it started that day.

Bloodshot Box Office Prediction

Two months before F9 (the latest edition of his wildly successful Fast & Furious franchise) debuts, Vin Diesel hopes to kick off a new series with Bloodshot next weekend. Based on the Valiant Comics superhero, Diesel is tasked with the title role in this directorial debut from David S.F. Wilson. The supporting casts includes Eiza Gonzalez, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell, and Guy Pearce.

Diesel is certainly a franchise man with three under his belt: Furious, xXx, and the Riddick pics (four if you count his voice work as Groot in the MCU). The $42 million budget is low for the genre and probably the catering cost for an Avengers epic. So while the pic hopes international grosses make it profitable, this could struggle stateside.

Outside of the aforementioned films, Diesel has had some disappointments. 2015’s The Last Witch Hunter was developed with sequels in mind, but sputtered with just under $11 million for its start. 2008’s Babylon A.D. couldn’t even reach double digits in its premiere.

With muted buzz, I expect Bloodshot to fire blanks with high single to low double digits. At least the headliner has his signature role on deck in short order.

Bloodshot opening weekend prediction: $9.6 million

For my I Still Believe prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/03/03/i-still-believe-box-office-prediction/

For my The Hunt prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/03/05/the-hunt-box-office-prediction/

For my My Spy prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/03/05/my-spy-box-office-prediction/

Oscars 2019: The Case of Joker

Part 4 of my Case of posts laying out the pros and cons for nominees to win the big Oscar races continues with Joker in Best Picture. If you missed the first three covering Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, and Jojo Rabbit, you can peruse them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/14/oscars-2019-the-case-of-ford-v-ferrari/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/15/oscars-2019-the-case-of-the-irishman/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/17/oscars-2019-the-case-of-jojo-rabbit/

The Case for Joker

The grim comic book adaptation has the most nominations of any film with 11. Even heavy hitters The Irishman, 1917, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood followed with 10. Of the nine pictures featured, it’s easily the box office king with $334 million domestically and over a billion dollars worldwide. Joaquin Phoenix appears to be the front runner in Best Actor. The film’s awards chatter exploded when it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Joker is further proof that the Academy has warmed to the genre after Black Panther was the first comic book flick to get a Picture nod in 2018.

The Case Against Joker

Many of the reasons listed above can actually be used against it. The picture with the most nominations fails to win Best Picture more often than not. Same goes for the movie that made the most money. Director Todd Phillips got the Oscar nod, but missed the Directors Guild final five. Furthermore, the 69% Rotten Tomatoes is awfully low for a potential Picture recipient. While Joker certainly has its fervent defenders, it was also subject to plenty of controversy about its subject matter.

The Verdict

The thought of Joker winning Best Picture seemed unlikely a short time ago. However, its chances due to the volume of nominations has certainly increased. Ultimately its best bet is for Phoenix to make it to the podium, but this a Picture victory that can’t be totally discounted.

Up next in my Case of posts… Little Women!

Shazam! Movie Review

Mixing the typical comic book movie issues with a little Big and even a touch of the recent Instant Family, the DC Comics adaptation of Shazam! is able to produce crowd pleasing results. As the DCU must turn to their less iconic characters for feature attention, I would say the title hero here is somewhat equivalent to the MCU’s Ant-Man. He’s sarcastic. He’s not as serious. In fact, if the knock on this overall universe is that it’s too dark (think Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Justice League), Shazam! is practically translucent.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a foster kid jumping between temporary dwellings after being separated from his mom as a toddler. The young teen seems to find a decent home with five other children and kindly caregivers. Yet he’s still searching from mom.

In a prologue circa 1974, we meet another youngster by way of Thaddeus Sivana. He experiences a mystical meetup with Shazam in the form of Djimon Hounsou in heavy old age makeup. Trying to find a human worthy of inheriting his considerable superpowers, he deems him not properly pure of heart. Sivana grows up to be Mark Strong with a myopic focus on battling the eventual Shazam.

That turns out to be Billy. When he is called for his own encounter with Hounsou, he gets the job. This means when he utters “Shazam!”, he turns into Zachary Levi (who could have been cast as Superman). He’s still a teen embodying a comic book strongman and that takes a lot of learning. One of his foster siblings (Jack Dylan Grazer) is in on the secret.

A lot of exposition must be established here and Shazam! probably doesn’t need to be over two hours long. The mommy and daddy issues explored are quite familiar to genre fans. The film does manage to find slightly different angles. Just as Instant Family showed the true heroism of foster parents, so does this. Levi is a hoot as our crime fighting man child. Strong is fine, but he doesn’t exactly alter the general rule that the villains in many of these pics aren’t as interesting as they should be.

Shazam! works best when it’s focused on Billy/Shazam while he works with his new family and not while grappling with Savani and his monstrous CGI creatures that represent The Seven Deadly Sins. Director David F. Sandberg has crafted an origin story with a lot of heart among the usual action and it fosters enough appreciation to make this rewarding.

*** (out of four)

Dark Phoenix Box Office Prediction

Closing out the latest chapter of the X-Men Universe that began in 2011, Dark Phoenix rises or falls in theaters next weekend. The fourth official entry in the current franchise iteration is a direct sequel to 2016’s XMen: Apocalypse. This one is focused more on the Jean Grey character played by Sophie Turner, but it brings back Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, and Michael Fassbender as Magneto. The familiar cast additionally includes Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Evan Peters with Jessica Chastain joining the fray for the first time. Simon Kinberg, responsible for penning three previous X pics, makes his directorial debut.

Phoenix comes at a time where the franchise is going through a major transition. With Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox, it is believed the X-Men characters will be cast anew and melded with the vaunted Marvel Cinematic Universe at some juncture. The series is coming off Apocalypse, which didn’t impress critics and had a $155 million overall domestic gross that ranked well under predecessor Days of Future Past. The next X title (spin-off The New Mutants) is out next spring and has been delayed on numerous occasions.

Anticipation seems muted here. Phoenix has the very real possibility of having the lowest premiere ever in the franchise’s history. That distinction for a non spin-off currently belongs to the 2000 original, which started with $54 million (not adjusted for inflation). Just below that is 2013’s The Wolverine at $53 million.

The opportunity for Disney to reinvigorate the series is coming, but I’ll project this latest entry will mark an overall low in earnings.

Dark Phoenix opening weekend prediction: $45.3 million

For my The Secret Life of Pets 2 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/29/the-secret-life-of-pets-2-box-office-prediction/

Hellboy Box Office Prediction

Rebooting itself 15 years after its half demon anti-hero first appeared in theaters, Hellboy hits theaters next weekend. Based on the Dark Horse Comics that started in the early 90s, David Harbour of “Stranger Things” takes over the title role from Ron Perlman. Costars include Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, and Thomas Haden Church. Neil Marshall, best known for making horror pic The Descent, directs after Guillermo del Toro handled the first two installments.

In 2004, the original film adaptation took in $23 million in its opening frame and $59 million total domestically. It took on cult status quickly and that catapulted 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army to a $34 million start with $75 million overall.

Those numbers are nowhere in the MCU or DCEU range as of late. While certainly different in tone, Hellboy arrives during the second weekend of Shazam!, which should still be performing well and a month after Captain Marvel. The chances of this, which seems to be lacking buzz, getting lost in the shuffle is real.

I’ll predict that even though it arrives more than a decade since we’ve seen this character, Hellboy will experience the lowest premiere of the trio.

Hellboy opening weekend prediction: $17.4 million

For my Missing Link prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/05/missing-link-box-office-prediction/

For my Little prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/06/little-box-office-prediction/

For my After prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/07/after-box-office-prediction/

Ranking The MCU

**(09/18/19): Updated with all MCU movies ranked through Spider-Man: Far From Home

As of today with AntMan and the Wasp, I’ve now seen all 20 Marvel Cinematic Universe titles that began just over a decade ago with Iron Man. That seemed like a nice round number to do my initial rankings of them. I will plan to update the list as time goes on, beginning next spring with Captain Marvel.

I’ve seen some of them more than others and my opinion for certain ones have risen and fallen over time. For instance, Captain America: Civil War has grown in my appreciation of it. On a lesser scale, my disappointment for Avengers: Age of Ultron has dissipated a bit. And while I’m still in the minority for believing The Dark World is a little better than the original Thor, it’s not too good and has lost some luster in my view.

So we arrive at my listing of the 23 MCU titles thus far! Let the debating begin…

23. AntMan (2015)

22.  Iron Man 2 (2010)

21. Thor (2011)

20. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

19. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

18. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011

17. AntMan and the Wasp (2018)

16. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

15. Captain Marvel (2019)

 

14. SpiderMan: Far From Home (2019)

13. SpiderMan: Homecoming (2017)

12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

11. Doctor Strange (2016)

10. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

9. Iron Man 3 (2013)

8. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

7. Black Panther (2018)

6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

5. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

4. Iron Man (2008)

3. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

1. The Avengers (2012

Venom Box Office Prediction

Sony Pictures hopes to kick off a franchise and set an October opening record next weekend when Venom debuts. The picture’s namesake is an anti-hero spawned from the Spider-Man comics. Moviegoers first saw him in the form of Topher Grace in SpiderMan 3. That rendering of the character didn’t sit too well with comic book aficionados.

The studio hopes this version changes that. Ruben Fleischer, best known for Zombieland, serves behind the camera. Playing Venom and his alter ego Eddie Brock is Tom Hardy. Costars include Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, and Woody Harrelson.

Sequels and spin-offs are hoped for and the marketing campaign has been pervasive. The reaction to trailers has been mostly positive, but word is that reviews won’t be published until the day before release. That’s not always a good sign. Similar buzz greeted Suicide Squad (among others) and it managed to meet expectations and gross $133 million in its first weekend. That stands as the largest August debut ever.

The correlation is that Venom could do the same in October, but estimates aren’t as high here. This is expected to gross between $60-$70 million. Even if it reached the low-end of that spectrum, this would top October record holder Gravity at $55 million. I’ll note that Halloween (out October 19) also stands a solid shot at exceeding that.

My feeling is this will meet projections, but on the lower end of the spectrum. How it performs in subsequent weekends will be dependent on buzz and that may be the biggest indicator on whether Sony gets its longed for cinematic universe.

Venom opening weekend prediction: $62.5 million

For my A Star Is Born prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/09/25/a-star-is-born-box-office-prediction/

Deadpool 2 Movie Review

Two years ago, Deadpool was a breath of filthy fresh air in the superhero genre with Ryan Reynolds triumphing in bringing the title character to the big screen (as we forget XMen: Wolverine ever existed… sort of). No one was sure whether a very R rated comic book protagonist could succeed with audiences, but he did and then some. The inevitable sequel risks the chance of having a been there, done that vibe. For a while, Deadpool 2 comes dangerously close to being that. The self referential  jokes and carefree energy threatens to make part II nothing more than a featherweight viewing with a few clever gags thrown in. Luckily, Deadpool gets his groove back in time to make it something a little more. Does it match the quality of its predecessor? No, but there’s certainly moments (especially in the second half) that work very well.

We open with Wade Wilson, aka Mr. Pool, having a demented ball fighting sex traffickers and other baddies while in his blissful romance with soul mate Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Some complications interrupt his happy-go-lucky routine and he soon finds himself in a bad way. He finds teenage mutant Russell (Julian Dennison) with flames for fists that he struggles to protect from future traveling soldier Cable (Josh Brolin, summer 2018’s villain du jour). Deadpool also assembles a motley crew of a team known as X-Force (which even he knows is a derivative monicker). For those who’ve witnessed our hero in action before, we know that none of this is exactly pulled off with expert precision. It is a joy to welcome back some of his unconventional crime fighting partners, particularly Karan Soni’s taxi driving sidekick.

The first half of Deadpool 2 is equipped with some humorous cameos and quips galore. And so is the second half. The difference is that for the first hour or so, the pic seems a bit unfocused and content to coast on its meta merits. It isn’t until some of the new characters motivations are explained that the follow-up gathers that needed focus. Once that happens, the gags work better. It also helps that the action sequences seem to jump up a notch towards the end.

One item that doesn’t change is the commitment that Reynolds brings to his beloved character. He clearly loves playing the part and it shows. Brolin, like his Thanos In Avengers: Infinity War, plays an antagonist with some actually understandable motivation for the second time in a month. He’s no Thanos, but he’s a reasonably interesting dude. Part II delves more into Deadpool’s connection with the X-Men and occasionally in ways that induce well-earned laughter.

The originality factor that made Deadpool such a welcome addition to an always growing genre over can’t be replicated here. However, enough of the winking dirty charms we experienced in 2016 are present.

*** (out of four)

Deadpool 2 Box Office Prediction

The nation’s favorite R rated superhero is back in theaters next weekend when Deadpool 2 debuts. Arriving two years plus after the original became a massive hit, Ryan Reynolds returns in the title role with David Leitch (director of Atomic Blonde) taking over the behind the camera duties from Tim Miller. Costars include Monica Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Leslie Uggams, and the summer’s comic book villain of choice, Josh Brolin as Cable (coming off his acclaimed work as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War).

In February of 2016, Deadpool took in an astonishing $132 million and grossed $363 million overall domestically. That still stands as the largest R rated debut of all time and it sits only behind The Passion of the Christ for all-time earners with that rating. There is a legitimate possibility that part two manages to exceed that opening weekend haul.

I’ll project that Deadpool 2 manages to just do that with a debut approaching $140 million.

Deadpool 2 opening weekend prediction: $137.4 million

For my Book Club prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/05/09/book-club-box-office-prediction/

For my Show Dogs prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/05/10/show-dogs-box-office-prediction/

For my Pope Francis: A Man of His Word prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/05/13/pope-francis-a-man-of-his-word-box-office-prediction/