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.

A New Cinematic Universe

The world is different this week. We are all beginning to feel it and know it. The Coronavirus has impacted the economy, our day to day activity, and our way of life. That will continue for the foreseeable future. I have already written once before about COVID-19 and its impact on what this blog focuses on… the movies.

I know it may seem trivial. And, in many ways, it is. Yet this is a movie blog. It’s a blog mostly devoted to box office predictions and that’s certainly what gets the most views on here.

So some thoughts:

The box office, like numerous other sectors of our economic fabric, is going to suffer. When I last wrote about Coronavirus just days ago, the latest James Bond picture No Time to Die had been pushed from April to November. There were other release date changes, but that was the headline.

What we’ve seen in the past 24 hours has been an escalation and an extreme one. A Quiet Place Part II, Mulan, The New Mutants, and F9 have all moved to either indefinite status or to 2021. Other less tentpole titles have followed suit. Expect that to continue over the coming days.

Simply put – the American moviegoing experience is grinding to a halt. There are legitimate questions as to whether theaters will even stay open and with the announcements of the past week, it certainly would not be a massive shock at this juncture.

This blog may change until further notice. And we’re going through a period of time where we will need to get used to change. Again… maybe it sounds trivial and there are larger considerations to work through in our day to day operations…

Nevertheless, on this MOVIE blog… I’ll say this…

Let’s be kind to one another during this time. There will be stories of inspiration in the coming days through this darkness. We will see the humanity of our populace.

We are inspired by movies. Many of us may have some more time in the coming days and weeks to scour the vaults of streaming services and television. If your kids are home from school, maybe it’s time to inspire them with the Star Wars franchise or animated classics or The Goonies if they’ve never seen them. I know they inspired me.

If you’re a die-hard movie buff like I am, maybe it’s time to rewatch the pictures that inspired you. We could all use that lift right now.

Tom Hanks once said, “My job has always been to hold a mirror up to nature”. We’ve certainly seen him do that in many terrific performances. We wish him well. These are new challenges we face and we will prevail. Let’s be proud of the nature of our reflection in the mirror as we get through this.

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/