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.

June 7-9 Box Office Predictions

If there’s a theme to this first full June weekend at the box office, it might be sequels not matching up to what’s come before. The Secret Life of Pets 2 and Dark Phoenix are the two newbies hitting screens and you can peruse my detailed predictions for each of them here:

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

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/30/dark-phoenix-box-office-prediction/

The original Pets got off to an animated start three summers ago with $104 million. Part 2 is not expected to match it and I’m going with a mid 60s beginning. It should still face no issues topping the charts as the prospects for Dark Phoenix look dim.

It’s the final entry in the current iteration of the X-Men Universe and buzz appears lackluster (especially after the ho-hum reaction to 2016’s XMen: Apocalypse). My mid 40s take gives it the worst premiere of any X title thus far.

As for holdovers, Godzilla: King of the Monsters was a big disappointment and I anticipate a sophomore decline in the mid 50s range. That could drop it to fourth place with Aladdin in third and Rocketman rounding out the top five.

Here’s how I have the top 5 panning out:

1. The Secret Life of Pets 2

Predicted Gross: $65.2 million

2. Dark Phoenix

Predicted Gross: $45.3 million

3. Aladdin

Predicted Gross: $26.5 million

4. Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Predicted Gross: $16.9 million

5. Rocketman

Predicted Gross: $14.9 million

Box Office Results (May 31June 2)

As mentioned, Godzilla: King of the Monsters landed with a thud with $47.7 million – well below my $58.7 million projection. The reported $200 million dollar production made just over half of what 2014’s Godzilla ($91 million) took in for its start. Additionally it couldn’t reach the heights of 2017’s Kong: Skull Island and its $61 million rollout. The two creatures will face each other next spring in Godzilla vs. Kong.

Aladdin was second with $42.8 million in weekend #2 and held up a bit better than my $40.3 million estimate. The Disney live-action hit has amassed $185 million total.

The Elton John biopic Rocketman had a decent start in third with $25.7 million. I thought it would fly higher at $36.1 million. It’s still a fine opening for an R rated counter programming offering in blockbuster season, though it is just half of what Bohemian Rhapsody accomplished a few short months ago.

Blumhouse horror pic Ma with Octavia Spencer was fourth and landed in line with expectations at $18 million (I said $17.2 million). Considering its tiny $5 million price tag, it’s yet another profitable success for the studio.

John Wick: Chapter 3Parabellum was fifth with $11 million (I went with $12.7 million) as it brought its earnings to $125 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

 

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/

Tolkien Box Office Prediction

His fantastical literary works have made billions at the box office and now J.R.R. Tolkien gets the biopic treatment next weekend. Set during World War I, Tolkien casts Nicholas Hoult in the title role of the famed author behind Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Finnish director Dome Karukoski is behind the camera and costars include Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, and Derek Jacobi.

This is a rare headlining role for Hoult, sandwiched between supporting parts in The Favourite and XMen: Dark Phoenix. Critics have been decidedly mixed and its Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 54%.

The film has the distinction of being the first Fox Searchlight project distributed by new owner Disney. With zero awards buzz and a smallish theater count of approximately 1300, Tolkien will likely struggle to even see $5 million. Just because its subject matter’s novels are box office gold doesn’t mean this will be.

Tolkien opening weekend prediction: $3.1 million

For my Pokemon Detective Pikachu prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/30/pokemon-detective-pikachu-box-office-prediction/

For my The Hustle prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/30/the-hustle-box-office-prediction/

For my Poms prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/02/poms-box-office-prediction/