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.

Ranking the Superhero Summers

We’re past the midway point of the 2017 summer box office and one thing is clear: it’s been a rather terrific season for the superhero flick genre. In fact, there’s a very good chance the summer’s top 3 earners will belong in that classification. That’s not the first time this has happened (more on that later), but it’s still pretty remarkable.

This got me thinking – what have been the greatest and worst superhero summers of this 21st century? After all, it was the summer of 2000 that got the superhero genre alive and kicking again and it’s never let up. 17 summers ago, it was the release of X-Men that helped revive a genre that had hit a low point three summers earlier with Batman & Robin. In 2002, it would be Spider-Man that would set the opening weekend record and ensure that no summer following would be missing some comic book character headlining. **2001 is the only summer of this century in which there’s no superhero pic.

This leads to my newest list: ranking the superhero summers with explanations provided below. We’re talking 17 summers, so I’m counting down from the worst to the best in my humble opinion.

17. 2009

The Movie: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Just one flick in this particular summer. The Marvel Cinematic Universe had just kicked off the year before, so there was no follow-up ready. Instead, we got Wolverine’s first spin-off and it’s the worst of the whole bunch by a significant margin.

16. 2007

The Movies: Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

The third Spidey entry closed the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire on a very weak note and the Four sequel was none too impressive either (to be expected after a middling at best predecessor).

15. 2010

The Movie: Iron Man 2

Tony Stark’s return to the screen after 2008’s juggernaut suffered from being overstuffed with two many villains, etc… One of the lesser MCU entries.

14. 2006

The Movies: X-Men: The Last Stand, Superman Returns

Two pics that failed to meet expectations – The Last Stand suffered a big quality drop-off after the second X and Superman Returns (the first Supes flick in nearly 20 years) couldn’t live up to the hype.

13. 2015

The Movies: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Fantastic Four

Disappointing as it featured two of the weaker MCU entries and a seriously misguided Fantastic Four reboot.

12. 2013

The Movies: Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, The Wolverine

IM3 was an improvement over part 2, The Wolverine was an improvement over Origins. Man of Steel? A letdown in many respects, just like Superman Returns.

11. 2004

The Movies: Spider-Man 2, Catwoman

Would probably rank higher because Spidey 2 is arguably the best of the bunch, but loses points due to the catastrophe that is Halle Berry as Catwoman.

10. 2016

The Movies: Captain America: Civil War, Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse 

A mixed bag. Civil War is one of the finer MCU pics, Squad is that mixed bag, and Apocalypse was a major disappointment.

9. 2003

The Movies: X2: X-Men United, Hulk

X2 is perhaps the strongest X entry, but Ang Lee’s Hulk (while having its moments) was often a pretentious bore.

8. 2000

The Movie: X-Men

Only X-Men in this summer, but it deserves props for kicking off the genre in a major way once again.

7. 2002

The Movie: Spider-Man

Even more than X-Men, Sam Raimi’s first Spidey ensured a heaping of genre entries for years to come.

6. 2014

The Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Guardians was pure joy, Past was a solid X pic. Loses points for the mess of a Spidey sequel.

5. 2005

The Movies: Batman Begins, Fantastic Four

OK, so Fantastic Four was not so good. Yet this is in my top 5 because Batman Begins not only kicked off the heralded Nolan trilogy, but it’s my personal fave superhero pic of the century.

4. 2011

The Movies: Thor, Captain America: First Avenger, X-Men: First Class

Though not of these flicks are great, they’re all solid in my view. Thor and Captain helped usher in the MCU era as we know it and First Class rebooted its franchise in a pleasing way.

3. 2012

The Movies: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man

Avengers is the granddaddy of MCU, Rises ended up the trilogy in a mostly satisfactory manner while Spidey was a slight letdown (though miles better than its sequel). As referenced earlier, these 3 pictures would mark the highest 3 earners of that season.

2. 2017

The Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming

Three highly entertaining and well-done entries that marked the first super-heroine success.

1. 2008

The Movies: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy II: The Golden Army

The Dark Knight is considered by many to be the genre’s artistic peak and Iron Man was a fine start to a franchise that just keeps charging along. Incredible was a more satisfying (though still flawed) Hulk pic than five years earlier and Guillermo del Toro brought his visual splendor and humor once again to the Hellboy series. A rather easy pick for #1.

Or is it? What are your thoughts on the superhero summers?

X-Men: Apocalypse Movie Review

XMen: Apocalypse isn’t the only disappointing entry in the franchise, but it’s the only one directed by Bryan Singer that I’d classify as such. He directed the first two X entries in 2000 and 2002 and got the series off to a satisfying start. Singer would return in 2014 with Days of Future Past to mostly pleasing results. Apocalypse may have you feeling blue about where this series is at. The villain is shrug worthy, some of the actors seem to not be giving it their all, and some of the CG effects are questionable at best. It also makes the error of providing dull backstory material for characters we didn’t really need to know backstory for.

When Singer left the franchise for the first time in 2002, Brett Ratner took over with The Last Stand in 2006 and was crucified for his efforts. In fact, when Singer returned in 2014, much of Future Past erased Last Stand. Maybe Apocalypse is a bit of revenge for Ratner, because it’s worse than his X-perience. Quite a bit worse actually. Stand doesn’t quite deserve its bad reputation and Apocalypse does.

The whole proceedings get off to a shaky start with a prologue set in Egypt where the first believed mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac, in heavy and ugly makeup) is entombed by his enemies. Flash to centuries later and it’s 1983. When Apocalypse breaks out of his long slumber, he is hell bent on exacting revenge on the human race and showing off his many mutant abilities. He doesn’t comment on the awful 80s fashion, but it probably doesn’t make him any more fond of the people he seeks to destroy.

Fighting Apocalypse are many familiar X-Men, including Professor X (James McAvoy, still with hair for awhile) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Meanwhile, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is laying low in Poland working in factory with lots of metal (oh the temptations!). He has a wife and daughter and a tragic family scene between them is actually rather well handled. While this trio of movie stars playing the most liked X characters get their screen time, Simon Kinberg’s screenplay also spends an unnecessary amount of ink on backstories for Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Storm (younger versions of them all). These are unsought subplots that feel like filler and not much else. We also get a young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) storyline that should be more interesting than it is.

All in all, there’s simply nothing very exciting about Apocalypse. Lawrence seems downright bored and her performance reflects that. Oscar Isaac is a tremendously talented performer who’s utterly wasted in a one-note villain role. The 60s vibe worked in X-Men: First Class and the 70s era feel of Future Past was pretty cool. Here, the 80s references add little.

There’s a sequence early on when Jean and friends leave Return of the Jedi disappointed and says everyone knows that the third one in a series is always the worst. Was screenwriter Simon Kinberg trying to warn us? Apocalypse isn’t terrible, but it’s the low point of this series so far.

** (out of four)

Top 25 Highest Grossing Actresses of All Time (25-21)

Hey all – a couple of years back, I wrote a series counting down the top 25 highest grossing actors at the domestic box office of all time. At that time in August 2014, there were four women among the 25. Now there’s just two.

This led me to think – who are the top 25 actresses in box office history? Well, wonder no more, friends! This five-part series will count down the women who have made the greatest impact financially at the multiplex. As with my previous list, I’ll list their career earnings, franchises they’ve been part of (which helps one to make this list, as you’ll see), their highest and lowest grossing pictures, and the number of $100M plus entries they have appeared in. I’ll also tell you where they rank on the overall list of biggest grossing performers when you factor the fellas in.

Before we dive into the actual list, here’s some women I figured might have been here, but didn’t make the cut. Despite that whole Titanic being one of the hugest blockbusters ever and multiple Oscar nominations thing, no Kate Winslet. No Drew Barrymore or Nicole Kidman or Charlize Theron. Same goes for Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Melissa McCarthy. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise wasn’t enough to vault Keira Knightley on here.

Enough of who didn’t make the list. Who did? Let’s get to it with numbers 25-21, shall we?

25. Kristen Stewart

Career Earnings: $1.8 billion

Franchises: Twilight

Highest Grossing Picture: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010) – $300 million

Number of $100M+ Earners: 6 (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, Twilight, Snow White and the Huntsman)

Lowest Grosser: Camp X-Ray (2014) – $13,000

Overall Rank: 116

24. Gwyneth Paltrow

Career Earnings: $1.8 billion

Franchises: The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Highest Grossing Picture: The Avengers (2012) – $623 million

Numbers of $100M+ Earners: 6 (Iron Man 3, The Avengers, Iron Man 2, Iron Man, Shakespeare in Love, Seven)

Lowest Grosser: The Good Night (2007) – $22,000

Overall Rank: 111

23. Halle Berry

Career Earnings: $1.8 billion

Franchises: X-Men

Highest Grossing Picture: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) – $234 million

Numbers of $100M+ Earners: 7 (X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men: Days of Future Past, X2: X-Men United, Die Another Day, X-Men, The Flintstones, Robots)

Lowest Grosser: Frankie & Alice (2011) – $706,000

Overall Rank: 106

22. Queen Latifah

Career Earnings: $1.8 billion

Franchises: Ice Age

Highest Grossing Picture: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) – $196 million

Numbers of $100M+ Earners: 7 (Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Chicago, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Bringing Down the House, Hairspray, Valentine’s Day)

Lowest Grosser: The Perfect Holiday (2007) – $5.8 million

Overall Rank: 104

21. Julianne Moore

Career Earnings: $1.9 billion

Franchises: The Hunger Games

Highest Grossing Picture: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014) – $337 million

Numbers of $100M+ Earners: 5 (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Hannibal, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, The Fugitive)

Lowest Grosser: World Traveler (2002) – $103,000

Overall Rank: 97

And that’ll do it for today! I’ll be bringing you numbers 20-16 tomorrow…