There are no two ways about it – in 2019 X-Men: Dark Phoenix had a bad time at the box office. Many websites reported on this and yep, it was true, the movie did not get bums on seats.
During its theatrical run, Dark Phoenix made $252,442,974 at the worldwide box office. This might not sound too bad, but it’s really not great for an X-Men movie – one of the most lucrative comic book franchises in cinema.
Personally, I liked Dark Phoenix and think it deserved to do better than it did, but I understand why it struggled. And in my opinion, not one of the reasons why it flopped had anything to do with the quality of the movie.
OK, let’s deal with the first major problem that Dark Phoenix faced. Apathy.
I’m not talking about super hero fatigue – although there is always an argument for that – what I’m talking about is a general apathy towards this particular movie.
Why were people so apathetic?
When Dark Phoenix went into production, the film was planned to be yet another entry in Fox’s sprawling X-Men movie series. A movie series that was set to expand further with The New Mutants, Gambit, Deadpool 3 and various other productions that were either rumoured or in production.
However, shortly after Dark Phoenix went into production news broke that Disney was planning on buying Fox. This news changed EVERYTHING.
While on the surface Fox maintained its commitment to everything X (at least when talking to the press), film fans and Marvelites knew that the X-Men movie series’ days were numbered. If Disney was to buy Fox, it was pretty much guaranteed the Mouse House would cancel the existing X-movies and reboot the franchise.
From this moment forward, while the Disney/Fox deal was on the table the interest in Fox’s X-Men series began to decrease and as the situation progressed, it only got worse. If a reboot was on the horizon, why would anyone be interested in a soon to be redundant series?
For the X-Men series to survive it needed the deal to fall through. But the deal did not fall through.
It was in that moment that the X-series died.
For years, Marvel fans (aka the core fanbase of these films) had waited patiently for Marvel Studios to regain the rights to the X-Men, so as soon as the Disney/Fox deal became official fans got their wish. In an instant they stopped caring about the existing X-Men films because they knew something else was in the pipeline.
Been there, done that
Apathy had set in and there was not really any way to change it, but it wasn’t the only issue for Dark Phoenix, there was also the pesky problem of revisiting old material. If fans already viewed the soon-to-be snuffed out X-series as redundant, then they were unlikely to get excited about a movie which effectively remade X-Men: The Last Stand.
It’s no secret that Dark Phoenix director Simon Kinberg had wanted to correct mistakes that were made in the The Last Stand – a movie he co-wrote – but by revisiting similar material it simply created disinterest in the fan base.
Many fans didn’t like The Last Stand and they had little desire to watch the highlights of that film repackaged with a new cast. And fans made this very clear, long before the film arrived in cinemas.
Those who have watched Dark Phoenix will know that this film is not a typical summer blockbuster. Dark Phoenix is a stripped-back super hero tale, which places a greater focus on a small collection of heroes, rather than countless mutants (basically the opposite of Fox’s standard approach to X-Men movies).
So if Dark Phoenix isn’t a summer blockbuster, then what the heck was it doing opening in June 2019?! In June audiences expect huge spectacle, loud noises and pulse-pounding popcorn-infused action – not pretty miserable movies.
The truth is, Dark Phoenix was never supposed to open in June. The movie was originally scheduled to make its debut in November 2018 – a date that would have been more suited to this sombre tale.
When it became clear that reshoots and effects work still needed to take place, the film was shifted to a new release date – February 2019. Once again, this would have worked better for the tone of the film, but unfortunately, mere days after the first trailer for the movie dropped, Dark Phoenix was shifted once again, to June.
At the time of it’s reshuffling, the official reason for its move was to give it better exposure, particularly to the rather lucrative Chinese market. However, in a piece by The Hollywood Reporter it was suggested that Dark Phoenix was forced to move its opening, so not to clash with Alita: Battle Angel.
Director James Cameron wanted Alita to open after Christmas 2018, to avoid opening against Aquaman and Bumblebee, and asked Fox for the February date. Fox obliged and bumped Dark Phoenix in the process.
Moving Dark Phoenix was a mistake. A June opening was not right for this movie, plus the constant rescheduling pissed off fans (including me).
When I posted news about the rescheduling back in September 2018, I said:
“Apologies for the negativity in this post, but the constant release date changes with the X-Men movies is getting really frustrating – especially as we know these are the last X-Men films from Fox. The fact that the trailer was only released two days ago and clearly stated it was arriving on February 14th 2019 is also really annoying.”
Moving the film once, was bad. Moving it twice was toxic.
If fans were already losing interest in the series due to the Disney/Fox situation, dragging out its release did not help. Speaking of which…
The New Mutants
Dark Phoenix wasn’t the only X-Men movie with scheduling problems; ladies and gentlemen, I also bring your attention to The New Mutants.
For those who have completely missed this one, The New Mutants is an X-Men spin-off movie shot in 2017. The film should have appeared in cinemas in April 2018.
The trailer was released, posters appeared in multiplexes, and many websites devoted countless words to the movie, but it got rescheduled. And then rescheduled again. And so on.
In April 2020, The New Mutants was finally set to make it into cinemas… but then COVID-19 got in the way and it never happened. The impact of the pandemic was something that the scheduling team could not have envisioned, but all of the rescheduling that came before was something that could have been avoided.
The no-show of the movie created some negative press in the run-up to Dark Phoenix’s release with many suggesting Fox/Disney had a huge bomb on their hands. Any goodwill towards the films went straight out of the window.
The Endgame effect
Godzilla: King of the Monsters struggled in the wake of Avengers: Endgame; Detective Pikachu did well, but should have done better; and Dark Phoenix had a very bad time of it. For a good couple of months audiences where still going to see Endgame, rather than the other films on show, and this reduced the box office of several films.
There’s also the other Endgame effect, which is perhaps a bit more specific to Dark Phoenix. Or rather, to the way in which Dark Phoenix was marketed.
When the marketing machine began for Endgame, the film was promoted as the culmination of 11 years of cinema. It’s arrival was seen as the end of an era – must see cinema if you will.
When the marketing began for Dark Phoenix, the film was promoted as the next chapter in the saga, rather than a finale. It was only in the final run-up to the film that it was touted as the end of the X-Men movies.
Dark Phoenix should have been pushed as the finale to 19 years of X-Men movies. Unfortunately, the last minute scramble to convey this message got lost in the mix, leaving general audiences in the dark about the significance of this entry.
It also didn’t help that early on the movie was being pushed as Dark Phoenix, rather than X-Men: Dark Phoenix. So the film went from distancing itself from the X-Men brand – presumably as a response to the negative reception of X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – to then attempting to remind audiences this was an X-Men movie.
TALK ABOUT CONFUSING!
To be fair, the marketing for the movie was a casualty of the Disney/Fox merger. Dark Phoenix couldn’t be marketed as THE END until the Disney deal was signed, yet leaving its fate until the 11th hour was a bad move.
Is this the end?
While Dark Phoenix did underperform at the box office, it certainly didn’t kill the franchise. Marvel Studios WILL reboot the movie series and incorporate it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so the poor box office performance will be smoothed over in time.
There WILL be many more X-Men movies (just be patient). The truth is, by the time Dark Phoenix hit cinema screens it was already decided that the X-Men were going to be rebooted, so regardless of the film’s financial performance, a new path was already being forged.
Dark Phoenix‘s struggles were frustrating, it’s true, especially for those involved with the movie’s production; yet ultimately they haven’t created a lasting impact. The film was merely a wobble in the series – nothing more.
As far as Disney is concerned, the release of Dark Phoenix was simply a formality. The film needed to be released so that work could begin on the future of the X-series and the studio was certainly not worried about a flop.
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