How Fox is building an X-Men movie universe

Feature Seb Patrick 12 Feb 2014 - 06:26

We take a look at the X-Men movie universe that Fox has built, what it has planned, and whether a Fantastic Four crossover is likely...

Spoiler note: we don't know what's happening in upcoming X-Men films, but we do talk about things that happen in the comics in this article.

We've already looked at Sony's fast-moving attempts to make a movie universe out of their Amazing Spider-Man franchise. But Spidey isn't the only 'Marvel Comics property owned by a studio that isn't Marvel Studios trying to set up a wide-ranging movie universe' game in town – there just so happens to be another one, in the hands of 20th Century Fox.

What's more, it's one that spins out of the longest-running superhero movie franchise there's ever been. It's almost surprising to think of it in such terms, but the X-Men films hold this title by quite a considerable margin. Even the Christopher Reeve Superman films, with their long and drawn-out 1980s death-rattle, still only clocked up nine years between their first and last instalments. Marvel's merry mutants were first brought to the big screen by Bryan Singer nearly 14 years ago, and show no signs of slowing their march.

Not that it was always this way. Back in 2006, the series seemed to have come to a natural endpoint with the lukewarm reception doled out to X-Men: The Last Stand – particularly given that so many of its characters had been killed off by the end (The Last Stand remains the most lucrative X-Men film to date at the box office). Three years later, the awkwardly-titled X-Men Origins: Wolverine was an attempt to kickstart the franchise with a set of character-centric spinoffs (a similar film based around Magneto entered development but was ultimately abandoned), but once again, a lacklustre film (despite a reasonable $300m-plus worldwide gross) left the series looking somewhat tired and played out.

It was a change in approach, with the magnificent X-Men: First Class in 2011, that would rescue the franchise – not only reigniting public interest in the characters, but also offering an entirely new set of storylines to be explored. With last year's The Wolverine proving to be the solo film its predecessor should have been, meanwhile, the series is in a particularly healthy state as we prepare for the release of Days Of Future Past later this year.

Marking the return of Singer to the franchise that he began back in 2000, Days Of Future Past is not only the latest chapter in the saga of the First Class gang, but also brings the 'original' gang of movie X-Men – at least, those who actually survived the end of The Last Stand – back into the fold as well. It's a canny move that re-emphasises that both strands are part of the same unified story (despite requiring the odd continuity fudge to really make them work) and even offers the possibility of merging mutants from both timelines into one group – although just how possible that turns out to be will of course depend on exactly what happens in Days Of Future Past.

In fact, for a film that's due out in just over three months, we know surprisingly little about the plot of Days Of Future Past – especially compared with how much we've seen in trailers for the likes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It's not an unreasonable assumption, however, that the 'present' timeline involving the original Stewart/McKellen gang will be the Sentinel-dominated, mutant-oppressing landscape that the characters of the 'past' (led by McAvoy/Fassbender) are trying to avoid.

It could therefore then follow that by the end of Days Of Future Past, the entirety (or at least a significant part) of the original X-Men movie timeline has been wiped out – and possibly replaced with something even worse, considering that the next film in the series has already been announced as the ominously-titled X-Men: Apocalypse. While Singer has stated that that film will "address historical mutant-cy, meaning the deep past, mutant origins and things like that" – something that makes sense given that Apocalypse, the villain from the Age Of Apocalypse comics storyline we can assume the film will be based on, is the first ever mutant in Marvel's historical timeline – he has also hinted that "something that happens in [Days] causes what's going to happen in [Apocalypse]".

In Age Of Apocalypse, an alternate timeline is created in which Xavier is killed as a young man, and Magneto is the leader of the X-Men (a plot possibility that will no doubt please the Fassbender fans out there). If the movie follows suit, then perhaps this alternate timeline is established as a result of history being changed at the end of Days Of Future Past – creating another horrific dystopia that itself needs to be erased. And if Fox really does intend to continue with the X-Men series as a long-term concern, then perhaps the ultimate aim of all this timeline-switching will be to create a new, streamlined ongoing continuity that can cherry-pick from assorted characters and actors without having to worry about where they fit alongside previous movie storylines. It's enough to make your head spin as much as in any 1980s Chris Claremont X-Men comic.

But a single series of films, let's face it, is not the same thing as a 'movie universe' – even if we include any more Wolverine spinoffs that Hugh Jackman may or may not feel like making. So if Fox is really going to compete with the multi-character, multi-narrative likes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Sony's 'Spideyverse' (has that caught on yet? No? There's still time…), it needs to throw a few more linked but essentially standalone films into the mix.

The most obvious candidate for a spinoff film is, of course, Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool – indeed, the introduction of the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a deliberate attempt at setting up another solo star. Unfortunately, making Marvel's popular 'merc with a mouth' a mute assassin didn't really strike a chord with viewers, which might explain why it's taken so long to get it off the ground. Fox is still pressing on with attempts to make the character work – and although producer Lauren Shuler Donner has stated that the Origins version will be ignored, and the character instead rebooted (so that he can, you know, talk and stuff), Reynolds is still attached. The last we heard the movie was being positioned as a lower budget project, seeking an R rating.

A more intriguing potential entry to the X-Men movieverse comes in the shape of the X-Force film that's presently in early development. Kick-Ass 2's Jeff Wadlow has been tapped to write the (at present director-less) film, which will focus on the X-Men's special ops team – essentially, a more militaristic and morally ambiguous (yet still firmly Xavier-associated) gang of mutants who don't mind getting their hands dirty. Almost certainly a more gritty and violent prospect than the other X-films, it could be an intriguing new direction for a major superhero film franchise to go in – although the box-office performance of Watchmen might turn studios off the idea of another expensive R-rated superhero flick.

It’s also been suggested on more than one occasion that Fox could ultimately look to build a wider superhero movie universe with not just the X-Men, but the Fantastic Four as well. Back in 2012, comics writer Mark Millar was brought in by the studio as a creative consultant, and as his role was said to cover both the X-Men and Fantastic Four series, the assumption that they might be connected somehow was hardly much of a leap. Millar himself made somewhat contradictory statements at the time – stating that the characters wouldn’t cross over, at least not straight away, but reiterating that they would be part of a shared universe – but has been rather quieter on the matter since, especially after Bryan Singer declared that he had little to no creative involvement in Days Of Future Past.

Indeed, it’s not entirely clear whether Millar is still on Fox’s payroll at all, although the studio has recently optioned his creator-owned series Starlight. But another writer might hold the key to the links between the two – Simon Kinberg, scriptwriter on Days Of Future Past, has also done work on the upcoming Josh Trank-directed Fantastic Four, and coincidentally (or not) is also currently the tapped writer for Starlight. Not that we’re suggesting the latter would in any way cross over with the previous two (it’s not a Marvel property, for one thing), but the continued link with Millar, and Fox’s apparent faith in Kinberg, is of interest if they are looking to build a crossover.

As to Fantastic Four itself, we have even fewer clues about its story content than we do about future X-Men films – and around here we have to tread carefully concerning what we say about even the most vaguely purported of details – but it’s fair to say that if they do combine into one shared movie universe, Fantastic Four and the X-Men would make interesting if unlikely bedfellows, with little shared comics history or indeed much in common thematically. In character terms there’s one direct link between the two – Reed and Susan Richards’ son Franklin is a hugely powerful mutant – but that would seem to be a difficult one to set up convincingly so early in a new franchise.

What seems more likely is that we might see hints of the existence of mutants somewhere in the background of Fantastic Four when it does eventualy roll around – but a surprise end-credits cameo in the manner of Samuel L. Jackson’s original Iron Man appearance is probably a step too far. Should the Fantastic Four films become a success at the second time of asking, however, then perhaps we might see two successful franchises merge into one. Whether this grows out of natural storytelling progression or is just done for the sake of it, however, will probably be the key to whether or not it works…

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Disqus - noscript

Great article! I do remain unconvinced by the prspect of a Fantastic Four crossover, but then the team never really appealed to me - the first two films did little to convince me otherwise. It would be great to see an 18 rated Deadpool movie however, but then would it potentially make enough money to the execs to greenlight it?

I hope one day they can all come together - they're all in the same universe in the comic books, it's such a shame how the Marvel universe in films has fractured 3 ways. Spiderman is in many ways the bridge between the major super-groups - X-Men, Fantastic Four and The Avengers. But I know... not going to happen any time in the foreseeable future...

I didn't think I'd be that bothered with more X-men films, but Fox do seem to be making more of an effort these days, and DOFP has piqued my interest. (although I still have no interest in an FF film unless its part of the Marvel Universe)

Point of order though, "Magento:Origins" was never abandoned. It just became X-men: First Class

Why does Den of Geek keep going all gooey over The Wolverine? It was awful!!!

Surely the Magneto origins film just evolved into what became X-Men: First Class? The title of X-Men Origins: Wolverine just highlights how little forward thinking Fox have had when making each next X-Men film.

As for knowing surprisingly little about the plot of the film given that it's released soon... is that a bad thing? I quite like not knowing the entire plot and not seeing all big scenes in trailers before I see it on the big screen.

For me FOX have dropped the ball far to many times with the X-Men franchise... so far out all the X-Men related films the only one I have liked is First Class and the first 10 minutes of X2. I'm not even excited for Days of Future Past or even the fact it sets up Apocalypse.

I hope that the rights to Deadpool are given back to Marvel soon, I know he is was part of Wolverine: Origins but is he actually classified as a mutant and/or X-Man? I thought his powers were artificially created.

I think Bryan Singer has finally been able to convince Fox just how BIG The X-Men franchise is and can be. It's still the biggest selling comic book in the world, and the movies (1,2 & First Class have all been excellent, Ratners X3 and the two Wolverine solo's not so good) have made a lot of money for the studio. Now, looking at Days of Future Past, it looks like Fox finally realise that this franchise can rival ANYTHING Disney / Marvel & Wheedon can offer with the cartoonish Avengers. Don't get me wrong, Avengers is a fun movie, but it is not a great one. Bryan Singer goes for EPIC looking with HUGE scope, scale and HUGE ambition. This is why I think Days of Future Past has the potential to become the best Superhero movie we've ever seen. And if this is the $Billion dollar success it aims to be, then Fantastic Four is a no-brainer, and linking the two franchise would be irresistable for fans for for the studio accountants.

Certainly not a bad thing, no - but increasingly unusual, especially in this genre. I feel like we've already seen basically all of Captain America 2, for one thing.

The first two X-Men movies were so good, I can't help hoping the franchise will regain its footing. I liked both Wolverine films, they weren't as good as I and II, but at least better than III. But I am annoyed that so much focus remains on Wolverine. I would love to see a movie that centers around Gambit, Storm, or Mystique. I would say an Emma Frost movie might be a good way to go, but January Jones was such god awful casting that I have zero desire to see an Emma Frost stand alone.

In a perfect world, an X-men TV series would be amazing. I miss the cartoon series! haha

Please stop using the Wolverine character. I'm sick to the back teeth of him. He's at best a good supporting character.

Just taking the point about Watchmen being an expensive R-rated comic book movie - for me as a casual comic book fan, it was the lack of backstory that made the film underwhelming for me, not the graphic nature of it.

Had there been years of adventures that we'd known about, rather than just 'these are retired superheroes, trust us on that', it would've felt much more organic. Producing an R-rated movie in the X-Men canon clearly wouldn't have that problem.

Just realised that with FF and X-Men they have everything they need to do their own, Avengers and Spidey-less, Onslaught in a few years time...
Interesting...

Fox likes money. If the new X-men and FF films are successful there will be a crossover (no studio with comic book rights is going to look at the Avengers box office and not try and emulate it). I think the only possible stumbling block is if these new films are disappointments financially. DOFP still has the possibility of being a dud; there are a LOT of characters floating about to do justice in one film and Bryan Singer has had some expensive recent failures (Superman Returns critically/Jack the Giant Slayer was a box-office bomb). FF is an unknown quantity being so early in development but they'll be hoping it does better than the last two (which did OK without setting the box-office alight).

I'm not reading this. Im too excited for it.

Deadpool sucks as much as retro gaming :P *trollolololol*

Sorry Moobeh! I couldn't resist ;) Never knew you read this site too!

Make Cyclops the leader.

Not looking forward to this. Cast is too large, and Quick Silver looks like a young version of Andy Warhol. Unless word of mouth is exceptional on this (after release), I have no plans to see.

X-Men I & 2 were OK, enjoyed First Class, all the rest are just awful.

Bryan Singer obviously hates Cyclops and loves Wolverine.

amen to that. or is it xmen...

that guitar riff alone makes the old cartoon series awesome.

First Class was a great movie. The thing is, it messed up the timeline. There was so much emphasis on the Xavier/Mystique relationship, only to be completely ignored in the original three movies. Same with the supporting mutants. No one even mentions Banshee, Alex, Azazel, Darwin, etc. after First Class. If they can fix this somehow (and it better not be "Someone wiped their memories"), I for one would be very happy.

Just saying ... an easy cross over between the X-Men and Fantastic Four is available to be explored.
Assuming the new FF film is an origin one keeping it close to the comics the four go into space and get zapped by cosmic rays as also used in the first run. This obviously causes mutations to the genetic structure. We know Xavier wrote papers on mutation at uni it was shown in 1st class. Reed Richards could take his team to speak to the proffesor of mutation about their own mutations how it was caused by cosmic rays and not inherited as is suggested in various xmen films. Maybe dormant genes activated by the radiation it could make a difference to the research for "cures" maybe evil magneto could use the information to turn more humans into mutants. There is lots more options available here to be discussed and all could be affected by altering timelines to prevent apocolyptic events (erase continuity errors)
On a side note i'm a big fan of all marvel comic films, some are better than others. It is a real shame the multi picture universe idea didn't come round earlier so as the continuty errors around Wolverine, Xavier, Mystique, Beast and Magneto were not so crippeling to the story. Although i liked Origins:Wolverine it probably screwed up the timeline more than the others.

Another article saying 'The Wolverine' was better than 'Origins: Wolverine'. I have watched both, back to back, and I have to say that Origins was MUCH better. The Wolverine had a great opening 30 mins then became generic martial arts nonsense with characters I did not care about. It was fun, but Origins: Wolverine was a far better ride and much more in keeping with super hero movies in general.

Yes, I heartily agree. This was my only complaint, it did not make sense from a continuity point of view. I doubt they will bother fixing it, or even if they possibly can fix it at all.

He is a good character but has been utterly over-done and I agree it is getting weary seeing so much of him. Other more interesting X-Men are shockingly under used by comparison.

Totally agree about DOG worshiping 'The Wolverine', it was seriously flawed and nowhere near as good as the related movies,.

I guess I'm still the only person who actually liked X-Men: The Last Stand. Flaws aside, I felt there was a decent movie beneath it all and Famke Janssen gave a sterling performance in particular.

Hugh Jackman was the breakout star of the first movie so yeah. James Mardsen obviously didnt know jack abt his character and didnt try to leverage for better treatment of Cyclops. Cyclops gets to kick logan's ass in the comics nowadays, jeez.

that was the whole problem with Watchmen. Even Alan Moore said it was intended to be consumed as a comic book where you could go back and forth across the pages and pick up some of the subtle stuff. Watchmen doesnt really resonate if you havent been around comic books for a while.

Thank God ! Finally someone who agrees with me. I'm with you on every point ! X-Men Origins: Magneto just evolved into X-Men: First Class, that's pretty obvious, it wasn't abandoned. And The Wolverine was probably the weakest X-Men movie ! The first solo Wolverine movie was way better. And not knowing too much about the plot of Days of Future Past should be the standard for ALL blockbusters !!

Hugh Jackman puts women's asses in the seats. Same thing as with WWarZ and the Brad Pitt thing. So the studio would like the character front and center since the actor's got a lot of pull.

they already tried making an xmen tv series. It was Avi Arad's stupid idea called Mutant X!

Whedon's overrated imho. The first Avengers movie was good thing and a bad thing for Marvel. Good bec it made money , bad bec they wont be itchin to change the current Marvel movie formula anytime soon. The tonally safe situations with snappy oneliners and the annoying attempts at comedy that seeped into the other Marvel movies. All the Marvel movies post Avengers have got the same look.

this is what happens when producers obviously arent familiar with a property. 5-7 or so movies down the line they still cant get mutants right. They frickin took away Deadpool's MOUTH for chrissakes!

that's what scares me. Capt A 2 might be another DarkWorld.

I really don't think it's going to topple the success of The Avengers, this is because the hero's that make up The Avengers have throughout history had the most coverage and dedication (before I got bitten by the bug I'd hear about them), they've been taken into America's hearts and they carry well-written stories and clever genuinely funny humour (film wise) that the Xmen Universe and the Spider Man Universe can only dream of (still - rather surprisingly!). However it would not surprise me if it became the 3rd most successful superhero movie of all time (this is of course if Nolan's Dark Knight 3 is 2nd).
I really liked The Wolverine - cut back, focusing on characters (f.i their emotions and histories), a good story and the fact we got to see Wolverine vulnerable - more than satisfactory! Origins Wolverine was basically like this: Here's a mutant you've always wanted to see on screen (portrayed well), here's a mutant you've always wanted to see on screen (again well portrayed), here's another, and another, and another (What's Will I Am doing there, he is out of place! What casting director asked "Will It Work!"), what have you done to Deadpool (!), story schmory...have another mutant you've always wanted to see on screen! In short...(Gru voice) Not cool.

I'll just jump in and say that, as good a film it was, X Men 1st class didn't pay off the trailers, for me--instead of being able to experience the 1960s, and a world in great legitimate crisis, with cleverly interwoven plot that brought us back to another time, different values, different dress and technology (i.e. Kennedy's use of the TV during those few weeks to manage the US public, as well as televised UN hearings [I'd loved to have heard, at least as a throwaway line on the radio, Stevenson's line to the Soviet ambassador 'You're in the court of public opinion!']….in any case, what we got was more a period film trapped inside a superhero movie, rather than a combination of a period piece (and arguably the most dramatic event in human history) with a superhero film where the guys were a little green but the reluctant suits were forced to use them…

Also disappointed by the lack of thematic development in '1st Class.' There's just nothing there beyond the same old human fear vs mutant superiority complex represented by magneto….after fighting an entire film against a man representing that philosophy, I was shocked not to see more complexity in the way they developed Magneto's character--he needn't have emerged as unambiguous bad guy at the finish of that particular film, for example. Instead, the dialogue was crystal clear that this film had no intention of going further than retreading the themes so abundantly explored in X1 and 2, which disappointed me. I wanted more ideas and character development from the past--that's what I came to see.

A good film, nonetheless, maybe the best of all the 'X' movies (competes with X2 in my view), but…just so much less new than I was expecting. Still good actors and great directorial talent in Vaughn.

I disagree -- Cap 2 looks nothing like Avengers, and I'd be surprised if Avengers 2 was like the first (I assume the arrival Ultron of will make things darker and different). For me, Marvel's doing everything right. Meanwhile, DC performed a masterstroke with Man of Steel, and Snyder seems to be weaving a golden web (!) with the sequel.

OK, I'm prepared for the barrage of inevitable disagreements :)

I feel as though Cyclops and Storm have both been ruined in the film universe, simply because Fox and Singer made it their personal mission to turn Jackman into a star. Don't get me wrong I like Wolvering and and I think Jackman is a fine actor, but the films have focused too much on him and they have sort of devalued two of the main characters (IMO). I mean Storm is basically an African goddess whilst Cyclops is the de-facto leader of the team, but they have been into turned a glorified baby sitter, and the other was given nothing for two films and then killed off.

It won't happen but even if it did where would Deadpool fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe? He would only fit solo films imo

cyclops may have been right, but he's still a jerk

I just want a Wolverine/Spidey crossover

Speculation abound with the introduction of Trask and the Sentinels I think it would be a real ticket grabber if they introduced or lead to the introduction of Mr. Sinister and Savage Land and then finally a huge reveal to Apocalypse as real enemy to mutant and humankind

And for love of Odin can we please get a Deadpool movie sans Ryan Reynolds.

Those of you "sick of WOLVERINE" have NEVER SEEN the real & true Wolverine. I'm a fan of the real character. Not this new KID FRIENDLY WOLVERINE.

Interesting as the Fantastic Four are mutates (a human made mutant). There could be some interesting crossovers!

I would be hesitant to expect too much from this film. Better to be pleasantly surprised by the quality of a solid film than listen to the hype. But I really hope it does the franchise and the fans a good service and live up to the potential it could be.

You don't know what are you talkin' about.Cyclops is one of the very best x men characters.Wolverine too.

nah, Wolverine kicks ol' laser face's butt outta the park any day of the week.

Dellusional.

cyclops has too much sand in his vagina.

'waaa, jean's dead'. 'waaaa, I killed the professor.'

That's who he is.He is also the best x men leader,ever.

So you like him for being a crybaby. Ok. Kitty Pryde had turned into a better leader than he has.

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