In a sad epitaph to what was once a groundbreaking franchise, the last film of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men movie saga suffered a final indignity: it’s been labeled the biggest flop of 2019. Indeed, internet industry trade site, Deadline, released its annual postmortem on the previous year’s box office this week. And at the top of its list of box office failures is Simon Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix.
According to Deadline, Fox, and thereby their new owners at The Walt Disney Company, took a $133 million bath on what was intended to be a franchise course correction after the disappointing (but still profitable) X-Men: Apocalypse in 2016. While Dark Phoenix was pitched by writer-director Kinberg as a more intimate “character-driven” superhero film that could be produced on a budget—which always made choosing to redo the fabled comic book storyline “The Dark Phoenix Saga” even more inexplicable given its Star Wars-like epic sweep—the movie ended up costing at least $200 million.
This was the result of Dark Phoenix’s original third act satisfying none of the test audiences it played in front of. Hence the initial three and then seven-month delay. Originally scheduled to premiere in November 2018—far from summer competition, and well before Marvel’s Captain Marvel and Disney’s actual space-traveling cosmic epic, Avengers: Endgame—Dark Phoenix was delayed from its original date to Feb. 14 and then finally June 7. It was an unfortunate situation brought about the need to reshoot significant portions of the movie, including the climax, in the hopes of beefing up the action quota.
The reshoots did not save the finished film. Despite starring Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence, who all appeared in previous franchise highlights X-Men: First Class (2011) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), as well as Sophie Turner at the height of her post-Game of Thrones stardom, Dark Phoenix received mostly scathing reviews, ending up with an anemic 23 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. It fared little better with average moviegoers, earning a “B-” CinemaScore, which while not horrible did portend mediocre word of mouth. Opening at just $32.8 million, Dark Phoenix didn’t even finish in first place during its first weekend and earned the lowest total gross in X-Men movie history, finishing its run with $252 million worldwide.
It is easy to suspect that even if Disney had not acquired Fox, this would be the end of the road of the X-Men franchise in its current form. Then again, Deadline speculates Fox took its eye off first-time director Kinberg because the studio brass was more concerned with being consumed by the Mouse House. Be that as it may, considering how popular other elements of the Fox X-franchise had recently been, from the Matthew Vaughn-helmed First Class at the beginning of the decade to recent ambitious spinoffs that include the Deadpool movies and James Mangold’s Logan, it’s fair to say that the brand could have been salvaged if not so thoroughly mismanaged by Kinberg of the last two mainline installments. Which is all the more remarkable when one considers the franchise has also survived worse installments (turns warily toward X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine).
It’s a shame though that the franchise which ushered in the modern superhero movie boom with 2000’s X-Men so spectacularly fell apart in the same summer that Marvel Studios reached the box office stratosphere with Endgame. Not that Dark Phoenix was the only flop or franchise-killer in 2019. If you go here, you can see rationalizations for why Terminator: Dark Fate also marks the probable end of the line for its franchise after losing an estimated $122.6 million for producers. Cats and Gemini Man’s red ink losses are also not far behind…