The saga of Fox’s “X-Men” series came to an inglorious end this past weekend, as “Dark Phoenix” suffered the worst opening weekend in the history of the 19-year, 12-film franchise with a $33 million launch.
While one more film in the series is still coming with the repeatedly delayed spinoff “The New Mutants,” this will be the final film to feature Charles Xavier and his team of heroic mutants before they are assimilated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the coming years. But no one other than the most devout superhero movie fans was interested in seeing this incarnation of the X-Men off as “Dark Phoenix” sunk 38% below the previous franchise low opening of $53 million by 2013’s “The Wolverine.”
This blockbuster, made on a reported $200 million budget before Fox was acquired by Disney, is set to be one of the biggest box office bombs of 2019 — one that a lot of box office analysts saw coming. “Dark Phoenix” was simply a film that was deemed skippable by much of the blockbuster-loving populace, both because of where the X-Men have been and where they are headed.
1.) The Phoenix Gets Burned By Critics
Let’s start with the obvious: the reviews were scathing. “Dark Phoenix” was hit with a 22% Rotten Tomatoes score, the lowest any film in the “X-Men” series has received. That includes the 37% earned by the much-maligned “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”
The critics consensus could best be summed up by RogerEbert.com’s Brian Tallerico, who called the film “a joyless, lifeless, boring affair that repeats ideas from better X-films and feels more like an obligatory reunion cash grab than a deeply considered goodbye to iconic characters.” The chances of a critic/superhero fan divide were crushed when opening night audiences gave the film a shoulder-shrugging B- on CinemaScore and a 3/5 on PostTrak.
2.) X-Men Fans Have Already Said Goodbye
While “Avengers: Endgame” became arguably the biggest event release to hit cinemas since “The Ten Commandments” thanks to its ability to bring a climactic conclusion to a decade-long saga, there was no sense of finality or closure to “Dark Phoenix.” In fact, it’s possible that it never could have had one, as Fox had already released not one but two films that put a bow on character arcs for multiple characters.
“I think five years ago, ‘X-Men’ already had a great final chapter with ‘Days of Future Past,’” said BoxOffice analyst Shawn Robbins. “It was a story that tied up a lot of arcs and gave good sendoffs for the old cast, and also closed up some arcs for the new cast from ‘First Class.’ ‘Apocalypse’ felt like it was just going through the motions after that, and nothing led fans to believe that ‘Dark Phoenix’ wouldn’t be the same.”
And then, three years after “Future Past,” there was “Logan,” a film that was not directly connected to the increasingly convoluted timeline of the main series but provided an emotional farewell to Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, who had played Wolverine and Xavier going back to the first “X-Men” in 2000. Much like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans closing the book in “Endgame” on characters they’ve played for years, “Logan” gave “X-Men” fans a chance for closure and to reflect on two heroes who formed the cornerstone of superhero movie history.
It’s likely that many moviegoers who saw those films had already moved on from the X-Men, and a film like “Dark Phoenix” that felt so detached from where the series began gave no reason for them to come back. It was simply a film too far in a franchise that had hit the point of fatigue.
3.) The MCU
But it wasn’t just the X-Men’s past that harmed “Dark Phoenix.” It was the future as well. As soon as reports first surfaced that Disney was making a move to acquire 20th Century Fox, Marvel fans were abuzz with the realization that the X-Men could finally become a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has said that it will be a few years before we will have a chance to see Cyclops and Jean Grey mix it up with the likes of Spider-Man and Black Panther, but the endless possibilities that the MCU brings for the X-Men was something that another installment in this series could never match.
But it is those possibilities that are the reason why Disney isn’t sweating “Dark Phoenix” going bust. Whether it’s Spider-Man, Batman, or even the X-Men themselves, superhero movies have shown that these characters can be reimagined over and over again, and audiences will be willing to come back as long as there’s something fresh and exciting like Tom Holland’s exuberant teenage version of Peter Parker. Whenever the X-Men make their MCU debut, they will do so with the fan trust of Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios behind them.
Like a phoenix, these mutants may still one day rise from the ashes.