“Dark Phoenix” opened in theaters nationwide June 7 and ended the 19-year-old “X-Men” movie franchise at rock bottom. With just $33 million at the box office over its debut weekend, “Dark Phoenix” is the lowest opener of the franchise and, according to IndieWire’s box office expert Tom Brueggemann, will most likely finish its run with a total domestic gross that is lower than the opening weekends of several previous “X-Men” movies. A new report from Deadline details the behind-the-scenes drama that led to the “Dark Phoenix” disaster and reveals the film was originally set up as a two-parter.
The latest “X-Men” movie is based on one of the franchise’s most famous comic book storylines, one writer-director Simon Kinberg wanted to adapt faithfully after botching the first “Dark Phoenix” movie adaptation as co-writer of 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand.” The events of “X-Men: Days of Future Past” rebooted the film franchise’s timeline and allowed the Dark Phoenix story to get another go-around. Deadline reports Kinberg was planning a two-part “Dark Phoenix” movie in pre-production before 20th Century Fox changed its mind and ordered just one movie. Kinberg re-wrote the script to accommodate the change.
As has been previously reported, Kinberg’s original movie changed significantly in reshoots. Fox used test screenings to help determine which parts of the film needed to be reworked and it was Kinberg’s ending that changed the most. In one cut of the film Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey reportedly died, but creatives went back on that decision because it was not well received by test audiences. Kinberg also originally shot a more intimate ending in which Jessica Chastain’s villainous Vuk faced off against Jean, Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). Test audiences preferred to see all of the X-Men characters included in the climax and not just three, so that’s why Kinberg rewrote the third act to what is seen in the theatrical cut.
While reshoots are common for studio tentpole movies, fans began to worry about “Dark Phoenix” because of multiple release date changes. The film was originally set for release November 2, 2018 before Fox pushed it back to February 14, 2019. Deadline reports the creatives behind the movie liked this date as “Dark Phoenix” was never imagined as a big summer blockbuster. The film was envisioned as a smaller-scale action movie that would’ve been big enough for the winter but not a tentpole-sized event for the summer.
The “Dark Phoenix” team also wanted to get “Dark Phoenix” out before the onslaught of Disney/Marvel tentpoles, which included eventual record-breakers “Captain Marvel” and “Avengers: Endgame.” It was Fox Studios CEO Stacey Snider who was reportedly adamant about pushing “Phoenix” again to June 7 so it could be a summer title. Rumor has it Snider was under pressure from “Alita: Battle Angel” producer James Cameron, who just happens to be the studio’s most prized director. Cameron did not want “Alita” opening during the Christmas box office against titles like “Aquaman” and “Mary Poppins Returns.” Fox ultimately went through with Snider’s preference, giving its pre-summer season February slot to “Alita” and forcing “Dark Phoenix” into the summer.
Fox mentioned when announcing the release date shift to June that it was doing so partly to take advantage of a Chinese holiday that could help boost global ticket sales. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t even pop in China this weekend as it only grossed $48 million. The box office numbers and the Disney-Fox merger more or less confirm the “X-Men” franchise as it has been is dead for now. Expect the Marvel Cinematic Universe to reboot the characters on the big screen in the future.