Back in the 1990s, #Marvel sold the film rights to the X-Men franchise over to Fox. At the time, it was a desperate attempt to stave off bankruptcy after the '90s comic book bubble burst, but it's had long-lasting repercussions. Nowadays, many X-Men fans are constantly looking on in frustration, desperately wishing Fox would let the rights revert back to Marvel. Here's the catch: that may not be a good thing for the X-Men...
Why Do Fans Want the X-Men to Revert to Marvel?
The world of superhero movies was in a very different place back when Fox launched the X-Men film franchise in 2000. Marvel had been trying for decades to get some of their characters on to the big screen, with no real success; worse still, the 1997 Warner Bros. film Batman and Robin was popularly seen as having killed off superheroes in the cinema. Then, to everybody's surprise, along came Blade.
The unlikely success of New Line Cinema's Blade film in 1998 woke studios up to the fact that Marvel superheroes could actually work. Fox went ahead with 2000's X-Men, but learned a lot of lessons from Blade; for example, they ditched spandex, dialled down on the extreme nature of some characters' superpowers, and tried to darken the tone of the film slightly. At the time, X-Men fans didn't really care; they were simply delighted at the unprecedented chance to see their favorite mutants on the big screen.
Today's world is very different. Marvel Studios has proven that lighter-toned, more comic-book-accurate movies can be a tremendous success, and fans have higher expectations. Fox, however, has struggled to adapt the X-Men franchise, constrained somewhat by what went before. Many fans are unhappy with that.
What's more, as Fox's X-Men franchise has grown, it has demonstrated real weaknesses. Fox has a habit of throwing too many mutants in as background characters, and never developing them in the slightest; this was most visible in the future portions of Days of Future Past, where the majority of those mutants took part in two brief fight scenes, and added very little to the film. Instead, the movies tend to focus in almost exclusively on a handful of core characters: Charles Xavier (whether played by Patrick Stewart or James McAvoy); Hugh Jackman's Wolverine; Magneto (played by either Sir Ian McKellen or Michael Fassbender); and Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique. These characters are written into major roles or cameos, regardless of relevance to the overarching plot or continuity of character development.
Worse still, the studio has seemed to be jumping from one film to the next with little overarching plan; Days of Future Past kick-started a new timeline that's already gotten confused, and there are ominous signs that Logan will raise more thorny continuity problems for the franchise as a whole.
These issues have led to frustration for a lot of X-Men fans, who just wish Marvel could regain the rights and make a more solid X-Men franchise.
But What's Happening with Blade?
Here's the catch: that really might not be a good idea. To illustrate the point, let's look to the example of Blade.
Blade — a brutal vampire hunter — is one of the most important Marvel characters. He was the star of Marvel's first successful film franchise, a trilogy made by New Line Cinema. Wesley Snipes's portrayal was so superb that the comics adjusted the character to match with the film version! As part of their deal with Marvel, New Line retained the rights for a set period of time — but, if they didn't make another Blade movie, those rights would eventually revert back. In 2013, that finally happened; Marvel regained the rights to Blade, #GhostRider and #Punisher.
Since then, fans have been eagerly awaiting news of everybody's favorite vampire hunter. Surprisingly, though, no news has been forthcoming; there have been plenty of rumors, and Wesley Snipes has continually pushed for a return to the role, but nothing has ever been confirmed. That's surprising, particularly given that Gabriel Luna's Ghost Rider has now joined the cast of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., while Jon Bernthal's Punisher played a major role in Daredevil Season 2 and now has a solo Netflix series in the works.
We finally got news at New York Comic Con. At the Underworld panel, Kate Beckinsale was asked about the possibility of an Underworld / Blade crossover, and gave an exciting response:
"No. We had that idea. No. They're busy. They're doing something with Blade."
As a fan of the Blade franchise, I freely admit that I was excited. So were countless other Blade fans; it seemed as though we were likely to get some Blade news soon. Unfortunately, Marvel visionary Kevin Feige gave a disappointing response:
“They did ask a long time ago and I think our answer was, ‘No, we’ll do something with ‘Blade’ at some point.’ That’s still the answer... Between the movies, the Netflix shows, the ABC shows there are so many opportunities for the character to pop up as you’re now seeing with Ghost Rider on ‘AGENTS of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ that rather than team up with another studio on that character let’s do something on our own. What that is? Where that will be? We’ll see. There is nothing imminent to my knowledge.”
Why Does This Mean the X-Men Shouldn't Revert to Marvel?
Think about Kevin Feige's comments. According to Feige, Marvel turned down a possible Blade/Underworld crossover — not because they had plans, but simply because they might get round to doing something with him sooner or later. I'm pretty sure that, if the rights to Blade had still been owned by New Line, we'd have gotten that Underworld / Blade crossover — New Line wouldn't have just left the franchise sat there gathering dust if there was an actual viable pitch.
Marvel Studios can only make so many movies at once. Every year, the studio releases two-to-three films based in the #MCU, but for every film they choose to make, there's another franchise that goes undeveloped. Worse still, Blade's example demonstrates that the studio will actually choose to keep a franchise in limbo rather than allow it to be given new life, just because they might do something with it eventually.
Right now, Marvel has a lot of franchises in play; Ant-Man, The Avengers, Black Panther, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Thor. It's true that some of the stars are nearing the ends of their contracts with Marvel, but most are sounding more amenable to stay on; even Robert Downey Jr. has hinted he'd be game for Iron Man 4. Added to that, some of the supporting characters in the franchises have real potential for development; there's huge demand for a Black Widow solo movie, for example.
If Marvel regained the rights to the X-Men, the reality is that we'd have no guarantee they'd do much with them. All those other franchises are already firmly established as part of the #MCU, whereas introducing the X-Men would raise thorny continuity issues (most notably, why haven't mutants been mentioned before?). All those other franchises are already blockbuster hits, typically outperforming Fox's X-Men movies in the box office. Why would developing the X-Men be a major priority for Marvel?
Here's the disturbing truth: if the X-Men returned to Marvel, the franchise could share the fate of Blade. It could end up shelved, for future consideration, with Marvel not allowing it a chance to develop and grow with another studio just because they might get round to doing something with it sooner or later.
Don't Forget the R-Ratings
Another factor is that, right now, there's a real demand for R-rated superhero films. Deadpool's success proved that an R-rated superhero movie could work, and fans are eager to see a range of tones and styles in this genre. Marvel, however, is simply unwilling to scratch the R-rated itch. An R-rating simply doesn't fit with Marvel's brand; it's likely that this is reason why Ghost Rider and the Punisher eventually ended up on Netflix, rather than starring in their own solo movies. The same is true for Blade; when Marvel does eventually get round to using the character, it's almost certain to be on the small screen rather than in a relaunched film franchise.
X-Men fans loved Deadpool; but the character was uniquely suited to his R-rating. The reality is that, if the rights reverted to Marvel, that franchise would be dead. Likewise, all this excitement about Logan? That film wouldn't be happening. The impact would be immediate, and successful aspects of the X-Men franchise would actually be shut down.
- "They're Doing Something With Blade": What Does The Future Hold For Marvel's Vampire Hunter?
- The X-Men Peace Accords: 3 Signs Marvel And Fox Are Sorting Things Out
- Fox's Legion Will Coexist With the X-Men Films! What This Means For Fox's Universe…
All in all, I think this whole issue is a case of "Be careful what you wish for". X-Men fans should take Blade's example as a cautionary tale; if Marvel were to regain the film rights for the X-Men, then there would be no guarantee we'd see more from Marvel's Merry Mutants. In actual fact, it might just mean we see a lot less.
Do you want the X-Men to revert to Marvel?
Featured Image and Poll Image: 20th Century Fox