X-Men: Apocalypse ended its box office run last weekend, largely unnoticed due to the hype for Suicide Squad. Now that the dust has settled - and the box office figures are in - what does the future hold for the X-Men franchise?
How Did X-Men: Apocalypse Do?
As you can see, the worldwide box office takings for X-Men: Apocalypse are pretty strong. It performed on a similar level to X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand, although it was frankly eclipsed by 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past. The hook for Days of Future Past - a film that united both X-Men casts - was clearly the strongest for the franchise so far, so that comparison is probably unfair.
Here's the catch, though; although those are the worldwide figures, the US domestic figures are very different. Incredibly, X-Men: Apocalypse was one of the weakest X-Men movies in the US. Bringing in $155.5 million in the US, the film made less than 2000's X-Men ($157.3 million), and barely outperformed X-Men: First Class ($146.4 million). With a budget of $178 million, it didn't even break even in the US box office!
Although Scott Mendelson of Forbes is concerned, I'm not so sure there's a real problem. The reality is that the worldwide takings are becoming increasingly important to the film industry - more so than the US takings. The Chinese market in particular is set to become the most important film market by 2020, but that comes at a hidden cost; the Chinese government takes a much more significant cut from Box Office takings, meaning profits from China are artificially lowered.
Personally, I don't see any need for a course-correction on Fox's part. Despite a weak US showing, the worldwide takings suggest that the X-Men brand is as strong as it ever was.
Fox's Surprise Success Story
Of course, the real success story of 2016 is the surprise triumph of Deadpool. With a budget of just $58 million, Deadpool grossed a whopping $782.6 million worldwide - outperforming even X-Men: Days of Future Past! The film's magic wasn't just that it was R-rated, or that it was more true to the comics than most of Fox's X-Men films; it was simply that it was a genuinely strong film. James Gunn, of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, explained it like this:
"Deadpool was its own thing. THAT’S what people are reacting to. It’s original, it’s damn good, it was made with love by the filmmakers, and it wasn’t afraid to take risks."
Most superhero films are fairly low-key in terms of risks. Marvel took a chance in launching their Cinematic Universe with 2008's Iron Man, but nowadays are often criticized for having become formulaic. DC Film don't seem to have realized just how big a risk they were taking with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and - although the film was far from a flop - it didn't pay off as well as they hoped it would. Deadpool, on the other hand, was both gloriously original, and remarkably successful. With a cheap budget and clear fan-demand, Fox chose to take a punt on the Merc With A Mouth, and it paid off big-time.
In reality, Deadpool's success proves what film-makers have said for a long time. If you make a genuinely good film, and if you market it well, then it will perform well. The R-rating - and the consequent lack of a Chinese release - didn't dent Deadpool's performance at all. That's genuinely impressive. This remarkable success story should really cause Marvel Studios, DC Film and 20th Century Fox to start looking at their franchises with a very real sense of excitement. There may well be countless other rich veins of Hollywood gold running below the surface, just waiting to be mined.
So Where NeXt for the X-Men?
The end of X-Men: Apocalypse - not to mention the smart plotting - makes it clear that the franchise is heading, once again, in the direction of the Dark Phoenix Saga. Sophie Turner's Jean Grey has tapped into the Phoenix power within her, and the promise that the next film will take the X-Men into space suggests we may get a fairly faithful recreation of the Chris Claremont classic.
That said, the real excitement is undoubtedly that the franchise is currently moving ahead a decade at a time, meaning that the next film will be set in the 1990s. The X-Men franchise was at its strongest in the early 1990s, with a classic and much-loved Animated Series and some of the best-selling comics of all time. I'm part of several of the biggest X-Men Facebook groups, and I can say with confidence that the majority of X-Men fans look back at the 1990s with a very real sense of nostalgia. Marvel Comics is currently capitalizing on this with the X-Men '92 ongoing, set in the ongoing continuity of the Animated Series timeline. If Fox can target this well - and the costume designs at the end of X-Men: Apocalypse suggest Fox is making a strong attempt - then the next film could perform well.
Deadpool's success has given Fox a new confidence, and the next solo Wolverine film - likely entitled Wolverine: Weapon X - is also going to be R-rated (and hence unlikely to get a Chinese release). With Deadpool 2 in the works, and an X-Force film likely to be inevitable, it's clear that the wider X-Men universe is going to diverge stylistically from the tentpole X-Men movies. There will be challenges, though; Hugh Jackman's cameo in X-Men: Apocalypse, largely irrelevant to the film's plot, suggests that the wider franchise hasn't outgrown its dependence on his character. With Jackman angling to move on, Fox need to get the franchise into a healthier place at speed.
Fox would be wise not to simplify Deadpool's success into a new formula, visible in a host of sequels and X-Force tie-ins. The X-Men franchise is filled with strange, quirky twists - from the galactic adventures of the Starjammers to the interdimensional wackiness of Excalibur - and Fox would be wise to look for other success stories. What's more, last year's Fantastic Four failed in part because the studio interfered too much with its film-makers. Deadpool proved that the right film-makers, with the right commitment and vision, can make an unprecedented success. I'd recommend that Fox take risks with the X-Men franchise, expanding it in ever-stranger and more unusual directions, and giving creative teams a chance to work their magic.
Personally, I think the X-Men franchise is in a fairly healthy place. Although Fox's films predate both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the still-fledgling DC Expanded Universe, the franchise is clearly now third-fiddle. But X-Men: Apocalypse remains one of the best-performing films of 2016, and there's no reason Fox should flinch from the task ahead of them. The 1990s setting should give their next tentpole X-Men film a solid foundation, while Deadpool shows the potential to look beyond those core titles and do something really new, really fresh, and - hopefully - really successful.
Where do you think the X-Men films should go from here? Let me know in the comments!