Dark Phoenix

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    • Directed By: Simon Kinberg
    • Written By: Simon Kinberg
    • Release Date: June 7, 2019
    • Domestic Distributor: FOX
    • Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner

Box Office Info:
Budget: $200 millionFinanced by: FOX; TSG Entertainment
Domestic Gross: $65,845,974Overseas Gross: $186,597,000


FOX acquired the rights to Marvel’s X-Men property in 1993 for just $2.6M and after the first film installment in 2000 arguably ushered in the era of superhero movies, the studio’s inexpensive option turned into a multi-billion dollar franchise.  The X-Men series survived a few creative missteps along the way, but the franchise was in peak form and reached its largest box office haul with X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), which pulled in $747.8M globally.  The follow up picture X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) saw diminishing returns in both the quality of the movie and the box office haul, which still cumed a healthy $543.9M worldwide.  The X-Men series was at a crossroads after Apocalypse and there were talks about both continuing with the current movies or rebooting a new franchise.

Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult had a three picture deal with FOX, which kicked off with X-Men: First Class (2011) and ended with Apocalypse.  Difficult contract negotiations easily could have put the kibosh on this cast returning, but deals began to be ironed out in 2017 and Dark Phoenix began development as a possible send off for the nearly two decade old series.

FOX was developing Dark Phoenix as a two-part finale, but late in pre-production that idea was scrapped in favor of one mega-budget movie.  Production was located to Montreal for lower expenses and a 20 % cash-back rebate.  Filming lasted 22 weeks and $77M CAD was spent on below the line wages (local crew & local cast); $72M CAD was spent on the production; and $40M CAD was spent on VFX costs — bringing those items in at $189M CAD.  After the above the line talent’s enormous salaries and reshoots, FOX reported the Dark Phoenix net budget at $200 million.  The studio’s slate financing investor TSG Entertainment contributed some coin to the project.

Simon Kinberg was tapped to direct and he had entered the franchise as a writer on the third film X-Men: The Last Stand (2006).  It should also be noted that while Dark Phoenix was Simon Kinberg first credited directing job, he did have quite a bit of experience stepping in for director Bryan Singer on Apocalypse, who made a habit of not showing up on set.  Dark Phoenix was largely looked at to not only close the series, but correct the misguided narrative of The Last Stand, which botched the Jean Grey story.  I will talk anecdotally for a moment.  For those of us who know nothing about the fanlore of X-Men, but have stuck with the movie series since 2000, rebooting an already filmed narrative was a colossal miscalculation.  No matter how much Brett Ratner had f-cked up the Jean Grey story arc, this simply feels like ‘been there done that’ material.  Of course it did not help that Dark Phoenix was savaged by critics, but even if it was a solid entry, I would have no interest in revisiting a rehashed narrative — I wanted a fresh X-Men story that was new to me.  With that said, I’ll try to remove myself from the remainder of the article.

Dark Phoenix was first dated for November 2, 2018 but after a series of test screenings, reshoots were ordered for the ending and the picture was pushed back to Feb 14, 2019.  Then two days after FOX released the second trailer, Dark Phoenix was pushed back to June 7 and Alita: Battle Angel was positioned on the vacated frame.  The new release was also to capitalize off of the Dragon Boat holiday in China, since that market saw $120.7M in receipts from Apocalypse and Phoenix was expected to play as strong.

Buzz was muted on Dark Phoenix as the release approached and instead of a whirlwind of hype surrounding the final installment, the public seemed more interested in the prospect of the X-Men joining the MCU.  After the Disney/FOX merger was completed in March 2019, the X-Men‘s new home was at the Mouse House — but Dark Phoenix was hardly being groomed for success by a revolving door of executives and the mismanagement that comes with these conglomerate mergers.  It borders on the obscene that nearly $350M can be pumped into a product and its advertising and be treated as disposable.  Even with the lack of fandom enthusiasm, nothing indicated that the picture was headed for such a disastrous box office performance.

Dark Phoenix was tracking for a $50M domestic weekend and a $170M global haul.  It bowed against The Secret Life of Pets 2 and there would be some family audience overlap between the two films.  Dark Phoenix was also opening into a market that was super saturated with family friendly tentpole fare and was opening after an endless parade of superhero movies.  Aladdin, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Avengers: Endgame and Pokemon Detective Pikachu were all in wide release and still pulling in auds.

Dark Phoenix begins where many tired franchises go to die — in space.  There was near complete abandonment of the fanbase, with the opening numbers at a franchise low $32,828,348 — placing #2 for the weekend led by Pets 2.  The global debut was $140M, a respectable number if there was not hundreds of millions behind the movie.  Dark Phoenix took a 71.5% plunge to $9,354,868 in its second frame and the domestic run closed with $65,845,974.

Diminishing returns and huge weekly audience drop off has also hit Dark Phoenix during its offshore rollout, which stalled at $186.5M.  The worldwide gross was $252.4M.  About $138M would be returned after theaters take their percentage of the gross.  That would almost cover only the global P&A expenses and the theatrical receipts would not dent the massive budget.  Disney had announced a $170 million write-down on their inherited FOX duds, with Dark Phoenix responsible for the majority of that red ink.  After ancillary sales, Dark Phoenix would likely end as a write-down of at least $115M, making it one of the biggest movie flops on record.

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