Earlier this week, amidst the news that Disney and Twentieth Century Fox shareholders voted to approve the merger of the two entertainment giants, came a rumor that once the final regulatory hurdles have been cleared Disney will announce that they will the two X-Men franchise films that Fox currently has in post-production – X-Men: Dark Phoenix and the spinoff The New Mutants – will be shelved, never to see the light of a theater projector. The underlying reasoning being that both films are in such bad shape that Marvel Studios honcho Kevin Feige would rather bury them rather than have them leave a bad impression with the movie-going public that could hurt Marvel’s attempt to integrate them into their own cinematic universe at a future point.
If true, that would certainly be some explosive news, considering the time, effort and expense that Fox has put into both these productions and the level of excitement that fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have for having these characters available to be used in the MCU. The story started off at ComicBookMovie.com and quickly made the rounds of a number of genre news sites. We even reported on its circulation here, although with the caveat that this was pretty much an unsourced rumor and should be treated as such.
But that didn’t stop many in fandom from taking the story as gospel, which is surprising as there is not a lot about the story that passes an initial sniff test. However, the story does serve as an important reminder for the all-too-often forgotten idea that it is important to be skeptical about rumors like this. And that there are several things one should take into account before putting any stock in what is being alleged.
While many sites will report news from anonymous sources – “highly placed studio executive,” “those with knowledge of the production,” et cetera – one has to look at the reliability and trust that those outlets have built up over the years. Have their stories for the most part turned out to be accurate? Or is their track record not as stellar and they hope that you star enticed with their rumor du jour to not notice their failure the day before? There’s a difference in when someone like the Hollywood Reporter quotes an anonymous source and when an outlet like Comic Book Movie does so. Whether it’s entertainment or politics or any other field that is being reported on, certain journalistic standards should be applied to the reporting and which should be looked for by those reading the reportage. And that would include verifying information given by anonymous sources as best as one can before publishing. In no way did they do so here.
(And yes, even here at FilmBuffOnline when we have the occasion to break a story from a source that wishes to remain anonymous, we do everything we can to vet it first, doing everything we can to ensure accuracy. When we have something we are reasonably sure about, but can’t quite substantiate one hundred percent, we note that and we will always strive to show our chain of evidence to support what we find.)
Interestingly, Comic Book Movie tries to absolve itself of any responsibility for the veracity of their report by describing their source as “a seemingly trusted user on the Superhero Hype Forums” which “unlike Reddit, does have moderators.” There’s a lot to unpack there. Let’s start with the word “seemingly,” which is weasel-y and gives CBM enough wiggle-room if/when this turns out to be not true. But let’s look at the second excuse they make for their “source.” First of all, they throw a criticism at Reddit implying that anonymous postings there could be just anyone making up whatever they are posting. The things is, CBM has sited Reddit users in the past. Are they saying they have been knowingly duped? Or are they admitting to passing along rumors that cannot be substantiated knowing that there is a strong likelihood that they are false? Either way, an odd admission for an outlet to make.
(It should be noted that the link supplied by CBM which everyone else is using doesn’t lead to a discussion thread but a single member profile page showing only one post which reads “R u sure everything you’ve hears about Dark Phoenix, Nee [sic] Mutants and X-Force is true?” What happened to the rest of the thread?)
And the fact that the forum the post appeared at has moderators means absolutely nothing. It is not the job of a discussion board moderator to check every post for accuracy by obtaining two corroborating sources. That would be a journalist’s job. Saying that a discussion board has moderators insures the veracity of its anonymous postings is the same as saying that you trust what is said on the board because it has a red background – meaningless.
CBM goes on to state that yes this is a rumor, but then turns around and calls it “believable and very shocking.” This is just a bot more weaseling on their part. They want you to both be warned that the rumor might be complete bull, but then again… Maybe not? If they are prevaricating as much as they are on this story, I see no reason to put much stock in it. I like a little more reliability than this in my news.
So why do they want you to read it so badly? There are certain sites whose traffic in unsubstantiated rumor and non-news stories with enticing headlines is just their business model, nothing more. All they care is getting your eyeballs onto a page and if they happen to do a bit of bait-and-switch to do so, oh well. And I would definitely lump Comic Book News into that group. Just take a look at the amount of ads on each page and the fact that this story defaults to be read over several pages. The more pages you click to read, the more ads you are fed, the more pennies that go to Comic Book News.
And let’s face it, a crazy speculative headline sure does entice one to click a link, doesn’t it?
While budget figures for Dark Phoenix and New Mutants have not been released, we can make some guesses. The last X-Men film, Apocalypse, had a reported cost of $178 million and presumably Dark Phoenix will at least come in around the same price tag. Adjusting for inflation and maybe a bit more visual effects spectacle, let’s ballpark it at $200 million. A budget figure for New Mutants is a little tougher to estimate. We do know that, much like the two Deadpool films, it is being done for far less than what the main X-films are produced for. The first Deadpool cost a cool $58 million but was so successful that Fox felt comfortable in spending almost twice that amount ($110 million) on this summer’s sequel. Even with the reshoots New Mutants has undergone, it is conceivable that its price tag is somewhere between $75 and $100 million. That puts a rough total estimate of investment in both films at somewhere in the vicinity of $300 million.
(And yes, I am using some qualifiers in this part of the discussion, but because the information is not available, we must infer some of these numbers from similar films. And we are noting that we are doing this.)
Granted, it is not like Disney spent that money themselves, but when they bought the Fox Studio assets, they also bought the studio’s balance sheets and the negative costs on them. And as such, they have a responsibility as a company to try and earn back that investment and even turn a profit on it. Sticking the films on a shelf to remain unseen, and more importantly un-monetized, is an abject abandonment of their duties as a company. This isn’t even an issue of the Fox X-Men films earning a right to a final bow or anything like that before the characters are reinterpreted for the MCU. It is just simple business sense that they will need to release these films into theaters as part of maximizing all the revenue streams – theatrical, home video, streaming – possible for these two films. To do otherwise would surely raise the ire of their stockholders.
While the most recent mainline X-Men film Apocalypse did not do well with critics (and we’ll get to than below), it did well enough with the public that it earned $543.9 million at the worldwide box office. Granted that was below the expectations Fox brass reportedly had for the film but it was certainly enough for the film to turn a profit, even if it were a meager one, for the studio. So, releasing Dark Phoenix and New Mutants theatrical only makes financial sense. Let’s face it, that is really what drives all decisions in Hollywood.
And even if the films wound up not turning a profit in their respective theatrical releases, do you think that shareholders would rather see something like say a $30 million markdown on the quarterly financial report or a $300 million one that would be taken if the films were never released in the first place?
One of the easiest ways to get people to believe a lie is to hide it within the truth. And there are little bits of accuracy clinging to the edges of this “scoop” that seem to bolster its accuracy. Yes, Dark Phoenix and New Mutants have been delayed to allow for some reshoots. But the reasons that CBM ascribe to the reshoots don’t line up with what has been reported elsewhere.
They claim that New Mutants director Josh Boone was out of control on set to almost Josh Trank-levels of behavior. This resulted in a superhero/horror hybrid film that came off as “generic,” with a test screening that was “disastrous.” The film was taken away from Boone by the studio for extensive retooling through reshoots. But this narrative does not match up with what has been previously reported independently by various outlets, with far greater credibility than one should invest in CBM.
Boone’s pitch to the studio for New Mutants was one that was a straight-up horror film that just so happened to involve superpowered teens. Reportedly, the concept may have been softened a bit by the studio, but not so much that Boone didn’t feel like he was no longer working on a project he didn’t believe in. According to the overlapping accounts from Hollywood Reporter, Collider and the Tracking Board, New Mutants had a very positive test screening, posting scores similar to what the first Deadpool film received. In the wake of the success of Warner Brothers It, Fox released the first trailer for New Mutants which emphasized that film’s horror elements. When the trailer received a strong positive response, the studio went back to Boone and asked for reshoots which would bring the film back into the more straight-up horror territory that he initially pitched them. But that unfortunately meant that the film’s release would need to be pushed back from this past April to next year.
This is a very different tale than what CBM is telling.
So which do you believe? Sure, there’s something fun in thinking about the salaciousness of a director out of his depth on a project that has been watered down by the evil bean counters at the studio who are now scrambling to correct their own mistakes and will probably only make things worse. Or do you want to believe reputable reports that the production process is moving along rather normally and while it may be disappointing that there is a wait for this movie, it should hopefully be worth it when it does get released?
The Dark Phoenix delay is similar. Following some test screening, director Simon Kinberg wanted to restructure a portion of the third act and that would require some reshoots. Nothing unusual there, this is pretty much a standard part of the film creation process these days. However, since Dark Phoenix has a number of high profile and busy actors, gathering them together for the reshoots proved to be a task, with this coming August and September being the timeframe where everyone’s availability lined up to return. Of course, that meant there would not be enough time to finish the new visual effects required before the planned November 2018 release, so the studio pushed the film back to February 2019 to allow for its completion.
Again, nothing nefarious, but that’s not as fun to believe, is it?
Harming The Brand
Now there is the argument that releasing these films could conceivably lead to harming the X-Men film brand, making it a tough sale to the public when Marvel goes to integrate these characters into the MCU. I am not so sure. The theory goes like this – These are bad movies so by releasing them Disney will be tainting the public’s mind about these characters and so they won’t want to see them when they start showing up in the MCU.
Also, the “Harm The Brand” argument feels more like backhanded criticism of the recent cycle of main X-Men films than anything else. True the most recent installment, 2016’s Apocalypse, did not fare well with critics – a rather low 48% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to the 90% for 2014’s Days Of Future Past and the 86% for 2011’s First Class. Remember that Apocalypse did pretty well at the box office, despite those negative reviews. It seems as if the general public has a hunger for X-Men films that makes the franchise somewhat critic proof. Granted there were die-hard comic fans who complained about how the character of Apocalypse was portrayed or looked, but it certainly didn’t seem to be a factor for the general public. And the general public outweighs the much smaller fanatical geek demographic by several factors. This is just a case of some in fandom mistaking their personal preferences as representational for the general public. (See also the argument “Everyone hated Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”)
To say that some fans are excited for the Fox acquisition would be an understatement. The fact that some Marvel Comics properties’ film rights were sold off to other studios decades ago is preventing these characters from appearing in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe film franchise is a sore point for some. (Never mind the fact that if Marvel hadn’t done such a thing when they were in a cash poor position the whole company would have folded and we wouldn’t have the entertainment juggernaut/Disney subsidiary that we have today.) And the idea that Disney acquiring Fox will “bring these characters home” to Marvel is the only reason this $71 billion deal should go through. While we’ve previously enumerated the reasons as to why this might be a bad idea from the standpoint of job loss and healthy business and creative competition, some folks are just willing to dismiss those concerns just for the narrow view prospect of being able to see Wolverine and the Hulk punch each other.
So anything that would speed that reality in getting here would be welcome news to that sector of fandom. And the shelving of Dark Phoenix and New Mutants in order for Kevin Feige to be able expedite those characters’ integration into the MCU probably sounds like a great idea. So great, that they overlook the obvious questions and circumstances that we’ve outlined above and are buying into this rumor report as fact.
And by grasping onto this rumor so fervently, fandom is letting its desires outweigh its common sense.
But then again, that’s nothing new.