The X-MEN Franchise Films We Lost

X-Men films

With the release of Josh Boone’s long delayed New Mutants, the Twentieth Century Fox-era of X-Men films has finally come unceremoniously to a close. Marked with both highs and lows, the studio had fully intended to continue the franchise based on the popular Marvel Comics superheroes and villains for some time, with only Fox’s purchase by Disney derailing their plans. So what were those plans that the studio did have for additional X-men films that will now never see the silver screen? Let’s take a look at the ones we know were in various stages of development over the last several years before the axe fell and try and figure out what direction the franchise was heading in when the curtain dropped.

X-Men Origins: Magneto

With the success of the first two X-Men films, Twentieth Century Fox was eager to expand the franchise in any way they could. One such way was to spin off two films that would look at the origins of some of the popular and intriguing characters from the X-Men roster that we had seen thus far. And so it was that both X-Men: Origins – Wolverine and X-Men: Origins – Magneto went into development in late 2004. And while the Wolverine film made it into theaters in 2009, Magneto never did.

The script for Magneto was written by Sheldon Turner, who pitched Twentieth Century Fox his take on the film as “The Pianist meets X-Men.” Bookended with segments featuring the older, present-day Magneto, aka actor Ian McKellan, the film picks up the story of teenaged Erik Lehnsherr from the point where we saw him tin the first X-Men film’s prologue, being dragged into the Auschwitz concentration camp after exhibiting his metal-controlling powers. During his time there, he is sadistically experimented on by Nazi scientist Dr. Kleinmein, and barely escapes execution as the Russian army advances and liberates the camp.

Ten years later, Erik has settled in a small Russian village and now has a wife a wife and small daughter. But his happy, quiet life is shattered when he spies one of his former Nazi tormentors. In an ensuing fight, the villagers see him use his mutant powers and fearing he is some kind of supernatural being, burn down his home with his wife and daughter inside. Erik flees to Paris, but after a year he finds himself unable to let go of his anger and grief. Looking for an outlet, he begins to hunt down other Nazis who have escaped justice at the end of World War Two. On his journey, he meets a young telepathic mutant named Charles Xavier and together they discover that Kleinmein is still alive and still conducting his experiments on mutants, including what appears to be a young Raven/Mystique and but this time for the US government.

Ultimately, the Magneto project would become a victim of the franchise expansion it was supposed to promote. A rewrite to adjust the setting from the mid-1950s to 1962 ran up against another project being developed, First Class. And since First Class, a loose adaptation of the comic book series which focused in on the early days of the original X-Men team, was the new shiny thing in front of Twentieth Century Fox executives, that is the film that got their attention. Bryan Singer was courted to return to the franchise for First Class, and when he did, he tossed out Josh Schwartz’s First Class script in favor of a self-penned treatment which was expanded into a full screenplay by Jamie Moss.

And while Snyder denied having ever read any of the Magneto drafts, Turner saw his use of such elements as the year, Magneto being experimented on by the Nazis and the character arc of Magneto and Xavier meeting, becoming friends but then finally falling out as all too similar to the work that he did on his script. When he brought this to arbitration with the Writers Guild, they agreed and awarded him a shared “Story By” credit with Singer on the film.

X-Men Vs Fantastic Four

One of the earlier films that was in development in the hopes of expanding the Marvel Comics properties Fox owned into their own wider cinematic universe was X-Men Vs Fantastic Four. On paper, it is easy to see how it would look good to executives – bringing together the two families of Marvel Comics characters that they owned to create a bigger cinematic universe just like the one over at the Marvel Cinematic Universe-proper. And hopefully with that would come the attendant profits that Marvel sees from their MCU as well. To that end, X-Men: First Class screenwriters Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz were hired for the project while the studio was considering Paul Greengrass to direct.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Heat Vision newsletter synopsized X-Men Vs Fantastic Four‘s story –

Johnny Storm [went] nova while trying to apprehend the villain Molecule Man. Johnny blows a hole in Manhattan and sparks the superhero registration act in response to the carnage.

The heroes are split on opposing sides, and among the key matchups was a Wolverine vs. Mr. Fantastic battle that ended with Reed Richards pinning Wolverine down, extending his hands until they’re one molecule wide, and using them as scissors to cut the mutant’s arms off. Eventually, the heroes make peace … leading to a post-credits scene that teases what’s next: A Skrull invasion.

If that sounds a bit familiar, you’re not wrong. It is very similar in terms of general plot to the Civil War comic book event Marvel published in 2006 and which was loosely – very loosely – adapted by Marvel Studios into 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. In addition to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, this film would have also seen the inclusion of every other Marvel superhero that Fox owned the rights to at that time including Daredevil and Deadpool.

But what did in the project was not its resemblance to something Marvel was already working on adapting themselves, but the success of Fox’s soft reboot of the X-Men franchise, First Class. With that film becoming a hit at the box office, the studio brass decided that they would prefer a straight sequel featuring the mutant heroes, which led us to X-Men: Days Of Future Past.

With the mainline X-Men franchise revitalized, the X-Men Vs Fantastic Four film quietly sunk down into development hell. Fox would revisit the idea again with comics writer Warren Ellis scripting, but that version never saw much traction at the studio either.

Gambit

Fox first began trying to bring the Cajun mutant superhero Gambit to the big screen back during the development of the third X-Men film, X-Men: The Last Stand. Story considerations didn’t leave room for him to appear there, though the character did make a small appearance in 2009’s X-Men: Origins – Wolverine, where he was played by Taylor Kitsch. But by the time franchise producer Lauren Schuler Donner was ready to start on a solo Gambit film in early 2014, Kitsch was out and Channing Tatum was in for the role mutant Cajun hero. By the summer of 2015, director Rupert Wyatt had signed on and the project was gearing up for production in New Orleans.

Joshua Zetumer’s screenplay – at least the draft dated August 28, 2015, right before shooting was to have commenced – serves as an origin story for Gambit, aka Remy LeBeau. It starts off with Remy as a child just coming into his mutant powers to manipulate and charge objects with kinetic energy. As a homeless street urchin, he is stealing to survive when he is found by and recruited into an Oliver Twist-like gang of thieves headed by Luke LeBeau. Luke becomes a father figure to young Remy. Jumping forward several years, we see Remy as a risk-taking teenager, still in LeBeau’s gang. While fleeing the New Orleans police, he meets Belladonna Bordeaux, daughter of Maryanne Bourdeaux, the head of the organized crime family that runs the New Orleans underworld. And Maryanne Bourdeaux is not happy about the teens’ budding relationship.

The screenplay jumps forward again, to the 1970s. Remy and Bella have been seeing each other secretly for some time now. In order for them to bring their relationship out in the open, the pair propose a merger of their respective gangs for a one-time heist at the New Orleans US Treasury Building. The robbery goes according to plan until Remy gets greedy and argues that they should be stealing more than what they planned to. As the police storm the building, the two gangs turn on each other, Bella is forced to reveal her own mutant powers and Luke LeBeau is shot in the back by an unknown assailant and dies. Bearing the blame for Luc’s death and for the robbery falling apart, Remy is ejected from his gang and flees the city. Ten years later, Remy is living it up as very successful thief in Paris when he is recruited for a job that sees him returning to New Orleans to work with the survivors of his old gang to rob a specific crate from the Bordeauxs during the annual Thieves’ Ball. Remy also recruits the mutants Dani Moonstone, Jamie Madrox and Mask (Masque in the comics) to help out on the heist.

As the script hops through time, it does make mention of the various X-Men films that were most recently released. The 1972-set section of the film has the news about the attempted assassination of Richard Nixon from Days Of Future Past being reported on in the background of one scene. The 1980s portion of the film takes place in a New Orleans that has been flooded in the aftermath of Magneto’s manipulation of the Earth’s magnetic field in Apocalypse. Members of the Japanese crime organization the Hand, as seen in The Wolverine, show up for the Thieves Ball.

Right before filming was set to begin, Wyatt had to drop out. After meeting with a number of directors including Joe Cornish, Shane Black, and F. Gary Gray, Fox finally brought on board Doug Liman to take over the project. Script rewrites followed to give the film more of a unique tone in the way that the recently released Deadpool had departed from the main X-Men features. Delays in the rewrite led to the production start date being pushed back more than once. Liman ultimately departed.

By the middle of 2017 it looked as if they had started fresh with a new script and by October, Gore Verbinski signed on to direct. Soon after, Lizzy Caplan was in talks for the film’s female lead and location scouting had started in New Orleans. But at the start of 2018, Verbinski dropped out. In interviews, Kinberg was still adamant that the film was a priority for the studio and stated that the script now had more of a romantic comedy feel to it. But the writing was pretty much on the wall and by early 2019 all development on future X-Men films was on hold while the Disney acquisition of Fox was completed and by May, Gambit became the victim of the axe that fell on all of the in-development X-Men projects.

X-Force

One of the first projects that Fox put into development after their Origins projects and their big crossover plans fizzled was an adaptation of the X-Men spinoff comic book series, X-Force, which centers on a mutant team that took a more militant approach to the problems facing mutantkind. Kick Ass 2 writer/director Jeff Wadlow was hired by Fox in July 2013 to perform the same duties on an X-Force film. Not much was reported on the project until February 2016, when Ryan Reynolds stated that his character of Deadpool, who occasionally joins up with the X-Force team in the comics, should be showing up in the film. A few months later it was reported that franchise producer Simon Kinberg was doing some rewrites on the script but by February 2017 it looked as if Wadlow was completely out with the news that Joe Carnahan had signed onto the project to direct and also take a whack at the screenplay. By September, Carnahan too was out and Drew Goddard was now slated to both write and direct starting as soon as he wrapped up work on his film Bad Times At The El Royale. Whether Goddard would have been the one to finally get an X-Force film in front of cameras or if the project would have been handed off to yet another creative team remains academic given Disney’s shut down of the franchise.

Alpha Flight/Exiles

In February 2017 during promotional rounds for Logan, producer Kinberg stated that movies based on the X-Men comics Alpha Flight, which featured a Canadian government-sponsored team of mutant super heroes, and Exiles, a group of mutants from various realities fixing problems within the Marvel multiverse, were in development. If development got as far as actually hiring a writer for either film, it went unreported before Disney’s cancellation of the franchise.

X-23

One of the many delightful surprises in 2017’s Logan was Dafne Keen’s performance as the young mutant girl Laura, aka X-23. The character was already a fan favorite in comics and Logan certainly ended as if it was positioning its version of X-23 as the lead in her own film. During the promotion for Logan, director James Mangold stated that it was possible that the character could appear in other X-Men films while producer Kinberg clarified that a film centering on X-23 was in development. Several months later in October it was reported that Mangold and his writing partner Craig Kyle had signed on as screenwriters for an X-23 film. It is not known how far they got on the project before all X-Men development went on hold in early 2019.

Multiple Man

In November 2017 it was reported that James Franco was attached to star in an X-Men spinoff film centering on the character of Jamie Madrox, aka Multiple Man. Wonder Woman screenwriter Allan Heinberg was set to handle the script and of course X-Men franchise producer Simon Kinberg was producing.

As his name implies, Jamie Madrox is a mutant who has the ability to create multiple copies of himself. In the comics he served as a foil to both the X-Men and Fantastic Four, and since Fox owned the rights to both of those comic series, I suppose the film had the potential to feature anyone from those two rights packages. More recently in the comics, Madrox has reformed somewhat and had started working as a private detective. Given that Fox was looking to expand on the types of stories it could tell within the franchise, a noirish detective story with the character seemed like a distinct possibility, one that Franco hinted at a few weeks later when he stated “We’re going to take this superhero thing and really just push it into a new genre.” And while Kinberg stated that the script was still being worked on in an interview this past September, it is unclear as to whether they had a full draft completed before Disney pulled the plug on everything.

Kitty Pryde

In January of 2018 it was announced that Deadpool director Tim Miller would be helming a solo film for the teenage mutant who can walk through walls. Although she had quick cameo appearances in the first two X-Men films, it wasn’t until 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand that Kitty Prude moved into the film’s ensemble cast with Ellen Page joining the franchise to play her. Page and Kitty would return in 2014’s Days Of Future Past. The film was revealed to be being developed under the title 143, which comics fans immediately linked to the 1981 X-Men #143 comic, which featured the first solo adventure for the young mutant. The following month, comics writer Brian Michael Bendis was announced as writing the project. A year later in February 2019, Bendis tweeted in a since-deleted tweet that he was still at work on the screenplay even while working his DC writing for Marvel’s print rival, DC Comics.

It’s vvvvvvvery surreal and delightful to be so deep inside the X mansion and the fortress of solitude at the same time

Since then, there has been no word as to whether or not Bendis finished that draft before the Disney-Fox merger.

New Mutants 2/ New Mutants 3

When writer/director Josh Boone first pitched a film based on the X-Men comic The New Mutants, he envisioned a trilogy of films that played in various horror sub-genres. The first film would be pretty much a haunted house story, while New Mutants 2 would be more of an alien invasion horror film, as it would see the team traveling to Brazil to square off against Sunspot’s villainous father Emmanuel da Costa and the Hellfire Club as well as an alien invasion. New Mutants 3 would have been a more supernatural horror film, adapting the “Inferno” comics storyline which sees Illyana Rasputin/Magik and her evil alternate reality persona Darkchilde squaring off against each other.

New Mutants 2 was also reported to have been set to introduce comics team members Warlock and Xi’an Coy Manh/Karma into the mix. Reportedly Sacha Baron Cohen had been in talks to play Warlock. Antonio Banderas had been set to play Emmanuel da Costa and would have first appeared in an after-credits scene on the first New Mutants film that went unshot.

X-Men: Fear The Beast

Not a concept that was being developed by Twentieth Century Fox so much as it was a spec script that was generated in-house, X-Men: Fear The Beast has its origins with franchise composer and editor John Ottman and his assistant Byron Burton. Burton came up with the idea for a spinoff film featuring Nicholas Hoult’s Hank McCoy/The Beast character while longtime X-Men editor and composer Ottman was finishing up work on 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse. When Burton said he would be able to write a draft within two weeks, Ottman encouraged him to give it a go, though he cautioned, “[J]ust know there’s a 95 percent chance no one is ever going to make this.”

Burton’s script takes place a few years later into Apocalypse‘s 1980s decade setting. Hank McCoy has been keeping his Beast mutation in check through the use of the serum we first saw in X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014). But after a Danger Room training exercise goes bad, he realizes that it may be loosing its efficacy. Hank reaches out to a fellow scientist, Paul Cartier, who is dealing with a similar mutation as his and has been using the same serum. But when he arrives at the northern Alberta, Canada town where Cartier lives, he discovers that the scientist has reversed engineered the mutation suppression formula, creating something that actually heightens his mutant abilities and turning him into the creature known as Wendigo.

With the help of an Inuit woman, Ahnah, and her daughter, Bunkei, Hank tries to track down Cartier. Hank discovers Cartier’s mutation enhancement formula and is forced to use it to protect Ahnah and Bunkei from armed townspeople who blame them for Wendigo’s attacks. As enhanced Hank, who the script is now calling Mega-Beast, finally confronts Wendigo, Wolverine shows up, having been summoned to help Hank by Professor Xavier. (Logan is still suffering from amnesia at this point in the franchise’s timeline and doesn’t remember the events of Days Of Future Past or Apocalypse until Professor X fills him in.) The three-way fight that concludes the script is in part an homage to the 1970s issue of the Incredible Hulk comic which introduced the character of Wolverine when the Hulk was fighting Wendigo, just with Beast subbing in for the Hulk, Burton said in an interview for this piece.

Ottman was impressed with the script and took it to franchise producer Kinberg, with the intent of possibly directing it himself. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Kinberg refused to read the script as he was developing his own ideas about the continual use of the Wolverine character even as actor Hugh Jackman was getting ready to film his swansong in the role, 2017’s Logan. And that refusal to read the script pretty much stopped Fear The Beast in its tracks. But Burton had already been thinking ahead as to what the next step in the X-Men franchise could be, as we will see below.

Mister Sinister And The Future

One storyline that was already starting to stretch across the X-Men films that the franchise never got to follow up on was that of the Essex Corporation and it’s own Nathaniel Essex, aka Mr. Sinister. Although born in Victorian England, Nathaniel Essex is a mutant with an exceptionally long lifespan and who has been studying the emergence of mutants for some time. And this elongated life gives Essex the ability to pop up in any of the X-Men films, no matter what year they were set in.

The first mention of the character appears in the end-credits scene of the 1980s-set X-Men: Apocalypse. In it, we saw agents of the Essex Corporation confiscate blood samples, x-rays and other information on Weapon X, aka Wolverine, from the ruins of the Weapon X laboratory trashed earlier in the movie. In the audio commentary track for Apocalypse, Singer and Kinberg claimed that the tag was a set up for the next as-then-untitled Wolverine movie. Ultimately, that turned out to be not that case as that Wolverine solo film became Logan and did not feature either Mr. Sinister or the Essex Corporation. It did feature another genetics technology company called Alkali-Transigen, so it is possible that at one point earlier in Logan’s script development Essex Corporation and/or Mister Sinister were in the script but then were swapped out.

In Deadpool 2, the Essex name appears attached to the mutant orphanage/Essex House for Mutant Rehabilitation where Deadpool finds Russell, aka Firefist, the mutant who will murder Cable’s family in the future. And of course,  the home’s treatment of its charges is far from benign, an attitude that is carried over to New Mutants.

In this year’s New Mutants, we see that it is the Essex Corporation that runs the hospital that the film’s young heroes find themselves in, not Charles Xavier as the group of young mutant heroes had surmised. It is a reveal made to the audience, but not to the characters themselves. And it further helps set up the idea of Mr. Sinister and the Essex Corporation as a malevolent force within the X-Men universe.

And that was not the only instance of Essex Corporation and Mr. Sinister that was initially planned for New Mutants. At one point in the film’s development and production, an end credits sequence was reportedly planned which would have finally introduced Mr Sinister into the franchise on screen in the person of actor Jon Hamm. Although rumored to have been shot but discarded in favor of the planned one featuring Antonio Banderas as Emmanuel da Costa, its existence has yet to be officially confirmed.

But these aren’t the only cases where fans would have had mention of the villain had the X-Men franchise continued.

In the August 28, 2015 draft of Gambit, the mysterious person who recruits Remy to return to New Orleans for a specific heist is revealed to be none other than Nathaniel Essex and the object that he wants Gambit to steal turns out to be a young mutant girl – Marrow in the comics – who is also exceptionally long-lived and has mutant healing powers similar to Wolverine. However, by the end of the script Gambit has publicly exposed Essex and his experiments on mutants. It is a story point that might not have been in line with the secrecy we see with the other Essex Corporation mentions, but presumably it could have been adjusted with a rewrite had the film actually gone forward into production.

Burton’s Fear The Beast featured an appearance from Mr. Sinister, first in disguise as a scarred man lurking in the background of the script’s northern Alberta town setting and then revealed in the last moments as he collects the remaining vials of Cartier’s mutation enhancing formula for himself.

Even before Kinberg’s passing on reading the Fear The Beast script, Burton was already thinking ahead as to where the Mr. Sinister storyline could potentially go next. He began to outline a second film, this one involving the X-Men villain Omega Red. In the comics, the villain’s origin is tied up with a Soviet attempt to recreate the Super Soldier Formula that the US used to create Captain America back in World War Two. But with the Captain America movie rights over at Marvel Studios, Mister Sinister and the Essex Corporation steps in to take the Soviets’ place.
In an interview for this piece, Burton explained that his use of Omega Red grew from his use of the Wendigo in Fear The Beast and that X-Men leader Professor X was too often portrayed as too powerful, which would sometimes create storytelling issues. It would also set up the return of a classic X-Men adversary that Burton didn’t think got a fair shake in the films so far.

[Mister Sinister] had been probing the X-Men, to see what they could do. He had been trying out different things. The biggest problem that I thought with the X-Men that I thought that wasn’t covered in the rest of the franchise is the Xavier power problem. They had to incapacitate Xavier in X-Men 1 for the climax, and in X-Men 2 he’s captured and put in a power limiting device to avoid his seemingly endless ability to destroy the plot of a film with a single thought. In X-Men First Class, a brilliant film that I love, the X-jet crashes on the beach and Xavier tells his students who to fight and tells Magneto to go after Shaw.  Script wise, it would have been wiser to have Xavier slightly knocked out and come to in the middle of the battle, head bleeding and fighting to use his powers. In the way it plays, Xavier could use his casual ‘Sleep’ line and knock all the villains out.

For my X-Men script, it was important to create villains who would have a natural immunity to Xavier’s mind probing/control powers.

What I wanted to do in Fear The Beast was make this creature so primal, and it’s DNA and mind are so far from human that Xavier can’t control the mind or even see it with Cerebro. With the Omega Red idea,  Sinister would be behind the Russian team programming  this half-human cyborg. And Omega Red would have a computer in the brain with command functions and safeguards to prevent Xavier from accessing it.

I wrote part of the climax, where Omega Red reactivates the Sentinel Program. I really hate that [in Days Of Future Past] you basically had this early model of the Sentinel that wasn’t so fearsome or involved in any cool action sequences — and then the unstoppable version in the future that the X-Men couldn’t defeat. I wanted to channel the sort of super tall, moderately tough, but vulnerable Sentinels you see in the in the animated series and in the comics. We never got a really good Sentinel battle, like one where they could actually win and it was tough.

Interestingly, in Dark Phoenix there is no mention of the Esssex Corporation or Mr. Sinister, although one could think that perhaps the stun guns that we see the military and the Mutant Containment Unit use in the New York City and train battles could have been manufactured by the Essex Corporations with their growing knowledge of mutantkind. But the lack of a concrete Essex Corporation/Mister Sinister appearance does suggest the question as to whether Kinberg or someone else had either given up on the idea of using the character all together. Alternatively, itis possible that they were in the process of seceding the character over to Boone’s planned New Mutants sequels. Both films shot simultaneously, so if Kinberg was giving up on the Mr. Sinister story idea entirely for the franchise than the Essex Corporation mention in New Mutants could have been easily removed at that same time. If the reports of the rumored Jon Hamm credits tag scene are true, then the handing over the Mr. Sinister story thread over to potential New Mutants sequels seems like a possibility.

Of course, as with all film development, especially in a franchise with a number of moving parts like Twentieth Century Fox’s X-Men franchise, things are always very much in some form of flux or another. What could have been the plan on a Thursday could be changed the following Monday in response to a bad weekend at the box office.

And after Dark Phoenix‘s poor box office reception last year, even if the Disney merger had not happened, there most likely would have been some sort of a shakeup within the franchise on the creative level. But for now, when fans would have next seen indications of Mr. Sinister and the Essex Corporation and when they would have found out to what purpose the genetic information and DNA samples that they were collecting in Apocalypse and New Mutants was going to be put to will, for the time being, remain untold.

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About Rich Drees 6618 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty years experience writing about film and pop culture.
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