This past week featured the blu-ray release of X-Men: Dark Phoenix and thus, an era ended. The film franchise that gave life to Marvel’s mutants on the big screen is over. For now. However, what will people remember when they think of this series of films? Will it be the epic performances from award-winning actors like Sir Ian McKellen and Michal Fassbender or will it be the convoluted timeline? Now that the franchise has officially come to an end and Disney will undoubtedly give Marvel Studios the green light to reboot, let’s examine the legacy this 19-year spanning saga has left behind.
In 2000, I saw X-Men (2000) at a drive-in theater with my mom. I was nine. I had grown up on the animated series and found it beyond belief that real people were playing these characters. This year, I was seeing X-Men: Dark Phoenix in theaters as well. However, this time I spent a lot of time throughout wondering how it all got to this point. Walt Disney Studios famously purchased 21st Century Fox and all of its intellectual property over the last few years. It was all finalized shortly before the release of X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Knowing this, fans such as myself were able to say goodbye.
However, it also gave fans such as myself a chance to reflect. What allowed these movies to have such a long life in Hollywood? What made them good? Were they actually bad films as everyone on Film Twitter would have you believe? Let’s take a look at the lasting impact and the complicated legacy these films will leave in their wake.
Honestly, the names who have appeared in the X-Men film franchise are a laundry list of A-listers. Seriously. From Halle Berry and Patrick Stewart to James McAvoy and Evan Peters, the ensemble casts often impresses more often than they disappoint. Nowadays, award-winning actors joining the cast of a superhero movie is commonplace. However, back during the turn of the century, the genre often carried a stigma. The X-Men film franchise lead the way for more credible actors to try their hand in being super-powered. The series also helped, in a way, to launch the careers of Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, and Anna Paquin. While some fans look back on their memories of the X-Men films with confusion, its hard to deny that they had some stacked groups of actors doing the heavy lifting.
Box Office Success
Like it or not, the X-Men film franchise is the sixth highest grossing franchise of all time. Albeit, a lot of that revenue comes from the Deadpool films. However, we are talking about a series of movies with two different trilogies, one series of four movies, and two Deadpool movies (three if you count Once Upon A Deadpool). Combined, the series has grossed $6.02 billion. That is a big box office number. One that the powers-that-be at Disney are not likely to take lightly when considering the future of new additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While none of the films hit the coveted $1 billion mark, the franchise proved that Rated R movies could still bring in buckets of cash while alienating the younger superhero fans.
Since the first two films, the X-Men silently lead the pack in terms of female representation. Storm and Jean Grey, played by Halle Berry and Famke Janssen respectively, are often called upon to lead missions. In fact, X2, which is regarded as the best of this particular trilogy, ends with Storm saving Professor X while Jean Grey saves the escape ship. Within the more recent series, Jennifer Lawrence, Alexandra Shipp, and Sophie Turner have been able to shine as heroines unafraid to do what it takes to fight the good fight. Lawrence’s Mystique was the catalyst for X-Men: Days of Future Past, while Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey was by far the main character in X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
It would be another decade-and-a-half until we saw female superheroes like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel get their own solo adventures. However, X-Men showed that tough women could do exactly what the men could do and they could do it even better.
It goes without saying that Hugh Jackman and Jennifer Lawrence (more below) are two of the biggest names in all of Hollywood. Look at the poster for X-Men: Days of Future Past. Among a litany of Academy Award-winning actors, Jackman and Lawrence are the most prominent figures. Let’s start with Jackman. His portrayal of Wolverine was so palpable and engaging, he played the role for 17 years. His was the first and only character to get his own solo films and he got three of them. While X-Men Origins: Wolverine was met with critical and commercial disappointment, 2017’s Logan more than made up for it. Designed as a way for fans to say goodbye to Wolverine, Jackman delivered a performance that many agree should have been honored by major award academies. X-Men gave Jackman a launching pad with which to become a legitimate movie star. His background is musical theatre and long before he donned the claws, he found great success on the stage. However, since he first appeared in the series, Jackman has become a bona fide, certifiable action star. It will indeed be interesting to see just who will be able to take the role following the inevitable Disney reboot.
Jennifer Lawrence has been nominated the Academy Award for Best Actress three times and has one it once. She has also racked up a bevy of Golden Globes and SAG Awards. Lawrence is one of the most sought after and revered actresses of this generation. She has also starred in four X-Men films. Her work as Mystique has given young girls a different kind of hero. One who struggles with her self-image and place in the world. One who is forced to kick down the doors of rooms where only men are allowed. Lawrence has been outspoken about the makeup requirements and the negative responses to these films. However, she has always come back for more and was involved with the series up until the very end. She is perhaps best known for her role as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games saga but her presence in the Marvel Universe has been a big reason several fans kept buying tickets to see new X-Men movies. Her character work has gone from the naive little sister of Professor X to a resilient superhero with the ability to change the entire course of history. Literally. If she were to play a new Marvel hero, it would be extremely interesting to see one of the highest paid and versatile actresses of all time interact with characters in the MCU in the future.
What Comes Next?
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been without some of their biggest names since its inception. With a triumphant, however brief inclusion of Spider-Man, Marvel Studios proved that they have the innate ability to bring in new characters and make fans care for them. The ever-growing MCU will introduce a new Thor, the Eternals, and Moon Knight in the next few years. However, one has to believe that Deadpool will lead the way for mutants. While his films are extremely R-rated, Ryan Reynolds is the only actor from the original X-Men film franchise to publicly acknowledge the merger. And he has done it multiple times. Disney and Marvel are likely eager to get the ‘Merc With The Mouth among their ranks as soon as possible.
Recently, we here at Full Circle reported that Marvel was looking to cast a person of color to play either Professor X or Magneto in a future film. This is groundbreaking. This is incredible. Why? Because retelling this story of oppression and perseverance and inequality from the perspective of young African-American or Latino men would not only change the foundation on which the X-Men are built, but pave the way for people of color to portray more characters in the future.
“I loved this idea,” Stan Lee told the Guardian in 2000, as the first X-Men movie hit theaters. ”It not only made them different, but it was a good metaphor for what was happening with the Civil Rights Movement in the country at that time.”
This is America. X-Men is an American story. While the background of some characters are quite outdated, the thematic elements will stand the test of time.
Whether you, like me, went into every X-Men movie and found something to enjoy or you hated every moment of them, the legacy these films leave behind is undisputed. Was the timeline often confusing? Yes. In fact, Deadpool makes reference to that in his very first film. Regardless of how you remember these movies, they have their place int the American cinematic canon.
What do you think of the lasting impact and the complicated legacy of the X-Men film franchise? Be sure to sound off in the comments!
X-Men: Dark Phoenix is on blu ray and digital platforms now!
The film stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, and Jessica Chastain.
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