Here’s a Fourth of July bombshell: the podcast Pete’s Basement is reporting that Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox are in early talks to join forces for a film that would bring the X-Men and Avengers together, targeting 2020 as a release date. This is a rumor and should definitely be consumed with a big heaping scoop of salt, but it makes a lot of sense.
Historically, Marvel’s film rights are among the densest, most convoluted in Hollywood. But after decades of development at over a dozen studios, the rights have coalesced into three camps: Sony (Spider-Man), Fox (X-Men & Fantastic Four), and Marvel (everything else). Earlier this year, Marvel and Sony reached a historic deal to bring Spidey into the MCU. Though we haven’t seen the fruits of that deal yet, both Marvel and Fox have an uncertain future with their superhero franchises. It makes sense that both parties would want to sit down at the table and discuss their future together.
- In 2016, Fox releases X-Men: Apocalypse. This is definitely the final film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender, probably James McAvoy as well. It’s also been rumored that this is the final X-film for director Bryan Singer after guiding the franchise for about fifteen years. After Apocalypse, the core X-Men franchise will be rudderless.
- 2017 has The Wolverine 2 (3?), which is confirmed as Hugh Jackman‘s final Wolverine film. He’s by far the biggest star of the X-franchise, and losing him has to be a source of much consternation at Fox.
- Fox has two potential franchise-starters in 2016: Deadpool starring Ryan Reynolds, and Gambit starring Channing Tatum. But each film has its own sets of baggage. Both characters are popular, but nowhere near as recognizable as Wolverine or Magneto. On top of that, Reynolds’ last superhero role was Green Lantern, the most notorious superhero flop of the decade. Earlier this year Tatum starred in Jupiter Ascending, another enormous flop. Both actors are quite successful in comedies, but have floundered in sci-fi action franchises.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past performed exceptionally well and is the highest grossing film in the franchise. But it earned nowhere near the worldwide billion dollar mark that seems to be the expected tentpole marker these days. It’s especially painful for Fox, since Days of Future Past is the biggest “crossover” that they could achieve.
- Fox has floundered establishing other core X-Men franchises. They’re developing a New Mutants film set to be directed by Josh Boone, but he’ll be full-time on with Warner Bros’ The Stand for at least the next three years. Fox got the ball rolling on an X-Force film, but seemed to suspend those plans in favor of Apocalypse.
On the Marvel side of town:
- 2019’s Avengers: Infinity War part II will likely be the final film for all of Marvel’s mainline Avengers. It’s believed that the contracts for Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Scarlett Johansson all expire after that film, and it’s likely that Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner won’t have many films left either. Though Marvel can re-up their contracts, that will be an enormously expensive move for the penny-pinching studio. Plus, the actors themselves may not want to return: Chris Evans has already said that after Captain America, he’s stepping away from acting to focus on directing.
- In the wake of losing their biggest stars, Marvel is setting up new franchises based around Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and the Inhumans. But even in the comics, these characters are incredibly untested. Black Panther hasn’t lead an ongoing series in years; Doctor Strange hasn’t lead an ongoing comic series in decades; Captain Marvel leads a wildly popular but low-selling series; and the Inhumans are part of a major publishing initiative that has seen middling sales.
- Though Marvel will have Spider-Man, they don’t actually see money from the box office revenue that film earns. If Marvel decides to pursue Spider-Man spinoffs based on popular characters like Venom or Spider-Gwen, they probably won’t see box office revenue from those films either.
Right now, with both studios at a crossroads, it makes a lot of sense that they’d be talking, feeling out the waters about bringing their properties together. But there’s a lot of roadblocks, too. The Marvel/Sony deal made sense: since Marvel owns the rights to all Spider-Man merchandise, they have a vested interest in making a successful, popular, well-liked Spider-Man film that sells toys and underwear. And since Marvel Studios has been on such a hot-streak, it makes sense for Sony to trust Marvel to save their most popular but slowly stagnating franchise.
Fox and Marvel’s relationship is a bit muddier. Marvel sees an incredibly small amount of money from the X-Men films, but also shares merchandising revenue with Fox. This is partially the reason that Marvel has been eliminating X-Men from their merchandising lines. It seems like money would definitely need to exchange hands for Marvel to have a vested interest in working with Fox. It doesn’t help that the two have been quite hostile to each other in the past.
But regimes change. Tom Rothman, the 20th Century Fox head who reportedly hated the X-Men, is no longer with the studio (ironically, he’s at Sony, overseeing Spider-Man). If Singer exits the franchise, that would probably open doors to clean out a lot of the other producers that don’t play well with Marvel. Plus, Marvel Studios are miracle-workers. They brought Spidey home, turned Groot into a household name, and it looks like their most troubled film is about to be a huge hit. If anybody can bring the mutants into the MCU where they belong, it’s Marvel.
And hey, after the X-Men, maybe Marvel Studios can get started on that Avengers vs. Justice League movie you didn’t know you wanted.