The Dark Phoenix creative team was against the decision to delay the film's release from February to June in order to accommodate the James Cameron-produced Alita: Battle Angel. Hitting theaters this past weekend, the final X-Men movie has proven to be an all-around mess. Not only was its critical reception the worst in the franchise, it also struggled mightily commercially. Hamstrung by poor word-of-mouth and a weak marketing campaign, Dark Phoenix grossed only $33 million domestically in its first three days, by far the all-time lowest debut for the X-Men series.
With the film now projected to lose at least $100 million, people are trying to figure out what went wrong on what should have been the property's epic sendoff. There's a myriad of reasons why Dark Phoenix fell way below expectations, release window being one of them. Initially, the movie was scheduled for November 2018, but was later pushed back to February to allow time for the reshoots. Finally, Fox settled on a June premiere, which proved to be a point of contention behind-the-scenes.
In THR's report on Dark Phoenix's problems, it's revealed the February-to-June shift came at the behest of James Cameron, who was concerned about the viability of his Alita: Battle Angel. Originally, the anime adaptation was going to hit theaters in December 2018, over a crowded holiday season that would see it going up against Aquaman and Bumblebee. Cameron requested Alita be delayed, so Fox moved it to February. The Dark Phoenix team allegedly "begged" the studio not to do this, since they felt Dark Phoenix wasn't cut out to be a big summer tentpole.
The idea behind Dark Phoenix, apparently, was to make it the "anti-Apocalypse," meaning it would be a smaller and less spectacle-driven film than its predecessor, X-Men: Apocalypse. Because of that, the feeling was it'd play better in the winter as opposed to summer, when massive tentpoles open weekly. If Dark Phoenix had stuck to its February date, it also would have beaten Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame to the multiplex, rather than opening after those two MCU installments combined to make more than $3 billion worldwide at the box office. By the time Dark Phoenix finally came around, there wasn't much of a demand for a new superhero movie. Endgame only recently started to decline commercially, and fans are waiting out the next few weeks until Spider-Man: Far From Home opens.
Considering Fox's history with Cameron (they're in the Avatar business together), it isn't surprising the studio honored his request to change Alita's release date. It isn't a stretch to say it would have gotten lost in the shuffle if it came out over Christmas, and the shift definitely benefitted it somewhat. Its global gross of $404.8 million against a production budget of $170 million meant it made its money back and wasn't a financial flop, though it remains to be seen if it was a big enough hit to warrant a sequel. It's just unfortunate that in order for Alita to succeed, Dark Phoenix had to be sacrificed and end its franchise on a sour note.
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