Between Captain America: Civil War, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the unexpected mega-success of Deadpool, it's easy to overlook X-Men: Apocalypse or dismiss the film as yet another middling blockbuster in a season chock full of them. But with the X-Men forming the centerpiece of 20th Century Fox's superhero universe, and recent rumors of an eventual deal to "rescue" the franchise by folding it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the box office performance of director Bryan Singer's most latest offering could actually be crucial to the future of comic book movies.
With a reported budget of $178 million, and a domestic box office haul of "only" $155 million, how does Apocalypse stack up against this summer's other blockbusters, as well as previous films in the X-Men franchise? Now that the final numbers are in, let's take a look.
X-Men: Apocalypse's budget, as mentioned, is reported to be no less than $178 million, not including marketing, which surely added a great deal to that number. However, that number is still considerably less than X-Men: Days of Future Past, which carried a reputed price tag of $200 million. As mega-blockbusters go, $178 million leans towards the more reasonable end, especially when compared to Captain America: Civil War and Batman V Superman, which were both produced on mammoth budgets in the range of $250 million. While each of these tentpole films have raked in serious dough, it has been said that Batman V Superman may prove to be less profitable than its predecessor, the Superman reboot, Man of Steel, due to its higher budget and marketing costs.
As sequels try to outdo their predecessors by being "bigger and better," budgets naturally escalate. The first X-Men had a budget of just $75 million back in 2000, and 2011's X-Men: First Class was produced for $160 million, but the two biggest films in the series, X-Men: The Last Stand and Days of Future Past, both cost in excess of $200 million. Fox surely made a priority of managing the budget of Apocalypse, and based on its moderately strong box office performance (stronger than First Class, weaker than Days of Future Past), it seems they made the right call.
Marvel vs. Marvel
In 2008, Marvel Studios released two films to jumpstart their plans for a shared universe. May brought Iron Man, and July saw the release of The Incredible Hulk. Iron Man exploded at the box office to the tune of $585 million worldwide, but The Incredible Hulk proved to be something of a non-starter, closing with only $263 million worldwide. It's the lowest-grossing movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by a wide margin, but its middling numbers were easy to overlook considering Iron Man's exceptional success, which more than made up for The Incredible Hulk failing to reach blockbuster status.
Fast forward eight years and we see a situation not dissimilar to the anecdote above. X-Men: Apocalypse is Fox's summer tentpole with a large budget and a prime Memorial Day release date. Meanwhile, the studio also produced Deadpool, a wildly atypical X-Men spinoff. The film had a fraction of Apocalypse's budget ($58 million, the smallest of any X-Men production so far), and a shabby release date in the dumping ground of February. However, Deadpool turned out to be a much bigger hit than Fox was expecting, and quickly became the highest-grossing X-Men film of all time, both domestically and worldwide; and, with the advantage of a smaller budget, Fox's bottom line becomes that much larger.
Even if X-Men Apocalypse had crashed and burned at the box office, Fox reaped so much profit from Deadpool that the damage would have been negligible. Thankfully for Fox, while Apocalypse may not be a smash hit (we'll cast final judgement later), it certainly is not a flop. For comparison's sake, Apocalypse's worldwide box office haul is about twice as strong as that of The Incredible Hulk.
X-Men's International Presence
Up until recently, X-Men hasn't been terribly popular overseas. Looking at the worldwide numbers paints a picture of a slowly growing international audience. 2013's The Wolverine was, at the time, the lowest-grossing X-Men film domestically, but also the highest-grossing entry overseas. Much of this has to do with the steadily increasing importance of the international marketplace; the film performed more-or-less in line with expectations based on the franchise's steady overseas growth.
It wasn't until Days of Future Past took a much more large-scale approach to the series that the worldwide audience started to truly take notice. Days certainly reinvigorated the franchise domestically (earning numbers not seen since 2005's often-reviled The Last Stand), but it also catapulted the series from being a distinctly American franchise, to being an international hit, earning a whopping $747 million worldwide, and bringing the series genuine blockbuster status on a global level. The X-Men box office record was broken earlier this year by, against all odds, Deadpool, a film which didn't even see release in China. However, it's possible that Deadpool would not have broken out the way it did, especially overseas, if Days of Future Past had not have brought the X-Men series a global fame which it had not yet earned for itself.
Apocalypse vs. Days of Future Past
This brings us to Apocalypse, which arrived in one of the most competitive summers of all time, in a year which had seen no less than three big-time comic book blockbusters already earn a combined $2.75 billion dollars in worldwide ticket sales. This year has already claimed victims in the form of box office duds like Warcraft and Alice: Through the Looking Glass.
To expect Days of Future Past numbers from Apocalypse would have been foolish; Days was a grand finale along the lines of The Last Stand (still the highest grossing non-Deadpool X-Men film domestically, by a hair), as well as a revival for the series which combined the casts of First Class with that of the original trilogy, including Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Halle Berry. While marketing for Apocalypse publicized Hugh Jackman's cameo as Wolverine and the introduction of rebooted versions of classic characters like Storm, Cyclops, and Jean Grey, it also made no attempts to hide that this film starred the "B-Team" of X-Men casts. It's a B-Team full of heavy hitters like Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, and James McAvoy, but a B-Team nonetheless.
While Days of Future Past was a major event movie meant to hit reset on the entire franchise, Apocalypse is more of a transitional film about the founding of the X-Men and setting up the pieces for the next film (X-Men: Dark Phoenix, anyone?). The villain, Apocalypse, while menacing and capable of great destruction, can't really compete with mutant-killing monsters who have already succeeded in ending the world, as was the case in Days.
What Does X-Men Mean to Fox?
20th Century Fox is in a tough position. Having licensed Fantastic Four and X-Men from Marvel so many years ago, the studio must continue to periodically churn out movies or the rights will revert back to the original owners (Marvel) and Fox will no longer be allowed to make X-Men films. While Marvel Studios certainly isn't short on superheroes, between the existing movie franchises and upcoming additions to the MCU, the studio probably wouldn't turn up its nose at having all characters within the X-Men collection back on the table.
Fox can afford to have their ups and downs with the X-Men movies, but can they afford to not make any X-Men movies at all? Enduring franchises bounce back from critical and commercial disappointment; The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine were thrashed by critics but made tons of money. In 2011, the prequel story X-Men: First Class earned rave reviews but failed to break out at the box office - however, it did successfully position the franchise for Days of Future Past, which brought the franchise to global box office dominance. This, combined with Deadpool's hugely enjoyable and profitable shtick, has the potential to keep Fox afloat for years to come.
Is X-Men: Apocalypse a Success?
Apocalypse is not a mega-blockbuster along the lines of Days of Future Past or the shockingly successful Deadpool, but Fox knew that it was never going to be, and that it doesn't need to be. While Apocalypse is currently more than $200 million behind Days globally, it's still head and shoulders above films like First Class, The Last Stand, and X-Men United.
X-Men: Apocalypse has earned $533 million worldwide off of a budget of $178 million. Domestically it's within spitting distance of the 2000 original, which can definitely been seen as a disappointment, especially with a decade and a half's worth of ticket price inflation, but here is a case where international success can mitigate an underwhelming domestic performance. However, even more important than Apocalypse's worldwide acceptance is the success of Deadpool, a film from the same studio (set in the same universe) whose dramatically unexpected triumph is able to happily overshadow Apocalypse's more modest showing.
In the grand scheme of the X-Men franchise, Apocalypse is more of a First Class than a Days of Future Past; it's not so much about laying it all on the line, as much as it is about setting up the next big thing. Parts of the film serve to set up the third (and possibly final) Wolverine solo film, an X-Force movie, as well as a possible Dark Phoenix film - a storyline which was famously squandered in The Last Stand, but which could easily be a game-changer on par with Days of Future Past.
Ultimately, Fox will surely break even with Apocalypse, though it certainly won't be (in baseball terms) a grand slam. Nevertheless, that's okay, because the X-Men brand is strong, and the next smash hit is always just around the corner. X-Men Apocalypse's box office performance is nothing to get worked up over in either direction; it's workmanlike numbers are successful, if unremarkable, and that's enough for Fox to continue making sequels for the foreseeable future.
X-Men: Apocalypse arrives on Digital HD on September 9, 2016, and will release on Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD and DVD on October 4, 2016.