X-Men: Days of Future Past helped relaunch, in a sense, the X-Men franchise when it opened in theaters in 2014. It was a milestone achievement for the franchise, bringing back original director Bryan Singer alongside the original cast who in an unprecedented fashion in the genre, were able to share the screen with younger versions of themselves who were introduced a few years earlier in X-Men: First Class.
This film was a hit among critics and set box office records for the franchise, ensuring that the X-Men could still be unique and relevant in an era when blockbuster comic book adaptations are opening in theaters every few weeks. But Days of Future Past, did more than bring back familiar faces. It introduced what may be the most useful plot device a film franchise can have, one that can be used to erase, replace, improve, even re-tell any story. Bryan Singer, as he told our own Andrew Dyce when he visited the set of X-Men: Apocalypse, can do whatever he wants now thanks to time-travel. But what does that mean for all the upcoming X-Men films and spinoffs, and how can they then connect?
What's occurring now in the X-Men movies, notably in the '70s segments of X-Men: Days of Future Past and now the '80s explored in X-Men: Apocalypse did not occur in the past when we we first met Charles Xavier and his mutants in the original 2000 film. It's a different timeline but as Bryan Singer explains when describing the time-travel theory this franchise embraces, the future destination points will always remain similar.
Simon Kinberg spoke on this point while we were on the set of X-Men: Apocalypse, confirming that things can and will be different in this new timeline:
"It’s not leading necessarily toward exactly where we found Patrick Stewart and the X-Men at the beginning of X-Men 1. There are some things that lead in that general direction, that was part of the philosophy we had at the end of Days of Future Past is that you can’t fully change the course or current of the river, but you can just divert it a little bit, and we diverted it a little bit. So some things will be surprises; people could die that were alive in X-Men 1, 2 and 3, or people could survive that died during 1, 2 and 3. In terms of being difficult, I don’t think it felt difficult because the world was more open, because it felt like we were still following the stories of our main characters. We imagine this like a trilogy of stories of Charles, Erik, Hank, and Raven and so we really were trying to tell what is the continuation and in some ways completion of their character arcs that we began in First Class, without thinking so much about how it links to the year 2000. It was really about these people who began in some ways as friends or strangers, became friends, became enemies, became lovers, became all of this—how do you complete that story and in some ways sort of bring the family back together in this film?"
With Deadool kicking off 2016's slate of comic book films, Gambit beginning production in March, and Wolverine 3 shooting later this year, how do these spinoffs connect to what came before and what will happen in X-Men: Apocalypse? Kinberg - who's producing all of them and managing the larger continuity of Fox's Marvel properties - confirms that these modern-set spinoffs take place in the world and timeline, after these events, a world where mutancy is known and accept, where Magneto dropped a stadium on the White House and where Apocalypse will try to annihilate much of the world.
"Well [X-Men: Apocalypse] takes space chronologically before those other films, so it’s more like those films have to acknowledge this than we acknowledge Gambit, Deadpool, or Fantastic Four or anything else that exists within the sort of Fox/Marvel universe. But I work on all of those films in one capacity or another, either as a producer on all of them and as a writer on Fantastic Four and this movie, so I’m certainly aware of all the different stories we’re telling at the same time, and they all are part of a larger fabric now, and so the world of Deadpool, the world of Gambit exists in a post-Days of Future Past post-Apocalypse world where all of these stories are the same as our shared history. The same way that each of us of different ages knows about Nixon and knows about Reagan and knows about 9/11, our fictitious events like the stadium dropping on the White House in 1973 is part of the world in which Gambit, Deadpool, Wolverine on forward exists.
This doesn't mean all future X-Men projects will embrace this new timeline. The franchise has historially been problematic in following its own established continuity, but with X-Men: Days of Future Past introducing the ultimately convenient plot device in time-travel, none of that matters. Every movie could be in a slightly tweaked timeline/universe from the others. Want a character back? No problem. Recast? Sure.