Dark Phoenix ended up bombing at the box office during its opening weekend worse than anticipated, but why did that happen? In contrast from other 2019 superhero films like Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, the last movie in Fox's X-Men franchise was never expected to be a massive, bona fide blockbuster when it premiered earlier this month. Original projections had it pegged for about a $50 million debut, which would have been the worst start in the entire series.
Still, $50 million sounds very respectable compared to what actually happened. Dark Phoenix was an outright disaster commercially, taking in $32.8 million domestically and finishing second for the weekend, behind The Secret Life of Pets 2. It's expected Dark Phoenix will lose at least $100 million due to its poor performance, so there's no denying this is a flop. As for why this development transpired, there are a few noteworthy reasons.
First and foremost, the word-of-mouth didn't do this film any favors. Dark Phoenix has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of any X-Men movie, killing its already poor box office prospects. Even before the reviews came out, it'd be hard-pressed to call Dark Phoenix an anticipated event, meaning it wasn't critic-proof. Unlike the Aladdin remake, which received surprisingly positive reactions, Dark Phoenix was hampered by largely negative responses that panned its underdeveloped character arcs and emotionally hollow story. Arriving on the heels of a trio of well-received superhero films (Captain Marvel, Shazam, and Endgame), Dark Phoenix was a dud from the start. Maybe if it stuck to its original February date when competition wasn't as serious, it would have been able to overcome the reviews.
Building off of in-genre competition, a case can be made there was a general sense of apathy surrounding the X-Men film franchise in general. After Days of Future Past proved to be one of the strongest X-Men movies, Fox struggled to follow it up, as 2016's Apocalypse earned mixed reviews and considerably less money at the worldwide box office. At this point in time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was in full swing and Deadpool had just become the refreshing breath of fresh air comic book movies needed. Since Apocalypse was a largely mediocre film, it didn't do much to inspire excitement for the next mainline X-Men installment. It's also worth mentioning here that in Logan, casual viewers basically bid a definitive farewell to this era of the franchise, with Professor X and Wolverine's deaths representing the end of a story. In some respects, Dark Phoenix may have felt anticlimactic to some.
Whenever a tentpole film performs this poorly, bad marketing is also to blame. In Dark Phoenix's case, its promotional campaign was underway while the Disney/Fox deal was being finalized, which put it in a unique position. According to reports, Fox didn't know the best way to advertise Dark Phoenix, which definitely hurt its awareness ratings with general moviegoers. Elton John biopic Rocketman had higher definite awareness, and Avengers: Endgame ranked ahead of Dark Phoenix in an NRG tracking poll that took place five weeks after Endgame opened. That's obviously not a good sign and illustrates Fox didn't do much to generate interest in their would-be blockbuster.