A new report has shed light on what went wrong behind the scenes on Dark Phoenix. Fox's run on the X-Men movies started in 2000, but came to a disappointing conclusion this past weekend. Dark Phoenix was hampered by reports of poor test screenings ahead of its release, and the actual reviews were pretty negative all-around. This did virtually nothing to help the general lack of interest surrounding the X-Men film pre-launch, which resulted in Dark Phoenix bombing with a franchise-low $33 million bow at the domestic box office. With a budget of $200 million, it's estimated Dark Phoenix will ultimately lose something in the order of $100 million.
To be fair, the movie's problems were not entirely its own doing. The film has been something of a lame duck since Disney purchased Fox's entertainment assets, with the intention of rebooting the X-Men movies and TV shows for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nevertheless, it turns out that Dark Phoenix had (unsurprisingly) a whole lot of other issues that were not directly related to the Disney-Fox acquisition.
According to THR, part of the problem was Fox took away the wrong lesson from 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse. While that film was still a commercial hit, it earned mixed to negative reviews and grossed $200 million less than 2014's Days of Future Past. As a direct result, Dark Phoenix was designed to be the anti-Apocalypse and tell its story on a smaller scale with less spectacle. This led to Dark Phoenix being too small for a summer tentpole, but too big for an off-season release. Fox tried to accommodate this by scheduling the film for a November 2018 launch, but had to push it back three months when it became clear the movie wouldn't be ready in time.
However, Dark Phoenix later encountered another problem when, at James Cameron's behest, Fox gave its February date to Alita: Battle Angel, and moved the X-Men movie to early June instead. By the time the film's actual marketing began, the Disney-Fox deal was in its final stages and Fox was uncertain how to best promote the tentpole, resulting in what one executive described as a "muddled" campaign to THR. This further contributed to the general lack of buzz around Dark Phoenix, ahead of its release last week. To show just how limited moviegoers' interest was: an NRG tracking poll in May revealed that Avengers: Endgame was rated as a higher choice for viewers than Dark Phoenix, despite the former having been out five weeks by that point. Even the Elton John biopic Rocketman had more awareness ahead of its release at the end of May - and as one of THR's insiders put it, "When definite awareness of Rocketman is higher than an X-Men movie, you know you’re in strange territory".
In the end, these behind the scenes hiccups simply magnified Dark Phoenix's problems in other areas. Case in point: the film went thought major reshoots last year, with its entire third act climax being re-tooled and key subplots (like Jean Grey and Cyclops' romance) being reduced in an effort to address test screening criticisms of its earlier cut. Unfortunately, those changes apparently did little but muddle the overarching picture, as the theatrical version of Dark Phoenix was taken to task for its half-baked character storylines and themes, in addition to sloppy action. It's difficult to point the finger of blame for these various issues at any single person, either; by the sound of it, the movie was a perfect storm of behind the scenes mismanagements.
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