In a sad epitaph to what was once a groundbreaking franchise, the last film of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men movie saga suffered a final indignity: it’s been labeled the biggest flop of 2019. Indeed, internet industry trade site, Deadline, released its annual postmortem on the previous year’s box office this week. And at the top of its list of box office failures is Simon Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix.
According to Deadline, Fox, and thereby their new owners at The Walt Disney Company, took a $133 million bath on what was intended to be a franchise course correction after the disappointing (but still profitable) X-Men: Apocalypse in 2016. While Dark Phoenix was pitched by writer-director Kinberg as a more intimate “character-driven” superhero film that could be produced on a budget—which always made choosing to redo the fabled comic book storyline “The Dark Phoenix Saga” even more inexplicable given its Star Wars-like epic sweep—the movie ended up costing at least $200 million.
This was the result of Dark Phoenix’s original third act satisfying none of the test audiences it played in front of. Hence the initial three and then seven-month delay. Originally scheduled to premiere in November 2018—far from summer competition, and well before Marvel’s Captain Marvel and Disney’s actual space-traveling cosmic epic, Avengers: Endgame—Dark Phoenix was delayed from its original date to Feb. 14 and then finally June 7. It was an unfortunate situation brought about the need to reshoot significant portions of the movie, including the climax, in the hopes of beefing up the action quota.
The reshoots did not save the finished film. Despite starring Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence, who all appeared in previous franchise highlights X-Men: First Class (2011) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), as well as Sophie Turner at the height of her post-Game of Thrones stardom, Dark Phoenix received mostly scathing reviews, ending up with an anemic 23 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. It fared little better with average moviegoers, earning a “B-” CinemaScore, which while not horrible did portend mediocre word of mouth. Opening at just $32.8 million, Dark Phoenix didn’t even finish in first place during its first weekend and earned the lowest total gross in X-Men movie history, finishing its run with $252 million worldwide.