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What does the Disney/Fox merger mean for the Fox Marvel universe?

Contributed by
Jul 25, 2018

It's all but official now: Disney is going to purchase the film, TV, and other assets of 21st Century Fox after its competitor for the latter company, Comcast (which also owns SYFY), dropped out of the bidding last week. Once all the legalities and paperwork are sorted, Disney will absorb Fox and all its entertainment properties in a process that will likely be completed by next year.

This means, as widely discussed, that the Marvel properties still under license to Fox — the X-Men, Deadpool, Fantastic Four and all their related characters — will return to Marvel Studios, a Disney subsidiary. This will potentially bring all the superheroes mentioned above and more into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which would fill in the last remaining significant blank space in the MCU.

With the merger expected to go into effect by late 2019, what will happen to the Fox Marvel properties already in production or development? Two of those movies — Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants — exist on film already, while others such as X-Force and Gambit are in various stages of development.

With all these movies tentatively slated for release in 2019, 2020, and beyond, their fate once the merger goes through remains uncertain. Do Dark Phoenix or The New Mutants get released before the two universes unite? Does Marvel retool them to fit into the larger MCU? What happens to some of the other Marvel projects Fox is said to be working on? We had a chance to indulge in some good old theorizing and speculation, and came up with some possible scenarios. Let's have a look...

X-Men Sophie Turner

Dark Phoenix

Scripted and directed by Fox's longtime in-house Marvel writer/producer Simon Kinberg (and marking his first time behind the camera), Dark Phoenix aims to retell one of the most famous stories in the Marvel canon after it was botched in 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand. The film, which features the cast that has been developed in First Class, Days of Future Past, and Apocalypse, was bumped from its fall arrival date to February 2019 reportedly to give Kinberg more time for significant third-act reshoots

If all goes smoothly with those, there's a good chance that Dark Phoenix will see the light of day next February as planned. But you can probably bank on the film being the last to feature the current cast headed by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner, and others. Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios will almost certainly want to reboot the X-Men their way, with a whole new cast and introduction that will ignore all the X-Men movies that came before. 

But if Dark Phoenix's release is delayed again and Marvel inherits it, one of three things could happen: Marvel goes forward with a standard (if perhaps somewhat more low-key) release; it dumps the picture into Disney's soon-to-come streaming service; or least likely given its budget, it buries the movie in the vault and leaves it unreleased. Whatever happens, Dark Phoenix will serve, unintended or not, as the finale to the series of films started back in 2000 with Bryan Singer's X-Men.

New Mutants Cast

The New Mutants

This is the only other Fox Marvel movie that has actually been shot — although reportedly up to 50 percent of what director Josh Boone has already put in the can could be overhauled. That is what has led to The New Mutants being bumped twice, from last April to February 2019, and then again to November 2019.

That potentially puts the film — which is said to be a horror movie variation on the X-Men universe — right in the middle of the merger, which could result in several different fates for The New Mutants

With the movie already just tangentially related to the larger X-Men series, Marvel could take over the project and retool it even further, removing all X-references and making it a straight horror movie about a bunch of kids with terrible new powers. The picture could be released with the public at large never knowing it was once an X-movie (although the fan community would know the truth).

Or, if that path is not available, Marvel could choose one of the options discussed for Dark Phoenix: Put the movie on the Disney streaming service or not release it at all. Given its relatively lower cost compared to Dark Phoenix, those are more viable possibilities for this movie. We hope to somehow see it nonetheless, and hope it doesn't get lost along the way.

Gambit

Gambit

Gambit's development has gone through more ups and downs than a rollercoaster, with enough directors and writers walking on and off the project to staff a TV series. Channing Tatum has stayed on board since 2014 as the star of the picture, but as of now the movie has no director and no supporting cast. It does, however, have a screenplay and a June 7, 2019 release date — which will be all but impossible to meet unless they miraculously pull it together by, like, tomorrow.

Given the proposed budget (a whopping $155 million) and the lack of progress on getting the project in front of a camera, we suspect that this iteration of the Ragin' Cajun will never see the light of day. If Marvel Studios is interested in bringing the character to the screen, we would bet that they'll introduce him as part of a larger ensemble. To be honest, we never understood the appeal of Gambit in the first place, certainly not leading his own movie. If he does eventually show up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it won't be this way.

x-force deadpool 2

Deadpool 3 / X-Force

If there's any Fox Marvel character that's probably pretty safe right now, it's Deadpool. The Merc With a Mouth's first two movies have made more than $1.5 billion at the box office, the introduction of iconic characters like Cable (Josh Brolin) and Domino (Zazie Beetz) was warmly received by fans, and the formula for the movies — string together a relatively simplistic plot and let Ryan Reynolds do his thing — has clearly worked.

The hardest part is how to integrate the potty-mouthed, raunchy, hard-R antics of Wade Wilson into the decidedly PG-13 MCU. What the studio might do is keep Deadpool rolling along with just enough contact (a Deadpool cameo here, a guest Avenger there) to make it clear that everyone is now in the same continuum — sort of an expanded version of how the Deadpool movies have connected to the X-Men, in other words. Although there's no official word yet on Deadpool 3, Drew Goddard was signed long ago to write and direct the long-awaited X-Force movie, and we have a feeling that Marvel Studios will stick with that plan.

Doctor Doom.jpg

Doctor Doom

Villain-based movies seem to be all the rage right now (see Joker, Venom) so it wasn't much of a surprise when the news came out a while back that Fox was developing a Doctor Doom movie. Of course, the character has appeared on the big screen before, played by Julian McMahon in 2005's Fantastic Four and again in 2007's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, before being "re-imagined" in the shape of Toby Kebbell in 2015's failed Fantastic Four reboot. However, both attempts at visualizing this legendary super-villain — one of Marvel's greatest — were botched beyond belief. 

When it came out that Noah Hawley, the genius behind the Fargo and Legion TV shows, was tapped to write a Doctor Doom movie, resignation turned to interest despite the seemingly ludicrous notion of a Victor Von Doom joint without the Fantastic Four in it. Earlier this year, after news of the Disney/Fox merger had come out, Hawley said he was still going to be working on the script until told otherwise.

Our guess is that he'll be told otherwise. The Fantastic Four are the First Family of Marvel Comics, and there's no way that Marvel Studios won't want to give them the proper treatment onscreen that they've been long denied, including a new take on their ongoing battle with a restored and correctly originated Doom. Hawley will get paid and may even be asked to contribute to the bigger MCU in some way — not a bad prospect at all — but his Doctor Doom script will likely go into a vault somewhere in Latveria.

Silver Surfer

The Silver Surfer

While we're cruising around in the Fantastic Four corner of the Fox Marvel universe, let's take a look at the adventures of Norrin Radd, alien anti-hero, herald of Galactus, and one of Marvel's all-around most cosmic characters. The Surfer made his film debut (played onscreen by Doug Jones, voiced by Laurence Fishburne) in the movie that bore his name — Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer — and somehow made it through that mess with his comic book dignity more or less intact. 

Plans for a standalone Surfer film have been kicking around since 2009, when J. Michael Straczynski was tapped to pen a script, but fans were surprised to learn earlier this year that a treatment for a new Surfer film had been commissioned despite the possibility of the Disney purchase. Even more exciting was the revelation that Saga and Runaways writer Brian K. Vaughan had been recruited to write it, although there's been no further news since then.

The MCU brain trust certainly wouldn't mind having a writer of Vaughan's stature in its stable, so this is perhaps one script that might just stay in active development after the merger goes through — even if Marvel wants to properly tell the story of the coming of Galactus again, this time without the planet-eating villain showing up in the shape of a cloud. 

Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde

Kitty Pryde

Like the news of the Silver Surfer script, the Kitty Pryde movie was a surprise when it was also announced. Original Deadpool director Tim Miller was involved, as was legendary comics writer Brian Michael Bendis, so the pedigree of the film took a sharp turn upward. And while she has never fully committed to any future with the role, Ellen Page — who played Kitty honorably in X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days of Future Past — has indicated a willingness to return to it at some point.

We're not sure if a character like Kitty could carry her own movie despite being a fan favorite, and as we mentioned earlier, it's more than likely that Marvel will drop all references to the X-Men continuity established by the Fox films and start fresh. That means Page probably won't return either, but we can certainly see Marvel asking Bendis and Miller to stick around and work on something else. 

Multiple Man

Multiple Man

While we admit to enjoying Jamie Madrox's brief appearance in X-Men: The Last Stand (where he was played by Eric Dane), the idea of a film based around such a relatively minor mutant seems a stretch at best. But Fox put the project into development, with James Franco attached to star (and co-produce alongside Kinberg) and Allan Heinberg (Wonder Woman) set to work on the script.

The idea of a noirish detective film based around Madrox's private investigation agency, known as X-Factor Investigations, would be a nice new angle for the MCU to explore (based off the X-Factor and MadroX comics written by Peter David), but this film is almost certain to get shelved. Marvel will have its hands full integrating the major mutants from the X-Men universe into the MCU, not to mention the Fantastic Four, Deadpool, etc., so we can't see the studio spending time and money giving this fellow a big screen presentation. Maybe they can kick it over to Jeph Loeb and the TV division...

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