The merger of 20th Century Fox into the Walt Disney Company has big implications for the future of entertainment, and in particular the future of superhero movies, as the X-Men will finally be united with the rest of their Marvel Comics counterparts under one studio banner. We know the merger is happening, and that the X-Men film rights are definitely part of it. What we don't know right now is... well, just about everything else.
As things stand right now, we have two more X-films under the Fox banner to look forward to: Dark Phoenix, which will release June 7, and The New Mutants, which will release Aug. 2. Both films feature young casts, and The New Mutants in particular represent a potential new franchise launch under normal conditions, but with the merger looming, both films could also mark the last appearances of these particular actors in these particular roles.
Is that what will happen? Will some of the cast stick around for new films? Longtime X-Men producer Lauren Shuler Donner isn't sure, but she trusts Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige — who got his start in comic book films as an associate producer on X-Men back in 2000 — to figure it out.
After appearing at a Television Critics Association panel for the X-Men-inspired drama Legion on Monday, Shuler Donner spoke with Slashfilm about the future of the X-Men.
“That would be between Fox and Disney,” Shuler Donner said. “Obviously, Kevin and I started the first one. He worked for me. He’s got a great story sense. He’s got a great ability to weave each world and weave those worlds together. I trust him and I trust that he will take care of the X-Men.”
Shuler Donner confirmed that this includes deciding the fate of films still in development, including that long-delayed Gambit film and the X-Force movie set up by Deadpool 2 last year.
As for casting, Shuler Donner didn't attempt to guess what Feige might do in terms of characters like Charles Xavier or Jean Grey, but she did make one thing very clear: Marvel Studios will be on the hunt for a new Wolverine.
“Yes, because Hugh [Jackman], just the physicality of it all, just to bulk up,” she said. “This man worked so hard to bulk up, would get up at four in the morning to bulk and eat protein meals every two hours because his natural state, they used to call him Worm when he was a kid. So his natural state is a very skinny guy. Once you reach a certain age, the body just won’t go anymore. I think he was wise to say, ‘I’m at that point. I can’t do it.’ Now, that doesn’t mean he can’t come back as older Wolverine. You never know. Future Wolverine, you never know.”
Shuler Donner emphasized that most of these future decisions will indeed be in the hands of Marvel Studios, but when asked about how future films like Gambit might play out in the development process, she also emphasized the interesting line Feige and company have to walk now. The X-Men franchise existed for nearly a decade before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that means a lot of history and potential for spinoffs, prequels, and sequels are lurking there. The MCU has always functioned as a carefully coordinated, unified endeavor, though, and if Feige wants to include the X-Men in that, it also means he has to be judicious about just how many X-films he'd like to put out into the world.
"The problem is you can’t have too many Marvel, X-Men superhero movies out there because we will cancel each other out," Shuler Donner said. "Each one has to be distinctive and yet you’ve got The Avengers to follow through. You’ve got so many distinctive story canons to follow through and yet we want new ones, but I don’t think you can have more than four. Four is a lot because people are going to get sick of them so we have to be careful. He has to be careful.”
Feige himself has still not made any plans for the X-Men (or the Fantastic Four, who are also included in this deal) definitive or public. Perhaps later this year, when the dust settles from Avengers: Endgame, we'll get a clearer picture. For now, the future of the X-Men beyond the next two films remains rather uncertain.