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'Dark Phoenix' Filmmaker Simon Kinberg on Its Box Office Failure: "That's on Me"

The writer-director looks back at the challenges his film faced and discusses the condolence email 'Deadpool' director Tim Miller sent.
'Dark Phoenix' writer-director Simon Kinberg   |   Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images
The writer-director looks back at the challenges his film faced and discusses the condolence email 'Deadpool' director Tim Miller sent.

It's rare to hear a filmmaker speak publicly in the days after a movie bombs at the box office. But following his film's disappointing opening, Dark Phoenix writer-director Simon Kinberg is opening up in an interview with Kim Masters, host of KCRW's The Business and editor-at-large of The Hollywood Reporter.

Last weekend, Dark Phoenix earned just $33 million stateside, a dismal showing for the final installment of Fox's X-Men franchise. A number of factors have been put forward to explain Dark Phoenix's failure: Kinberg's creative team took the wrong lessons from 2016's Apocalypse; there was X-Men fatigue in the marketplace; and the film, which was originally supposed to open in November 2018, was moved to February before landing in June.

Kinberg acknowledges many of these factors, but puts the blame on himself.

"It clearly is a movie that didn't connect with audiences that didn't see it, it didn't connect enough with audiences that did see it. So that's on me," Kinberg told Masters on KCRW's The Business.

Kinberg noted it was not painful for him to reflect on Dark Phoenix so soon after the bomb because he genuinely likes the movie.

"I loved making the movie, and I loved the people I made the movie with," said Kinberg.

Kinberg is taking solace in a conversation he had with Ridley Scott when they worked together on The Martian. Scott listed G.I. Jane as the favorite movie that he's worked on, even though it's not considered one of his classics, like Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise or Gladiator.

"He said it was his favorite because it was just a great process and he learned a lot on the process of making it," recalled Kinberg. "I've thought about that a lot over the years, and I thought about it a whole lot over the last weekend."

In the days following Dark Phoenix's disappointing debut, Kinberg said he received emails of support from colleagues in the industry, including from filmmaker Tim Miller, with whom he worked on the first Deadpool movie.

"He wrote me an email having empathy for a movie that doesn't work," said Kinberg. "[He wrote] people will come to see the movie differently, and out of the context of this particular moment, see things in it they will appreciate and that he appreciated as a fan."

The X-Men franchise has had behind-the-scenes troubles in the past, with director Bryan Singer going AWOL at times, forcing collaborators such as Kinberg to step up to take over directorial duties on films such as Apocalypse.

For years, accusations of sexual misconduct followed Singer. In an exposé published by The Atlantic in January, a number of men accused the filmmaker of having sex with them when they were underage. Singer had departed the X-Men franchise several years before the exposé was published, but Kinberg was asked if reports of Singer's alleged misconduct had hit his radar and if he simply decided it wasn't his business back then.

"Not my business. Not something that I saw on set or in the workplace. Otherwise I would have felt like it was my business," said Kinberg. "Those movies were complicated to make. They were oftentimes hard to make and oftentimes — this is not to excuse any behavior — sometimes they were really good. X-Men: Days of Future Past, the first X-Men movie I made with Bryan as a director, is my favorite of the X-Men movies, certainly that I've made."

Kinberg now leaves the X-Men franchise behind as Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige assumes control of the characters following Disney's acquisition of 21st Century Fox. Kinberg will be involved in reshoots for the long-delayed New Mutants, which has an April 2020 release date, and he is leaving next week to work on Universal's 355, which will be his next directorial effort. Though he is largely done with the X-Men, he said he will miss them.

"I love these characters. I love this world. I'll be super excited to see what Marvel does with them," said Kinberg.

Kinberg's The Business interview is available to listen to here. The episode airs at 1:30 p.m. Monday on KCRW.

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