Will Disney Disrupt Fox's X-Men Movie Mega-Plans?

Execs say they're "going 100 miles per hour" on a slew of spinoff projects with Silver Surfer and Doctor Doom, but privately, many fret over whether their films will be affected by merger plans with a squeaky-clean company.
Illustration by Tomi Um

Twentieth Century Fox is developing more new X-Men film properties than ever. But will these projects still fit at the studio after Disney's $52.4 billion mega-merger closes?

When Fox film execs hired Brian Michael Bendis on Feb. 12 to pen an X-Men project for Deadpool director Tim Miller, it signaled to the town that the studio is moving full steam ahead on its Marvel properties.

“It does not affect this project in any way, shape or form is what I was told,” says Bendis of the looming merger. "At least at the moment, it's certainly decisions over my pay-grade if it ends up doing so."

Fox has several other "secret" projects in development, including a Silver Surfer stand-alone feature that is being written by comics creator Brian K. Vaughn. "We are going 100 miles per hour," says one executive involved.

But while the Disney-Fox deal, unveiled Dec. 14, had many rejoicing that Fox's Marvel characters soon would be reunited and integrated with their colleagues at Disney-owned Marvel Studios, execs, filmmakers and dealmakers now are thinking about what will happen to certain characters given Disney's aversion to R-rated superhero movies that Fox has championed, like Deadpool ($783 million worldwide gross) and Logan ($616 million).

Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has long harbored the ambition of reuniting all the characters that were licensed to various media companies since Marvel was threatened with bankruptcy in the 1990s. Will that include the foul-mouthed X-Men?

On the Fox lot, phrases like "it's business as usual" reverberate in conversations with agents and execs. "We actually have way more in development and production in Marvel IP than at any point in the history of the studio," says a Fox insider. "There's been zero slowdown on that front given Disney."

Fox will release two X-Men movies this year: Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool sequel on May 18 and X-Men: Dark Phoenix on Nov. 2. The studio also is planning three X-Men movies for 2019, with another three expected the following year.

Meanwhile, Channing Tatum's long-in-development Gambit is still looking for a director. A new draft of the script is expected in March and it is greenlit, meaning that the studio has budgeted it. And the horror-themed New Mutants will undergo a round of additional photography this summer that will insert a new character into the thriller that is dated for Feb. 22, 2019.

X-Force, a Deadpool spinoff from Drew Goddard, is set to begin shooting in October, with Reynolds and Josh Brolin expected to star. The studio is still focusing on developing both the X-Men and Fantastic Four brands, including a Doctor Doom movie from Fargo and Legion showrunner Noah Hawley.

As for Marvel's plans, deals for many of its key castmembers are expected to expire with 2019's untitled Avengers 4 — a movie Feige has indicated will shake up the status quo for his universe, though it seems unlikely that the already-in-production sequel will be used to sow the seeds for integrating the X-Men in there, even if the merger closes this year.

"They have to proceed as business as usual in case the merger doesn't go through," says one agent whose clients work on Fox's Marvel movies. "It's a unique position to be in."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

— Aaron Couch contributed reporting.