Now that the theatrical run for Dark Phoenix is officially over, let’s assess the damage and assign blame. It sounds like there was some behind-the-scenes grumbling about Disney dropping the ball when it comes to promoting the movie, after the studio acquired 21st Century Fox. But how much of a factor would that have been in Dark Phoenix becoming the lowest-grossing X-Men movie of the franchise?
First, here’s the box office breakdown for Dark Phoenix:
Whether we’re talking domestic, worldwide, or adjusted for inflation, that’s the worst for any X-Men movie. Let’s get specific with the worldwide totals for every X-Men movie. Here’s that list, unadjusted for inflation:
No franchise wants to end with the lowest grossing movie. It’s especially sad that Dark Phoenix couldn’t even beat X-Men, which came out back in 2000 when ticket prices were quite a bit lower. That movie was made on a reported $75 million production budget — vs the $200 million reported for Dark Phoenix — and managed to make $40 million more than the 2019 movie.
Dark Phoenix was already in trouble when it had by far the worst opening for any X-Men movie. It became clear the film was on track to be a bigger box office bomb than even Fox’s Fantastic Four, because Dark Phoenix cost more to make and is set to lose more money. Dark Phoenix’s rumored $200 million budget doesn’t even include the cost of marketing. Speaking of marketing…
That Variety report also shared insight from unnamed insiders regarding Dark Phoenix. Those sources claimed Disney mostly ignored Dark Phoenix after the Fox acquisition in March. The marketing team familiar with Dark Phoenix was reportedly laid off, and Disney didn’t spend as aggressively as in the past to promote the June 2019 movie. Another source said Dark Phoenix’s only premiere, in Los Angeles, was done to keep costs down. That reportedly annoyed the movie’s creative team.
Whenever a movie doesn’t do well, the blame game begins. Dark Phoenix director Simon Kinberg took the classy approach of falling on his sword, taking responsibility for the X-Men movie not doing well. However, marketing often gets dragged into these conversations, and it sounds like there was frustration with Disney’s team allegedly sidelining Dark Phoenix promotion.
I did find it interesting that Dark Phoenix got rebranded for its home release in September. That seemed like a let’s-make-lemonade move aimed at emphasizing the X-Men branding, which may have been lost in the initial release.
Dark Phoenix had bad buzz for a long time, and re-shot the ending to be less like other recent movies. It has a 23% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes (also the worst for any X-Men movie), but a more promising 64% audience score from more than 15,400 users. (That’s higher than the 58% audience score for X-Men: Origins – Wolverine and 61% for X-Men: The Last Stand, although those movies have many more user reviews at this point.) Dark Phoenix got a “B-” CinemaScore from moviegoers polled on opening night.
Despite what has been said, some superhero movies do fail. But Dark Phoenix does have its defenders, with some saying they liked it more than X-Men: Apocalypse. I also think it’s going to find a new audience at home, whether on disc, or through future streaming, on TV, whatever. Expectations are now low, so I can imagine people expecting the worst and being pleasantly surprised.