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Box Office: The Curiously, But Consistently Front-Loaded X-Men Franchise

Posted on the 01 June 2016 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

Box Office: The Curiously, But Consistently Front-Loaded X-Men Franchise

Ever since the start of the new millennium, there have been very few constants in pop culture other than X-Men. Music fads have come and gone. Popular film franchises have flamed out and been rebooted (e.g., we're already on our third Spider-Man). Television shows, both network and cable, are virtually unrecognizable from what they used to look like (unless they're on CBS). YouTube stars now outpace film and TV stars in the hearts and minds of modern kids. But the X-Men films have stuck with us throughout it all, delivering new installments every 2-3 years. We haven't always liked these X-Men movies, but we know that there's always a new one - hopefully a better one - just around the corner.

For example, everyone seems pretty down on Apocalypse right now, and understandably so. It's a perfectly diverting action movie, but it's also overstuffed and lacking in new ideas, which can be seen in some of the performances (Jennifer Lawrence, in particular, seems like she couldn't care less any more). As a result, while Apocalypse took the Memorial Day box office crown it did so in completely unremarkable fashion, coming in on the absolute low end of expectations with $65.7m for the traditional weekend, $79.8m for the 4-day holiday. Before the weekend, analysts had it finishing anywhere between $80m and $100m.

As per usual with just about any big budget film these days, the studio prefers to focus on the bigger picture, namely how well Apocalypse is doing overseas."We're very happy with this result as we introduce new characters in the X-Men universe," said Fox domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson. "And for us to be at this number globally already ($265m after 10 days) means we're in good shape."

Yet here's the odd thing about the X-Men franchise from a box office standpoint: it doesn't seem to matter whether we like these movies or not. They all post acceptable opening weekends, sometimes even record-breaking opening weekends, but after that they disappear faster than Quicksilver listening to a period-specific pop song.

X-Men (2000)

Box Office: The Curiously, But Consistently Front-Loaded X-Men Franchise
X-Men was the movie which changed everything for superhero movies, and taught us to love spandex again after Batman & Robin broke our hearts. It exceeded all expectations, creatively and financially, but in some ways it predicted the big-opening-followed-by-big-drop pattern which would later become so typical of all Hollywood blockbusters. In 2000, anything above a 50% second weekend drop was still seen as troubling, and a 2.9x multiplier was remarkably pedestrian. The average multiplier among the year's other top 10 films was a more robust 5.08x. Yet, as of this writing 2.9x is still an X-Men franchise high.

X2 (2003)
  • RottenTomatoes: 86%
  • Opening Weekend: $85m
  • Records: Fourth-biggest Fri-Sun debut in history (behind Spider-Man and the first two Harry Potter films)
  • Second-Weekend Drop: 53%
  • Final Domestic Gross: $215m
  • Weekend-to-final multiplier: 2.5x
  • Industry Average That Year: 4.34x

Box Office: The Curiously, But Consistently Front-Loaded X-Men Franchise
X2 was a classic case of a bigger and better sequel with an opening weekend built off of the goodwill audiences felt toward its predecessor. Plus, by coming out in the first-week-of-May it also benefited from the Spider-Man halo effect, which set a new opening weekend record ($114m) exactly one year earlier. Audiences were suddenly conditioned to want to see a new superhero movie during the first-week-of-May every year from that point forward. X2 certainly delivered. Its final box office totals bested X-Men in every way, and can be forgiven for its 2.5x multiplier. However, remember both Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 had bigger opening weekends and better multipliers, 3.51x and 4.23x respectively.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
  • RottenTomatoes: 58%
  • Opening Weekend: $102m (Fri-Sun), $122m (Fri-Mon Memorial Day)
  • Records: Second-biggest single day ($45m Friday) behind Revenge of the Sith's $50m debut, fifth biggest four-day total of all time
  • Second-Weekend Drop: 66%
  • Final Domestic Gross: $234m
  • Weekend-to-final multiplier: 2.3x
  • Industry Average That Year: 4.24x

Box Office: The Curiously, But Consistently Front-Loaded X-Men Franchise
The X-Men movies have their hardcore fans, but they almost always struggle to break through to that mega-blockbuster level reserved for the likes of Spider-Man, Batman and The Avengers. Maybe we can partially blame that on The Last Stand. Just look at those opening day/weekend recor ds. People were clearly geared up for this movie. They wanted to love it, and tell their friends to go see it. This could have been the franchise's next big step, if only it had actually been good.

After the fanboys and girls had their fill in those first 4 days, The Last Stand took an epic box office plunge, to the point that it holds the dubious distinction of having the lowest domestic gross ($234m) among any film to open at or above $100m. The next closest is 2014's Transformers: Age of Extinction at $245m.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Box Office: The Curiously, But Consistently Front-Loaded X-Men Franchise
And thus ended this particularly brutal one-two punch which the franchise has been apologizing for ever since. After the way The Last Stand belly flopped post-opening weekend, it's somewhat impressive that Origins: Wolverine's debut was only a 17% decline for the franchise. After that, Origins fell off faster than any X-Men film, before or since. Its multiplier of 2.1x paled in comparison to the 4.8x average for 2009's top 10 highest-grossing movies. In fact, Origins was the first X-Men movie to not crack the year-end top 10 list. It would be 5 more years before the franchise returned to that old stomping ground.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Box Office: The Curiously, But Consistently Front-Loaded X-Men Franchise
Back in 2000, X-Men was forced to erase the stigma of Batman & Robin, which had poisoned the entire superhero genre. As a result, while X-Men did big business there were still those who refused to see it, regardless of great reviews and people telling them, "No, seriously, it's really good!" It was only through home video that it found its widest audience, which then fed directly into X2.

History repeated itself with First Class. To some, it didn't matter that critics considered it the franchise's best movie, or perhaps second best behind X2. There was no way they were paying money to see another X-Men movie, not after The Last Stand and Origins. Fool us once, fool us twice, but not three times! As the former Professor Xavier said in another franchise, "The line must be drawn here!"

Except, of course, the word-of-mouth spread fairly quickly, and after a mediocre opening First Class managed to post the second best multiplier in franchise history. That being said, it still trailed far behind the industry average (which was 4.38x in 2011, at least among the top 10 films of the year), and triggered an all-star tream-up sequel to restore the franchise to its former heights.

The Wolverine (2013)

Box Office: The Curiously, But Consistently Front-Loaded X-Men Franchise
And this is when America became just another marketplace for the X-Men movies. Both First Class and Origins had been saved by strong international showings ($193m and $207m respectively), but The Wolverine, made for a modest (by superhero standards) $120m, was the first X-Men film to be released in 3D. It didn't so much matter, then, that it set a franchise low for domestic gross because it also set a franchise high for international gross ($282m), thus combining to make it the second-biggest X-Men film of all time. Plus, for a change its multiplier wasn't quite so far behind the industry average, which was 3.51 in 2011.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Box Office: The Curiously, But Consistently Front-Loaded X-Men Franchise
It's still amazing that Fox took such a huge swing with this movie, committing the second highest budget in its nearly century-old history to a franchise which hadn't been an unquestioned creative and financial success since X2 in 2003. The gamble paid off, just not in the way the experts expected. Due to 3D and general ticket price inflation it was thought Days of Future Past should at least topple The Last Stand's $234 franchise high (it fell $1m short). But that's such a 2006 way of looking at it. By 2014, it was more important that Days of Future Past obliterated the franchise records for international ($514m) and worldwide ($747m) gross. Sure, it was still front-loaded domestically, trailing the 2014 top-10 average of 4.21x, but so did all of the other comic book movies that year ( Guardians of the Galaxy - 3.54, Winter Solider - 2.72, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - 2.21).

Deadpool (2016)
  • RottenTomatoes: 83%
  • Opening Weekend: $132m
  • Records: Biggest All-Time Opening (R-Rated, President's Day, February, Winter)
  • Second-Weekend Drop: 57%
  • Final Domestic Gross: $362m
  • Weekend-to-final multiplier: 2.74x

Box Office: The Curiously, But Consistently Front-Loaded X-Men Franchise
I almost didn't list Deadpool. I know, I know...there are a couple of scenes at Xavier's mansion, and Colossus is around (along with Negasonic Teenage Warhead). So, it is technically part of the X-Men franchise, but just barely. All of the other X-Men movies have Hugh Jackman around for at least one scene, grunting and growling as only he can; Deadpool has Ryan Reynolds mocking Hugh Jackman's accent and teasing the franchise's increasingly convoluted timeline. Plus, it's R-Rated, and it didn't come out over the summer.

Those are but some of the reasons it shouldn't really be lumped in with the other X-Men movies, yet even when you do that Deadpool maintains the pattern of being at least moderately front-loaded. However, it's 2.71x multiplier is actually amazingly impressive considering its R-rating and non-traditional release period.

What have we learned from all of this? That X-Men movies are as reliable as the sunset, in the sense that there's always another one on the way, but they've consistently played to ever-faithful hardcore fans and struggled to break through to wider audiences beyond that. It doesn't even seem to significantly matter if they are fantastic, kinda good or seriously disappointing, although the latter ones have been punished accordingly. This suggests that Fox's recent push toward creating live-action X-Men TV shows is a wise move. Arguably, the original X-Men movies were fueled by kids like me who grew up on X-Men: The Animated Series from 1993 to 1997. What reason (beyond the movies) have kids been given to care about the X-Men ever since the last animated series, Wolverine and the X-Men, disappeared after one season in 2009?

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