Summer 2013 is winding down. As it does, one of 2014's most prolific releases has been steadily building Internet buzz: director Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past.
The X-Men franchise has been through some tough times lately. Since Singer left the directorial chair after 2002's X2: X-Men United, the brand became somewhat stagnant. 2006's The Last Stand opened to massive numbers (for the time) before critical and audience disappointment forced it to sputter out. 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine followed suit with weaker box office numbers and, in some cases, weaker audience reception.
2011's First Class helped renew fan and critic faith (partly with Singer's help from the producing end), but it paid for the sins of it predecessors and had to survive on its own limited steam (with no star power). Most recently, this summer's The Wolverine--although more modestly budgeted and a recipient of respectable global revenue--has set new attendance and gross lows for the franchise.
This well-established series may have become a predictable victim of the law of diminishing returns, but here (in no particular order) are five reasons the status quo may change when Days of Future Past opens on May 23, 2014:
#1) Bryan Singer & Early Buzz
Sure, Mr. Singer is coming off the financially disastrous Jack the Giant Slayer, but it's no coincidence that he's creatively attached to the three most well-received films in the X-Men series (the 2000 original, X2, and First Class). His re-taking up of the directorial reigns has encouraged the fan base. Moreover, he's been helping out Fox's marketing department by regularly taking to Twitter during this summer's production of Days of Future Past. Having posted numerous first-look photos from the set, combined with the studio's own viral marketing campaign kicking off, the flick is off to a strong promotional start nearly one year in advance. To boot, the forthcoming release has frequently appeared high on our Facebook and Twitter tracking charts. Online buzz couldn't be much stronger this far out.
#2) A Memorial Day Weekend Release
Days of Future Past gives the franchise its first holiday debut since the aforementioned X3: The Last Stand opened Memorial Day Weekend in 2006. That pic banked a stellar $102.8 million in its first three days--without 3D or IMAX to help--and set the Memorial Weekend record (only since topped by Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Demand may or may not reach the same level next May (Last Stand's opening adjusts to nearly $140 million with inflation and 3D surcharges) as final marketing phases will play a pivotal role in determining that. Still, going back to the series' most successful release window is a good way to get it back on track for blockbuster success. The (seemingly) modest line-up of next year's early summer releases also plays to its favor.
#3) Audience Loyalty
It's easy to look at the declining domestic returns of X-Men-related sequels as a sign that demand in the series can't be reinvigorated. As mentioned earlier, however, it's not as if the sequels have maintained consistent quality. That's a major reason why The Wolverine sold fewer tickets on opening weekend than any previous franchise entry. By the same token, even that film is on target for a finish of at least $125 million domestically--meaning all six films in the franchise will have crossed that mark (the first two films topping $200 million in their time). Overseas returns help make these sequels more financially feasible in the face of declining domestic revenue, but the fact that they still draw respectable business amid mediocre word of mouth proves that not all fans (or general audiences) have given up on the brand yet. It has endurance.
#4) Lawrence, Jackman, McKellen, Stewart, Fassbender, McAvoy, et al...
Since First Class released, Jennifer Lawrence has experienced a phenomenal rise to stardom thanks to her Oscar-winning turn in Silver Linings Playbook and the breakout blockbuster run of The Hunger Games and its forthcoming sequels. She's not the star of this series, but she'll add a significant amount of appeal to Days of Future Past for audiences who left the franchise behind several sequels ago. The even bigger casting story of the film is the return of Hugh Jackman (the franchise's most enduring character/actor) along with original cast members Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Halle Berry. Not to be forgotten are the former two's younger counterparts James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, both of whom gave popular turns in First Class. In short, the ensemble cast is one of the most impressive collection of new and veteran marquee names we've seen in awhile. Non-fans will have a hard time not noticing.
#5) The Avengers & Dark Knight Effects
It's hard to write any story about a comic book adaptation nowadays without making some reference to Joss Whedon's and Christopher Nolan's mega-successes, and this article is no different. For good reason, too: they set new standards in terms of what audiences expect from big summer movies. The scale of action is always increasing in the genre, but the team-up aspect was unproven until 2012's Avengers. Applying it to the original "team of superheroes" blockbuster franchise is looking like a recipe for renewed success.
Additionally, the genre has never been stronger than it is right now. Inspired by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, moviegoers are craving epic superhero movies that deliver both scale and character. Days of Future Past is setting itself up with unique generational casting and intriguing plot devices that could make it "something never seen before"--a quality that helps any would-be blockbuster's potential at the domestic and overseas box office.
These are far from the only advantages going for the highly anticipated prequel/sequel hybrid, nor are they meant to completely ignore any inherent disadvantages. But... they are arguably the biggest elements at play for a franchise in need of a game-changer. Thus far, Singer, Fox, and company are making an impressive case indicating Days of Future Past could be such a thing. After all, sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
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