Studios have turned summer into a playground for superheroes at the box office.
But the X-Men have quietly been waiting on the Fox lot for their turn to have some fun at the megaplex again.
When the studio releases “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” next May, it will be three years since its comicbook franchise last appeared in theaters.
Fox is looking to change that, reducing the number of years between appearances of its power-possessing mutants by developing spinoffs that lead to a new series of sequels.
- “X-Men: First Class:” Josh Schwartz, who created the teen-friendly TV shows “Gossip Girl” and “The O.C.,” is penning a script, based around the conceit of the 2006 comic of the same name, that focuses on the young mutants enrolled at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning. Books revolved around the Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel Iceman and Beast characters, which already have been featured in the three previous “X-Men” films.
- “Magneto”: “Batman Begins” co-scribe David S. Goyer is attached to direct the origins story of the “X-Men” arch-villain (played by Ian McKellen in the previous pics) and his relationship with Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Both characters would be played by younger actors, given the earlier timeline in which the plot takes place.
- And “Deadpool,” which would revolve around the sarcastic mercenary played by Ryan Reynolds in “Wolverine,” should the character in that pic prove popular with auds.
Naturally, sequels to “Wolverine” are likely should the actioner, bringing back Hugh Jackman as the title character, become a hit.
Auds have yet to show signs of losing interest in superhero fare, especially considering that “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man” proved some of the biggest earners of the year.
The first three “X-Men” pics have minted $1.2 billion worldwide. The worldwide grosses have gone up with each installment, with the last outing, “X-Men: The Last Stand,” collecting $459 million in 2006.
Yet Fox brass are being careful to make sure they don’t rush any of the pics into production.
The studio needs fans to embrace the new batch of pics it makes in order to make even more of them, as well as sell a ton of related merchandise.
Outside of “Fantastic Four,” “X-Men” is Fox’s only successful superhero franchise. It can’t afford misfires like “Daredevil” or “Elektra,” which never had follow-ups. Fox is considering a relaunch of “Daredevil” with a new pic, similar to what Marvel and Universal did with the Incredible Hulk character this summer.
If Fox doesn’t act soon, it could end up in the same position as Warner Bros. which has been criticized for over-developing its superhero projects, like a sequel to “Superman Returns” or launches for such characters as Green Lantern, the Flash and Wonder Woman.
The studio picked up the license from Marvel before the comicbook company began financing its own slate of pics. Rights to “X-Men” revert back to Marvel in 2012 if pics aren’t in active development.
There’s certainly a lot to work with.
X-Men isn’t made up of a single major character like Spider-Man, Superman or Batman, or even a small group, like the Fantastic Four, but rather a slew of charismatic mutants with a different set of powers that could each headline their own pic.
The future of the franchise essentially has been put into the hands of producer Lauren Shuler Donner, who has overseen all three “X-Men” pics to date and is shepherding “Wolverine,” “First Class,” (together with “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”-scribe Simon Kinberg), and “Magneto.”
She’s been influential in hiring indie directors not used to helming action or dealing with extensive special effects sequences. “I like taking someone out of the indie world and bringing someone into the action world because it grounds the movie,” she says. “It gives it a reality. It gives it an emotional core, and then you can have as much fun and action in it as you want.”
Bryan Singer tackled the first two “X-Men” pics, with Brett Ratner handling the third. Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi” and “Rendition”) helmed “Wolverine.”
(Mike Jones and Tatiana Siegel contributed to this report.)