Should 'X-Men: First Class' be considered a hit?
The box-office numbers for every new release presents arguments for and against labeling the movie a hit. Some of these debates are lopsided -- "Mars Needs Moms" was inarguably a flop, and "Fast Five" an unmitigated success -- but other cases are more ambiguous. Among the trickier ones to come along this year is "X-Men: First Class," Fox's superhero action-adventure starring James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.
Upon opening this weekend, the film took in $56 million in the U.S. and an additional $64 million in 74 markets overseas, according to estimates from the studio. Those would seem to be, as my colleague Amy Kaufman described in her post on our sister blog Company Town, "a pretty good but not great start" for a film that was, among other things, collecting only 2-D ticket prices.
An in-depth analysis, however, proves trickier. As Kaufman writes, the film had the lowest opening-weekend total of the three "X-Men" films that immediately preceded it, besting only the $54.5 million of the first movie. (The previous three editions tallied $85 million, $103 million and $86 million dating back to 2003.) That would seem to indicate a fall-off. But should the new movie be compared to those films and thus be deemed lacking, as some box-office pundits have it?
Or should "First Class" be seen as an entirely new beast, a la the first "X-Men," and regarded as a success, as the studio would no doubt prefer? As Fox senior vice president of distribution Chris Aronson told Kaufman, "I don't think [the fall-off from the recent films] is significant. It exceeded the first 'X-Men,' and this movie has an ensemble of actors who are not known. They are all incredibly talented, and they will now be known after this movie."
What's more, by introducing a new cast and dialing back the period by 50 years, it would seem to start a new franchise. But the movie also clearly trades on the "X-Men" name.
"It's so funny that everybody wants to define movies these days -- a prequel, a reboot, an origin story," Emma Watts, Fox's president of production, said in an interview last week. "But every situation is unique. I wish I could give this a clear definition."
Specific movie comparisons elude, too. Among the better ones, as Fox executives have been eager to drive home, is "Batman Begins," Christopher Nolan's re-start of the caped-crusader franchise.
The new "X-Men" topped the opening-weekend box-office for that film. But while there are some unmistakable parallels between the two -- the new "X-Men" also sported a hot young director and a new creative direction for a known superhero brand, for example -- that's not an entirely apt comparison either. That franchise had a lot less heat coming in, with a much-ridiculed offering a full eight years before in "Batman & Robin." "X-Men," on the other hand, had a respectable spinoff just two years prior and the all-time franchise moneymaker, "X-Men: The Last Stand," only five years previously.
Nolan's 2005 movie also wiped the slate clean, assuming that none of Tim Burton or Joel Schumacher's "Batman" happened within its cinematic universe. Vaughn's "X-Men" doesn't, making references to elements in earlier films and existing within their world.
This may all seem like so much Hollywood cud-chewing. But whether a movie is considered a hit goes a long way toward determining several issues of consequence, like whether there will be sequels, and, if there are, the kind of talent that wants to be associated with them. It also helps sets the stage for other comparisons. After all, we're not done with these prequels/reboots yet: Sony is prepared to do something similar to "X-Men" with "The Amazing Spider-Man" next summer.
As movie studios continue to make these don't-call-them-a-sequel sequels, myriad creative issues arise. But almost as interesting as what's happening on screen with these films is the question of how, exactly, we should define and judge them.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: 'X-Men: First Class.' Credit: 20th Century Fox