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Should 'X-Men: First Class' be considered a hit?

June 6, 2011 |  5:30 am

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."

The problem with drawing comparisons -- and, indeed, with gauging the overall success of "X-Men: First Class" -- lies with how much we should define the movie as something new in the first place. And that's not an easy question.
Matthew Vaughn's entry in the mutant franchise both fits with the mythology of the four previous installments and stands apart from it, which makes the film at once a sequel (or prequel, technically) and a reboot.

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.


Critical Mass: X-Men: First Class graduates with most critics' honors

X-Men: First Class is No. 1 but comes up short against other films in the superhero franchise

X-Men: First Class--Will superhero fans go for an idea-driven period piece?

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: 'X-Men: First Class.' Credit: 20th Century Fox

Comments () | Archives (13)

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Yes, this movie is a hit! Not only is it a critical success, but it's getting GREAT word-of-mouth. It's unbelievably fun and, unlike a lot of comic book/superhero movies, the acting is incredible, especially by the two leads. Everyone I know saw it this weekend and intend to see it again next weekend.

X-Men 3 and Wolverine movies didn't deserve the high amount of sales they got. They were bad movies, and people now know it. X-men First Class is paying for the sins of the those two movies.

When word of mouth gets around, I think it will help this movie. I predict this movie could win again next week. Super 8 will have a strong competition, but the trailer is to mysterious to get people to go see the movie.

Emory University Bioethics professor Paul Root Wolpe explores the science and ethics of human genetic mutation and how it applies to the X-men.


Is a weekend enough to call a movie a hit or a flop? What has Hollywood come into?

Yes it was awesome.

Maybe the problem with the X-men franchise is they are not following the orginal comic bylines? By throwing in characters from the 1980s and up to the late 1990s into a story/plot which had nothing to do with the orginal X-men in the first place. Sure it is only a movie and let us be honest about this: movies today don't really follow rules except to say they must have lots of action in them. But at the same time, when you tick off your fan base and when their word of mouth starts getting around, it is quick to ruin the new movie for everyone else. Hollywood has wholly dismissed the Phoenix story timefame with its grand, sweeping outerspace drama and they would not even consider the best frightening tale of the darkness of the Sentinel saga. Havok is a pure mess as with some of the other characters in this storyline. You make us not care about them. The actors make the story the story doesn't make the actors. Have you forgotten that?
The movie franchise acts as if the (true) Marvel history of the X-men story doesn't even exist and they are just making stuff up and throwing it out as a movie that is going to make them lots of money. Wrong! That ride is over with.
Hint: Stop boring us and thinking we are stupid! We know the details of the real X-men and you don't. Get with the program and make the right or correct movie and we all will come back to liking the movie versions. Not everything needs to be made into 3-D. What is next for the X-men...smellovision?
Spoiler Alert. You do have to make the right movie not the wrong one.
You guys keep making the wrong movies and it now shows by your recent box office sells. Some action movies are allowed to be stupid like Fast Five. Other actions movies have more than a purpose than just to entertain us.
Something of which the producers of the X-Men franchise needs to learn, you can make the X-men movies better be making them grand! That was what the orginal X-men in the comics was all about. Being grand and not being hokey.

The only way Wolverine was a "respectable spin-off" was financially (which does matter, yes). Critically and to fans of the genre and source material it was an awful disappointment.

I think if you look at it with just how much money was brought in, then it might not be a "hit" but I can see this film staying in theater's for awhile since there is such a big X-Men fanbase people will watch it over and over and fans will make their way to the movie theaters to watch it. People are on a tight budget so it might be difficult for them to enjoy a movie outside their home, but for this they will come.

I feel that the comparison to Batman Begins and First Class is fair, claiming one a full clean slate and FC not so much due to some of its referencing to previous films. But First Class could just be referencing to all the vastness that is the X-Men comic franchise rather than worrying about continuity in the film franchise. Does that make sense?

Come on - this one is rather simple. Comparing expectations for a movie franchise that had Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Gandalf and Captain Picard as the stars vs. this cast of relative no-names is ridiculous. Temper your expectations and hope for the best, but alas, not every go-back-in-time reboot is going to generate Star Trek revenues. Too bad the producers launched during "summer blockbuster season", when anything with an opening under $100M is considered a failure...

p.s. - I know Gandalf and Picard's real names...it was a joke, so shut your pie holes :)

Oi...such navel gazing! Isn't the relevant question whether or not Fox considers it a hit? It seems like they knew the risks involved in a Hugh Jackman-free, idea-driven, period superhero prequel and set their sights accordingly in terms of box office potential. Seems like the film will be able to turn a profit when all is said and done. Given the quality of the film, it's hard to imagine talent NOT wanting to be associated with any sequels. And at the end of the day, Fox has a classy new prequel franchise in their stable. From here it's hard to see 'X-Men: First Class' as anything other than a success.

If the women aren't into this comic stuff, just come to see hunky Michael Fassbender, this man is so freakin HOT! I enjoyed him the most! Having said that, this movie is actually great even if you know nothing about X-Men and its previous 3 versions.

The movie is really really good. Mcavoy and Fassbender had unbelievable chemistry and it was really interesting, funny, visually stunning, and believe it or not thought provoking movie. I really liked it much better than the last two X-Men...


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