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The Path to the X-Men Joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe Just Got a Lot Clearer

8 minute read

In the Marvel comic books, the X-Men and Avengers are longtime allies and occasional foes. But for two-and-a-half decades the two groups of superheroes haven’t been allowed to share the big screen. That’s all about to change, thanks to the Disney-Fox merger.

In 1993, a financially strapped Marvel sold the rights to the X-Men to 20th Century Fox. It was the first deal in a fire sale that would end with Marvel also ceding rights to the Fantastic Four to Fox and Spider-Man to Sony. When Marvel Studios began to produce its own movies, starting with Iron Man in 2008, the studio had to build an entire franchise on the backs of less-popular characters. Still, with the help of Disney — which acquired Marvel Studios in 2009 — the studio produced 20 movies, including the Avengers films. The Marvel Cinematic Universe became the most profitable franchise in film history.

Even before the merger was official, Marvel Studios struck several deals to bring home some of its long-lost characters. In 2015, Sony agreed to share the rights to Spider-Man with Marvel Studios, and the next year the webslinger made his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the aptly named Spider-Man: Homecoming. And, now that Disney and Fox have officially merged, Marvel Studios has access to members of the X-Men and Fantastic Four.

Disney CEO Bob Iger said in an interview that it “makes sense” for the the Marvel Cinematic Universe to absorb the X-Men franchise. “There shouldn’t be two Marvels,” he added. And Anthony and Joe Russo, stalwart directors in the Avengers universe, recently said they are certain that Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige “is going to incorporate those characters under the large Marvel umbrella.”

Here’s what the Disney-Fox merger means for all your favorite Marvel superheroes, from X-Men like Wolverine and Storm to the Fantastic Four and Deadpool.

1009_sl_DF-09307_v04   Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Photo: Alan Markfield—TM and © 2013 Marvel and Subs. TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

Alan Markfield—Marvel and Twentieth Century Fox

X-Men Might Get Rebooted

Fox has already scheduled two X-Men movies for 2019: Dark Phoenix (June 7) and New Mutants (Aug. 2). But after those movies premiere, it’s unclear if Disney will continue with the current storyline and cast or reboot the series entirely.

The X-Men bring a lot of storyline baggage to Disney. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) created two separate X-Men timelines that have vexed fans since. Characters who are alive in one parallel universe are dead in another, or heroic in one universe but evil in another. It makes for a confusing moviegoing experience when several years pass between installments. Marvel tends to be careful about the potential ripple effect of certain details and plot points—for example, dates are removed from Peter Parker’s passport in Spider-Man: Homecoming—in order to free future films from a restrictive timeline. So adding parallel universes to the already complicated Marvel Cinematic Universe would be unwise.

There’s also the question of Bryan Singer, who has directed four of Fox’s X-Men movies and produced five of them, excluding the upcoming 2019 projects. Allegations of sexual assault and misconduct, including sex with underage men, have long plagued Singer. In January, an in-depth investigation in The Atlantic surfaced new allegations of a similar nature against the director. (Singer’s lawyer told The Atlantic that Singer “categorically denies ever having sex with, or a preference for, underage men.”)

It’s unclear if the Singer allegations will affect the future of the franchise. In 2017, Jessica Chastain, who plays a villain in Dark Phoenix, tweeted that fans shouldn’t forget Singer’s behavior. It’s possible Disney will attempt to untangle his involvement simply by rebooting the franchise entirely and placing it in new hands.

Superhero reboot Fantastic Four boasts an impressive young cast, including Miles Teller, Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan.20th Century Fox/Marvel

We Could Finally Get a Decent Fantastic Four Movie

The Fantastic Four heroes are some of the most compelling characters in comics. They knew each other and worked together before they gained their powers, so their storylines have the benefit of built-in family drama. And yet the foursome has a checkered cinematic history. The original 2005 film (starring Chris Evans before he became Captain America) struggled critically and commercially, while fans lambasted director Josh Trank for wasting a talented cast in his mess of a reboot in 2015.

Luckily, Marvel Studios has an unassailable track record at the box office and on Rotten Tomatoes. So, yes, we may we finally get a good — dare we hope for great? — Fantastic Four adaptation.

The X-Men cede to special effects as the franchise faces an absurd ApocalypseMarvel/20TH Century Fox

Marvel Now Has Access to Some Great Villains

One of the biggest challenges that Marvel Studios faced in building the Marvel Cinematic Universe universe was a dearth of solids villains. Things have gotten rather dire when your movie revolves around Malekith, an evil alien from Thor: The Dark World who wants to turn the universe dark just because he likes nighttime. The studio ended up recycling fan-favorites like Loki in several movies in lieu of digging into its shallow bench of baddies.

But now Disney will have access to some of the best villains in comics, many with more complex motivations than simply “because they’re evil.” Magneto is an incredible villain exactly because he’s not always villainous. He’s a Holocaust survivor, a man totally justified in his fury against those who seek to discriminate against others. But he takes his philosophy to a militant extreme, and that’s where morally righteous Professor X feels he has to step in.

Fans have also hailed Fantastic Four baddie Dr. Doom as one of the best (if not the best) comics villain ever created. Dr. Doom is driven by a sincere conviction that the world would be better off it he ruled it — and his jealousy of Mr. Fantastic. For whatever reason, Fox was never able to capture him well on film. (The mask never helped.) If Marvel can get the egomaniacal character right, he could become a staple of the next phase of its universe.

Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch in "Avengers: Infinity War"
Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios

The X-Men and Avengers Could Face Off

From 2008 to 2019, every single Marvel Studios movie was building toward a final confrontation between the Avengers and Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, out April 26. Fans have speculated that the upcoming Marvel movies will build toward another epic event, perhaps a showdown between the Avengers and X-Men.

Marvel has already written this storyline in the comics and could easily adapt it to the big screen; the movie’s writers have often leaned on pre-existing comics material. That plot could be particularly interesting considering that one Avenger, Scarlet Witch, is technically a mutant from the X-Men universe.

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool20th Century Fox

Deadpool’s Fate Is Unclear

The Merc With a Mouth has become a runaway success for Fox. It’s unlikely that Disney would just throw that franchise away. But Deadpool’s R-rated antics don’t exactly mesh with many of Marvel Studios’ more wholesome films. (Actor Ryan Reynolds even tweeted a photo of Deadpool getting arrested at Disney Land after the merger was announced.) The studio could try to make the character’s movies PG-13 going forward, or allow him to exist in his own little R-rated bubble, adjacent to the rest of the MCU.

20th Century Fox

Genre-Bending Movies Like Logan Could Be a Thing of the Past

It’s easy to forget that the first X-Men movie premiered in 2000, years before Spider-Man, Batman Begins or Iron Man. Since then, Iron Man and The Dark Knight (both of which premiered in 2008) set the template for the future of just about every superhero movie, whether they be CGI-heavy, comedic affairs (like the former) or dark, self-serious takes on vigilantes fighting madmen (like the latter).

The X-Men movies continued to run through storylines for over a decade, but eventually 20th Century Fox was forced to innovate in order to compete with the rest of the superhero franchises out there.

After a few critical flops, the X-Men made a quiet comeback by experimenting with the superhero genre. In 2016, the hyper-self-aware Deadpool not only broke the fourth wall but proved that R-rated superhero movies could smash records. Logan, which premiered the following year, stripped X-Men’s most popular character, Wolverine, of all his heroism in a small, gritty, emotional film.

But the punch-quip formula is Marvel Studios’ bread and butter. Sure, Marvel’s begun to test the bounds of the genre a bit with a talking raccoon and shocking cliffhangers. Yet those movies never stray too far from the magic formula that has led to Marvel’s overwhelming success.

Deadpool will probably survive in some form. But Logan probably won’t get a sequel, for many spoiler-y reasons. And it’s unclear whether Marvel Studios would even want to take a risk by making another movie like Logan.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in Marvel Studios' AVENGERS: INFINITY WARMarvel Studios

More Marvel TV Shows Are Headed Your Way

Disney is launching its own streaming service soon. The company has already announced that it will populate this platform with Avengers shows, including rumored series about Loki and Scarlet Witch. Expect one or two X-Men series to find their way onto Disney+ too — for Disney, that’s a Gambit worth taking.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com