What’s Next for the X-Men After Dark Phoenix?

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Warning: This post contains spoilers for Dark Phoenix, Avengers: Endgame and Logan.

The fate of the X-Men is unclear, especially after the latest installment in the series, Dark Phoenix, bombed at the box office. The movie was unpopular among both critics and fans: It scored just 22% on Rotten Tomatoes and took the undesirable title of worst-performing X-Men flick at the domestic box office ever during its opening weekend. The movie is projected to lose $100 million for Fox.

Dark Phoenix was already likely to be the last chapter in the main X-Men saga, and the movie’s dismal opening weekend has likely sealed the superheroes’ fate. This will almost certainly be the last time Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence in the franchise. Since X-Men was released in 2000, Fox has presented one continuous storyline for the X-Men movies. They’ve never rebooted but instead opted to make prequels with younger actors taking on iconic roles like Magneto and Professor X. But the prequel timeline is finally butting up against the original timeline, presenting an opportunity for a reboot.

Disney (which owns Marvel Studios) and Fox recently merged, which means that the X-Men will be able to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe and appear in big screen Avengers movies for the first time ever. Disney has not officially announced plans for the X-Men yet, but directors and producers have dropped hints about how the mutants might be integrated into the world guarded by Black Panther, Captain Marvel and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Here’s everything you need to know.

Dark Phoenix is probably the last entry in the main X-Men franchise

Dark Phoenix Mystique funeral
James McAvoy, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Nicholas Hoult and Alexandra Shipp in Dark Phoenix21st Century Fox

Neither Fox nor Disney have announced plans for a movie that centers on the main X-Men characters — including Professor X, Magneto, Storm and Cyclops — after Dark Phoenix. And the movie certainly feels like it wraps things up. (Reminder: spoilers ahead!)

Jennifer Lawrence, who has long wanted to end her tenure as the blue-body-painted character Mystique, got her wish: Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey accidentally kills Mystique in the very first act of the movie. Turner, too, seems to have left the franchise: Jean Grey sacrifices herself to save the other X-Men, though we hear in a voiceover at the end of the film that she’s not dead but has evolved into a higher being.

Meanwhile, the film concludes with a friendly chess game between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), a callback to several of the earlier X-Men films. The scene offers a sense of closure for the franchise’s most contentious and compelling relationship. It’s unlikely either of these men will fight crime again — or at least not in the bodies of these actors.

Conveniently, the Avengers franchise also just hit a reset button. Its two biggest heroes, Iron Man and Captain America, either died or retired by the end of Avengers: Endgame. The Avengers seem to have disbanded, and newer heroes like Carol Danvers (a.k.a. Captain Marvel), Sam Wilson (a.k.a. the new Captain America), Spider-Man and Black Panther seem poised to take over. Could they add a few mutants to their ranks?

Disney will likely cast a new set of actors to play these iconic roles if they choose to fold the characters into the Avengers universe. Still, a few X-Men actors may still return to the big screen.

Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool lives on

Deadpool 2 Ryan reynolds
Ryan Reynolds in "Deadpool 2"Twentieth Century Fox/AP

You simply cannot kill Deadpool. The two Deadpool movies have become the highest-grossing entries in the X-Men franchise, and Disney would be foolish to throw that franchise away. The studio confirmed that Deadpool will have a future at the House of Mouse during this year’s CinemaCon. Actor Ryan Reynolds tweeted a happy response.

Hugh Jackman has officially retired from playing Wolverine

20th Century Fox

Hugh Jackman played the iconic character of Wolverine for 17 years in nine different films. Logan was his last, and (another spoiler alert) the character died at the end of that film. That movie seemed poised to set up Daphne Keen, the young actress who played mini-clawed Laura, as Wolverine’s successor. However, it’s safe to bet that Disney will also want to bring Wolverine himself back in some form, considering he’s the most recognizable character in the X-Men universe.

Jackman, however, is officially done with the role. He told Cinemablend, “It’s interesting because for the whole 17 years I kept thinking that…I would love to see, particularly, Iron Man and the Hulk and Wolverine together…But I think, unfortunately, the ship has sailed for me. But for someone else, I would like to see Wolverine in there.”

New Mutants is still coming out — maybe

New Mutants Maisie Williams trailer
Maisie Williams in New Mutants20th Century Fox

One more X-men spinoff, a horror film called New Mutants, is in the works. The film centers on five mutants who are just learning about their abilities and held against their will inside a secret facility. The movie has been pushed back on the release calendar several times and undergone extensive reshoots. Reportedly, at least some of these reshoots involved removing references to the rest of the X-Men universe so that the movie could be better-integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film, starring Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy and Antonio Banderas, is now set for April 2020.

Gambit has been shelved

Cannes Lions 2016 : Day Six
CANNES, FRANCE - JUNE 23: Actor Channing Tatum speaks during "bred for content" seminar hosted by UTA during The Cannes Lions 2016 on June 23, 2016 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Romain Perrocheau/Getty Images)Romain Perrocheau—Getty Images

Channing Tatum tried to get a Gambit movie based on the card-throwing mutant for years. But the movie cycled through several directors and was delayed again and again. Disney recently confirmed that the movie has been taken off their release schedule entirely.

The X-Men Can Now Appear in films with the Avengers

The X-Men cede to special effects as the franchise faces an absurd ApocalypseMARVEL/20TH CENTURY FOX

Back in the 1990s, when Marvel Comics was struggling financially, they sold the film rights to some of their best-known comic book characters: The X-Men and Fantastic Four went to Fox and Spider-Man to Sony. Fox made their first X-Men movie in 2000 and followed it up with several sequels and, later, prequels. The studios eventually tied together the casts from the original and prequel timelines with an extremely confusing but pretty enjoyable time-jumping X-Men movie called Days of Futures Past.

Meanwhile, Marvel Studios was left to build an entire franchise on the back of a little-known character called Iron Man. The movie was a surprise hit, and Disney scooped up Marvel Studios. Decades later, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become the most successful franchise in box office history. Bob Iger, the head of Disney, has said he looks forward to incorporating the X-Men and Deadpool into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How, exactly, Disney will do that is up for speculation. We have some theories below.

The X-Men and Avengers timelines don’t line up

Captain America - The First Avenger - 2011

The X-Men and Avengers fight together — or against one another — in the comic books all the time. But suddenly introducing the current versions of the X-Men into the Marvel Cinematic Universe would create several continuity errors. The writers of future Marvel movies would have to explain why SHIELD didn’t know about Professor X’s school for mutants or why Wolverine and Storm didn’t show up to fight Thanos at the end of Avengers: Endgame.

But the biggest hurdle is the timeline problem. In the X-Men movies, Magneto discovers his powers as a child while he’s a prisoner in a Concentration Camp during the Holocaust. (And much of his world philosophy is, understandably, formed during this traumatic period.) If that version of Magneto were introduced into the Avengers timeline, in present day, he would be in his 80s. Same goes for Charles Xavier. Sure, Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes are World War II war heroes who lived to fight in Avengers: Endgame, but they were literally frozen in time.

Given this problem, Disney is likely to either totally reboot the X-Men with new backstories or conjure up some means to get the characters to jump forward through time (more on that later). Either way, that likely means a new cast.

Frankly, the X-Men timeline is a mess anyway. Days of Future Past created a parallel universe undoing the events of the original three X-Men films (X-Men, X2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand). Every X-Men film since (X-Men: Apocalypse, Logan and Dark Phoenix) has taken place during this new timeline. Fair enough. But those movies have taken the place over the course of several decades, and the Professor X and Magneto of the 1960s look just a couple years younger than the Professor X and Magneto of the 1990s.

A few theories on how Disney will merge the Avengers and the X-men

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

The time travel theory

The easiest way to get the X-Men, who carry out most of their exploits post-World War II, into the present day would be through time travel. Both the X-Men universe and the MCU have established methods of time travel in their respective franchises. Given that the X-Men are now playing on Disney’s turf, the Pym Particles that the Avengers used to travel through time in Avengers: Endgame would be the most likely means for the X-Men to enter the future.

However, even if the X-Men were operating in relative obscurity from the ’50s through the early ’00s, the question of why mutants didn’t help out in the fights against Loki, Ultron or Thanos would still crop up. That’s why it’s more likely that Disney will totally reboot the franchise with a new backstory.

The gamma radiation theory

This one comes from Reddit, where one user posited that a seemingly throwaway line in Avengers: Endgame might set up the rise of the mutants. During that movie, Rocket says that there was a huge burst of energy on earth after Thanos snapped his fingers. Hulk later theorizes that the stones expel gamma radiation, the same radiation that gave Bruce Banner his Hulk powers. Presumably, that huge burst of energy happened again when Hulk snapped his fingers at the end of Endgame. Could that gamma radiation have created a group of mutants?

This plot line would neatly solve a problem with bringing mutants into the Avengers universe. The world hates mutants and discriminates against them. But, at least in the current Avengers universe, humans love the super-powered Avengers. Why would they loathe one group and cheer on the other? Perhaps humans will direct irrational hatred towards the mutants who gained their powers during earth’s biggest tragedy, the snap.

The Scarlet Witch theory

Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver, who were both introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron, are technically mutants in the comic books. A rights fluke allowed both Fox and Marvel Studios to use both these characters in their respective franchises. Quicksilver does not currently exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (he died in Ultron), but Scarlet Witch has played a pivotal role in the Avengers and is getting her own TV series on Disney+, Disney’s new streaming service. Could her TV show introduce the concept of X-Men and mutants to the franchise?

The Celestials theory

Marvel Studios has announced just a handful of movies in the wake of Avengers: Endgame, but one film they are already casting is The Eternals. The Eternals are a group of heroes created by an alien species called the Celestials to protect earth. The Celestials also created the mutants one million years ago, so maybe an Eternals movie could plant the seeds for an X-Men universe in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The multiverse theory

The least messy way to merge these two franchises is to create a multiverse. Essentially, the X-Men (and perhaps the Fantastic Four) would exist on another version of earth, parallel to the one in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Wolverine would never fight Captain Marvel: In the comics (and in the recent animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse), characters have traveled across parallel universes and met one another.

Avengers: Endgame seeded the backstory for a multiverse when it introduced the concept of parallel timelines created by the Avengers’ time traveling antics. Perhaps these mutants exist in another one of those universes — or are accidentally ported from one universe to another and suddenly must navigate a world that does not know them.

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