Dark Phoenix had a brutal opening weekend. The would-be blockbuster culmination of Fox’s decades-long X-Men franchise fizzled out at the box office with just $32.8 million — an all-time low for the franchise — despite a star-studded cast and one of the most recognizable titles in the X-Men legacy. On the heels of the disappointing debut, writer/director Simon Kinberg gave a candid, classy interview on KCRW’s The Business podcast, diving into how release date shuffles and the Disney-Fox merger impacted the film’s journey and why he’s not using any of it as an excuse.
“It’s clearly is a movie that didn’t connect with the audiences that didn’t see it, it clearly didn’t connect enough with audiences that did see it, so that’s on me,” Kinberg said. But that’s not to say there weren’t struggles along the way. First and foremost, the filmmaker highlighted Dark Phoenix‘s path to a summer release date he never planned for — a release date that also left the film in the wake of Avengers: Endgame‘s phenomenal success.
“I always felt that we had a tough date for this particular movie,” Kinberg explained. “It wasn’t made as a classic superhero movie, it was made as more of a dramatic, intimate, smaller film. Originally it was going to come out in November, then it was going to come out in February, and those were the date that I felt like it actually would have felt more appropriate to.”
“And think also coming out five, six weeks after what may well be the biggest movie or the second biggest movie in the history of cinema, that also happens to be also in the genre of superheroes, was tough for us,” he continued, “and I always anticipated that it was going to be tough to be int he tailwinds of that movie. But I wouldn’t blame it on the weekend.”
While Kinberg dodged questions about whether it’s true that James Cameron asked for Dark Phoenix to be moved so Alita: Battle Angel could hold down the February release date, he did address whether his film could have ever been completed in time for a February launch. “It’s hard to know,” he said. “If we had accelerated certain things in that movie, it perhaps would have been ready by that date,” explaining that the re-shoots on Dark Phoenix weren’t as intensive as some previous X-Men films, but ultimately, they didn’t have the choice.
But it wasn’t just the release date shuffled that hamstrung Dark Phoenix, there was also the looming Disney-Fox merger, which first reported at the end of 2017, towards the start of Kinberg’s post-production process. While the filmmaker never pointed fingers at the deal, he did discuss what it was like to be in the Fox family during the lead up to the industry-shaking merger, especially in the final months as the fallout started to get series.
“Well, there’s no question that people were either getting fired or leaving,” Kinberg said. “I think the massive layoffs, people were well aware of, and ultimately in the last six months or so, there were massive layoffs. Like thousands and thousands of people. So the marketing and publicity side of Fox were very badly hit, and I noticed it because oblivious I was going to marketing meetings every week and there were people who weren’t there anymore. They were people that I worked with for many years on many movies that I made.”
Kinberg clarified that he was always more worried for his colleagues and their families than for his film, but the layoffs weren’t the only element of the deal that impacted the marketing. The timing also sandwiched it between two periods of ownership, giving Disney’s famously effective marketing machine a mere matter of weeks before Dark Phoenix landed in theaters. “They’re clearly the best in the world, Disney, at marketing movies,” Kinberg said. “But I know that their process is usually that they start from a year out from a movie’s release, and in our case, they were given the film two months out from release… they couldn’t do anything until the merger was finalized.”
Regardless of the reason, Kinberg’s takes full responsibility for his film’s disappointing debut. “I’m here and I’m saying when a movie doesn’t work, put it on me,” Kinberg emphasized. “I’m the writer/director of the movie, the movie didn’t connect with audiences, that’s on me.”