Why the Gambit movie really got delayed

Getting a movie from concept to production is easier said than done. For proof, we need look no further than Gambit, the X-Men spinoff starring Channing Tatum as the thieving mutant with the ability to manipulate kinetic energy. Originally slotted for an October 2016 release, Gambit has been pulled from the schedule after enduring months of production troubles and setbacks, which leaves us wondering just what exactly is going on behind the scenes.

Budget struggles

No one has gone on the record to discuss any kind of target budget for Gambit, or even hinted at a tug-of-war between producers and Fox over money. But here have been rumors suggesting serious disagreements over how much it makes sense to invest in a movie about a character who—while a fan favorite for a certain segment of X-Men readers—remains something of a fringe element in the Marvel universe. With so much money tied up in the X-Men film franchise, and Fox stung by the lukewarm returns on 2015's Fantastic Four, the studio could conceivably want to take a lower-budget approach this time. That may or may not jibe with the producers' vision for Gambit, particularly with a rumored $150 million cost looming over the bottom line.

Director woes

Rumors regarding Fox's difficulties finding a suitable director for Gambit started in mid-2015, when reports circulated suggesting the studio had reached out to a bunch of A-list names that included Darren Aronofsky, Gareth Evans, and J.C. Chandor—all of whom allegedly turned the project down. The gig eventually went to Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), but he walked off in September, just a few months after being confirmed. Wyatt's departure was officially chalked up to "scheduling conflicts," but as anyone who frequents the Hollywood trades knows, that's often code for "irreconcilable differences." In November, Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow) was reportedly close to a deal to direct, but nothing's been officially announced, and Gambit's much publicized disappearance from Fox's release schedule in February 2016 could suggest ongoing difficulties in getting a contract done.

Channing Tatum's second thoughts

Channing Tatum's eagerness to assume the role of Gambit helped convince Fox that a standalone film for the character was worth pursuing, and in public, both sides have given the impression that this is a match made in heaven. Still, we've heard persistent rumblings of dissatisfaction behind the scenes. Even after being confirmed for Gambit, Tatum was supposedly balking at staying on board the project, and rumored to be more interested in making his directorial debut. It's all just hearsay at this point, but with nearly $2 billion in lifetime box office grosses under his belt, Tatum's in the enviable position of not needing a major franchise to secure his future—and as a producer on Gambit, he'd be on the front lines of any disagreements with studio execs.

The "Deadpool" Effect

Up until very recently, conventional Hollywood wisdom dictated that comic book adaptations had to be kid-friendly enough to earn a PG-13 rating. As the R-rated Deadpool's success demonstrated, that was a misguided belief, and the aftershocks could have major implications for the way studios treat their comics properties. It could also offer a measure of vindication for fans who were forced to settle for bowdlerized versions of characters whose printed adventures were frequently edgier and more thought-provoking than anything they were allowed to do onscreen.

Just as importantly, Deadpool offered further proof that comic characters don't necessarily need to be household names in order to carry their own movies. Fox has had a vested interest in launching as many Marvel franchises as possible simply because they'd made a mint on the X-Men movies. But as Marvel has built its own sprawling cinematic universe, repeatedly proving that even supposedly second- or third-tier characters can populate hit films in any number of genres, the studio could see Gambit as something more than your average spinoff. The studio may want to take extra time to figure out exactly what it wants to do with it. If that's the case, then Gambit's slow development process could be a good thing. As the Wolverine movies demonstrated, not all characters benefit from the stereotypical PG-13 "superhero movie" treatment, and if Fox is hitting the brakes on Gambit in order to determine what type of canvas best befits the X-Men's ragin' Cajun, we could have something special on our hands.