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Fox's X-Men movies on hold during merger with Disney

The face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it is going to change in a big way once Disney, the parent company of Marvel Studios, officially absorbs the majority of 20th Century Fox's assets and acquires the film rights to several Marvel heroes housed at Fox in a multi-billion-dollar merger deal between the two studios. Of these heroes transitioning from the Fox den to the House of Mouse are the X-Men, many of whom are set to lead movies that have been thrown into limbo due to the impending acquisition. 

Unsurprisingly, there has been a great deal of uncertainty over the fates of in-the-works films like Gambit and X-Force, which were announced before word of the Disney-Fox merger got out. Now, longtime X-Men franchise producer Lauren Shuler Donner has come forward to address the situation and reveal that all of Fox's Marvel movies are on hold until the merger goes through. 

Donner — who has worked on everything from 2000's X-Men and its sequels X-Men: The Last StandX-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: First Class, and X-Men: Apocalypse; to X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Logan; to Deadpool and Deadpool 2; to X-Men television series Legion and The Gifted – sat down with Collider's Christina Radish during the Television Critics Association press tour to discuss the future of the X-Men film series. 

Though she reduced her producing responsibilities following the release of Deadpool in 2016, Donner confirmed that she's very much a part of the mutant franchise and still has access to all important inside information — including the fact that the X-movies in development at Fox have been pushed to the back-burner for now. 

"Everything is on hold since Disney took over. I, frankly, took a step back after Deadpool, so I wasn't front and center, at all, for Apocalypse or New Mutants or Simon Kinberg's Dark Phoenix. He took over, but these were things that I put in place. With Gambit, certainly, it's too bad that it's taking so long because I really wanted to see that. It's such a great character. But, let's see. Let's hope so. Right now, it's all in Disney's hands. We don't know what they're gonna do," explained Donner. 

She continued, noting that Fox is handing the keys to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, whom Donner described as her former protégé.

"He and I started X-Men together, so I do trust him, not only based on knowing him and knowing how he knows the story so well, but on pure evidence. With his movies, there's not a bad one in the bunch. He'll figure it out," she said, adding that she hopes the core X-Men franchise will head in a "different direction" post-Dark Phoenix. "The problem lies in how many movies you can release in a year. Being a standalone movie help because they're not multiple character, real hardcore superhero movies. You don't want the audience to get sick of it. You don't want the audience not to go to this one because they already saw a superhero movie a couple months ago, or last month. That's the rub, right there."

Donner then commented on how difficult it is for those involved with Gambit, the comic book flick starring Channing Tatum as the card-dealing mutant Remy Etienne LeBeau, and X-Force, set to center on the members of Wade Wilson's super-duper group first seen on the big screen in Deadpool 2, to have to grapple with the projects being on pause. 

"It's really hard. It's hard for everybody involved. Imagine the writers who were writing it, and then, all of a sudden, they have no idea, and they just have to stop. So, we'll see. I'm sure it's been extremely frustrating for them," Donner stated. "I do believe that the future of X-Men is good, though. It just depends on what it will be, and whether it's one character within another Marvel story. Poor Kevin must be up all night, trying to figure it out. That's a lot of characters to intertwine and send out into stories."

Outside of her one-on-one interview with Collider, Donner spoke to reporters about the chances of Gambit moving ahead in the near future. She revealed (via IGN), "That is up to Disney, that is really up to Disney. I hope so, but that's up to them. The problem is, you cannot have too many Marvel X-Men superhero movies out there, otherwise we will cancel each other out. Each one has to be distinctive and yet you've got the Avengers to follow through, you've got so many distinctive story canons to follow through and yet you want new ones. But I don't think you can have more than four — four is a lot, cause people are gonna get sick of them, so we have to be careful. He has to be careful, Kevin."

Another Fox Marvel movie whose status is up in the air is the rumored feature centered on Kitty Pryde. Donner doubled down on her comments when speaking about that film: "This is all now in Disney's playground and they get to decide. At least we know it's in good hands, everybody's worked really hard up til now on our Fox side, but now it's gonna be Disney's call."

The positive news is that Dark Phoenix will launch in theaters this June, even after multiple delays and reshoots and apparently terrible test screenings. More mutant goodness is headed our way in the form of The New Mutants, which also suffered delay after delay and went through hefty reshoots during development. Donner noted that she's "being told" The New Mutants will score a theatrical release, and has her fingers crossed that it won't fall to a streaming site. 

"I took a step back [on The New Mutants], so that was under Simon's purview. I hope so, they worked on it hard, I do like the idea," she said. "We started off as more of a teen movie and the decision came to make it more of a horror film, I think it's a good idea. I wanna see it be released. I'm hopeful that it will, I'd hate to see it thrown to Hulu."

Disney and Fox shareholders approved the $71.3 billion Disney-Fox merger back in July of 2018, and at that time, it was reported that the deal would close in early 2019. We're only in the second month of the year, so there's still some time before "early 2019" flips to "mid 2019," meaning the merger could be tied up neatly and nicely sometime between now and April. 

However, no one should expect change to happen immediately. Yes, the MCU will look and feel different after characters like Wolverine, Doctor Doom, Beast, Storm, Emma Frost, Nova, and more join the party, but Marvel president Feige previously stated that it will take a number of years before the merger impacts the franchise

"Certainly it won't impact the five movies we've announced [following Avengers: Endgame], and it probably wouldn't impact anything for a handful of years after that," Feige explained when speaking with The Playlist. "Because really, we're not thinking about that. We're thinking of delivering on what we promised. Any movie, especially for any characters we don't have the rights to yet until someone tells us we do, would be even further after that."

Hopefully, the merger will be finalized in the next few months, The New Mutants will be released theatrically, Fox's Marvel characters can settle into their new home at Disney and Marvel Studios, the five films Marvel has lined up to launch after Endgame will roll out as planned, and Gambit, X-Force, and the possible Kitty Pryde pic can get off the ground.