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Former Gambit director doesn't think the movie will ever happen

The Fox-produced X-Men film series is done — and so, apparently, is a long-awaited spin-off.

Director Doug Liman, who had been attached to a feature film based on the card-flinging mutant Gambit, has gone on record stating that he believes the film to be dead in the water. (via ScreenGeek)

In case you're not aware, a bit of background. The rights to the X-Men and their associated characters were acquired by Fox Studios from Marvel in the '90s, and — beginning with 2000's X-Men — the studio cranked out twelve feature films based on the property with varying degrees of success. Early films in the series established well-received versions of classic Marvel characters, including Professor Charles Xavier (portrayed by the great Patrick Stewart), Magneto (played by Ian McKellen), and Wolverine (portrayed by Hugh Jackman, in what would become his signature role).

The series was revitalized with the release of 2011's X-Men: First Class, a '60s-set period piece which featured younger actors stepping into the principal roles; James McAvoy, for example, took over as Professor X, while Michael Fassbender appeared as a younger version of Magneto. Jackman, however, remained as Wolverine, making two final appearances as the character in 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past (which united the younger and older casts) and 2017's Logan. 

The series fielded one successful spin-off in 2016's Deadpool and its 2018 sequel, and Gambit may have followed suit, had it not become immediately and irretrievably stuck in that lovely corner of Hollywood known as Development Hell. The idea of a solo vehicle for the Cajun mutant (real name Remy LeBeau) had been kicked around for the better part of a decade; Liman, perhaps best-known for helming The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow, was attached to the project between 2015 and 2017.

The director has been riding high on the success of his hit YouTube premium series Impulse, he was asked if he had any new information concerning the future of Gambit. His response was, well, rather terse: "No. Because I don't know," he said. "I haven't had an update since before the buyout. I think it's done."

What really happened to the Gambit movie?

The "buyout" to which Liman was referring was Disney's acquisition of the film and television properties of Fox Studios, which effectively hastened the end of the Fox-produced X-Men films. This summer's Dark Phoenix, a critical and box office failure, is largely regarded as the series' swan song; the future of one final effort, New Mutants (the production troubles of which are sure to become the stuff of Hollywood legend), has been up in the air for quite some time, and it looks increasingly likely that the film will never see the light of day.

New Mutants, however, actually went before the cameras; Gambit never came close to getting that far, despite A-lister Channing Tatum having been attached for years. The character was given his onscreen introduction in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, an appearance which was meant to prep audiences for a Gambit solo flick — but unfortunately, there were a couple of major problems with that strategy.

First, Tatum — who had been eyed for the role for 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand before Gambit was ultimately written out of that film — was unavailable, due to his commitment to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Taylor Kitsch was then cast in the role, signing a three-picture contract — but then, the second problem presented itself.

This would be the fact that X-Men Origins: Wolverine, to put it bluntly, sucked. Its story was a confusing mess, its special effects (especially in the CGI department) were sorely lacking, and it introduced Ryan Reynolds as a version of Wade Wilson/Deadpool so far removed from what fans wanted that it would take another seven years for the Merc with a Mouth to finally get his own starring vehicle. Due in large part to the film's failure (and Kitsch's just-okay performance), plans for a Gambit feature were put on hold.

The project remained in a holding pattern until 2013, when Tatum expressed interest in coming back on board. The following year, the star made it official, and Fox announced that its plan was to introduce Tatum's version of the character in 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse, with the appearance meant to finally kick off the character's solo franchise.

But, another problem soon reared its ugly head: namely, that nobody wanted to direct the picture. In 2015, it was leaked that Tatum himself had approached Bennett Miller (who had directed Tatum in the critically acclaimed Foxcatcher), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Gareth Evans (The Raid), and J.C. Chandor (Triple Frontier) to discuss the possibility of directing Gambit — and that all four had turned him down flat.

Later that year, the production finally secured a director in Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), but he departed the picture — citing conflicts with another project on his plate — after only three months. Liman came on board shortly afterwards, and he spent more time than any other filmmaker helping to develop the project — but he ultimately bailed in 2017 over concerns about the script, choosing instead to take on the Warner Brothers/DC picture Justice League Dark (the current status of which is way, way up in the air, and which Liman departed in 2018).

Next in line to take over Gambit was Gore Verbinski (The Ring, Pirates of the Caribbean), and under his stewardship, it briefly started to look like the film might actually get made. The production began casting, hiring key crew members, and scouting locations, and filming was all set to begin in New Orleans in March 2018. We'll give you three guesses as to what happened next, and the first two don't count. That's right: in January 2018, Verbinski bowed out, once again citing scheduling conflicts as the reason for his departure.

Throughout 2018, the project was essentially redeveloped from the ground up, and by January 2019, Tatum was leaning toward saying "the hell with it" and directing the picture himself. But then, the deal for Disney to acquire Fox began to heat up, causing the project to be placed on hold until the dust settled. Once it did, it took Disney all of a couple months to take decisive action; in May, the Mouse House pulled Gambit from its schedule of upcoming releases.

Liman's comment isn't terribly surprising, given the flick's incredibly troubled history and M.I.A. status over the last five months. Ultimately, it was likely the acquisition of Fox by Disney that finally, mercifully killed Gambit. But if there's a silver lining, it's that once the X-Men are fully integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which will likely not be for at least a few years), Marvel Studios will be free to develop its own take on the character which won't be informed or burdened by any previous portrayals. (Sorry, Taylor Kitsch; nobody really remembers your Gambit.)

Of course, we're at the ready to jump all over any X-Men/Marvel Studios news, and we'll be here to report any developments as they break.