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The Marvel Movie That Donnie Darko's Director Almost Made

Ask any fan what their least favorite movie in the X-Men franchise was, and there's a pretty good chance they'll point to X-Men: The Last Stand. Or maybe X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Maybe "Apocalypse. Dark Phoenix was pretty hard to watch, come to think of it. Someone might bring up New Mutants, but that would imply that anyone saw New Mutants. Boy, that franchise was a mixed bag.

The trouble, to many fans' eyes, started with The Last Stand, the 2006 threequel that saw Mystique depowered, the Juggernaut in a strappy little leather number, and a digital de-aging of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan that dug so deep into the Uncanny Valley it hit Uncanny Oil and built an Uncanny Company Town where it was Uncanny Mayor for Life. It was all enough to make viewers wonder what might have been — enough so that, almost a decade later, Fox took a Mister Clean Magic Eraser to the whole plot with Days of Future Past.

Meanwhile, in a branching What-If universe, the third X-Men film looked entirely different. As revealed in a recent interview with CinemaBlend, Richard Kelly, the writer and director behind Donnie Darko, was once in talks to helm his own version of X-Men 3. As for why he chose to follow the shimmering, glassy tube of light away from Marvel's mutants, you can apparently blame Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

X-Men 3 could've been so much Darko-er

"I did have a meeting [about X-Men 3]," Kelly told CinemaBlend, "and I think I was definitely very much in the running. That was an opportunity that I could have aggressively pursued, but I had Dwayne Johnson and the whole cast committed to Southland Tales. I mean, I had Dwayne on board, and I was not going to turn my back on him, ever."

It is, you'd have to agree, wise not to turn your back on Dwayne Johnson, who is now in the process of beefing up even further for Black Adam and probably needs the delicious protein attached to your skeleton. That said, it's tantalizing to imagine a world where the mind behind Donnie Darko took a swing at the X-Men, possibly dropping the first entry in the franchise that sophomore year philosophy majors would refuse to shut up about.

And as for the future? Kelly states that he hasn't abandoned the idea of helming a big screen superhero adaptation, but would prefer to do his own thing for now. "I feel like I'm just kind of much more comfortable in my own sandbox," he explained. "That's not to say that I could never enter into someone else's comic book world, and I'm always open to that; but I've just been focused on trying to build out my own, I guess."

Meanwhile, Donnie Darko made it into the world of WandaVision in an unexpected way recently, but that's probably unrelated.