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June 05, 2011

‘X-Men: First Class’ is a lesson in franchise evolution

Posted in: Movies

Michael Fassbender in "X-Men: First Class." (Twentieth Century Fox)

The sleekest superhero film of the summer is “X-Men: First Class,”  and Steven Zeitchik has an astute look at the business moves behind the mutant epic that has taken a proven franchise into new territory. Here’s an excerpt, but read the whole piece (With “X-Men: First Class,” Fox tries a new mutation), which ran on the front page of Saturday’s Business section.

Although the fifth installment in the franchise about superhero mutants resembles many of Hollywood’s summer offerings — a big-budget action movie based on a popular comic book series — the latest “X-Men” is a vastly different creature that presents some unique marketing challenges.

The movie, which cost News Corp.-owned Fox and its two financial partners $160 million to produce before tax breaks, replaces its most bankable star, Hugh Jackman, with an ensemble of less proven younger actors led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. It’s also the most ambitious production yet from director Matthew Vaughn, mainly known for smaller-scale independent films such as last year’s “Kick-Ass” and the 2005 crime thriller “Layer Cake.”

And “X-Men” is set against such historical events as the 1962 Cuban missile crisis that are unfamiliar to much of the film’s target audience of teens and twentysomethings. Fox executives say they believe that some of these peculiarities will work in their favor as the movie debuts this weekend. “We feel we have a number of big advantages,” said Oren Aviv, Fox’s chief marketing officer. “This is a film that feels contemporary but it has iconic images from the 1960s.”

With stars like James McAvoy already mulling over the sequel opportunities and Vaughn proving himself to be a director who can handle pressure and work effectively with big stars, Fox has now positioned itself to move forward with a franchise that looked pretty shaky not all that long ago.

– Geoff Boucher

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