(Editor's note: Changes have been made to this article for the purpose of clarification. We apologize for any confusion.)
20th Century Fox (Nasdaq: FOX) is riding high following the box office success of X-Men: Days of Future Past, which continues the trend of movies based on characters from Marvel Comics, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS). But there's more news coming out courtesy of Channing Tatum, who has as-yet-unofficially snagged the role of Gambit in the forthcoming sequel X-Men: Apocalypse. Tatum told MTV his talks with the studio have included a solo Gambit film, which could release before Apocalypse. Tatum acknowledged that the "machine of the Marvel world is ginormous," so the plans could die in the idea stage. But would a solo Gambit film serve as a solid next step in a Marvel-based franchise?
Captain America: The Winter Soldier has earned more than four times its production budget since its release in early April. X-Men: Days of Future Past has more than tripled its $200 million budget in a little over two weeks. But the recent successes make it easy to forget that Marvel has an imperfect cinematic track record. And competition from Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX.DL) DC Comics/Warner Bros has continued to heat up.
Would a Gambit feature land another mark in the win column?
Pushing a Gambit solo film seems an odd choice since the character can't even manage a successful, long-running starring role in comic books. And Tatum's comments suggested he wants to push Gambit's film in a gritty direction along the lines of The Dark Knight trilogy and Man of Steel from Time Warner, which revitalized the Batman and Superman franchises, respectively.
In the comics, Remy "Gambit" LeBeau is a human mutant with an ability to manipulate kinetic energy that brings him to work with the X-Men. Gambit's a Southern ladies man and thief with a love for gambling, hand-to-hand combat, and fellow mutant Rogue. Gambit's only film appearance was as a secondary character, portrayed by Taylor Kitsch, in the poorly received X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
X-Men producer Lauren Shuler Donner said that Channing Tatum is her choice for Gambit but has stopped short of making an official confirmation, suggesting that there's still some contract negotiating happening behind the scenes. And the studio obviously hasn't commented on whether Gambit will make an appearance before X-Men: Apocalypse, which has a 2016 release date.
But should 20th Century Fox scrap the idea of a solo Gambit film?
Wait on Gambit?
Marvel characters have spawned a steady stream of hits since the 2000 release of the first X-Men film started that franchise, the original Spider-Man trilogy that's since successfully rebooted, and the 2008 release of Iron Man ushered in the Avengers age. But the box office hits make it easy to forget that Marvel was pursuing bankruptcy in the mid-'90s.
And the 2000s have featured some duds among the star vehicles. Hulk, The Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and Daredevil spinoff Elektra were a few titles that either barely or didn't surpass the budget with domestic ticket sales. Elektra barely recouped its budget even when including the foreign box office, likely because the character was more interesting as a secondary character rather than the star.
And that's the potential problem with a Gambit feature. The question isn't whether Channing Tatum can draw an audience; Tatum's more tested in that area than Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth were before Captain America and Thor, respectively. But out of all the characters that have moved in and out of the X-Men and Avengers, Gambit's story wouldn't seem particularly interesting to a wider audience as the star of the show.
Foolish final thoughts
20th Century Fox hasn't confirmed or denied Tatum's comments so the studio could well scrap the idea of a solo Gambit feature in the idea stage. But it would behoove the company to test audience interest in the character through X-Men: Apocalypse before shoving Gambit into the spotlight.