“Development hell” is a term for a creative project that struggles to reach completion. It has parts in place but can’t seem to get them moving enough to reach the finish line. Artists come and go, projects move from company to company, and sometimes money falls through at the last second. To say that Fox’s GAMBIT movie, part of the X-Men Universe is having trouble would be an understatement.

It’s currently sitting with a 2019 release date, two stars attached, and a bustling studio behind it. However, the road to this X-Men movie has been anything but smooth. From directors coming and going, re-working drafts of scripts, and combating the ever-changing landscape of the superhero genre, it continues to struggle on it sway to the screen.

Recently, though, it seems the project might see the light of day. With news of casting and rumors circling about directors, it’s becoming more likely every day that fans will see Remy LeBeau on the big screen again soon. The road to this point is fascinating and tumultuous. Let’s look at the road the Gambit movie has taken, wherever it may lead.

Gambit, Fox, X-men, Marvel, Channing Tatum, Gambit Movie
Photo courtesy of Marvel Comics

Early Development

After appearing in 2009’s X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, the future of Gambit on screen was up in the air. While star Taylor Kitsch had signed on for multiple films, the movie’s poor reception left everything in jeopardy.

In 2013, Channing Tatum expressed interest in the role. “I’m from New Orleans…My dad’s from New Orleans, and I like to do the Cajun accent,” he claimed. During the development of X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, Tatum had been on the shortlist and was eventually chosen for the role of Gambit in a cameo appearance. However, the producers scrapped the cameo before filming even began.

In 2013, while Tatum was verbally dedicating himself to the role, the superhero movie landscape was shifting. That May, Tatum officially signed on to star in a solo GAMBIT movie that would kick off a franchise for the character.

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Fox’s Changing X-Men Universe

At this time, however, things were interesting at Fox in regards to their superhero universe. While they surely wanted Gambit on screen and interacting with their other X-Men, it wasn’t that simple. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST shook things up big time in 2014, and fans were reacting to the new cast considerably well.

It seemed cramming a Gambit movie on the slate is easier said than done. It’s an enormous task to shepherd in a new cast while salvaging what was left of the old, all while trying to compete with Marvel Studios.

In early 2015, Fox greenlit the film for an October 2016 release. Apparently, Tatum met with multiple directors like Darren Aronofsky and J.C. Chandor, but none accepted the job. Writer Josh Zetumer finished his first draft of the script in the meantime, claiming his GAMBIT movie would be a much smaller film and more intense than a normal origin story.

Gambit, Fox, X-men, Marvel, Channing Tatum, Gambit Movie
Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street

One must wonder what kept directors away from the project. Could it have been the superhero bubble bursting? Perhaps it was low levels of confidence in Fox’s superhero slate, especially against Marvel and DC. Then again, it could have been the obscurity of the character coupled with the expectations of fans and the studio. A movie like this has to make a considerable amount of money to be deemed successful, and that scares many people away.

Additionally, most directors fear studio tentpoles in favor of their own creative projects. There are a plethora of horror stories of studios taking control of blockbusters away from their directors. That being said, there are tons of variables that go into deciding to direct a superhero film. Unless you’re Deadpool, a charming star is far from all you need to create a successful movie.

Rupert Wyatt and the Yellow Light

In June of 2015, it seemed Tatum and Fox were finally on their way to getting their GAMBIT movie made. Rupert Wyatt, director of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and THE GAMBLER, signed on to direct the film.

“We finally found someone that I really do believe wants to make GAMBIT,”

Tatum said. Wyatt kicked off the extremely successful APES franchise and seemed to be a perfect fit, especially if Tatum was confident in his abilities.

Gambit was set to appear in X-MEN: APOCALYPSE to set up his character for his solo film, but the idea fell through. Tatum even started learning to throw cards and perform small tricks, a staple of Gambit’s power set. Filming was all set to start in late fall of 2015 with an unfortunately large budget.

Reportedly, the film was going to cost around $150 million so that it had enough visual flair and spectacle to attract audiences. However, a budget that big comes with a lot of expectations on return. In that same year, Fox released FANTASTIC 4 to abysmal reviews and almost no box-office return. A project like this needed to ensure success.

In the middle of all of this, however, Tatum renegotiated his contract with Fox, causing a hiccup in the process. While he claims his participation was never in any danger, it did cause alarm among fans. Meanwhile, Fox signed on Lea Seydoux of BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR fame.

Did Fox Expect Too Much from a GAMBIT Movie?

In fall of 2015, Wyatt left the project after a new filming schedule clashed with a prior commitment. He was clashing with the studio about rewrites on the script, worrying that he wouldn’t be able to shoot his true vision. Sadly, the project stepped back once again. Fox scrambled to find someone who could not only helm the big-budget film but follow through with all pre-production that had already been done to stay on schedule for the desired release date.

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Doug Liman to the Rescue

After scrambling to meet with as many potential replacements as possible, Fox entered talks with filmmaker Doug Liman in November of 2015. Best known for SWINGERS and EDGE OF TOMORROW, Liman was a welcome choice and seemed like the man to do what was needed to get the GAMBIT movie done. With the impending DEADPOOL, Fox was looking to branch out its X-Universe in different and creative ways. The writing team went back to the drawing board, working to find a new angle.

While Fox wrote a new draft, Liman moved to make another film. However, Liman left GAMBIT to direct a JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK project for DC and Warner Bros. While producer Simon Kinberg praised the new draft and its tone, Liman said he wasn’t feeling it.

A Post-Deadpool Society

During this period, Fox officially removed GAMBIT from its October 2016 release date and was now aiming to start filming in early 2017. Unfortunately, Liman leaving the project set them back a considerable amount of time.

Gambit, Fox, X-men, Marvel, Channing Tatum, Gambit Movie
Photo courtesy of Fox

Around this time, the world of superhero movies had changed. DEADPOOL took the world by storm and made as much money as any other superhero movie (almost) on a fraction of the budget. Now, the door was wide open for smaller, more unique superhero films.

Fox had done it big and was on the edge of doing it again with LOGAN. GAMBIT could follow suit, and finding the right team to tackle it was now paramount. Fox was slowly emerging as the coolest place to make a superhero movie, as Marvel Studios was averse to take risks. Getting GAMBIT on track with the right director is a high priority before Fox’s bubble bursts.

Grinding the Wheels

All of this brings us to today’s situation, more or less. Kinberg, now maestro of the X-Men films, says Fox’s GAMBIT movie is still in “active development.” Given there are several other X-projects in the works including the upcoming NEW MUTANTS, they could more or less take their time. He compared Tatum’s commitment to the character to Jackman’s with Wolverine and Reynolds’ with Deadpool.

In July, Tatum commented on the long development journey to Cinemablend at San Diego Comic-Con, saying,

“I think we got super, super lucky. I think a lot of setbacks, we’ll look at them in hindsight as giant blessings. Because we were making it, [and] we’re writing a movie right at the turn of a paradigm shift in movies. So we got lucky that we didn’t just come out with ours, which I don’t think was fully formed. It was a good idea. We were going in the right direction. And then we got to learn from two really beautifully different kinds of a complete paradigm shift [in] Logan and Deadpool.”

Tatum would later say the script had started back from square one, affording them more opportunities to do exactly what they want with the character and the film.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Two months ago, Gore Verbinski entered talks to helm the X-Men project that was a “high priority” for the studio. Not long after, a new release date of February 14, 2019, was given and Verbinski was confirmed to direct. Of all the directors to come and go on this project, none have seen the success Verbinski has.

He cut his teeth on 2002’s THE RING, helmed the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films, then won an Oscar for 2011’s RANGO. Fox and fans now root for Gore to see the project through to the fabled release date. He has a fantastic track record, after all.

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On November 20th, Lizzy Caplan (CLOVERFIELD, MASTERS OF SEX) entered talks to star in the film. Given the director news followed shortly by this casting announcement, it seems the gears are finally turning on the project, and it may see the light of day soon.

GAMBIT: Fox’s Bad Luck or Unfortunate Timing?

Is there some grand thesis to all of this? Probably not, but there could be. All of this is more than likely the result of poor timing with creatives, the ever-changing landscape of superhero films, and a couple of strokes of bad luck. Why not entertain the thought, though? Learning from the past is fun. Fox’s GAMBIT movie might even teach future studios a lesson about kickstarting a franchise and preparing for chaos,

Gambit, Fox, X-men, Marvel, Channing Tatum, Gambit Movie
Photo courtesy of Marvel

Maybe it was the wrong move for Fox to aim a tentpole around a character with such limited screen time. Taylor Kitsch didn’t do a terrible job in X-MEN ORIGINS, by any means. Sadly, that film just wasn’t quite what the studio or the fans wanted. Gambit is a fun character, yes, but was the pressure of kicking off a new franchise too much for the card-slinger to handle?

It’s hard enough to stand out from so many superhero movies these days. However, maybe the project was just slightly ahead of its time. Since the success of both DEADPOOL and LOGAN, it’s easier for smaller superhero films to find success by exploring new ground and subverting troops. If NEW MUTANTS can do it, there’s no reason GAMBIT can’t.

Are There Bigger Issues at Hand?

Perhaps its all about the forgotten days of the action hero. In the old days, a star was more bankable than a director. These days, now that everyone on the internet is their own brand of film critic, it seems casting isn’t quite as important. Without using already established characters, kickstarting a new brand or trilogy isn’t as easy as just casting a big star and plastering their name on the poster.

Fans flock to support their favorite directors (just look at BABY DRIVER). On the flip side, the days of the action movie hero are dwindling. Not even Tom Cruise could save THE MUMMY after all. Did this lead to issues with Gambit? Was there not enough to attract an A-list director? Tatum has proved himself more and more as time has gone on, but maybe the script or studio deal simply didn’t make a GAMBIT movie seem attractive enough.

This is how the movie industry operates. People come and go like flies, landing on different projects for moments before looking for the next. With superhero films, it seems like everyone is buzzing about these days. Now that Fox has room to breath with several successful franchises lined up and even more on the way, maybe Gambit can relax and get the attention he deserves.

Hopefully, he can shake the rough track record and stick to this release date. Who knows? With Tatum so eager to take on the role, maybe he’ll pop up in the next DEADPOOL sequel or steal a scene in the upcoming DARK PHOENIX movie. Regardless, fans will still be there to check it out whenever he finds his way.

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