The New Mutants' rocky road to cinemas

(Image credit: Disney)

Delays, reshoots, and pushed release dates are part and parcel of the film business – but no movie in recent history has been more delayed than The New Mutants. The standalone Marvel movie – centred on five teens with superpowers being held at a creepy facility – was meant to change the superhero game for 20th Century Fox as they looked for darker, less PG-13 avenues to expand on its existing X-Men universe. 

However, while solo outings Deadpool (2016) and Logan (2017) earned both critical acclaim and box office success, The New Mutants saw its release date pushed back several times for a myriad of reasons – even now, with a release date set for August 28, there's some disbelief that this movie is actually coming out. So, how did this situation come about? Let’s take a look at this cinematic origin story.

(Image credit: Marvel)

Hot off the success of his 2014 adaptation of YA book The Fault in Our Stars, Josh Boone was in a good position when he pitched then-20th Century Fox “a Stephen King X-Men movie.” The filmmaker had been a superfan of the American author since he was a child and, with his childhood best friend Knate Lee, created a version of what a New Mutants trilogy could look like.

“We had loved Bill Sienkiewicz’s run with Chris Claremont that had Demon Bear,” Boone told Creative Screenwriting in 2016. “It was really dark, interesting, and different from the typical X-Men stories that we had read.”

They took the idea first to X-Men producer and Dark Phoenix director Simon Kinberg, who “loved it,” and by May 2015 Boone and Lee had inked a deal to get the first standalone spin-off made with Kinberg and Lauren Shuler Donner producing. In March 2016, Kinberg said that Boone and Lee were still working on the script, which had the blessing of Sienkiewicz. However, as with all studio movies, there were plenty more eyes ready to scrutinise the plan.

“It’s a balance of getting to do things in a bubble, which I’d say is the best way of writing anything, and then having to negotiate all the politics of studio filmmaking, which is its own special beast,” Boone said.

One of the things they had to negotiate was the era of the movie. After the failure of X-Men: Apocalypse, Fox wanted the script to be re-written in order for it to be set in the present rather than the '80s. This meant the planned appearances of James MacAvoy’s Professor X and Alexandra Shipp’s Storm were removed. Boone and Lee did several drafts, but Fox brought in The Fault in Our Stars adapters Scott Neustadter and Mike Weber to do a once over too. According to Tracking-Board, the writing process went further than that with “agency sources,” insisting “the film was written by committee.”

“This has been different because it’s constantly morphed as we’ve gone along,” the director said. “It will probably continue to morph as we’re making it.”

(Image credit: Marvel)

Boone probably didn’t realise how right he would be. When Total Film visited The New Mutants set in 2017, the working title for the film was “Growing Pains,” and that was certainly the case. That April, Fox announced the film would be released a year later on April 13, 2018. Filming began in Boston, Massachusetts, in July with the lead cast of teen mutants – Wolfsbane (Maisie Williams), Magik (Anya Taylor-Joy), Cannonball (Charlie Heaton), Mirage (Blu Hunt) and Sunspot (Henry Zaga) – ended on September 16, but it wouldn’t be long before they were reunited again.

From the very beginning, the film had been pitched as a Stephen King/John Hughes-style mash-up for young adults, however, after the release of It in 2017, things changed for the studio. Fox reportedly wanted The New Mutants to be darker and scarier even though the cut that Boone submitted, which included unfinished visual effects, was liked by execs and performed well with test audiences. The studio cut a trailer that went heavy on the horror elements of the film and when that was met extremely well by the public in October 2017, a decision was made to rewrite and reshoot and push the release back to February 22, 2019.

That moment was no doubt a frustrating one for Boone and Lee. They originally had had to cut a lot of the horror from the original story in order to make it PG-13 friendly. Now they were looking at reshooting "at least 50% of the movie," according to Collider in March 2018, in order to add all that back in. Additional photography was set for mid-2018 which also included shooting a new post-credit scene featuring Antonio Banderas as Sunspot's father Emmanuel da Costa, who has links to the infamous X-Men antagonist group The Hellfire Club. 

Originally, the film was going to include a whole subplot involving Jon Hamm’s Mister Sinister and the Essex Corporation that was teased in Apocalypse. The villain was going to be introduced in a post-credit sting but it was reportedly cut in order to separate The New Mutants even further from the X-Men flop.

New Mutants

(Image credit: Fox/Disney)

The release date was pushed back again to August 2019 to make way for Dark Phoenix – and then the Disney acquisition threw another spanner in the works. By the time Fox was officially acquired by The Walt Disney Company, in March 2019, reshoots had still not taken place as Disney execs, according to The Hollywood Reporter, needed to watch the first cut and see whether they actually wanted reshoots or a new cut with the material they had. Boone himself hadn’t worked on the film for nearly twelve months.

“We had heard nothing because of the merger,” Boone told Entertainment Weekly. “It was radio silence for about a year where we had no new information at all.”

In May 2019, the release date was pushed back to April 3, 2020, but three months after that announcement, it was reported that the studio didn’t feel the original cut had strong “box office potential,” and asked Boone to return to finish it.

"In the editing, we were probably 75 per cent done," the director said. "We [co-writer Lee] came back and finished it up. We did a bunch of things here and there that we hadn’t thought about or noticed a year before.”

(Image credit: Marvel)

Much of the focus was on completing the visual effects, especially for Illyana’s sword and dragon companion, Lockheed. And after years of deliberation, no reshoots were undertaken. Boone felt that the cast had aged too much in the years since. Plus, Marvel Studios would be integrating the X-Men into the MCU, so it was unlikely a sequel would be greenlit. The post-credit scene teasing Sunspot’s father would, therefore, be unnecessary too. 

According to Sienkiewicz, the new cut had a much more Marvel Cinematic Universe tone, and even had a same-sex love storyline, which test audiences responded well to, though Disney was at pains to point out it was not officially a part of the MCU. 

The curse seemed to be lifted in 2020, with a new trailer unveiled in January and Boone confirming, on March 7, that the film was officially complete and ready for its April 3 release. He and the cast were heavily promoting the film online and through interviews when disaster struck again with the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic forcing cinemas across the world to shut up shop.

A week later, on the same day that Boone posted a New Mutants featurette to his Instagram, Disney announced it had removed The New Mutants from its release schedule, along with several other titles, without specifying a later date in the year. 

(Image credit: Marvel)

There was then speculation the studio could have dropped the movie on one of its streaming platforms. It certainly wouldn’t be a bad move given that it is the last instalment from the Fox-Marvel creative team and therefore a completely standalone movie without much chance of a sequel. Why not just throw it online and hope that encourages more people to buy it on-demand or subscribe to Hulu? However, given its reported 14A rating, horror theme, and same-sex romance, it’s unlikely the movie would have been family-friendly enough for Disney Plus, which remains the service Disney wants to get people hooked on. 

With The New Mutants now, finally, reaching cinemas, there's a chacne this could turn a box office profit. Horror movies have had a resurgence over the last decade, especially those like A Quiet Place and Happy Death Day with a more accessible age rating. Maybe the cross-pollination of horror and superheroes will entice a younger demographic to turn up in droves for Boone’s X-Men spin-off? It would certainly be a welcome end to an era for Fox’s X-Men universe. Whatever the case, it's finally here – and, hopefully, it was worth the wait.

Freelance writer

Hanna Flint is a freelance film and TV critic who has bylines at GamesRadar+, Total Film magazine, Variety, BBC Culture, The Guardian, British GQ, IGN, Yahoo Movies, and so many other publications. Hanna has also appeared as a critic and commentator on Sky News, Sky Cinema, BBC World Service, and BBC Radio 5 Live, and can be frequently found as a Q&A host at MTV UK, BFI, and BAFTA. When Hanna isn't writing reviews, interviews, and long-form features about the latest film and TV releases, she specializes in topics concerning representation and diversity.