Thirteen years after putting on the adamantium claws, Hugh Jackman is still carving up the box office as the most iconic super-mutant, Wolverine. Since opening on July 26, The Wolverine, Jackman’s fifth outing as the ornery X-Man, has grossed $307 million worldwide. It’s not exactly Avengers money, but it’s more than enough for Fox to want to keep Jackman in the X-Men fold. As The Wolverine’s post-credit sequence teased, Jackman will time-travel for a cameo in next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. But will that be the end of Jackman’s run? The 44-year-old has played Wolverine longer and more frequently than any actor has ever been associated with a comic-book hero, but his current deal is about to expire. Now the National Enquirer claims that Fox is offering Jackman $100 million for him to keep slicing and dicing for four more X-Men movies. Them’s a lot of chicken breasts!
Jackman’s spokesperson dismissed the report, but the future of Wolverine is worth some analysis, from both Jackman’s and the franchise’s points of view. The Australian actor, who earned his first Oscar nomination for last year’s Les Miserables, hasn’t made any Christian Bale-like comments about returning to the character. When he spoke to EW earlier this year, he was noncommittal, but the door was certainly open: “I’m not sure. I wasn’t even sure after the first [stand-alone] film if I would do another. I won’t say never, because I’m still loving it. But there would have to be a pretty compelling reason.”
That “pretty compelling reason” might be introducing Wolverine to some new super-friends, like the Avengers.
The razor-sharp comic-book character first appeared in a 1974 Hulk comic and he later joined forces with the Avengers in print. The only thing standing in the way of some X-Men/Avengers movie synergy is studio politics. (Fox licenses the X-Men characters from Marvel, which is now owned by Disney.) When asked recently about that crossover opportunity by Collider, Jackman was more than enthusiastic, claiming that he’d even inquired to Marvel about that possibility. “I understand at Marvel they’ve got The Avengers, they’ve got a lot of big things going on, but at some point I just find it almost impossible that there’s not a way to bring Iron Man, all the Avengers characters, Wolverine, the X-Men characters, Spider-Man, and somehow get them in together,” he said. “I’m in for it, I’m totally up for it because I think that would be really exciting for fans across the board.”
Playing Wolverine does come at a cost, however. First, there’s the physical demands that require Jackman to be incredibly jacked. It looks great for this particular superhero role, but not every character he plays needs to be so shredded. In fact, being so buff might disqualify him from certain movie parts. When The Wolverine was temporarily shelved after director Darren Aronosky left the project in 2011, Jackman expressed some frustration because his body was primed for one role only at that moment. Re-upping for another movie – or four – means more chicken-heavy diets and multiple daily trips to the gym.
The other cost is time. The X-Men movies are huge productions that block out months of an actor’s calendar. Making another long-term commitment to the franchise also means saying no to other, slightly more nuanced characters that come down the pike. And as a capital-A Actor, Jackman is in his prime, at the perfect leading-man age when glorious good looks are knocked slightly askew by just the right weight of world-weariness. Since joining the X-Men, he’s mixed in a few interesting performances – The Prestige, The Fountain – but you can’t help but wonder about all the roles he had to turn down because Wolfie had to be fed. (Psst, Chicago and Drive…) Fox will certainly make it worth his while, but does Jackman really want to be 49 or 50 and giving a variation of the same Wolverine interview where he’s describing his calorie intake?
From Fox’s point of view, though, extending Jackman for additional films is a no-brainer. As The Wolverine producer Hutch Parker said, the idea of eventually replacing Jackman, or perhaps rebooting the franchise with a new actor “feels somewhat blasphemous.” Wolverine existed in the pages of Marvel comics and the imaginations of fans everywhere, but Jackman is Wolverine. It’s a cinematic character he created, and like Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man, it’s now impossible to imagine one without the other.
Of course, Wolverine is an immortal of sorts who isn’t supposed to age; Jackman, despite all evidence to the contrary, doesn’t have that ability. At some point, Fox could ask, “Are we running the risk of our Wolverine being the equivalent of Sean Connery’s James Bond in Never Say Never Again?” But times have changed; look no further than Downey, who will be 50 when Avengers 2 comes out in 2015. I can’t imagine Jackman would get soft around the middle; besides a more grizzled Jackman better suits the haunted comic-book character.
The big headline yesterday was the $100 million figure that the Enquirer threw out there. It may have been conjured out of thin air, but it’s not a ridiculous amount. In fact, I’d argue that Jackman as Wolverine for four more X-Men movies is worth every penny to Fox. There might be some sticker shock to the $100 million figure, but paying the star of an established superhero franchise $25 million per picture is hardly unprecedented. (Downey famously took home $50 million for The Avengers.) In fact, compared to the reports of what Warner Bros. is going to throw at Bale to return as Batman, $25 million per for more Jackman almost seems like a discount.
Best of both worlds, I’d like to see Jackman return as Wolverine – but just once more, maybe twice. One more big X-Men movie, and then an Avengers crossover that could pit him opposite Downey’s Iron Man. Let those two actors ride off into the sunset together. A four-film commitment on movies of this magnitude, on the other hand, has a way of stretching over another decade, and Jackman is too talented an actor to have 20 years of his prime dominated by a cartoon character, no matter how iconic.