20th Century Fox had some big successes with R-rated X-Men movies in the years immediately preceding the Disney buyout of the studio and its assets, and it seems as though the long-rumored Gambit movie starring Channing Tatum would have been another. During a new interview, one of the film's producers told Variety that the plan was to make an R-rated stand-alone movie for the Cajun thief and card-throwing mutant. The project evolved several times over its five years of development, with Tatum remaining the only constant -- ironic, considering the character was actually played by Taylor Kitsch in his one big-screen appearance (in X-Men Origins: Wolverine).
The Gambit film started coming together in early 2014, when producer Lauren Shuler Donner said she was interested in developing something for the character. In May of that year, Tatum signed on.
"We wanted to make a romantic comedy superhero movie," Tatum's production partner Reid Carolin told Variety. "The thesis was the only thing harder than saving the world is making a relationship work."
Gambit "doesn't have to be a great big movie," Shuler Donner told Empire magazine in January 2014. "It's a thief in New Orleans, it's a whole different story. [Tatum]'s on board, and I have to get the studio on board."
In May of that year, Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt signed on to direct Gambit, then left four months later. He would subsequently claim that the financial failure of Fantastic Four drove Fox to slash Gambit's budget.
The next filmmaker to come on board officially was The Bourne Identity's Doug Liman, who also once came close to directing Watchmen for Warner Bros. In November 2015, Liman boarded the film, beating out candidates like Joe Cornish, Shane Black, and F. Gary Gray. In January 2016, the film was set to begin production in March for a release in October. Instead, in February, the film was pulled from Fox's release schedule, and by August, Liman pulled out, citing concerns with the script. Writer and producer Simon Kinberg then told fans that the plan was to find a new director and start shooting in 2017. Ironically, Liman moved on to direct Dark Universe, the doomed Justice League Dark movie at Warner Bros.
Gore Verbinski, the director of The Ring and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Black Pearl, was the next person tapped to direct, after working with Tatum on Logan Lucky. The filmmaker was set to start filming in late 2017 with an eye toward a 2018 release, after Tatum had told fans that the script had been completely rewritten. Before it could get produced, though, Verbinski left the project. Nobody else was able to get the stalled production moving again before Disney purchased Fox and officially cancelled Gambit.
"We were right on the one-yard line," Carolin claimed. "We had cast the film. We'd opened up a production office. We were on our way to shoot in New Orleans."