By Dan Skip Allen
Comic book movies weren't the first genre studios were thinking of when greenlighting movies in the 1990s. Warner Brothers had success with the Batman and Superman franchises in the past, but most comic book movies up until the 2000s had been either really dark and violent like The Crow and Blade or campy and over the top like The Mask or the later Batman movies. Lauren Shuler Donner, Ralph Winter, Kevin Feige, and many others were really reaching when trying to produce the X-Men into a big-budget film. They proved the nay-sayers wrong.
Marvel Comics had a rough patch in the late nineties. In a way to gain capital to stay afloat, Marvel sold off the cinematic rights to some of their characters. 20th Century Fox bought the cinematic rights to the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. Subsequently, they fast-tracked the first X-Men movie. Donner and company enlisted the talents of Brian Singer, who gained acclaim for directing the critically and financially successful The Usual Suspects in 1995 and Apt Pupil in 1998. He was a hot commodity at the time. He was the right man for the job. Little did anybody know he had a love and passion for these characters for many years growing up as a kid.
He took that love and passion and started working on the story and then cast his first epic comic book movie based on these popular comic book characters. The casting process wasn't hard except casting Wolverine/Logan. A lot of Hollywood stars wanted to be in this first big comic book extravaganza. Heavyweights like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, and Halle Berry all signed on as well as Oscar-winner Anna Paquin. Dougray Scott was originally cast as Wolverine/Logan until he dropped out to do Mission: Impossible 2 for John Woo. The search was on to find another Wolverine/Logan. Little did anybody know the search would end with Broadway star and song & dance man Hugh Jackman. Nobody outside of Broadway circles ever heard of him. In an era before the internet, this still raised a lot of eyebrows in fan communities. Comic book fanboys have always been critical of strange casting news such as this, going back many years. Hugh Jackman would prove everybody wrong though and he would become Wolverine/Logan and own this character in multiple X-Men and Wolverine movies moving forward. The X-Men were finally coming to the big screen in 2000.
Despite falling back on the dark costumes trope that has been shoehorned into so many comic book movies in the past, X-Men actually turned out very good and was a huge success financially and with fans. Magneto (Ian McKellan) had a plan to make everyone see that mutants should rule and humans should bow at their feet. His brotherhood, Mystique (Rebecca Roman), Sabretooth (Tyler Maine) & Toad (Ray Park) are his loyal acolytes and they help him try to accomplish his plan. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) tries to recruit a new mutant Rogue (Anna Paquin), but she has her own bodyguard in the form of Logan (Hugh Jackman). They are leary of Xavier and his group of misfits that include Cyclops (James Marsden), Jean Grey (Famke Jansen), Storm (Halle Berry), and many others. The X-Men dealt with social issues going back decades in the comics. It makes sense that these issues were brought into the movies. Problems between humans and mutants have been the driving force in the comics and Singer brings them to the forefront in the first X-Men movie.
Donner, Singer, and the entire cast and crew of X-Men have successfully made a comic book movie for the masses. It still stands up twenty years later. After countless dozens of comic book movies including many Spider-Man, MCU, and DCEU movies have followed, X-Men was the first that really got it right. This film paved the way for all those other films to come. X-Men used great acting, production design, story, and direction from Singer to make a great film. X-Men was very enjoyable for me and I was in from the very beginning of this film. I know I wasn't the only one. Many of my friends loved it as well. In that group, I know it was a success because they weren't the easiest people to please. I hope Marvel and Disney take these characters and bring them into the MCU and fans get to see the next iteration of these iconic characters Hugh Jackman and crew made famous twenty years ago this week.
The Snake Hole
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