Superhero Rights: Tales of an X-Franchise (Part 1)

In the mid 1990s, 20th Century Fox acquired the rights to the X-Men and several other characters from Marvel Studios. They wasted no time in adapting this popular group to the big screen, but it would come off of the back of a prior outing for them. X-Men: The Animated Series ran from 1992 to 1997 on the Fox Kids network and changed the core lineup from the comics. This cast consisted of Cyclops, Wolverine, Rogue, Storm, Beast, Gambit, Jubilee, Jean Grey, and Professor Charles Xavier. Based on the huge success of this series, Fox greenlit a motion picture in which 6 of these characters would initially make the leap.

Released in 2000, X-Men followed Rogue, a mutant with power-draining abilities, and Wolverine (AKA Logan) as they encounter and eventually join Professor X in the battle against Magneto. The cast boasted some impressive names with Thespian Legends Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian Mackellan both signed on. It did well at the box office and went on to spawn a barrage of sequels.

X2: X-Men United hit our screens in 2003 and saw the titular team facing off with Colonel William Stryker, who is on a path for mutant genocide. There are also hints at his past with Wolverine and the Weapon X Program, as well as hints to a more peaceful future. Again, the film did well at the box office, faring even better than its predecessor.

In 2006, the trilogy would conclude with X-Men: The Last Stand. It was an adaptation of the “Dark Phoenix” arc from the comics that also wrapped up our trilogy arc neatly. Though it was more successful at the box office than the previous films, it was met with mixed reviews. Though it was action packed and featured the best CGI of the series, fans felt it was a poor adaptation of the source material.

That source material had begun with The X-Men #1 in September of 1963. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the plight of these characters was a representation of the same plight faced by many minorities. This was not specific of one group but inclusive of all groups, whether it be race, religion or sexual orientation. When Sir Ian Mackellan was signed on, he wanted to ensure that this was not lost during the adaptation. The angle was more specifically that of the LGBT group which lead to a poignant scene in X2 where Bobby comes out as a mutant to his parents. Wherever the film franchise may have gone from here, the original X-Men trilogy still stands as a perfect allegory for those struggles.

By 2007, it was clear that the X-Men franchise was not slowing down. On the contrary, they were preparing to expand further. The “Origins” series was devised and would tell the origin stories for some of the most beloved characters with Wolverine, Magneto and Cyclops to be among the first. Being the most popular character, Wolverine was to go first, and so in 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine was released. The plot focuses on Logan as he becomes involved with Colonel William Stryker and the mysterious Weapon X Program. It also featured Deadpool, whose solo film had been in development hell for a decade until being officially cancelled in 2003. His portrayal here was met with harsh backlash from fans, as was the use of CGI claws on Wolverine, which resulted in this being dubbed the worst X-Men movie for years to come. The box office earnings were not enough to justify another Origins film, but was enough to keep the franchise afloat. A solo Gambit film was in the pipeline up until very recently, while the plans for Magneto’s film would find their way into the next project.

Acting as a soft reboot of the franchise X-Men: First Class graced our screens in 2011. James Macavoy and Michael Fassbender took over as Xavier and Magneto respectively, in a story that centres around the formation of the X-Men, as well as the Brotherhood of Mutants. The film also reintroduces us to Mystique and Beast, while the Hellfire Club make their debut led by a villain played by Kevin Bacon. First Class was met with positive reviews, being hailed as a return-to-form for the franchise. The grittier tone and improved special effects were especially praised, leading to 2 sequels in what has been dubbed the First Class Timeline. It does not tie directly into the original trilogy but instead acts as an alternate history. This also marks the first cameo appearance by Wolverine- something that would become somewhat of a tradition going forward.

The Story Continues…

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