7 Things We Owe to 'The X-Files'

A still from an episode of 'The X-Files.'
A still from an episode of 'The X-Files.' / Getty Images/GettyImages

Over its nine-season run, The X-Files covered a lot of ground, pitting its odd-couple stars against all manner of extraterrestrial enemy, cryptozoological creature, and mythological monster. But along with all of the memorable stories fans are still talking about more than a decade after the show ended its run, The X-Files also gave us a few things to be thankful for that might not be as obvious.

1. Breaking Bad

Before he created one of the hottest shows on television, Breaking Bad showrunner Vince Gilligan spent several seasons writing, producing, and even directing episodes of The X-Files. One particular episode in the sixth season, “Drive,” featured an antagonist played by Bryan Cranston. Gilligan was so impressed with Cranston's portrayal of the character, which required him to humanize an otherwise loathsome person, that he brought him back for the role of Walter White in Breaking Bad.

2. and 3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Torchwood

There's no shortage of filmmakers and television auteurs who were influenced by The X-Files, but two very prominent creators who have name-dropped Chris Carter's series when discussing some of their most popular projects are Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon and Torchwood creator Russell T. Davies. In describing his popular show about a teenager tasked with vanquishing the undead, Whedon called Buffy a mix between The X-Files and My So-Called Life.  Similarly, Davies called his Doctor Who spinoff series about a mysterious agency investigating supernatural phenomena a cross between The X-Files and This Life.

4. The Growth of Online Fan Communities

Online fan communities were still in their infancy when The X-Files began its run, but the simultaneous rise of both the show and the internet itself resulted in the series becoming one of the earliest to develop a large online following willing to spend countless hours discussing the show, speculating about future stories, and even creating their own original content related to the series. This fortunate alignment of project, fandom, and medium was embraced by The X-Files creators, and led to many message-board users seeing their names pop up in episodes or acknowledged in other ways by the writers. In one particular example of the show's creators nurturing the online community, a May 2001 episode introduced a character named Leyla Harrison—the name of a popular author of The X-Files fan-fiction who had recently died. This interaction between fans and a project's creators soon became the model for subsequent series looking to connect with their online fanbase. 

5. Julianne Moore in Hannibal

After Jodie Foster declined to reprise her role as F.B.I. investigator Clarice Starling in the 2001 sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, the studio turned to a short list of actresses that seemed like a good fit for the character. Among them was Dana Scully herself, Gillian Anderson. However, it was discovered that Anderson's X-Files contract prohibited her from playing an F.B.I. agent in any other projects, forcing her to drop out of the running for the role (which eventually went to Julianne Moore). In a weird turn of events, Anderson was recently cast in a recurring role on the Hannibal television series as Hannibal Lecter's therapist.

6. William B. Davis

Okay, so this one's a bit of a stretch, but as a big fan of The Cigarette-Smoking Man in The X-Files universe, it's always interesting to note that actor William B. Davis' sinister character was never intended to be the recurring foil for Mulder and Scully that he eventually became in the series. Davis was originally cast as an extra for the series while he was teaching at an acting school in Vancouver, where the show was filmed. Chris Carter and the rest of the show's creative team were so impressed with his performance that they brought him back again and again over the series' nine-season run, and eventually gave him the honor of being one of the only three actors—along with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson—to appear in both the first and last episodes of the series. He went on to appear in countless other films and television series, often as a mysterious or otherwise sinister character, while also counting a number of famous actors (including Lucy Lawless) among his students.

7. “Myth Arcs” and “The Chris Carter Effect”

For better or worse, The X-Files coined several terms that have become commonly used in today's television culture. The phrase “myth arcs” (or “mythology episodes”) has its roots in The X-Files, with fans using the term to describe episodes or multi-story arcs that served the over-arching narrative of the series instead of just that particular episode. Over the course of the series' nine-season run, most of the “myth arcs” explored the alien-abduction and invasion elements of the story that generally led to season-ending cliffhangers and revelations regarding a threat to the greater world around the characters. Years later, the term continued to see heavy use in discussion of shows like Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Similarly, “The Chris Carter Effect” has become a relatively common term to describe a show that has let its over-arching mythology become so convoluted that the series begins losing fans who no longer believe the story's mysteries can be resolved with any amount of satisfaction.