If you feel like a villain for thinking that the glut of superhero movies regularly filling theaters around the world is too much, you might want to direct your attention to the X-Men movie series. The first of the currently seven films in the ongoing story of the team of mutants came out 15 years ago this week, beginning the strong reemergence of some surprisingly nuanced films starring costumed crusaders that Batman & Robin almost single-handedly destroyed. As the trailers for X-Men: Apocalypse and Deadpool, the next films in the X-Men saga, wow audiences at Comic-Con, we're looking back at some facts about the franchise that are best read without a pair of Oakley shades.
1. JAMES CAMERON AND KATHRYN BIGELOW WERE AT ONE POINT SET TO PRODUCE AND DIRECT.
Years before Bryan Singer officially signed on to direct in 1996, Stan Lee and longtime X-Men comic writer Chris Claremont pitched an X-Men movie to James Cameron (Terminator, Aliens, Titanic) and Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) to produce and direct, respectively. Claremont was keen on Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) to play Wolverine, and Angela Bassett to play Storm. When Stan Lee piqued Cameron’s interest about the Spider-man series instead at the meeting, Claremont knew he had lost them. In 1994, 20th Century Fox bought the film rights to the comic series after Carolco Pictures went bankrupt.
2. JOSS WHEDON WROTE FOUR LINES OF THE FIRST X-MEN MOVIE, INCLUDING THE INFAMOUS "TOAD" ONE.
Several writers were hired to work on an existing draft of the script, including Whedon. Most of his changes were ignored on account of his “quick-witted pop culture referencing tone,” something he didn’t know until he was invited to, and attended, a read-through. His exchange between Cyclops and Wolverine stayed ("It's me." "Prove it." "You're a dick."), as well as Storm asking Toad if he knows what happens when his kind gets struck by lightning. Whedon claimed she was supposed to say that in a much more low-key tone. The Buffy television creator did end up heavily contributing to the franchise down the line: one of the two X-Men comic book story arcs that X Men: The Last Stand was loosely based on was the Whedon-penned “Gifted.”
3. ROBERT RODRIGUEZ TURNED DOWN THE CHANCE TO DIRECT X-MEN.
Rodriguez rejected big-budget movie projects at the time because he didn’t think they would be fun. Bryan Singer initially said no to directing X-Men, then changed his mind after reading the comics. During filming, Singer read online that he had been fired. Executives had to tell him that wasn’t true.
4. RUSSELL CROWE WAS THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY WOLVERINE.
Instead Crowe suggested his friend, a virtually unknown Australian actor named Hugh Jackman. Despite the recommendation, Dougray Scott was cast, but Scott had to drop out to keep his commitment to Mission: Impossible 2. Then the role was given to Jackman, who joined on October 11, 1999, 19 days into production.
5. JACKMAN TRAINED BY WATCHING MIKE TYSON VIDEOS IN HIS TRAILER.
He would shadow-box along with the footage, and asked the writers to make the fights ugly, not long and heavily choreographed affairs. The actor also purposely took ice cold showers in the morning to make him as angry as Logan.
6. JANET JACKSON DROPPED OUT OF THE FILM.
The singer-actress was cast in the role of Storm, and even had a chance to visit the set, before dropping out to not disrupt her concert tour. Halle Berry took the part instead, and didn’t let it go for the sequel, even though it meant that she had to back out of shooting a different movie: Gigli. Another actor who left the project because of scheduling conflicts was Jim Caviezel, who was set to play Cyclops.
7. PATRICK STEWART HAD NEVER HEARD OF X-MEN.
When he was first asked what he knew about the X-Men, Stewart thought he was being asked about The X-Files.
8. THE CAST PARTIED AT SIR IAN MCKELLEN’S HOUSE.
James Marsden recalled that the original cast would meet up at the Magneto actor’s house for barbecues and sing show tunes by the piano.
9. MCKELLEN AND STEWART DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO PLAY CHESS.
A chess master came in to teach them.
10. SABRETOOTH WAS A FORMER WRESTLER.
Tyler “Nitro” Mane was initially hired as a stunt man. When Bryan Singer spotted him, he promoted him to cast member.
11. THE MYSTIQUE MAKE-UP PROCESS TOOK MUCH LESS TIME OVER THE YEARS.
In the first film, it took nine hours for Rebecca Romijn to be painted Mystique blue. For X2 they got the process of putting on 110 prosthetics down to six hours. By the time Jennifer Lawrence was portraying the character in X-Men: First Class, it “only” took three hours.
12. THERE WAS SOME TROUBLE WITH USING CONTACT LENSES.
Tyler Mane left his Sabretooth contacts in for too long and was unable to see for a day. Before getting her request granted in future installments to have her eyes yellowed by CGI, Romijn wore yellow contacts that limited her vision. She was worried that she would inadvertently kick Bruce Davison (Senator Kelly) in the face on the helicopter, which is exactly what happened.
13. JAMES MARSDEN WAS TOO SHORT TO LOOK HUGH JACKMAN AND FAMKE JANSSEN IN THE FACE, EVEN THOUGH HE IS ALMOST 5’11”.
He had to stand on apple boxes and raised tracks in Cyclops’s scenes with Wolverine and Jean Grey. At least Marsden was given a lifetime supply of Oakley sunglasses for wearing their product.
14. BRYAN SINGER ONCE MADE THE CAST AND CREW WAIT TWO HOURS ON THE SET OF X2 SO HE COULD "THINK."
The director sat on a log in the middle of a field while precious light was fading to figure out how to fix a scene where Wolverine and Jean Grey talked about “a relationship that they never really had.” When he returned to civilization, he asked the present camera crew if they thought that the two characters should kiss. They all raised their hands, with one male member asking if they can do more than that.
15. FAMKE JANSSEN DID NOT KNOW HER FATE UNTIL HALFWAY THROUGH SHOOTING X2.
Only the studio president’s copy of the script revealed her death. Even though she wasn’t in the scene at the end in the Oval Office, Janssen appeared in costume in all of the publicity shots set there.
16. RYAN REYNOLDS ACKNOWLEDGED ALL OF THE PHYSICAL TRAINING SOME CHARACTERS HAD TO GO THROUGH.
Wade Wilson’s sarcastic comment in X-Men Origins: Wolverine about enjoying being stuck in an elevator with five guys on a high-protein diet was improvised on set by Reynolds.
17. JAMES MCAVOY AND NICHOLAS HOULT MAY HAVE OVER-PREPARED.
McAvoy played a younger Charles Xavier in X-Men: First Class, so he took it upon himself to shave his head before shooting. Turns out that he was supposed to have a full head of hair for the movie, so he had to wear hair extensions. Before playing Hank McCoy in the same film, part of Hoult’s research was to watch episodes of Frasier to get Kelsey Grammer’s accent down. Grammer played Beast/Hank McCoy in X-Men: The Last Stand.