This week, the seventh film in the X-Men franchise – not counting spin-offs for Wolverine and Deadpool – rolls into theatres.
Whether the film is up there with X2 and Days of Future Past or if it’s a dud like Apocalypse, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is still a cinematic event.
Back in 2000, Bryan Singer’s X-Men jump-started the superhero subgenre and kicked off the trend for more grounded comic book movies. And now, Dark Phoenix marks the endpoint.
With X-Men studio 20th Century Fox recently having been bought up by Disney, the rights to X-Men and the rest of the Marvel catalogue owned by Marvel Studios now exist at the same studio – meaning, in short, that this is the end of the X-Men as we know them.
With Dark Phoenix in cinemas this week and with the franchise coming to a halt, here are 24 things you never knew about the X-Men movies.
24. Hugh Jackman replaced another actor as Wolverine after filming on X-Men had already begun
After nine huge superhero movies, a couple of musical mega-hits in Les Miserables and The Greatest Showman and a sellout world tour, Hugh Jackman today is one of the biggest stars on the planet.
Back in 1999, however, Hugh Jackman was an unknown outside of his home of Australia – and he might have stayed that way, had he not been cast as X-Men’s Wolverine at the 11th hour.
When Bryan Singer began shooting X-Men in ’99, Scottish actor Dougray Scott had already been cast in the role.
When shooting on Mission: Impossible II overran – Scott played the villain in the film – Singer was forced to find a last-minute replacement. He chose Jackman.
Recommended by Russell Crowe, who had been the first choice to play Logan, Jackman auditioned and landed the role after three weeks of filming had already taken place.
23. James Cameron almost made an X-Men film with Bob Hoskins as Wolverine
Before Bryan Singer was hired to make the first X-Men movie in 1996, a few other filmmakers took a crack at bringing the mutants to the screen.
A screenplay for X-Men was written as early as 1984, but things got serious when then-spouses James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow jumped aboard an X-Men project in 1989.
In 1989, Bigelow was coming off the cult vampire film Near Dark, while Cameron was considered one of the most exciting sci-fi filmmakers around after The Terminator and Aliens.
With Cameron as producer and Bigelow as director, the ’89 X-Men would have starred Bob Hoskins as Wolverine and Angela Bassett as Storm.
Unfortunately, Cameron moved on when he was offered Spider-Man – a film that also would never come to pass – while Bigelow wrote a treatment for her X-Men but got no further.
22. Patrick Stewart didn’t know what he’d signed up to, thought he was making an X-Files movie
Before he agreed to play Professor Charles Xavier, aka X-Men head honcho Professor X, Patrick Stewart knew next to nothing about the world of comic books.
In 2014, Stewart admitted to Rolling Stone that he “read storybook comics” as a youth and “children’s cartoons. But I never read, nor indeed had any interest in, any of the Marvel-superhero type of comics.”
Indeed, before Bryan Singer sat down with Stewart to explain what X-Men was prior to shooting, Stewart thought he was making another film entirely.
In a 2003 interview, Stewart said he was approached by X-Men franchise producer Lauren Shuler Donner, who said: “What do you know about the X-Men?” and immediately I thought I heard X-Files.”
Though Bryan Singer banned the comics from the set of the first X-Men movie, Stewart did the research anyway, and promptly got invested in X-Men comics to learn the mutants’ histories.
21. James McAvoy mistakenly shaved his head before playing a young, non-bald Professor X in First Class
To casual fans of X-Men, Professor X has always been a monk-ish sort of figure with one prominent physical characteristic: a gleaming, bald egghead.
James McAvoy, one such casual fan, thought he was doing right by the filmmakers, then, when he shaved his head immediately upon receiving the role of Charles Xavier in 2011’s X-Men: First Class.
Unfortunately for McAvoy, eager to jump into the role, he’d taken the bic to his scalp two films too early.
McAvoy’s younger, hairier version of Prof X wouldn’t lose his locks until 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse.
McAvoy had to turn to a “dear friend and follicle felicitator”, who spent “about 24 hours” putting hair extensions into McAvoy’s hair prior to filming in 2010.
20. It took up to 9 hours in makeup to make Jennifer Lawrence and Rebecca Romijn look like Mystique
Hugh Jackman had his intense workouts and Alan Cumming had his Cirque du Soleil-inspired movement coaching, but arguably nobody had a harder time making the X-Men films than Jennifer Lawrence and Rebecca Romijn.
To play Mystique, Magneto’s shapeshifting blue henchwoman, Lawrence and Romijn had to endure countless hours in the makeup chair.
On the first X-Men, Romijn had to sit a whopping 9 hours in the makeup chair every day she spent shooting.
By X-Men: First Class, the time Lawrence – taking over Mystique from Romijn – had to endure makeup application had been brought down to a more manageable 8 hours.
Lawrence, thankfully, had it a little easier than Romijn in the long run: By Days of Future Past, the Mystique makeup took a mere 3 hours to apply.
19. All the female crew members showed up flashing dollar bills when Jackman shot a nude scene on X2
Intense as the flashback scenes of Logan escaping, naked, from the Weapon X facility appear on screen in X2, they were a lot lighter to film.
To shoot the scene, Jackman went completely naked for real, and jokingly asked the assistant director for a closed set before dropping trou.
The AD not only didn’t close the set, he summoned all the female members of the crew to watch Jackman run down a corridor in the buff.
The women, among them James Marsden’s mother, proceeded to treat the scene like a night at Chippendales.
As the crowd whooped and flashed dollar bills at the actor, Jackman quickly tried to hide his parts, forgetting that he was still wearing Wolverine’s claws, and poked a sorry hole in his thigh.
18. Oscar Isaac called making X-Men: Apocalypse “excruciating”
Oscar Isaac, the Star Wars star who portrays uber-villain En Sabah Nur in X-Men: Apocalypse, hasn’t been shy about admitting how much he disliked working on that film.
Speaking to GQ in 2018, Isaac explained: “I didn’t know when I said yes…that I was going to be encased in glue and latex, and then a 40 pound suit that I had to wear a cooling mechanism in at all times.”
The Apocalypse costume – which also came with “high heels inside of a boot, so that was very difficult to move at all” – was responsible for more problems than just overheating, though.
Isaac explained: “every time I moved it was like rubber and plastic squeaking, so everything I said had to be dubbed later”.
To make matters worse, Isaac didn’t even get to enjoy what he signed on to the film for: “I was like, ‘Oh I get to work with all of these actors I like so much!’ but I couldn’t even see them because I couldn’t move my head.”
17. An X-Men prequel trilogy with Tom Hardy as young Wolverine was planned
After First Class revived the X-Men franchise in 2011, that film’s director, Matthew Vaughn, seemed like a natural fit to be the series’ creative lead going forward.
Unfortunately, despite developing sequel ideas in the wake of First Class, Vaughn moved on before Days of Future Past came around in 2014.
As it turns out, Vaughn had his own plans for an X-Men trilogy which included Days of Future Past, but that film was to be the third part of his story, not the second.
In a recent interview with ComingSoon, Vaughn revealed that, “because Hollywood doesn’t understand pacing”, Fox executives leapfrogged Vaughn’s second X-Men film, picked up his Days of Future Past script “and went ‘Oh, this is too good! We’re doing it now!'”
As for what Vaughn’s completed X-Men trilogy would have looked like: “My plan was First Class, then second film was new young Wolverine in the 70s to continue those characters… and my finale was gonna be Days of Future Past.”
With Tom Hardy as Vaughn’s dream cast for Wolverine, Vaughn revealed in 2011 his First Class sequel would have opened “with the Kennedy Assassination, and we reveal that the magic bullet was controlled by Magneto… he’s pissed off because Kennedy took all the credit for saving the world and mutants weren’t even mentioned”.
16. Professional mimes were hired as extras for the X2 scene where Professor X freezes time
Debate still continues as to whether it’s the best X-Men film, but X2 still undoubtedly features one of the most arresting sequences in the franchise.
While on a school trip to a natural history museum, Prof X’s young ‘gifted’ can’t resist to show off their various talents, something which leads to psychic intervention from Charles.
As Pyro and Iceman draw attention to the fact that they’re mutants from the surrounding non-mutants, Charles steps in, momentarily freezing time for everyone but his pupils.
For this scene, which utilises no fancy effects work but instead required those playing the ‘frozen’ to remain perfectly still, just any old extras weren’t going to suffice.
Bryan Singer instead decided to hire professional mimes for the scene, which continues to hold up as a spectacular example of a superhero special effect done entirely in-camera.
15. Peter Dinklage was cast in Days of Future Past because his dwarfism made him “a bit of a mutant”
According to Bryan Singer, Peter ‘Tyrion Lannister’ Dinklage was cast in Days of Future Past because the director was such a fan of Game of Thrones.
Dinklage believes there was another reason why he was cast in the X-Men prequel/sequel, though.
In the film, Dinklage plays Bolivar Trask, a military scientist set on keeping the mutant population in check.
Dinklage explained Trask’s motivation thusly: “With my Dwarfism, I’m a bit of a mutant. I can’t move metal or anything, but I thought of it as self-loathing. Deep down, Trask is quite sensitive about that aspect of himself.”
Dinklage explained that this line of thinking allowed him to play Trask as not a villain, but a man who has “strove all his life for a certain respect and attention”.
14. Magneto’s Nazi-hunting First Class scenes were originally part of their own movie
Of all the backstories explored in X-Men: First Class, Erik Lensherr/Magneto’s is arguably the best.
Himself a concentration camp survivor, Magneto spends the first third of the film tracking down and executing former Nazis.
This element of the film almost was a separate film in itself: back when 20th Century Fox were considering more Origins movies after Wolverine, a Magneto origins picture was in development.
Sheldon Turner, who later wrote the acclaimed Up in the Air, drafted a script that took place between 1939 and 1955, and found Magneto on the hunt for his former captors.
This script – which also introduced Charles Xavier as a young soldier who helped liberate concentration camps – was canned when Fox declined to pursue further Origins tales, but the idea of Erik as a Nazi hunter was carried over to First Class.
13. Hugh Jackman didn’t realise a wolverine was a real animal, studied wolves by mistake
Hugh Jackman, hailing from a country that’s never been home to the animal, had never heard of a wolverine before signing up to X-Men.
As a result, the actor jumped to the conclusion that Marvel writers had based Wolverine’s characteristics on those of a wolf – a creature he had heard of – and promptly got to work.
To develop Logan’s wildman persona, Jackman studied wolves; it wasn’t until later that Bryan Singer explained a wolverine is actually a large badger, and not related to the wolf in any way.
This wasn’t Jackman’s only Wolverine prep. On the first X-Men, after accidentally showering one morning in freezing cold water while also staying silent to avoid waking his wife, Jackman realised the underlying rage was the key to Logan.
After the incident, Jackman opted to shower in ice-cold water each morning on every subsequent X-Men or Wolverine film.
12. Quicksilver’s 3-minute Apocalypse scene took almost a month to film
These days, with constantly improving digital technology, it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to make a movie.
Whole indie films, for example, can be shot in a month or less – which is about the same amount of time it took Bryan Singer to realise just one three-minute sequence in Apocalypse.
After his appearance in Days of Future Past proved so popular, Quicksilver was bound to make a comeback in the sequel.
Unfortunately for the crew, Quicksilver’s Apocalypse scene – an elaborate slo-mo set-piece set to the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – took a huge amount of work.
Put together over 20 shooting days, or almost a month of the production, the Quicksilver scene involved shooting in different locations and involved a combination of practical and computer-generated effects.
11. The films legally couldn’t mention Quicksilver was also an Avenger
In 2014, X-Men: Days of Future Past introduced the character of Quicksilver to X-Men movie fans for the first time.
To complicate matters, a year later, Avengers: Age of Ultron would also bring Quicksilver into the mix for the MCU.
Naturally, two rival superhero franchises sharing a character caused a bit of a headache for their respective studios.
The only thing that made it possible for the same character to appear in two films from two distinct superhero movie universes was a written agreement between Marvel and 20th Century Fox.
The agreement stipulated that, legally, the MCU could feature Quicksilver as long as he wasn’t referred to as a mutant, a member of the X-Men or the son of Magneto.
Similarly, no X-Men film would be allowed to reference Quicksilver’s Avengers membership.
10. Nicholas Hoult prepared to play Beast by watching Frasier
When Nicholas Hoult was cast as X-Men: First Class’ Hank McCoy, aka the blue-skinned beast, he immediately got to researching.
Hoult’s prep included all the usual stuff actors do to prepare for superhero roles: reading comic books, watching the previous films, physical training – and watching Frasier of course.
See, Hoult had the long-game in mind when he was getting into character, knowing his Beast would eventually mature into the one played by Kelsey Grammer in The Last Stand.
Hoult’s solution was to binge Grammer’s popular 90s sitcom, in which Grammer plays uptight radio host Dr Frasier Crane, for inspiration.
Hoult claims this was so he “could get Kelsey Grammer’s accent correctly”, but then don’t we all wish we could pass off ‘watching Frasier’ as serious research.
9. Anna Paquin’s scenes were cut from Days of Future Past
In the first trilogy of X-Men films, Oscar winner Anna Paquin is one of the most prominent featured players as Rogue, a mutant with the ability to absorb the power of others.
However, in Days of Future Past, which catches up with the X-Men in an apocalyptic near-future, Rogue is nowhere to be seen.
This wasn’t originally the case: Paquin shot scenes as Rogue for Future Past, but the character was almost entirely cut from the theatrical release, showing up only briefly in a wordless cameo at the end of the film.
Still, Paquin didn’t mind: “I got to hang out with my friends for five days in Montreal, and see people I’ve known for two decades and go play. Did it end up in the movie? No. Well, it was fun anyway.”
Fans can see Paquin’s scenes in the Days of Future Past: Rogue Cut version available on home video.
8. Jackman was almost fired from the first X-Men
With Jackman parachuted in at the last minute to play Wolverine, the newcomer’s position was always going to be on shaky ground.
Jackman recently admitted that not only did the studio want someone else to play the role before him, but the execs were unsure about Jackman even once he was on-set.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Jackman revealed that he “was told that things weren’t really working out as they hoped.
“I was about to get fired from my first Hollywood movie – the biggest of my career.” It was only a conversation with his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, that got the actor back on track.
“I was angry, I went home to my wife and I complained…She listened to me very patiently for about an hour and finally she just said, ‘Listen, I think you have just got to trust yourself. You are worrying way too much about what everything else is thinking. Just go back to the character, focus on that, trust your instinct…you’ve got this”.
7. Wolverine and Storm were lovers in a deleted Days of Future Past subplot
Anna Paquin wasn’t the only one to suffer from the cuts made to the theatrical release of Days of Future Past.
Halle Berry, who has played Storm since the first X-Men film, also got short shrift in the sequel, seeing her romance with Wolverine removed altogether.
In a deleted scene from the film, Wolverine can be seen kissing Storm goodbye before he’s due to travel back into the past.
This didn’t come out of nowhere: according to Halle Berry, there was a larger subplot at play that later got cut in the edit bay.
Berry told People in 2017 that, in order to develop the characters, it was decided that “Storm and Logan used to be lovers”.
“I joke in the movies, I’m like, ‘How come nobody’s loving on Storm?’ Like what’s wrong with Storm?… So, we decided that Storm and Logan had a thing, and then Jean came and messed that up.”
6. The Last Stand was finished two weeks before it was in cinemas
The Last Stand might not be everybody’s favourite X-Men movie, but a great deal of effort went into making the threequel all the same.
The film’s standout sequence, which sees San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge lifted and floated through the air by Magneto, in itself took enormous work.
Around one-sixth of The Last Stand’s total effects budget was spent on the sequence, which took months to complete.
In fact, the scene was only completed two weeks before the film landed in theatres, with the FX team working around the clock to finish the movie before release.
It was worth it, at least: this was the sequence that many critics singled out as the film’s finest.
5. The Sentinels and the Danger Room were cut from X2
In the X-Men movie universe at least, Days of Future Past is the first to introduce The Sentinels.
However, if Bryan Singer had had his way, the fearsome mutant-killers would have appeared in the series much sooner.
Originally, Singer had envisioned the Sentinels as among X2’s villains, with concept art and designs being drawn up prior to shooting.
The problem was the special effects costs would have been too high, with an estimated additional $8 million required to bring the ‘bots to life.
The Sentinels, then, were scrapped, but a version of the Danger Room – the X-Mansion training facility first seen in The Last Stand and teased in First Class – was actually built.
The set was never used, though, after the same budget cut that pushed the Sentinels out forced Singer to drop it from the story.
4. A mind-bending fight scene was cut from First Class because Inception had the idea first
As much as Matthew Vaughn admired Inception – the director “loved” it, apparently – he still left his screening of the film feeling more than a little miffed.
Said Vaughn in 2010, his “heart sank” when he realised he would have to cut a whole major dream sequence out of First Class because Inception got there first.
Reportedly, the scene involved Charles and Emma Frost in a battle scene set in the mind and involving “spinning rooms and other physics-bending imagery.”
Vaughn told the LA Times he was left with a horrible conundrum: “it’s either leave it in and look as if you’re copying or change things.”
In the end, Vaughn opted to remove the tantalising scene altogether, ripping out “about 12 pages of the script and the storyboards”.
3. Joss Whedon helped write the first X-Men
Nowadays, Joss Whedon is one of the big names in the comic book movie world, after significant writing and directing work for the MCU and DCEU both.
Back in the mid-90s, however, Whedon was still just an up-and-coming writer who had one flop (the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie) behind him.
It was shortly after the release of Buffy that Whedon was hired, in 1994, by 20th Century Fox to help with an upcoming project.
Along with Laeta Kalogridis (Terminator Genisys), John Logan (Gladiator) and James Schamus (Hulk), Whedon was drafted in to take a stab at the first X-Men film.
The film that was eventually released, in 2000, bore little resemblance to Whedon’s script: Fox thought his quick, pop culture-heavy script didn’t suit Singer’s vision, though Whedon’s line about lightning striking a toad was kept in.
2. Zack Snyder, Joss Whedon and Darren Aronofsky all turned down the chance to direct The Last Stand
In retrospect, the signs that X-Men: The Last Stand was going to prove something of a disappointment were there before the film even went into production.
After Bryan Singer turned the film down to instead make Superman Returns, a host of big name directors were approached to direct the third X-Men film. All said ‘no’.
First, there was Darren Aronofsky, director of Black Swan and The Fountain, who passed to instead pursue a Wolverine film (also never made).
Then there was Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon, who both opted to pursue their own comic book projects – respectively, 300 and Wonder Woman.
Finally, Matthew Vaughn – who would later direct First Class – was approached, and hired for a brief period, before he too jumped ship from the unloved project, leaving the film open to Brett Ratner, the film’s ultimate director.
1. Gambit was supposed to appear in The Last Stand
Though a standalone film has been in development for years, Gambit – one of the favourite X-Men among comic book fans – has yet to make a real entrance in the X-Men movieverse.
A cameo in X-Men Origins: Wolverine aside, Remy LeBeau still hasn’t truly seen the light of day (we can probably all go ahead and pretend the Gambit played by Taylor Kitsch never happened).
Originally, back in 2005, it was planned for Gambit to make his introduction in The Last Stand, as one of the many newcomers to the X-Men fold.
The film’s writer, Simon Kinberg, had planned to bring Gambit in as a combatant in the convoy scene and for the battle of Alcatraz, but ultimately decided there wasn’t room.
“We wrote a cameo for him, and then really felt like it was better to save Gambit and give him a major role in a future X-Men movie, rather than give him a cameo where fans would be saying ‘that’s all I get of Gambit?'”, Gambit told iF magazine in 2006.
Kinberg decided to give people that cameo in Origins instead.