The X-Files: 20 Facts About The Hit 90s Show

First aired in 1993, The X-Files was nothing short of a phenomenon. After only four episodes had reached the small screen, Entertainment Weekly declared it “the most paranoid, subversive show on TV” – and the eerie world of Mulder and Scully would indeed change the course of TV history. Let’s take a look back at this classic show with some facts you may not have known…

20. The Smoking Man was not originally intended to be a recurring character

The part of the enigmatic Cigarette Smoking Man was initially written to be a minor role. This changed when actor William B. Davis was cast, and impressed the showrunners with his chilling performance. As a result of this, the character was developed into the show’s major villain, a powerful government figure named Carl Gerhard Busch.

According to Scully, this shady figure adopts “hundreds of aliases”, but can always be identified thanks to his trademark Morley cigarettes. In the first season, he only speaks four words, but later he emerges as an influential player in the Syndicate, a government unit seeking to cover up the existence of aliens. Mulder, determined to reveal the truth to the public, is caught in a long-running battle of wits against Busch.

19. Mulder and Scully’s badges are not accurate representations of real FBI identification

During the show’s opening titles, the writing on Mulder and Scully’s badges reads “Federal Bureau of Justice, United States Department of Investigation.” This is inaccurate: real FBI identification reads Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Department of Justice. This was a deliberate difference, because under US law it is illegal to make a copy of a real FBI badge, even for fictional purposes.

But The X-Files, which first aired on September 10, 1993, avoided some of the stricter rules that the Government once placed on FBI portrayals in media. When the FBI first formed in 1935, President Hoover was determined to promote and protect its image. Not only were TV shows carefully monitored for their fictional FBI agents in this decade – they also had to portray FBI agents as heroic.

18. At the show’s height, its stars struggled to get along

During the early seasons of The X-Files, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson often bickered and struggled to get along due to the long hours and difficult shoots spent together. Happily, since the end of the show’s initial run in 2002, the actors were able to relax with one another and now consider themselves close friends.

Speaking to British talk show host Jonathan Ross in 2021, Gillian Anderson said that the long hours of work did take a toll on their working relationship, and Duchovny was sometimes impatient as Anderson went through countless makeup and hair adjustments. She’s said that the damp weather in Vancouver often hindered filming as her hair went frizzy.

17. Anderson was inspired by Jodie Foster’s performance in The Silence of the Lambs

Gillian Anderson has happily admitted that she based a lot of her performance as Dana Scully on the Oscar-winning performance of Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. Like Starling, Scully is still relatively new to the FBI and eager to prove her worth to the Bureau. The show’s creator Chris Carter has also pointed out that “Scully is obviously a Jodi Foster-like character.”

The show itself didn’t shy away from joking about these blatant similarities. In the 2002 episode ‘The Truth’, Fox Mulder is in prison when he receives a visit from Scully. He jokes to her, “I smelled you coming, Clarice”, in a wry reference to Hannibal’s and Starling’s interactions in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

16. Mulder was named after the creator’s mother

The X-Files creator Chris Carter grew up a world away from Scully’s and Mulder’s universe. Born in Bellflower, California, he was the son of a construction worker and his childhood was filled with surfing and Little League games. He studied journalism at California State University and wound up as the editor of Surfing Magazine. His lifelong love of sci-fi and crime dramas eventually led him to create The X-Files.

In a sweet personal touch, Carter named lead character Fox Mulder after his own mother, whose maiden name was also Mulder. The naming of Dana Scully wasn’t so close to home: she was named after the famous sports journalist Vin Scully. Scully is a traditional Irish surname: an Anglicized version of the Old Gaelic term O’Scolaidhe, meaning ‘student.’

15. Anderson and Duchovny’s roles are reversed in real life

The X-Files famously hinged on a key difference of opinion between its two central agents: whilst David Duchovny’s Mulder is a whole-hearted believer in extra-terrestrials and the paranormal, Scully is far more sceptical and looks for rational explanations. In real life, things are a bit different: Duchovny admits he’s very much a sceptic, whereas Anderson has a far more open mind on such matters.

In particular, Duchovny does not like the supernatural conspiracy theories that he’s occasionally presented with by fans, due to his role of Mulder. “There were a couple [of] years there where people were asking me about lizard people, and I had no clue that it was a big thing,” he has said. “I’d be signing somebody’s thing and they’d say, ‘Oh, so-and-so’s a reptilian or a lizard,’ and I’d be like, ‘Yeah? Uh, all right.’ This kind of thing … happened all the time and I’d go, ‘What the f*** is wrong with people?’ You know? It didn’t make any sense to me.”

14. The theme tune was created by accident

The theme music of The X-Files was composed by Mark Snow, who attributes its distinctive sound to an accident. Reportedly, the musician happened to press his elbow onto his keyboard’s echo function without meaning to. The sound it produced was so striking, Snow decided to create the whole tune around this spooky sound.

The whistles of the theme tune were inspired by the tune ‘How Soon Is Now?’ from the 1985 Smiths album Meat Is Murder. Snow’s music was a triumph in the series, and the second-ever episode, ‘Deep Throat’, marked his debut as a composer for an entire TV episode. He went on to compose music for both of the X-Files movies, as well as Chris Carter’s later series Millennium.

13. Anderson and Duchovny are in total agreement about the worst X-Files episode ever

Anderson and Duchovny are full of praise for this show even today, and certainly have many treasured memories from this experience. In particular, Anderson has said her favourite episode is ‘Bad Blood’, while Duchovny favours ‘The Post-Modern Prometheus’, which features a dance between Scully and Mulder plus a Frankenstein-like creation.

But Duchovny and Anderson are both certain about which episode of The X-Files is the absolute worst. They both hated ‘Teso Dos Bichos’, which Anderson has described as ‘that one episode about killer pussycats.’ Anderson suffers from a cat allergy, meaning that this episode was truly miserable to film at times. The director Kim Manners later printed T-shirts for the cast and crew with the title “‘Teso Dos Bichos’ Survivor”.

12. A lesser-known love story played out on the set

While the will-they, won’t-they chemistry of Scully and Mulder captivated fans, a real-life love story was actually playing out during this show’s production. Mitch Pileggi, who was raised in Oregon and Turkey, rose to fame in the role of Walter Skinner on The X-Files. This character gradually begins to believe Mulder’s evidence that alien activity is afoot in the USA.

On the show’s set, Pileggi met Arlene Warren, who was a stand-in for Scully. The pair fell in love and married in 1997, and are together to this day. They have one child. The couple also co-starred in an episode of That ’70s Show. Pileggi went on to star in Stargate Atlantis, Grey’s Anatomy, Sons of Anarchy and Dallas, and he plays Bonham Walker in the CW reboot Walker (2021).

11. Creator Chris Carter is godfather to Anderson’s daughter

Chris Carter knew that Gillian Anderson was perfect for the role of Scully, even though the network originally intended to cast someone “taller, leggier, blonder and breastier”, as Anderson herself put it. What’s more, when Anderson fell pregnant just as the show surged in popularity, Carter was an unwavering source of support to the young actress.

So it’s no surprise that Carter became godfather to Piper Maru, the daughter of Anderson and her husband Clyde Klotz, an X-Files assistant art director. He named one Season Three episode ‘Piper Maru’ in tribute to her. This episode was a nautical adventure, showcasing a troubled French salvage vessel of the same name.

Credit: Olivier Laurent

10. Superfans of the X-Files are called X-Philes

The X-Files soon spread in popularity, developing a huge audience worldwide and securing its status as a cult classic. In particular, it benefitted from the rise of the digital age, as fans could communicate and celebrate the show online. Fans of the beloved show gained the nickname “X-Philes”, a pun on the Greek root for ‘love’: ‘-phil’.

Episode reviews, fan fictions and unofficial websites flooded the web. According to critic Joyce Millman, The X-Files was notable because it “caught on with viewers who wouldn’t ordinarily consider themselves sci-fi fans.” She also wrote that Scully and Mulder were among the earliest “Internet sex symbols,” which further boosted their viewership.

9. Duchovny refused to work with Anderson again

Five years after The X-Files, David Duchovny was cast as Hank Moody in the comedy-drama Californication. As the show proved to be a big success, fans often begged for Gillian Anderson to make a guest appearance alongside her old on-screen partner. But Duchovny staunchly refused – not because he disliked Anderson, but because he wanted to protect the phenomenal legacy of Mulder and Scully. He felt any new collaborations could detract from the magic of The X-Files.

However, when it comes to the prospect of another X-Files reboot, after the 2016 and 2018 efforts, the pair appear to differ. Anderson was against a reboot, whereas Duchovny has said he would consider it: “I know what Gillian said, but there’s no reason for me to say anything like that. Maybe she said it just so that people would stop asking her. But for me, life is life: I don’t know anything about what’s coming, I don’t just say no to things like that. It’s not how I function.”

8. Gillian Anderson was almost replaced in the second season

In its early days, the success of The X-Files was attributed largely to the chemistry between lead actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. But when Anderson fell pregnant during the second season, she thought she’d be replaced. Her co-star and close friend David was the first to know: “I confided in him mostly because I knew that I had to go to the producers, and that was a terrifying concept to me.”

Indeed, the Fox Network considering replacing Anderson as a result of this unexpected news. However, series creator Chris Carter was vehemently opposed to this. Instead, efforts were made to conceal Anderson’s pregnancy on camera. A kidnapping was written into the season to explain Scully’s absence for several episodes.

7. X-files producers banned Anderson from playing Clarice Starling in Hannibal

The similarity between Anderson and Foster’s performances was not lost on the producers of The Silence of the Lambs’ sequel Hannibal. Jodie Foster refused to reprise her role because she wasn’t pleased with the changes to Clarice’s character. It was rumoured that, to match the book, early drafts of this movie script saw Clarice and Hannibal fall in love.

When Jodie Foster declined to return, Gillian Anderson was among the actresses considered for the role of Clarice Starling. However, The X-Files producers intervened, forbidding Anderson from taking the part of Starling in Hannibal.  Instead, this 2001 role went to Julianne Moore. She also beat Angelina Jolie, Cate Blanchett and Helen Hunt to win this spot, which generated $351.6 million from a budget of $87 million.

6. Some super fans got their names into the show

On a handful of occasions, the X-Files writers paid tribute to their most devoted fans by naming minor roles after them. The most famous example is Leyla Harrison, a fan and author of X-Files fan fiction who passed away from cancer in 2001. In an affectionate nod to Harrison, The X-Files included a character with the same name in two episodes.

The fictional Leyla Harrison is an eager young agent working alongside Agent Doggett, and she has a keen eye for detail. According to production notes, this character “always had the dream of becoming an agent assigned to the X-files. She is eager and enthusiastic about the position, but her inexperience and ineptitude are frustrating to Doggett although, always the gentleman, he treats her like a gentleman should.”

5. Gillian Anderson’s height needed a boost throughout the show

Fans of the show may have been surprised to see the height difference between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson offscreen. At 6’2, Duchovny actually towers over the petite Anderson, who is 5’2. But the show’s penchant for close-up, face-to-face conversations between the two meant that this height difference needed to be concealed.

So the producers devised a platform measuring only about 12 cm in height, and they affectionately dubbed it the ‘Gillyboard’. Anderson routinely filmed close-up shots with Duchovny while standing on this platform. In bloopers from the show, you can often spot Anderson forgetting about the platform and either tripping up or falling off it.

4. One episode was banned for three years

The 1994 episode ‘Home’ is widely considered the scariest and most upsetting episode of The X-Files, dealing with the themes of infanticide, incest and rape. It was the only X-Files episode to receive a TV-MA rating for graphic content, and the Fox Network removed it from all but one of subsequent reruns. It was banned from the network for a total of three years.

Fox, however, made an exception for one special rerun. On Halloween in 1999, it returned to the small screen, with Fox even advertising it in TV Guide Magazine. There is only one other X-Files episode that similarly bears a graphic content warning: ‘Via Negativa’, which first aired on 17th December 2000. This episode follows the tale of a murderous cult leader.

3. Anderson lied about her age at her audition

Gillian Anderson was a relatively unknown actress when she was cast in The X-Files. She previously starred in the movie The Turning, as well as several stage productions. She received a copy of the X-Files script after appearing on the show Class of ’96, which aired on the brand-new Fox Network, and she soon fell in love with the role of Scully.

She has since said Scully captivated her because “for the first time in a long time, the script involved a strong, independent, intelligent woman as a lead character.” But to persuade network producers to cast her in the show, which was seeking a more experienced and older actress, she’s recalled, “Well, I lied. I lied about my age in the first audition, I said I was 27.” In fact, Anderson was only 24.

2 The X-Files poster landed the team a lawsuit

The best-known prop from this TV series has to be the poster that hangs in Mulder’s office. It shows a UFO accompanied by the beloved phrase (and fan mantra) ‘I Want To Believe’. Creator Chris Carter found the UFO poster in a store in Washington DC, and added the title, later saying he wanted an “Ed Rusha-type” slogan to complete the look.

However, what Carter didn’t know was that the poster’s image was taken by Billy Meier, a Swiss-born UFO hunter. Years later, as the famous poster adorned the bedroom wall of every X-Phile, the team was caught up in an intellectual property lawsuit over the photo. As a result, the poster was altered to show a flatter UFO from the season’s fourth season onwards.

1. The X-Files inspired a science book

The X-Files spawned a litany of authorized and unauthorized works of fiction. Stars like Gillian Anderson and Mitch Pileggi lent their voices for audiobooks of several X-Files-inspired novels. Topps Comics also produced a comic book series on the adventures of Scully and Mulder. But it may surprise you to hear that The X-Files also inspired over 30 works of non-fiction.

The most unusual of these was a book by Anne Simon entitled The Real Science Behind the X-Files: Microbes, Meteorites and Mutants. Simon is a biology professor who advised The X-Files producers on their portrayals of the scientific world for the full nine series. A long-time family friend of Chris Carter’s, she specializes in virus research.