With an arsenal of some of the most endearingly popular comic book characters ever, and with a jaw-dropping amount of talent used in the movies, it’s no surprise that the X-Men franchise continues to be one of the most profitable franchises. Though the original trilogy that started in 2000 revolved around a group of X-Men and their adventures in the present, the soft reboot starting with X-Men: First Class dabbled in time travel. The second trilogy gave us glimpses of what the X-Men were like in the past and a version of how they could be in the future.
It’s interesting to wonder what kind of franchise we would’ve ended up with, had the actors who were tentatively linked to X-Men roles, or who pulled out at the last minute, had actually made their way into the movies we all know today. While this swap may have meant a trade-off in quality, there’s also a chance that some of the potential actors would have actually performed better. After all, Hugh Jackman couldn’t have been the only option for Wolverine, right? With that in mind, CBR takes a trip through the Looking Glass at some of the more interesting casting what-ifs linked to the history of the X-Men franchise.
Along with Cyclops, producers of X-Men: Apocalypse were also looking to recast younger versions of Storm, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler, all of whom had previously appeared in the original trilogy. While trying to appeal to a younger audience for an ever-aging franchise, studio execs looked to bring in younger stars who already had some stardom to their name. Since the Disney Channel regularly pops out a variety of actors and singers every year, Fox was interested in casting Zendaya for their young Storm.
Ultimately, it came down to Zendaya feeling like the role wasn’t big enough and passed. Audiences gave mixed reviews about Alexandra Shipp, who was ultimately cast in the role. While it was nice to see the ’80s punk version of Storm, complete with mohawk, come to life on the screen, the character wasn’t given much to do or say, leaving viewers underwhelmed.
14. NATALIE PORTMAN
Many fans may not know that the role of Rogue in the 2000 X-Men movie that started it all, was originally intended to be Jubilee. Producers had hoped to land award-winning actress Natalie Portman for the role of everyone’s favorite firework-generating mutant (though obviously this would’ve been a subject of whitewashing since Jubilee is Asian American in the books). Portman ultimately turned down the role, which was then rewritten into Rogue, ironically played by another award-winning actress, Anna Paquin.
Portman would, of course, go on to be cast in another Marvel film. This time playing Thor’s love interest and scientist, Jane Foster, for the first and second films. However, reports say that Portman was unhappy with her character’s role in the movie, wanting her to be more independent and have more to do. As of now, there are no plans for Portman to reprise her role.
13. SAOIRSE RONAN
Fox knew that the character of Jean Grey was going to have a pivotal role in X-Men: Apocalypse, so they would have to choose someone capable of matching the work of Famke Janssen. The actress search would involve some of the hottest names in young Hollywood including Elle Fanning, Chloe Grace Moretz and Hailee Steinfeld. However, one actress stood out due to her heartbreaking breakthrough performance in The Lovely Bones: Saoirse Ronan.
A two-time Academy Award nominee, Ronan was said to be one of the final two picks for Jean (along with Sophie Turner). Producers felt as though Turner had more “It” factor at the time, due to her being part of Game of Thrones. While Turner’s performance was alright, we can’t help but wonder if Ronan could have brought more depth to the character, thereby letting the audience get slightly more attached to the character.
12. MICHAEL BIEHN
Before James Marsden was even considered for the X-Men’s field leader, Cyclops, the long list of actors who read for the part included Jim Caviezel, Owen Wilson, Thomas Jane, Johnny Lee Miller and Michael Biehn. While Biehn had a fair amount of sci-fi movie experience with roles in Terminator and Aliens, producers weren’t sure if Biehn had the right look. Also, Biehn wasn’t so sure about the role, either, apparently feeling that the character lacked depth. Can’t disagree with him there.
Ultimately, Biehn turned down the role, which was then offered to Caviezel. Caviezel had signed on to play Cyclops, but also dropped out over creative differences and a scheduling conflict with the upcoming film Frequency. Marsden landed the part after that, and did the best he could with what he had to work with — which wasn’t much.
11. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS
While the first X-Men movie was considered only a moderate success, it still did well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel. X2 is considered one of the best entries in the X-Men franchise. While bringing back the main cast from the previous film, and adding a handful of new characters to keep things fresh, X2 actually felt like an action comic book movie with heart. One of the new characters introduced would be a fan favorite, Nightcrawler.
Nightcrawler would have a pivotal role in the movie, even being the main star of that unforgettable opening action sequence. Apparently many actors auditioned for the part, with Fox wanting Neil Patrick Harris to bring a famous name to a relatively unknown character. In the end though, veteran actor Alan Cumming won the role by the slightest advantage of being able to speak fluent German, Nightcrawler’s native language.
10. SUMMER GLAU
While Kitty Pryde only made brief cameo appearances in X-Men and X2, producers were interested in expanding on her role for the third entry. They cast a wide net to find a talented actress able to translate the beloved character into the big screen. Names mentioned during the auditioning processing included Maggie Grace (Lost), Jennifer Love Hewitt and Summer Glau. No stranger to geek properties, Glau had formerly starred in multiple critically-acclaimed shows like Firefly, Dollhouse and she had a key role on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
The casting directors asked Glau to read for the audition using a scene that her former boss, Joss Whedon, had written for Astonishing X-Men #5. While reports say Glau’s audition had emotional resonance, it just wasn’t the fit they were looking for. Juno actress Ellen Page would become Kitty Pryde, reprising her role in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
9. NICO TORTORELLA
While creators of the X-Men franchise were contemplating which characters they would like to introduce to add some fresh blood to the franchise, there was one mutant who surprised fans and critics alike: Quicksilver. In the comics, Quicksilver started off as a villain (since he was raised by Magneto), then become a long-running member of the Avengers, Quicksilver would eventually join several iterations of the X-Men spin-off team, X-Factor. Although his inclusion in the cast came as a little bit of a shock, Quicksilver turned out to be quite the scene-stealer.
Ultimately, the role went to Evan Peters, but before that, Jamie Campbell Bower (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) and Nico Tortorella (Younger) had auditioned, leaving Tortorella as a top choice. While Tortorella was unable to take the part due to a scheduling conflict, audiences were extremely happy with the finished product.
8. SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR
While Anna Paquin’s performance as Rogue was both vulnerable and eager, fans were definitely left a little underwhelmed. The version of Rogue that we ended up with was a confusing combination of characteristics of Rogue, Jubilee and Kitty Pryde, who were to appear in Rogue’s place in prior versions of the script. While Paquin had her base powers and a (sketchy) Southern accent, that was about the only thing she had in common with Rogue most fans knew and loved.
While Paquin is an award-winning actress, we can’t help but feel maybe we would’ve enjoyed Rogue a bit better if she were portrayed by someone else. Names like Rachel Leigh Cook, Katie Holmes and Sarah Michelle Gellar were involved in the original audition process. Gellar was a favorite for producers to play Rogue, but she ultimately couldn’t make it work around her schedule for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
7. MIKE VOGEL
While any actor cast as Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand wouldn’t have much to use by way of a poor script and messy direction, Ben Foster did fairly well as the winged teen who turns up at the school after his father attempts to cure him. However, Foster wasn’t the first choice to play the high-flying mutant and original X-Man, Angel.
Mike Vogel who had a breakrout role in the short-lived Grounded For Life, and also went on to starring roles in Cloverfield and Under the Dome, was originally offered the role when Matthew Vaughn was still the film’s director. Vogel was unable to follow-through with the part due to a scheduling conflict with filming the movie Poseidon, but it would have been interesting to see him with the wings.
6. JADA PINKETT-SMITH
Prior to Halle Berry coming on board and confusing us with her random franchise accent syndrome, there were quite a few Hollywood heavy-hitters in the running to play Storm. Most popularly, we know that Angela Bassett was considered for the role but was deemed “too old” for the part. Jada Pinkett-Smith was offered the role as well, but ultimately turned it down due to a scheduling conflict. Pinkett-Smith would eventually play the role of Fish Mooney in the Batman-esque television adaptation Gotham on Fox.
In the end, we ended up with a mediocre Storm, portrayed by Berry, who had impressed Bryan Singer with her performance in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. While she has been featured in four of the six X-Men movies, she rarely had any dialogue. And the best thing about her performance in X-Men: The Last Stand was her hair.
5. SIGOURNEY WEAVER
When Bryan Singer was still on board to direct X-Men 3, he had intended to introduce the White Queen as a major character. In the movie, the White Queen would’ve been an empath, able to manipulate and control people’s emotions. And the actress they wanted to play this big part? Alien franchise star Sigourney Weaver.
Ultimately, Singer left to do Superman Returns and Brett Ratner came on as the new director, and he scrapped all previous plans for the movie and took it in a new direction. It’s likely that this version of Emma Frost would have been very different to the version we would eventually get in First Class, but this feels like one of the largest, most unfortunate missed casting opportunities in the X-Men franchise.
4. TARON EGERTON
Before X-Men Apocalypse came out, we had already heard rumblings of the franchise getting a soft reboot. Following the success of X-Men: Days of Future Past, producers were wanting to once again combine older characters with fresh, new ones. While considering a recast of Cyclops, previously held by James Marsden in the original trilogy, Fox had considered trying to recruit Taron Egerton for the role.
Egerton, fresh of the hugely successful Kingsman: The Secret Service and the critically-acclaimed Eddie the Eagle, was a hot property at the time. It’s possible that his management was asking for a higher salary than what Fox wanted to dish out, especially given the rather limited amount of lines Cyclops actually has in the movie. The role ultimately went to Tye Sheridan, who will reportedly be reprising his role in next year’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
3. HELEN HUNT
While there’s no doubt that Famke Janssen’s definitive performance as Jean Grey is one of the highlights of the franchise, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role. However, producers wanted veteran actress Helen Hunt for the role of our favorite redheaded X-Man. In the ’90s, Hunt starred in a variety box office hits, such as Twister and As Good As It Gets (which earned her an Oscar), but wasn’t exactly considered an action star.
Though there isn’t much in her past work that translates into the version of Jean we ultimately got to see, we think Hunt could’ve brought a little more warmth and empathy to the character. Hunt ultimately passed on the role, which then went to Janssen, who has had more visible roles that are considerably dark. Janssen’s fearsome and ethereal take on Jean/Phoenix remains as one of the most praised roles in the X-Men franchise.
2. CHANNING TATUM
Okay, we know this isn’t exactly a newsflash since Channing Tatum has been linked to the Gambit movie for a couple years now. However, did you know that Gambit was originally supposed to show up in X-Men: The Last Stand? Tatum has stated that he was nearly cast in the role, but the role was written out of the film in the final draft, although Gambit does have a cameo at the end of the novelization.
While Gambit was briefly mentioned as being introduced in X-Men: Apocalypse, thus making way for his solo movie, this never happened, either. Tatum has stated that following the success of Deadpool and Logan, the creative team behind the Gambit movie have gone back to the drawing board to update their concept for what hardcore comic fans want. And still we wait.
1. GLENN DANZIG
Casting directors searched for a long time for the right Wolverine in the late ’90s. The actor had to be very macho, almost animalistic, to portray the best fighter in the Marvel Universe. Ironically, the first choice they had to play Wolverine wasn’t an actor at all, but a singer. Former Misfits front-man Glenn Danzig was the top pick, with his magical way with words and ultra-manly image, but unfortunately had to turn down the role due to a scheduling conflict with a lengthy tour.
We eventually ended up with Hugh Jackman’s immaculate performance of Wolverine for the past 17 years. While Danzig has since publicly bashed Jackman’s performance, movie tickets don’t lie. Jackman’s multi-layered performance will go down in history as one of the best parts of the franchise.
Do you wish any of these castings choices happened? Let us know in the comments!
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