As an almost perfect nugget of ’90s nostalgia, X-Men: The Animated Series was a staple of Saturday morning cartoons. For five seasons and 76 episodes, kids and adults alike enjoyed a rocking soundtrack and the technicolor brilliance of Saban Entertainment’s lauded cartoon. Teaming the likes of Storm, Cyclops, Jean and Wolverine together, Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters played host to the good and the great of Marvel’s X-Men world. Everyone remembers The Animated Series, and it is thought to largely be the basis for Fox’s X-Men movies that started back in 2000. To this day, there are still fan-favorite characters from the cartoons that the movies just can’t seem to get right.
Talking about the X-Men movies, Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000 helped kickstart the superhero movie boom and take us right up to recent blockbusters like Deadpool and Logan. So, with the X-Men movies finding some of their footing The Animated Series, which franchise do people have the fondest memories about? The Animated Series was said to be cut down in its prime, while the X-Men movies show no sign of stopping thanks to the likes of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, but who did it better?
15. BETTER – CYCLOPS
Cyclops from The Animated Series was the macho man who led his team into battle, so what happened to the movie version? For three whole outings, James Marsden’s Scott Summers blended into the background with a pair of goofy shades. Both versions showed Summers’ battle/bromance with Wolverine, but the cartoon made much more of their love-hate relationship. The movies literally stuck a middle finger to Cyclops in the first entry and left him to drift from there.
The X-Men on the silver screen simply had too many gifted youngsters to deal with, and Cyclops’ mundane backstory didn’t make the cut. Animated Cyclops was more than just cannon fodder to set up a “Dark Phoenix” arc. Of course, you can’t even say there was much to dislike about Marsden’s performance because there was literally nothing to it. Let’s not even start on Tye Sheridan’s outcast brat from Apocalypse.
14. WORSE – CALIBAN
Apart from a complex storyline about being a fifth horseman to Apocalypse, Caliban was largely just an odd cameo for The Animated Series, which even retconned its own storyline to make Caliban one of the Morlocks — despite him having never appearing alongside them in a previous episode. The movies would’ve had a similarly minor role for the mutant tracker if it wasn’t for James Mangold’s recent turn with Logan.
We briefly saw Tómas Lemarquis’s riddle-talking Caliban in Apocalypse, but most will remember him as Stephen Merchant in Logan. Sure, the Cornish accent was a bit out of place against the Mexican backdrop, but Caliban had a tragic story arc that fit with the rest of Mangold’s Wolverine swan song. As Caliban sacrificed himself at the farmhouse bloodbath, who didn’t feel a swell of emotion toward the albino mutant?
13. BETTER – ROGUE
With her bouffant hair and a cheeky wink of “Hey darlin’,” who didn’t love Rogue during the ’90s. Like a Dolly Parton parody, Rogue in her green and yellow lycra became a stalwart member of the team and a huge fan favorite. The Animated Series always excelled at strong female characters, and Rogue was one of the strongest.
In contrast, Anna Paquin’s portrayal was much more subdued as the country gal who was scared of her own shadow. Rogue played a major part in the first movie, but when it came to Days of Future Past, there was an entire subplot that was cut from the theatrical release. Alongside that confusing “Rogue Cut” of DoFP, Bryan Singer couldn’t even get her white hair right — it looked like some highlights went wrong. Face facts, cartoon Rogue would’ve wiped the floor with Paquin’s timid mouse.
12. WORSE – MAGNETO
“We have a great character and backstory from the comics. Oh hey! I know! Let’s completely ignore that and invent someone new.” Erik Lehnsherr never made it into TAS, but Erik Magnus did. When casting the part, the producers apparently wanted Magneto as an evil Charlton Heston. As such, describing cartoon Magneto as an OTT villain would be an understatement.
Animated Magneto wasn’t terrible, but when you compare it to the lauded performances of both Sir Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender, there is no comparison. For 17 years, fans of the X-Men movies have seen Magneto go from franchise villain to unwilling ally and even tragic victim. Magneto’s holocaust background has always tugged at the heartstrings, and the movies have done a superb job of handling it sensitively. It is just a shame that we never got that X-Men Origins: Magneto movie. Thanks Gavin Hood!
11. BETTER – GAMBIT
Every comic book character has a definitive performance when moving from page to screen, and for Remy LeBeau that came with The Animated Series. Whether teaming up with Wolverine or wooing Rogue, the Ragin’ Cajun became one of the show’s best-loved characters.
Elsewhere, we have seen virtually nothing of Gambit on the silver screen. Taylor Kitsch playing him in the maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but with that movie all but erased from existence, it’s not a role he will be reprising. Given that Origins channeled none of the animated version and instead smothered Gambit with cheese, this is hardly a surprise. As for Channing Tatum’s turn as Le Bleu, there is every chance it could top the animated gambler, but sorry, we just aren’t buying this one.
10. WORSE – LEECH
Leech, aka “Jimmy,” only played a minor part in both the cartoon and the movie worlds of the X-Men, but it doesn’t stop one portrayal being better than the other. With the ability to neutralize other mutant powers, he was effectively a walking mutant. TAS Leech was a gross Morlock, while the movies went with a more aesthetically-pleasing look.
Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand ranks up there with the likes of Origins: Wolverine as one of the most divisive comic book movies of all time, but that isn’t to say there aren’t some moments of glory hiding among Vinnie Jones’ terrible performance and a discarded Mystique. With Ratner trying to combine the “Dark Phoenix” and mutant cure storylines,Cameron Bright’s Leech in The Last Stand had an important role. Without Leech’s inclusion, the whole final battle at Worthington Labs wouldn’t have taken place and the movie wouldn’t have had its main storyline.
9. BETTER – STORM
This one’s an easy one, Animated Series Storm would strike down Halle Berry’s live-action version before you could say “It’s raining men.” The powerful African goddess of the cartoon was swapped out in favor of a dodgy wig and some black lycra. From Berry demanding more money and screen time to appear in the ongoing sequels, there was a “storm” brewing from day one.
Cartoon Ororo Munroe had complex storylines about claustrophobia and her lost family, as well as leading the Morlocks and playing a part in the Secret Wars. Alas, movie Storm simply struggled to hide Berry’s baby bump while filming Days of Future Past –– oh, and don’t forget that ever-changing accent. While there was hope for redemption with Alexandra Shipp’s younger Storm, it looks like Fox is making the same mistakes again with a thoroughly boring adaptation. Maybe no one can be as good as the cartoon version?
8. WORSE – PYRO
As one of the biggest X-Men character changes between cartoon to live-action, Pyro is barely recognizable when looking at Aaron Stanford’s performance. John Allerdyce from the comics is a cocky Australian, so how TAS settled on a British accent using words like “old bean” and “old girl” is beyond us. Then, jumping onto the silver screen, Stanford was clearly an American — it’s all very confusing.
Pyro’s movie portrayal wasn’t perfect, but it was a damn sight better than his annoying cartoon counterpart, mainly thanks to The whole brooding arsonist thing and jealous teen trope from X2. Also who remembers the shock of seeing Pyro blast off with Magneto and Mystique to join the brotherhood of mutants? Admittedly, he was just there to make up the numbers in The Last Stand, but with Ratner killing off most of the cast, the movie needed all the characters it could get!
7. BETTER – BISHOP
No matter where you find him, Bishop is one of the coolest X-Men characters that Marvel ever created. With Bishop taking on Kitty Pryde’s role from the comics, his TAS version was a gun-toting badass sent from the future to prevent the assassination of Senator Kelly. However, not just content with one appearance, he popped up in several other episodes and frequently butted heads with Cable.
As for Days of Future Past, it was a bit of a cheat, telling an abridged version of the comic arc as an excuse to bring back anyone who had starred in an X-Men movie. This meant that Omar Sy’s arrival to the franchise as Bishop was little more than a cameo as part of a grim alternate future. Sy looked the part with an updated look for Bishop and some futuristic weaponry, but it seems to be a case of style over substance.
6. WORSE – MYSTIQUE
There’s no need to feel blue when it comes to playing Raven Darkholme. The infamous shapeshifting villain and right-hand woman of Magneto, Mystique is one femme fatale who is not to be messed with. Both the cartoons and the movies have shown this, but for pure screen time alone, the movies just pip The Animated Series to best Mystique.
Cartoon Mystique had a complicated family tree with ties to everyone from Rogue to Nightcrawler seriously, was anyone not her kid? Meanwhile, the movies have (so far) steered away from this. In the original trilogy, Rebecca Romijn’s Mystique became a sex symbol in her own right, while Lawrence’s portrayal in the “rebooted” X-verse has shown a softer side to Darkholme. Animated Mystique may win it for the costume, but the movies took Raven further than we could ever imagine.
5. BETTER – JUBILEE
Oh poor Jubilee, the forgotten X-Men movie member. Given that Jubilee was the focus of The Animated Series‘ first episode, you’d expect her to play a big part in the live-action world. However, we aren’t sure if Fox will ever get Jubilee right. Cartoon Jubilee had a spark with everyone, and from her yellow PVC jacket to those ridiculous shades, she was about as ’90s as you could get— and we loved it!
As for movie Jubilee, well, there isn’t a lot to say. She actually appeared in all three of the original movies but never got a name. Lana Condor then suited up to play Jubilee in Apocalypse, but they cut her biggest scene at the mall arcade. It could just be us, but there is a feeling that Fox may have a problem with Jubilee. If this deal goes through with Disney, let’s see if the MCU can do any better.
4. WORSE – JEAN
It’s a close call, but animated Jean doesn’t stand up to the sheer might of Famke Janssen’s powerhouse performance. The latter was brilliant in X-Men, before going from strength to strength in X2. Jean’s sacrifice at the end is still one of the best X-Men movie moments of all time. X-Men: The Last Stand was almost universally panned, but out of the darkness, Janssen still burned brightly.
On the other hand, the purpose of animated Jean was to look concerned until her Phoenix Force came about. There is no denying that TAS handled the source material better than the movies, but live-action Jean just has something about her. The jury is still out on what audiences make of Sophie Turner’s portrayal of Grey, but Janssen’s performance alone is enough to outshine The Animated Series. Given that Fox is about to tackle “The Dark Phoenix Saga” for the second time, let’s see how Turner does this time around.
3. BETTER – JUGGERNAUT
Possibly the easiest entry on the list, there is simply no doubt that The Animated Series ruled when it came to Juggernaut, while the movie failed him spectacularly. Vinnie Jones’ part as Cain Marko is largely considered one of the biggest desecrations of comics-to-screen adaptations, which is easy to see when the character is only remembered for saying “I’m the Juggernaut b*tch.” From the lazy (but skimpy) costume to Marko’s seemingly random inclusion as part of the cast, there was virtually nothing to like about Juggernaut.
Also, for whatever reason, Ratner gave not even a single nod toward Marko’s complex relationship as the step-brother of Professor Xavier. Thankfully, The Animated Series pitched Marko as one of the deadliest enemies to face Charles’ team. He even got his very own episode “The Unstoppable Juggernaut” and gathered his powers from some complex plot about the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak.
2. WORSE – PROFESSOR XAVIER
The bald beauty that is Charles Xavier will always be the de facto leader of the X-Men, and despite various comas, trips to far off lands and even death, the Prof is always in charge. Sadly, The Animated Series usually kept him as the stoic overseer of the group without delving much into the more complex Xavier underneath. Not changing too much from Charles’ mysterious origins, the movies could be accused of doing the same with the (frankly amazing) Patrick Stewart years.
However, when the series rebooted with Matthew Vaughn at the helm for First Class, James McAvoy gave young Charles a new lease of life. McAvoy’s cocky Brit gave Charles a much-needed origin and also played brilliantly alongside Stewart in Days of Future Past. It is a tough call to decide between McAvoy and Stewart, but they both sadly outshine their cartoon cousin.
1. WORSE – KITTY PRYDE
X-Men: The Animated Series is a brilliant addition to ’90s cartoons, but it is such a shame that it rose like Dark Phoenix from the ashes of something else. Whether it was the fact that the whole show was a pun on its lead character or just some the wrong time, the network decided that it wasn’t going to take its first X-Men animation beyond a pilot. The spectacular failure of Pryde of the X-Men also meant that Shadowcst herself never appeared in The Animated Series.
Kitty Pryde may have appeared in X-Men and X2, but she is best remembered for Ellen Page’s version in The Last Stand and Days of Future Past. More than just a girl who could walk through walls, DoFP Pryde developed the power to send Wolverine into the past and actually became a focal point of the movie. Why The Animated Series decided not to include her was a mystery, but perhaps it was a case of once bitten, twice shy.
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