Yes, Beat-readers, it’s another one of my esoteric and theoretical features about the comic book movies you love… and in the case of the X-Men movies, maybe a few that you don’t even like?
Now that the 20th Century Fox franchise has come to a tragic and disappointing end with the critically reviled, box office disappointment of Dark Phoenix, now seems like a good time to look back and reassess if any actors’ careers were actually helped by being in an X-Men movie. You have to know by now that whenever one of these actors does press for any other movie or project, they are systematically asked about their “upcoming X-Men movie” or in some cases “returning to the X-Men movies,” because that’s what the people doing the interviews think everyone wants to hear about.
The prime example of this is…
HUGH JACKMAN – Wolverine
It’s been 19 years since Hugh Jackman made his first appearance as Logan/Wolverine in Bryan Singer’s X-Men and over two years since he made his last appearance in Logan. I’m willing to bet you that Jackman still gets asked Wolverine questions wherever he goes.
It doesn’t matter that he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Les Miserables or that his other musical The Greatest Showman was a huge hit for Fox, making almost as much as X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In fact, after the cast of The Greatest Showman won a Grammy earlier this year, it put Jackman just one award away from achieving an EGOT. Still, the Australian actor will forever be known as Wolverine, mainly because he has been, without question, the best part of almost every X-Men movie he’s been in. The franchise has suffered without him.
The fact is that few outside Australia even knew who Jackman was before Singer and Fox hired him, so playing Wolverine in seven movies has helped boost Jackman into at least the B-List of actors. His name attached to a project can get it financed even if there have been a few rough spots, like the animated Missing Link or last year’s The Front Runner or 2016’s Eddie the Eagle or Pan…. Or Chappie. Okay, I’ll stop. Not all of Jackman’s choices have been box office hits, but there’s a reason why he can go on tour playing places like Madison Square Garden (for two nights, no less), and that’s because the X-Men franchise has made him a star.
ANSWER: Yes! There’s a reason why Jackman gets his name in the title.
RYAN REYNOLDS – Deadpool
Okay, Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool is not REALLY part of the X-Men, but there have been enough X-characters in the two Deadpool movies that he’s an honorable X-Men and therefore, deserves to be discussed. There is absolutely ZERO question in my mind that Reynolds’ career was helped by the success of those movies, because before that, he was bouncing between a number of comedies and dramas, some doing better than others. Teaming Reynolds with Sandra Bullock helped the rom-com The Proposal become one of his bigger hits, but that was already after Reynolds’ unfortunate first appearance as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. (Heck, it’s kind of amazing that Jackman bounced back after that one.) Reynolds then appeared in a couple bombs including DC Entertainment’s equally unfortunate Green Lantern movie, which ALSO didn’t help Reynolds’ career much.
When Deadpool finally opened in early 2016 and ended up grossing $300 million, it was obviously that Reynolds was ready to get on the A-list and his involvement in the recent Pokémon: Detective Pikachu helped that movie get made. Teaming him with Samuel L. Jackson turned Lionsgate’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard into one of that summer’s surprise hits (with a sequel on its way).
JENNIFER LAWRENCE – Mystique
Jennifer Lawrence is probably going to be one of the more interesting and complicated cases to examine, because few people knew her before her performance in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone. The movie debuted at Sundance in January 2010, and she was cast in X-Men: First Class that summer. A year after Winter’s Bone debuted at Sundance, she was nominated for her first Oscar in early 2011. She was cast in Gary Ross’ adaptation of The Hunger Games on March 17, a few weeks after that year’s Oscars. Because Lawrence’s rise (and fall?) might be hard to pinpoint without some sort of graphic representation, here’s her general timeline:
- Jan. 2010: Winter’s Bone premieres at Sundance
- Jul. 2010: Lawrence cast in X-Men: First Class
- Jan. 2011: Lawrence and Winter’s Bone nominated for Oscars
- Mar. 2011: Oscars, followed by Lawrence being cast in The Hunger Games
- Jun. 2011: X-Men: First Class released, lowest gross of series
- Mar. 2012: The Hunger Games released, grosses $400 million domestically
- Sept. 2012: Silver Linings Playbook premieres at Toronto and receives raves for Lawrence
- Dec. 2012: Silver Linings Playbook released and slowly amasses $100 million leading up to Oscar night
- Feb. 2013: Lawrence wins first Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook
- Nov. 2013: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire released and is highest-grossing movie in series
- May 2014: X-Men: Days of Future Past released and makes $747 million worldwide
That’s probably enough to work with, making it obvious that Lawrence was going to be a star with or without X-Men. Her Oscar nominations and win for Silver Lining Playbook definitely were icing on the cake but it probably was The Hunger Games that helped make her a household name. After all, Suzanne Collins’ book series has more than 100 million copies in print worldwide, and the books spent 260 consecutive weeks on The New York Times best-seller list. No single issue of an X-Men comic has ever sold that well.
Lawrence would earn two more Oscar nominations, both for David O. Russell movies, the second one making $56.5 million despite tepid reviews. Lawrence teamed with Chris Pratt for the poorly-reviewed sci-fi film Passengers and that still grossed $100 million. She has been laying low after the universally-hated Darren Aronofsky movie Mother!, just appearing in 2018’s Red Sparrow and now Dark Phoenix, but she has some decent prospects ahead including a movie with Adam McKay. Dark Phoenix is no skin off her nose. She’ll recover.
ANSWER: Nah. The franchise was lucky not to lose her after Apocalypse.
MICHAEL FASSBENDER – Magneto
This is where things get even more complicated and possibly even sadder, because playing Magneto should have made the Irish actor an enormous star, and other than a key role in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Alien: Covenant and a few movies with English auteur Steve McQueen, Fassbender hasn’t really been doing much with the recognition. Mind you, I had actually met and interviewed Fassbender a few times before his casting, and he was an immediately likeable guy, which helped, but his choices, even potentially good ones, have led to disappointing results.
Since his Oscar nomination for 12 Years a Slave, Fassbender has played an odd British icon in Frank, played the title role in a Macbeth movie few people saw, and then re-teamed with that film’s director for a very bad Assassin’s Creed movie – also for Fox, who had been Fassbender’s biggest benefactor.
Fassbender received a second Oscar nomination for Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, but that barely made any money at the box office, yet it still did better than the thriller The Snowman, based on a very popular novel. Fassbender also worked with Terrence Malick in the divisive miss Song to Song. Mind you, I liked Ridley Scott’s recent Alien movies and Fassbender’s portrayal of David, but Covenant was left open-ended and who knows if we’ll ever see that story continued?
Who knows what Fassbender is doing next, but maybe he’s enjoying his life with wife Alicia Vikander and isn’t worrying too much about his next step.
Being Magneto definitely helped Fassbender’s career, but he just doesn’t seem to have capitalized on it. When he finally does show up in Dark Phoenix, it’s obvious he’s not giving it his best. We’ll see what happens with Fassbender after this but I hope he finds something good to get him back into the graces of moviegoers, cinephiles and critics alike.
ANSWER: Not really.
JAMES MCAVOY – Professor X
By the time James McAvoy was cast as Professor X in 2010, the Scottish actor had slowly been working his way up as one of Hollywood’s up and coming stars. He had already starred in the hit comic book adaptation of Mark Millar’s and J.G. Jones‘ Wanted, but he’d also been in two prominent Oscar movies – The Last King of Scotland and Atonement. Additionally, McAvoy played Mr. Tumnus in Disney’s hit The Chronicles of Narnia, a role he actually poked fun oatwhile hosting Saturday Night Live recently.
He was already fairly known when he was cast in X-Men: First Class, so he could have been considered one of the actors that could possibly get people more interested in seeing it in theaters. The movie’s disappointing opening and gross – the lowest grossing movie in the series before Dark Phoenix – might have proven otherwise, but by that time, Lawrence and Fassbender were getting more attention. Still, McAvoy was cast in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split after the success of Days of Future Past and that movie did well with McAvoy as the biggest name star. Around that same time, McAvoy did Victor Frankenstein with Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe and that movie did so poorly despite a decent premise that it makes one wonder how much of a draw McAvoy really is.
The thing is that when people talk about McAvoy, they often refer to his role as Charles Xavier rather than his more prominent roles in Oscar bait, so clearly it’s helped a little. After appearing in Shyamalan’s sequel Glass earlier this year, McAvoy will follow the disaster of Dark Phoenix with a role in the sure-to-be-successful It Chapter Two, so not only did X-Men help McAvoy, but he actually will survive its disappointing finish.
ANSWER: Maybe a little bit.
NICHOLAS HOULT – Hank McCoy/Beast
Like Anna Paquin (see below), Nicholas Hoult had the luxury of being a child star who appeared in About A Boy opposite Hugh Grant 17 years ago. By then, he had already been acting since he was seven years old. Although he didn’t make too many movies between then and X-Men: First Class, he did appear on popular shows like Skins. Following First Class, Hoult started being cast in leading roles in films like Warm Bodies and Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer. Hoult continues to surprise, whether it’s his role in George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road or last year’s Oscar-nominated The Favourite, even though he hasn’t been given as much of a chance to shine in the X-Men movies compared to the actors above. Hoult recently starred as J.R.R. Tolkien in the biopic Tolkien, but his presence didn’t do much to help the movie do well.
ANSWER: Probably about as much as McAvoy.
SOPHIE TURNER – Jean Grey/Phoenix
When Game of Thrones’ Sansa Stark was announced as Jean Grey for Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse in January 2015, the HBO show had already aired four seasons and was already hugely popular. It made sense to cast the then-19-year-old as a younger version of the character previously played by Fammke Janssen. Apocalypse wasn’t received too well, but Dark Phoenix, which featured Turner more prominently as the title character, was received worse… and some of the criticisms were directed towards Turner’s performance. She was lucky to get out before doing a third movie like some of the other actors above.
ANSWER: God, no.
But we’ve been talking a lot about the newer X-Men, and we should go back to the X-Men OGs and talk about them for a bit…
SIR IAN MCKELLEN – Magneto
While most Americans might know the award-winning stage and screen actor for his role as Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, the first of those movies only opened over a year after Bryan Singer’s The X-Men. By that point, McKellen had already been nominated for his first Oscar for his role in Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters and worked with Singer on his previous film Apt Pupil, but he was becoming known as he took on the role of Magneto.
To date, many people still love him in that role opposite Sir Patrick Stewart, to the point where they were brought back for 2015’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, and that became one of the franchise’s bigger hits. McKellen would be a well-respected and loved actor even if he hadn’t been cast as Magneto, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
ANSWER: McKellen probably helped the franchise more than the other way ‘round.
SIR PATRICK STEWART – Professor Charles Xavier
In some ways, Patrick Stewart was even more well known in the United States and Canada before being cast as X-Men leader Professor X for Singer’s first movie. After all, he was already playing Captain Luc Picard on Star Trek: the Next Generation for seven years as well as four movies beginning with 1994’s Star Trek Generations. Stewart was a well-respected actor even before that, so his casting as Professor X for the first X-Men movie was kind of a no-brainer. Stewart’s chemistry with McKellen was pivotal in driving those first four movies, and he was wisely brought back for Days of Future Past. Even better was that he played a pivotal part in James Mangold’s Logan.
Oddly, Stewart has mainly done animation voice work and narration over the past few years, but he also had an amazing villainous role in the thriller Green Room. Playing Professor X helped introduce Stewart to a new and younger generation that may never have watched Star Trek, and there was a nice symbiotic relationship he brought to the X-franchise.
ANSWER: Yes, but with the same caveat as Sir Ian above
HALLE BERRY – Storm/Ororo
By the time Halle Berry had been cast as Storm in the first X-Men movie, she already had been making a name for herself in a combination of bigger and smaller roles with her biggest hit being The Flintstones. After that first X-Men movie, Berry was deemed a much more bankable star, being featured above the title with Jackman in 2001’s Swordfish and helping Lee Daniels get the indie Monster’s Ball made, which ended up winning Berry her first Oscar. It was also the first Oscar ever won by an African-American woman in a leading role.
Berry’s casting as a Bond Girl in Die Another Day was another huge selling point for Pierce Brosnan’s final film, and that became the highest grossing movie in the franchise until Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale. (Odd coincidence that Craig and Berry recently appeared in the drama Kings together.) Berry’s career has been up and down since appearing in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, but wisely, she was also brought back for X-Men: Days of Future Past, since Fox knew that her character added to the franchise’s popularity. In recent years, she’s been brought into franchises like Kingsman and the recent blockbuster hit John Wick: Chapter 3 to get new audiences into see the movies, so she’s still a fairly bankable star. Being in four X-Men movies did not hurt.
ANSWER: Hard to tell, but I’d say “Yes.”
ANNA PAQUIN – Rogue
The fact that while writing this, I almost completely forgot to include Anna Paquin gives you some idea about how easy it was to forget the actor who became the youngest actor ever to win an Oscar for her first film, Jane Campion’s 1993 movie The Piano. Paquin was a mere 16 when she was cast in Singer’s X-Men, but she had already been in a number of prominent movies before playing Rogue. Oddly, she wasn’t brought back for X-Men: Days of Future Past like some of her co-stars BUT she did get her very own “Rogue Cut” that included all of her scenes that were cut from the theatrical release. Personally, I haven’t done much reading about why she was cut, but considering her character was the lynchpin of that first X-Men movie, one just has to guess Fox didn’t think she was necessary to the story.
ANSWER: If they had helped Paquin, she quickly squandered that success until she was cast in HBO’s True Blood.
ELLEN PAGE – Kitty Pryde
Page had only been in a few smaller movies (like David Slade’s Hard Candy) before being cast as Kitty Pryde in the 2006 Brett Ratner-directed X-Men: the Last Stand, and part of why that movie didn’t work was due to how poorly she was used. A year later, she was cast in Jason Reitman’s Juno, and that became a big hit that got her an Oscar nomination. Fortunately, Singer brought her back for Days of Future Past, since the older Kitty Pryde plays a bigger role in that storyline, but Page has mainly been doing smaller movies, doing some producing as well, and her only recent studio movie was the tragic Flatliners remake.
ANSWER: Sure, why not?
JAMES MARSDEN AND FAMKE JANSSEN – Cyclops / Jean Grey
You would think that playing the original Scott Summers/Cyclops and Jean Grey in the first three X-Men movies could have helped these two actors with their respective careers. Make no mistake that James Marsden and Fammke Janssen are both fantastic actors, who have done far better movies; however, far fewer people have seen any of them than the X-Men movies.
Marsden did appear in Singer’s Superman Returns the same year as X-Men: Last Stand, and he starred with that movie’s Lois Lane, Kate Bosworth, in a remake of Straw Dogs and has been in a few good comedies like Sex Drive and 27 Dresses. Janssen, on the other hand, had already been a Bond girl in 1995’s Golden Eye (Brosnan’s FIRST Bond movie) before she was cast as Jean Grey, but she basically spent her time between movies doing smaller and more esoteric indies. When she was cast as Liam Neeson’s ex-wife in Taken, that became another surprise franchise for the Dutch actor, but she hasn’t really done much of note since Taken 3. She did make her directing debut in 2011 with Bringing Up Bobby, but she’s mainly been doing TV stuff including the popular NBC show The Blacklist.
ANSWER: Not really, but they’re both good actors who deserved better.
REBECCA ROMJIN – Mystique
I got a bit of help on this one from The Beat’s Entertainment Editor Hannah Lodge, who wisely stated, “It had to have been her first major movie role and transitioned her from model to iconic portrayal of a character.” Which is absolutely spot-on, because other than an appearance in Austin Powers, Rebecca Romjin was a model before being cast as Mystique in the 2000 X-Men, and she played a large part in the next three films as well as making a cameo in X-Men: First Class. She appeared in a couple bombs after that including the Rollerball remake, but generally, her name and involvement with the X-Men franchise helped quite a few movies get made. She hasn’t been doing so much lately, probably enjoying family life with newish husband Jerry O’Connell and their two kids. Still, her career was greatly helped by X-Men.
ANSWER: YES… but she didn’t properly capitalize on it.
RAY PARK – The Toad
After playing Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, the Scottish martial artist probably could have done anything… unfortunately, one of the few things he can’t do is ACT. Anyone who remembers him as the Toad in Bryan Singer’s initial X-Men might not agree, but they clearly didn’t see Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, which might be one of the worst movies ever made. Yup… Park not only squandered a Star Wars role but also the success of X-Men. Ten years later, he was cast as Snake Eyes in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, a non-speaking role, and returned for the sequel. There’s still no word whether he’ll have any involvement in the planned Snake Eyes spin-off, but my guess is, “Not if there’s any actual acting involved.”
I’m also not going to bother with Ben Foster (Angel), Vinny Jones (Juggernaut), Kelsey Grammar (the original Beast), Shawn Ashmore (Iceman) or Aaron Stanford (Pyro), even though one of them has become a respected actor despite being in X-Men: The Last Stand. (And sorry, Tyler Mane, but I’m not gonna even…)
As for some of the others, particularly the new breed introduced in X-Men: Apocalypse, none of them really were good enough in either movie to really allow that to help them get other big gigs. Tye Sheridan had already starred in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, which probably will do more for his career than his turn as Cyclops. It’s likely that they’ll all continue to work, but we’ll have to see if any of them become bigger stars as they grow older.
So to answer the question in the title, it’s obvious that some actors were helped more from being in an X-Men movie than others, and some of the actors cast in the first X-Men movie became household names.
Let us know in the comments if you agree/disagree or just don’t give a toss about our thoughts on the matter.