Not just anyone can pull off a great superhero.
Casting actors to play comic books characters is tough. Anyone that thinks it’s not should stay as far away from movie producing as possible. Comic book characters are by nature larger than life. Just because an actor looks the part, doesn’t mean they can pull it off. And having several Oscars under their belt doesn’t mean they are meant to portray someone that can fly or shoot energy beams from their eyes. The X-Men franchise is second only to the MCU by way of attrition. Having populated two or three completely different timelines, there have been a huge number of talented actors to have picked up and been dropped from roles. Sometimes it works out; other times it falls flat. Like really flat. Here are the best and worst X-Men characters to be adapted.
Worst | Kid Omega/ Quill
Nothing against the actor Ken Leung, but his role as “Kid Omega” came during a low point in X-Men cinematic history. For goodness sake, the name of the role was a typo. The character he was supposed to play was, in fact, Quill, a mutant with spines like a porcupine, not the pink-haired Quentin Quire, one of the most powerful psionic characters in the Marvel Universe. In X3, he was meant to come off as a revolutionary, unredeemable, bad-guy. Sadly, he came off as an unlikeable, upstart jackass. What more would you expect from a movie that was mostly put together during a Hollywood writer’s strike?
Best | Deadpool
Ryan Reynolds, while he’s played a perfect Wade Wilson in two different X-Men continuities, he’s only been a masterful Deadpool once. The first time he played the role came in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Reynolds’ first outing did half the job perfectly, but when it came time to become the Merc with the Mouth, it flopped. Hell, he didn’t even have a mouth! They grafted it shut.
We didn’t get a proper Deadpool until the title movie came about. Reynolds did more than redeem himself, he may have played a part in ensuring a piece of the Fox X-Men universe survives into the MCU.
Worst | Rogue
When I sat in the theater and watched X-Men (2000) for the first time, I was shocked to find out the dull girl hanging out in her bedroom with a boy (unsupervised, strangely) was Rogue. It’s not Academy Award winner Anna Paquin which was the problem, but that the Southern Bombshell was closer to her X-Men: Evolution depiction than her more popular versions from X-Men: The Animated Series and the comic books.
In other words, she was a moody, teenaged, angst-ridden mess of a character we had to suffer for three movies. The last time we saw her (outside of the Days of Future Past: Rogue-Cut), she effectively betrayed everything that mattered to the Rogue we knew and loved. Oh, and she also never got super strength or flew. Which was a downer.
Best | Gambit
There weren’t many bright spots about X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but Gambit’s small part was one of them. Taylor Kitsch of Friday Night Lights and John Carter fame was able to bring Gambit to life within a movie that for the most part felt like a bad fever dream. Taylor had the look, the swagger, and the smirk to pull off the only, and subsequently the best, portrayal of the Ragin’ Cajun.
It’s disappointing that he wasn’t given the chance to further explore the character with the threat of Channing Tatum possibly taking over the role. Hey, maybe they’ll take the next step and get his eyes right?
Worst | Mystique
Things didn’t start out so bad for Mystique. I’m all for new takes on characters. Rebecca Romijn’s mute version of the blue-skinned terrorist-assassin was entertaining, cunning, and deadly. She held the role throughout the first 3-movies culminating in X3 when her powers were removed her.
The next time we saw her, she was played by Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence. Much younger than before, JenLaw’s run with Mystique started in the 60s and will end sometime in the 1990s. Jennifer’s take was talkative, sassy, and equally nakedly blue. Seemingly after her Oscar victory and several other successes, it appeared her enthusiasm for the role had lost its pep. It also annoyed fans that so much of the films she was part of were centered around her character. It was bizarre, mostly due to the fact that before these movies, Mystique was more of a hard-edged villain, than X-Man.
Best | Iceman
One of the few constant great portrayals throughout the early X-Men movies came by way of Shawn Ashmore’s Iceman. He didn’t play a huge part in the first movie, but that changed when we got X2. Ashmore’s Bobby Drake was genuine and fun, but had depth as we saw during his interaction with his family. His ‘coming out’ scene followed by him and the X-Men being confronted by police officers summoned by his little brother- was epic. The last two times we got to see Bobby, he finally became Iceman, in full ‘iced-up’ glory. First, during the final act of X3 and then in the beginning and finish points of Days of Future Past.
Worst | Cyclops
In the case of Scott “Cyclops” Summers, it’s not that he was miss cast. James Marsden definitely looked the part in X1-X3. For the small pieces of salvageable screen time he was given, he made the most of it. What became the downfall of Cyclops throughout the first X-Men movies was the script.
Cyclops was written as a starchy, darn near useless excuse of a leader that lost far more than he won. The last few minutes he’s on screen (towards the end of X2 into the beginning of X3), he’s a sniveling mess of a man. He spent the majority of X2 having his wife wooed by Wolverine before being brainwashed into fighting said, spouse. Not to mention he’s ultimately murdered by Jean off-screen. Just not a stellar run.
Now there’s a new Cyclops being portrayed by young actor Tye Sheridan. However, judging him by what we were given in the lackluster X-Men: Apocalypse film wouldn’t be fair to the young actor. Unfortunately, his next outing in Dark Phoenix isn’t looking very promising. We’ll have to let that play out.
Best | Magneto
21 Century Fox may have struck out more than a few times when casting some of their roles, however, in both instances of Magneto, they got it right. I suppose it has a lot to do with who they hired. Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender are both Oscar-caliber actors that go all out with any role they’re given and they certainly did that by successfully bringing two versions of the same character to life.
Ian became the Magneto of the present, weathered, weary, treacherous, and skeptical. Fassbender got a hold of the character starting in the franchises 5th film, First Class. His version was set in the 1960s and full of rage and despair, but retained a spark of hope for his people (mutants) throughout. Replacing either man is going to be hard, to say the least.
Worst | Psylocke (X3)
Did you even know Psylocke was in X-Men: The Last Stand (X3)? Don’t feel bad if you didn’t because it was an easy miss. Just like the other members of her trinity; Kid Omega (Quill), and Calisto (oh, we’ll talk about her later). I don’t blame the rest of the cast of that movie for how it turned out, I certainly don’t focus my ire on Meiling Melancon. That goes to director Bret Ratner and writer Simon Kinberg. How they looked at Betsy Braddock and pulled out Melancon’s version of the character from that blows my mind and it frankly scares me as he is the main-man behind Dark Phoenix. Melancon’s Psylocke wasn’t the dynamic, passionate, deadly assassin we were accustomed to. She was a bland, emo, background character with purple highlights.
Best | Psylocke
Psylocke has been part of the X-Men since the 80s. Despite her longevity with the superhero team, Psylocke is mostly only known to comic book and video game fans. While a long way from a household name, her fame was enough to draw in former G4TV show host, Olivia Munn, for a relatively small role in X-Men: Apocalypse. It wasn’t a bad gig for Olivia. It was something she really sank her teeth into as an Asian-American. Outside of being fitted for one of the most true-to-comic costumes I’ve ever seen, the actress even devoted herself to learning how to use a katana.
Worst | Emma Frost
In this instance, we have a case of great casting, but a boring part. While she was only named in First Class, she also had a small cameo in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (played by Tahyna Tozzi). Like so small if you were familiar with her powers, you probably didn’t even know she was in it. There isn’t much to talk about for her Origin’s feature, so let’s look at her larger role in First Class.
Portrayed by actress/ model January Jones, Emma Frost came off as one-dimensional. She was self-serving and short on words. While the first description fits perfectly (even while the character was an X-Man in the books), the latter does not at all. Emma is not shy to voice her opinion and even while the white queen of the Hellfire Club, was not afraid to express an unpopular opinion. With Ms. Jones, they hit her look on the head, but that’s about it in terms of being true to the character. Personally, I would have taken more Emma Frost than Zoe Kravitz’ Angel Salvadore, as good looking as she was, in her own right.
Best | Quicksilver (Fox)
Unlike the other characters that have a duo of actors portraying them, Quicksilver is unique. There are two versions of him, from two different continuities, from two different production studios. One played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Avengers: Age of Ultron (Disney) and the other by Evan Peters in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Apocalypse and the upcoming Dark Phoenix. To stay within the confines of our conversation, we’ll be focusing on the latter.
Peters was fortunate enough to first appear in what was one of the best X-Men movies ever produced. In a stellar film, he was a shining star that stole the show during his famous “kitchen” scene. The next time we saw him was almost as great, though a bit “been there, done that.” The rest of the movie was forgettable for the most part. However, no matter how so-so Apocalypse was, Quicksilver was well done in both films!
Note: Quicksilver also had an uncredited 5-second cameo in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Worst | Pyro
For X-Men movies 2 and 3, actor Aaron Stanford played the role of Pyro. Most know him as a fire manipulating member of the Brotherhood of Mutants. Without having to say, we knew from the first glimpse of the character in X1 (played by Alex Burton for approximately 15-seconds) that he’d eventually have to go bad. And that’s what we got in more ways than one in X2. I’m not saying Aaron didn’t play the role well, I’m saying the part he was given was found wanting, for lack of a better word.
Pyro, St. John Allerdyce was born in Australia and for a moment or two, I think Aaron tried to float an accent. In the two movies he was featured in, I can say the scene out front of Iceman’s home was the high point of the character. However, the remainder of his run was ultimately forgettable.
Best | Beast
Since X-Men: First Class, we’ve been privileged to see actor Nicholas Hoult take on the role of Beast. He’s actually done a great job of portraying Hank McCoy in his younger years. Hoult played him with an off-beat but very entertaining sense of comedic timing. In action, he was just as impressive; his standout performance arrived in Days of Future Past. As good of a show as Hoult put on, there was still another that may have struck a more tender cord with fans.
In X-Men: The Last Stand, Kelsy Grammer joined the cast as a mature Hank McCoy. The actor embodied everything fans loved about the character in a form most familiar to them. Even in his advanced years, Grammer morphed himself into one of the most comic book accurate portrayals of the X-Men. Grammer may have topped even Hugh Jackman had he been given a similar amount of time.
Worst | Havok
Traditionally, Scott Summers has been the eldest of the Summers’ brothers. This hasn’t been the case in the X-Men movies thus far, and there was nothing wrong with that. If it had been handled correctly, that is.
Alex Summers (Havok), debuted in the First Class as a late teen or early twenty-something. Seeing as Scott was in his mid-thirties in X1 and First Class took place in the 1960s… well, it’s hard to even imagine that they were even of the same generation, much less, brothers (he also had a small part in Days of Future Past which was set in the 1980s). So that was the first strike against the character. The utter and complete destruction of his origin and familiar tiers. The next was his necessity to do some sort of hula-hoops motion to use his powers. In Apocalypse, after being reunited with his little brother Scott, Havok died unceremoniously after accidentally setting off an explosion that not just incinerated him, but also destroyed the mansion. Way to go, MacGuyver.
Best | Nightcrawler
With today’s impressive make-up artists, it’s not hard to make an actor look the part. What separates great actors, from actors with great crews, is the ability to become. By ‘become’ I mean taking on whatever they are portraying; a man, woman, monster or a blue mutant with yellow eyes and a devil’s tail. There have been two examples of Nightcrawler since X2. Both expertly assembled, but with stark differences in age. Actor Kodi Smit-McPhee played the lovable elf in Apocalypse to a very enjoyable degree. However, it was Alan Cumming that truly brought the X-Man to life in X2: X-Men United. In the opening moments of the film, he set the stakes and pace for the remainder of it. Up to that point, we as an audience had never seen a mutant power flexed like that and to be honest, perhaps not again until the opening of Days of Future Past.
Worst | Apocalypse
Apocalypse is one of the most famous X-Men villains of all-time. He’s been called evil incarnate. He considers himself beyond such titles. Apocalypse is the root of other classic villains such as Mister Sinister and Exodus. He takes pride in being able to twist the minds and souls of warriors into becoming his loyal minions. His credo has been and forever will be, ‘survival of the fittest.’ So, yeah, when we got our first look at him as a live-action character it irked us that he resembled Ivan Ooze from the Power Rangers. I can’t even say the casting was a great idea. Oscar Issac is a fine thespian, but he didn’t have the physical presence or gravitas for such a role and it showed. The speeches were great, but I and the rest of the world found the balance lacking.
Best | Professor X
What can be said about one of the best-played characters in all of comic or pop-culture? Sir Patrick Stewart graced the X-Men franchise by taking up the role of Professor Charles Francis Xavier. It was as if the character was made for the actor. I don’t believe any fan casting to date has been more on the nose. When they announced who’d be playing Professor-X, there couldn’t have been one person who had another actor in mind. It was a fantasy- maybe even a dream that such a pairing came together. No chance that it could happen again, right? Wrong.
In X-Men: First Class, the franchise needed a younger actor to take over the role. And that they did when James McAvoy was tapped for the job. McAvoy’s version of Xavier was young, brash, witty, and emotional. Over the span of three movies, we saw young Charles begin to show signs of becoming the Professor-X that Patrick Stewart mastered.
Worst | Callisto
X3 offered many mistakes and regrets. Most jarring among them being were how many characters were presented and utilized. Three stood tall amongst these and one stands taller over those.
Callisto is a familiar name to both comic book readers and fans of the animated series. Traditionally, she’s the defacto leader of the Morlocks. A community of ‘deformed’ mutants that live beneath New York. They typically frown on “pretty” mutants (despite Callisto herself once being a model), so the choice of making the extremely attractive actress Dania Ramirez Callisto, was odd. Even using the character in the context of the movie was odd. No number of tattoos and piercings was going to dilute that pretty of a face. But that’s not what spoiled the character’s feature. The role Dania played was Callisto in name alone. She behaved nothing like the character and served no purpose in the movie except being bad for the sake of being bad.
Best | Wolverine
Let me tell you how irreplaceable Hugh Jackman is as Wolverine. Even after every single cast member around him had been replaced by a younger actor, or just completely phased out, Jackman’s Wolverine remained in full swing. Days of Future Past was the swan song of the original X-Men trilogy cast. It’s the last time we saw them gathered in one spot. And it wasn’t even for that long a time. Most of that movie was dedicated to the new cast. A passing of the torch in a way. Yet, the Wolverine remained. He even got a solo film that nearly won an academy award.
It didn’t start out like this for Jackman. He was criticized for not looking the part, mostly due to him being well over six-feet tall when Wolverine barely breaks average male height. Hugh would immediately put these worries to rest. He made the character his own. So much so, he’s the reason Wolverine in the comics is a few inches taller than he used to be. Recasting him is going to be the toughest endeavor Disney has when forming their new X-Men franchise.
There you have it. The Best and worst X-Men movie adaptations. Disagree, want to add to the list? Sound-off below!