The X-Men are about to celebrate their ninth outing to the big screen this month, and fans wait with baited breath for the next installment in the epic story of mutants. After more than fifty years, the comic source material offers no shortage of epic adventures for Professor X, Storm and the rest of the mutant team, as well as a litany of as-of-yet untapped characters to add to the roster.
Not every story from the comics, however, bares adapting. For every “Days of Future Past,” there’s a “Muir Island Saga” or an “Emperor Vulcan” which hits enough wrong notes to make an audience go deaf. The movies haven’t, thus far, played as fast and loose with the rules of the X-Universe as the comics do–the team has yet to confront Dracula, travel to Hell, or start gallivanting around the cosmos with aliens. Call that a win for the films, since they adhere to stricter ground rules which give their stories gravitas. For that matter, complicated legal issues between Marvel, Fox and Disney prevent certain characters or storylines from ever appearing in an X-Men film.
From the leftover comic stories, these gems stand out, demanding an adaptation to the big screen.
10. House of M
An X-story with radical effects on the entire Marvel comic universe, “House of M” presents a Scarlet Witch (yes, the X-Men movies can use her too) who has a miscarriage which precipitates a nervous breakdown. As her mind deteriorates, she begins to lose control of her powers of reality manipulation. Fearing she could accidentally wipe out the entire population, the X-Men vote to end her life. Before they can euthanize her, all of reality changes: mutants become the dominant species on the planet, Wolverine regains his lost memories, and a marriage to Mystique, and the world has a new supreme ruler: Magneto. Wolverine must work to convince the other X-Men that this “perfect” reality is a lie, and that Magneto is responsible for the change. But all is not what it seems…
Why It’d Make a Good Movie: “House of M” boasts an enormous cast and offers plumb roles for characters like Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine and Magneto himself. The film series has introduced the idea that mutant powers can pose danger for everyone, even those who wield them, and the storyline would provide a great opportunity to explore the boundary between a gift and a curse.
9. Messiah Complex
In the aftermath of Scarlet Witch’s breakdown, she manipulates reality again, this time to depower all but a handful of mutants around the world. With Professor X presumed dead and Magneto powerless, Cyclops, Beast, and the rest of the X-Men struggle to keep the X-Men intact. When Emma Frost senses a mutant infant born at full power, the X-Men race to get to the infant before nefarious forces can kill or exploit it. Their enemies include Mystique, who believes the infant can cure Rogue of a disease, and former X-Man Bishop, who thinks the infant will bring about a mutant apocalypse.
Why It’d Make a Good Movie: Like “House of M,” “Messiah Complex” introduces a great dynamic of characters, and allows secondary heroes like Bishop a chance to shine. It also explores the contentious relationship between Cyclops and his estranged son Cable, as the two debate the fate of the child.
8. Messiah War
“Messiah War” picks up after the events of “Messiah Complex.” Cable has time traveled into a decimated future to protect the mutant baby, a girl named Hope Summers. Pursuing them, Bishop vows to kill Cable and Hope, thus the X-Men send a team to the future to intervene. Wolverine and Angel lead the charge into the future, only to discover a more sinister force: the mutant Stryfe, a clone of Cable, and a revived Apocalypse. Angel must face his past demons, and Wolverine must confront his friend Bishop to save the future.
Why It’d Make A Good Movie: Fox loves to let Wolverine play the lead in the X-Men films, for better or worse, and “Messiah War” strikes a good balance between Logan, other established characters like Cyclops and Bishop, and new inclusions like Domino. It also could serve as a springboard for more spin-offs about future mutants.
7. Age of Apocalypse
Days of Future Past introduced elements of the “Age of Apocalypse” storyline, including characters like Bishop, Sunspot and the Sentinels. The comic arc builds on the idea of the dystopian future, in which mutants are hunted to near-extinction. A time traveling mutant from the future travels to the present and kills Professor X, creating a new timeline. Flash forward to the future, where Apocalypse has conquered the world, the X-Men remain the only hope for humans and mutants alike. Now led by Magneto, they fight to save the world, and restore the proper timeline.
Why It’d Make a Good Movie: Days of Future Past provided a proper final curtain to the beloved original cast of the X-Men movies. But, guess what: they’re not dead yet! Fox could well decide to take advantage of the original cast’s enduring popularity, and further explore the dark future seen at the beginning of Days of Future Past. With Magneto front and center, Sir Ian McKellen could run with the material, and provide a sort of alternate reality film for the characters.
6. The Phoenix Saga
But wait, you say? Didn’t the movies already take on “The Phoenix Saga” with X-Men: The Last Stand?
Screw that movie. It botched the whole story.
In the “Phoenix Saga” of the comics, Jean Grey begins to manifest incredible powers and adopts the identity of Phoenix. She leads the X-Men across the galaxy to do battle with an alien dictator bent on wiping out all life in the universe to make himself all powerful (don’t ask what sense that makes…he’s a crazypants). They succeed and return to Earth, only to have Jean go mad from her new powers. Enter the Hellfire Club, led by Sebastian Shaw and Emma Frost, who conspire to use Phoenix as a weapon to take over the world.
Why It’d Make A Good Movie: X-Men: The Last Stand proved that “The Phoenix Saga” could make a very bad movie. Why not try again to get it right? With younger versions of Cyclops, Storm and Jean introduced in Apocalypse, director Bryan Singer has afforded himself the opportunity to adapt the storyline once again, and this time, to get it right. A wild adventure for the X-characters, the story also provides a good deal of real drama only Jean’s love for Cyclops and her friends can bring her back to sanity.
5. Divided We Stand
The X-Men disband following the death of Professor X, and the surviving members struggle to adapt. The evil mutants Mastermind and Omega Red have conquered San Francisco, and Cyclops must find remaining members of the team to defeat the mutant menace. Though they vowed to go their separate ways, the X-Men begin to realize that the world needs their team, and that the former teammates need each other.
Why It’d Make A Good Movie: Like the best of X-Men stories, “Divided We Stand” focuses on the relationships between characters. Cyclops, haunted by the deaths of Xavier and Jean Grey, rises to lead as never before, and begins to form a new team of his old friends and new recruits. Fans of the comics who grouse over Cyclops’s limited screentime in the movies should lobby for this arc, as it features him front and center. The story also introduces fan-favorite baddie Omega Red, which allows the X-Men to get in on a new level of action.
4. Dark X-Men
One of Marvel’s best crossover arcs in recent memory, the Dark titles explored a world where villains had replaced heroes, led by Spider-Man’s nemesis Green Goblin. While the X-Men films couldn’t use Green Goblin or the expansive scope of the arc, they could adapt parts of it which focus on the X-Men themselves. Anti-mutant riots prompt Mystique to impersonate Professor X and form a new team of villainous X-Men, as the true heroes–including Cyclops, Rogue, Gambit and Nightcrawler–fight to reveal the Dark X-Men as a force of evil.
Why It’d Make A Good Movie: Batman v. Superman and Captain America: Civil War both take advantage of large character rosters to tell stories about what happens when disagreements cause factions within a team. The X-Men could tell a similar tale with the “Dark X-Men” storyline, which would also provide opportunity for some mutant-against-mutant action.
3. X-Cutioner’s Song
Apocalypse rises to threaten the world again, and this time, with a new ally: Stryfe, an evil clone of Cable. Stryfe infects Professor X with a virus which leaves him incapacitated, while Apocalypse and Mr. Sinister kidnap Cyclops and Jean in the hopes of using their DNA to create an all-powerful mutant. The remaining X-Men fight to save Xavier and their teammates and defeat Apocalypse once and for all.
Why It’d Make A Good Movie: One of the great 1990s X-Men story arcs, “X-Cutioner’s Song” once again focuses on popular characters like Wolverine, Rogue and Gambit, and introduces classic villains like Mr. Sinister. It’s something of an irony that Sinister has yet to appear on the big screen, and “X-Cutioner’s Song” would offer the perfect opportunity to introduce him as a conflicted character, hungry for power but desperate to stop Apocalypse. It also would allow for the introduction of Cable, the identity of whose parentage remains a central mystery of the story.
2. Rogue vs. Ms. Marvel
Fans of Anna Paquin‘s performance as Rogue in the X-Men film series might be surprised to learn just how much wilder her character is in her comics incarnation. Like the Rogue of the films, the comic Rogue can absorb the powers of other mutants…so much so that she almost kills the Supergirl-like heroine Ms. Marvel, and absorbs her powers forever!
While the X-Men movies cannot use Ms. Marvel as a character–again owing to the rights divide between Fox and Marvel–the movies could introduce a similar character from which Rogue could get her new mutation.
Why It’d Make A Good Movie: Rogue’s absorption of Ms. Marvel’s powers in the comics had a great effect on her character, and on the rest of the X-Men. Reintroducing a young version of Rogue, or even letting Anna Paquin return to the role (she said she wants to play Rogue again with her powers of flight and super strength) would grant an opportunity to further explore the character, and face the issue of mutant powers becoming dangerous.
1. The Legacy Virus
The X-Men took on current events in the 1990s by introducing the Legacy Virus, an HIV-like pathogen which affects only mutants. Created by Stryfe, it wreaks havoc on the mutant population, with the world beginning a new era of persecution against mutant kind. Iconic characters like Colossus and Pyro die from the disease as Mystique, Beast and Magneto race to find a cure.
Why It’d Make A Good Movie: The X-Men have always used metaphor to comment on real-life events, and the Legacy Virus is a great example. Much the way AIDS affected gay people around the world, mutants find themselves dying as the humans watch in indifference, while still others infected by the pathogen end up in quarantine camps. A bold statement in the comics, the movie would make a bold statement in film, not to mention a new depth to beloved X-characters.