Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to be, the X-Men were introducing audiences to how comic book films could be taken seriously. In 2000, Bryan Singer brought them to life beautifully in a smash hit that turned Hugh Jackman into an overnight star. X2 is considered one of the few sequels better than the original while Last Stand was a letdown as was the solo Wolverine movie. But First Class got it back on track and Days of Future Past managed to link the newer and original films well. More have followed including hits like Deadpool and Logan to make the mutants as famous as anyone else in Marvel. And just as with the other Marvel films, there’s always talk of how often the casting works and when it doesn’t.
Sometimes, the casting can be offbeat but work. Anna Paquin doesn’t look like the comic book Rogue but did well in the part with a unique and sexy vibe. Olivia Munn may not have had the right accent but was a dead ringer for the comic book Psylocke, right down to the costume. When the casting works, it works beautifully, giving either total unknowns or veteran actors a chance to shine.
Sadly, it sometimes doesn’t work out and it’s not just the role that's poorly written. Sometimes, not even an Oscar-winning performer can do well with a part and even they can be bad at playing superheroes. It’s amazing how performers who seemed perfect fits failed while others who were risky choices turned out terrific.
As Dark Phoenix promises to give the mutants more screen time, here’s a look back at the best and worst Marvel casting. Here are 8 times the casting of an X-Men movie role was dead on and 7 times it was horrible, showing that not everything about the franchise is created equal.
15 DEAD ON: Kelsey Grammer as the Beast
There’s a lot about Last Stand that X-Men fans hate. There’s how it wastes Cyclops, crushes Dark Phoenix and too much on a “mutant cure” before a haphazard finish. But one of its biggest strengths was in the casting of Kelsey Grammer as Hank McCoy. One of the original X-Men, his original mutations of large feet and athletic ability led to an experiment gone wrong that gave him blue fur. Despite that, Hank is a first-rate intellectual and a true genius who comes off more like a teacher than a hero. Grammer was the right choice, already known as Fraiser Crane and thus had just the right scholarly tone and dry wit to make the character work. He also deserves credit for actually talking down to Wolverine and getting away with it.
The fight scenes had Grammer holding his own (complete with the character’s “oh my stars and garters” catchphrase) and most held him as one of the highlights of the film. While Nicholas Hoult was good as the younger Beast in First Class, it was telling when Grammer made a cameo in Days of Future Past to show how well he made the character work.
14 HORRIBLE: Liev Schreiber as Sabretooth
The relationship between Creed and Logan is complex in the comics, to say the least. There were hints they were father and son and later allies in a black ops team. It’s now come out that they’re foster brothers turned hated enemies. In the first movie, Sabretooth was played by pro wrestler Tyler Mane and showed himself nicely as a feral beast, powerful to Wolverine’s lithe skills. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Liev Schreiber took on the role, meant to be more complex. However, while a good actor, Schreiber didn’t seem a good fit. The character was nowhere near as menacing as he should be with a muscular body and far more vicious than Wolverine in combat. He couldn’t even get the classic long hair right and seeing him running on all fours was just silly. The character is supposed to be a true beast, not just a standard psycho and while Schreiber’s grin was nice, the rest of the performance wasn’t. True, the movie was a mess but one can hope a future Sabretooth is more like the comic version than a cool killer.
13 DEAD ON: Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool
It takes a special talent to make a role so big that it can survive a wretched outing to become a later hit. For years, fans loved Deadpool, the nutty merc known for healing from most anything, lethal as hell and cracking jokes to the point he’d actually talk to the reader. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds was cast as Wade Wilson, a member of a black ops team. He showed he had that motor mouth aspect down pat as well as being good with swords. But the movie ruined it to the point of sewing his mouth shut, a total slap in the face to fans.
But Reynolds was nothing if not stubborn, pushing constantly for the idea of a Deadpool movie in the spirit of the character. In 2016, it hit and stunned many by becoming a record-breaking box office smash while still retaining the character’s flavor. From cracks to the audience to R-rated lines to various action pieces, Reynolds was terrific, even with the mask and even non-comic fans loved the flick. He’s set to return and proving this a great balance of actor and role to make this smarmy psycho jerk a star.
12 HORRIBLE: Vinnie Jones as the Juggernaut
He’s occasionally worked with the team but for the most part, the Juggernaut is a major X-Men foe. Cain Marko was Xavier’s half-brother, long bullying him but in turn abused by his father. Finding a mystical gem, he was clad in armor that turned him into a super-strong and nearly unstoppable force which he used to attack the team. He could have been a truly impressive figure on screen but Vinnie Jones wasn’t a good choice. This was a role better suited for a beefy pro wrestler, not a soccer player and while Jones is infamous for his wild temper on the field, he wasn’t as inclined to make it work for the movie. The bad costume didn’t help, looking more like a poor cosplay than off the comic, even with the helmet. The bigger issue was how he was saddled with easily the movie’s worst line (“I’m the Juggernaut, b----!”) which had audiences laughing for the wrong reasons. It’s a shame one of the oldest enemies of the franchise ended up treated like a joke and Jones a bad pick for the part.
11 DEAD ON: Michael Fassbender as Magneto
There was a serious concern casting the younger Magneto for First Class. Ian McKellen had done a superb job as the X-Men’s oldest and greatest foe, dominant and powerful. In 2011, Michael Fassbender was about to burst into stardom and his turn as the younger Erik Lensherr was key to all that. He showed a man already hurting from losing his family in the Holocaust and determined to get revenge. His friendship with Xavier was quite well done, the two truly liking and respecting each other. But Erik’s beliefs that mutants were meant to rule and be superior would split them apart.
Like McKellen, Fassbender showed that Magneto might have a point. He saw one race nearly ended because they were deemed “inhuman,” so he truly believes it can happen again. His charisma is so great, you buy why mutants would flock to joining him. The latest movie had him trying to live a “normal” life but it ended in tragedy, showing he seemed set for a brutal time. Overall, Fassbender not only lived up to McKellen’s legacy but made his own to turn Magneto into a villain one can actually root for.
10 HORRIBLE: January Jones as Emma Frost
This looked so great but ended up so horrible. Emma Frost aka The White Queen is a powerful telepath, a rich lady brought up in an almost aristocratic way. Thus, she carries on like a true Queen, arrogant with both her mind powers and the ability to turn her skin diamond-hard. She’s notable for her outfits leaning toward white corsets and fur coats to add to her style and while she’s worked with the heroes a lot, she carries on like a true diva. January Jones looked perfect for the role with her hair so blonde it looked white and really capturing the outfits. But then she started talking and it was a wreck.
Jones just came off flat and listless, none of the wicked sharp tongue Frost should possess and you couldn’t buy her at all as this hot seductress. She just seemed out of it and bored and so instead of arrogant, Emma was just annoying. First Class is a great movie but, sadly, Jones is the major weak link as she turned what’s meant to be one of the hottest ladies in the franchise into a dull mess.
9 DEAD ON: Rebecca Romijn as Mystique
Casting a super-model and then having her be on screen almost totally naked is a good recipe for success. But it wasn’t just eye candy Rebecca Romijn brought to the role of Mystique. The fantastic costume job of scales over her blue body and red hair made the character stand out quite well and show some good drive. But Romijn added to it by showing how Mystique was proud of what she was. A highlight is when she’s asked why she doesn’t make herself look like anyone else and replies “because we shouldn’t have to.” The scene where she’s rendered powerless in Last Stand truly is sad, making you feel like she’s having part of herself torn away.
A telling moment in First Class is when Mystique is in bed to tempt Magneto and when he says “come back when you’re older,” she turns into Romijn. In just a few seconds, Romijn makes Mystique far hotter than Jennifer Lawrence so while the actress may not be as A-list as others on this list, she showed she fit this part quite well.
8 HORRIBLE: Ben Hardy as Angel
One of the original X-Men, Warren Worthington III has been through a lot of changes over the years. Originally with feather-like wings, he was transformed into a blue-skinned figure with metallic wings. Since then...it gets confusing. He was shown in Last Stand but not given much to do so fans had hopes for him in Apocalypse. Having the character (a wealthy trust fund kid) opening up doing a cage fight in Germany with a British accent had fans worried. But then he loses his wings, gets metallic ones from Apocalypse...and then just about nothing.
The character just flew around for a bit in the final battle and then meets a harsh end out of nowhere. Apocalypse himself seems to be looking at him and muttering “pathetic” as if realizing he wasn’t a good choice for help. Ben Hardy was okay but frankly, the role itself was already poorly done. His lack of charisma didn’t help matters, coming off too flat and not caring much. Thus, you didn’t feel at all for his fate and sad how the Angel couldn’t soar higher.
7 DEAD ON: Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler
The late Wizard magazine, focusing on comics, had a regular feature where they’d cast who they’d want to see in a comic book movie. Right after the first X-Men hit, they put out their ideas for a sequel and suggested Alan Cumming for the role of Nightcrawler. Someone must have listened as the quirky actor was a fine choice for the part. The opening sequence of Nightcrawler attacking the White House was a standout scene that set the film off on a great note and Cumming followed it up with further exploration. With a perfect German accent, he showed Nightcrawler as a religious man despite looking like a demon, a bit showy with his antics but it made sense as a circus guy and not at all ashamed of what he was. The teleportation effects were great (complete with the “bamf” sound effect) but it was Cumming’s charm that made audiences fall in love with him despite his looks. Many believe his absence from the third film hurt it as the actor lived up to the promise of making Nightcrawler stand out.
6 HORRIBLE: Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique
It was always an odd choice. Back in 2011, Jennifer Lawrence was still pretty much an unknown to the public so casting her as the younger version of the shapeshifting character seemed strange. Lawrence did show some stuff in the role with her depth and the irony of a shape-changer afraid of being herself. But she obviously lacked the same sexy vibe of Rebecca Romijn and thus came off a bit lacking to many. The sequels gave Mystique more screen time (due to how Lawrence exploded into an Oscar-winning A-lister) but casting her in a heroic role didn’t quite fit. The character has always been known for being out for herself with no other loyalties, enjoying her twisted games and taking on different forms.
In Apocalypse, Lawrence seemed almost bored with the role and it showed, seemingly around just for her star power but not much to really push the plot. She’s due for a return (reportedly just for money) and as hot and talented as Lawrence is in so many roles, Mystique just isn’t the right form for her.
5 DEAD ON: Sophie Turner as Jean Grey
Famke Janssen was a good choice for Jean Grey in the first movies. She looked hot and even with the wretched story of Last Stand, she stood tall as a powerful being. But she just didn’t seem to show the inner fire of the woman who would become Phoenix, often wasted doing exposition bits and the chemistry between her and Cyclops was lacking. But Sophie Turner has shown a much better grasp of the role as the younger Jean in Apocalypse. She shows a Jean who knows her power but is afraid of letting it loose as if sensing it’s too much. A dead ringer for the character, the redhead rises up more in her abilities to help the team out and she is striking in the suit. The payoff is when she finally unleashes her power on Apocalypse, complete with a firebird image behind her that all X-Men fans know. This leads to this year’s Dark Phoenix as Turner looks ready to truly cut loose as a nearly god-like being and if anyone can pull it off, it’s her. Janssen was good but Turner is just so much better as Jean Grey, showing the good person before her harsh fall.
4 HORRIBLE: Halle Berry as Storm
This is nothing against Halle Berry. She is a truly great star, sexy as hell while also backing it with Oscar-winning talent. However, her casting as Storm was a major misstep for the first movie. Rumors were Angela Bassett was in the running and she might have been better to bring the intensity and fire of the weather-controlling mutant. Berry herself appeared a bit off in the part (her attempt at an African accent was so bad that she just dropped it for the sequels) and it wasn’t helped by how she had to deliver hands-down the worst line of the entire franchise (“Do you know what happens to a toad when it’s struck by lightning?”).
Her Storm was nowhere near the near-goddess figure she should have been, just looking silly waving her hands around as if controlling the weather. That costume did look great yet Berry just didn’t come off well in the role. Just shows that being a great actor doesn’t always mean you can work in any part, even a comic book one.
3 DEAD ON: Patrick Stewart as Professor X
For years, whenever an X-Men movie was mentioned, fans were united on one point: Patrick Stewart had to play Professor Charles Xavier. Already a geek icon as Jean-Luc Picard, Stewart wasn’t just chosen for his bald head but the gravitas, experience, and leadership needed for the role of the team’s founder. Thankfully, the producers listened and Stewart was cast and instantly made it clear he was born for the part. He was terrific as Professor X, a teacher who knew his power and truly believed the dream of humans and mutants living in harmony. His conflicts with Magneto were spiced with how the two still considered themselves good friends and Xavier hoping Eric could come back to his side.
Stewart even managed to make Xavier’s telepathy to come off as something powerful and special. His later returns still had good stuff with him doing a face-to-face with his younger self and trying to get him to hope. And his final turn in Logan was truly heartbreaking; this telepath whose mind was broken and a stunning turn by Stewart. If ever a dream casting worked out perfectly, it was this as Stewart truly was Professor X.
2 HORRIBLE: Oscar Isaacs as Apocalypse
Apocalypse is one of the franchise’s most iconic enemies. The first mutant, he has been alive for thousands of years, once worshipped as a god by the Egyptians and a powerful shape-shifter. He’s long pushed a mantra of “survival of the fittest” and instigated slews of attacks upon the world to back that up. In short, he is a figure of amazing power and ability who should be intimidating simply to be around. In the 2016 movie, he’s a total letdown. While the makeup and outfit look good, Oscar Isaacs just doesn’t seem the right fit for the character. Too long, he whispers when Apocalypse is meant to have a loud and booming voice to rock anyone in earshot. The one time he does cut loose, it’s ridiculously over the top and comes off laughable. Not to mention his final defeat is far too short. The character should have been the best villain the movies have seen but Isaacs made him downright forgettable and another actor (one who got the sinister aspects of the role) might have been better as the character deserves.
1 DEAD ON: Hugh Jackman as Wolverine
Yes, it’s true Hugh Jackman is a good foot taller than the real Wolverine should be. But in every other category, he nails the role perfectly. In the part that made him an instant star, Jackman captured Wolverine’s intensity, his savagery and carried himself like a man ready to go off at any instant. Yet he also showed the man’s honor, his desire to help others and slowly growing into the role of a hero. It was a terrific performance, making Jackman stand tall amid the cast and perfect in the role. It carried into the various sequels and two solo movies, delving into Logan’s attempts to figure out his past and be more than some animal but still knowing only he could do the harsh stuff. From the hair to how he slashed up enemies with his claws, this was the Wolverine fans long wanted and Jackman was fantastic.
It all built up to the Logan movie, a beautiful farewell to the character as he aged, dying but wanting to go out on his own terms. It was truly fantastic and while the role may be done for Jackman, it remains his most iconic and fans are grateful for the stroke of luck in casting him.