The 1990s were tough times for Marvel Comics. With comic book sales plummeting and the wells of inspiration thoroughly drained, the company was forced to sell off the film rights to some of its best-loved characters. Spider-Man went to Sony, Hulk went to Universal, and the Fantastic Four went to 20th Century Fox, along with what was to become one of Hollywood’s biggest franchises – the X-Men.
The first X-Men film was released in 2000. 15 years and seven movies later, the franchise is still going strong. Somehow, the series managed to reinvigorate a dying genre and capture the imaginations of a generation who had previously been bored by superhero stories. The combination of cutting edge special effects and a cast that included huge film stars, from Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, to Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman, brought the world of comic books and superheroes into the 21st century.
Aside from the six subsequent X-Men films, the first instalment also signalled the start of a spate of superhero films that range from the incredibly successful Spider-Man trilogy to less celebrated offerings like Elektra and Ghost Rider – eventually paving the way for Marvel Studios’ renaissance with Iron Man in 2008, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise that has come to be one of Hollywood’s biggest successes of recent years. In fact, X-Men also introduced the super-team format that has given Marvel two of the top five highest grossing films of all time with The Avengers and Age of Ultron.
One of the biggest aspects of X-Men’s legacy is the return of its creators to prominence; by carving out a permanent place for superheroes in popular culture and by proving that Marvel’s creations still had weight to them, the X-Men films revived a genre and changed Hollywood dramatically.
And this change doesn’t look like a passing trend. Marvel has movies planned well into the future, including a two-part Avengers story and the introduction of characters such as Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Captain Marvel, and that doesn’t even begin to cover DC’s plans for the Justice League, or 20th Century Fox’s hopes for more Fantastic Four (despite the poor showing of their last two attempts).
It certainly seems to me that superheroes are here to stay, and 15 years on, we have X-Men to thank for that.