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This July is the 20th anniversary of the release of X-Men, a movie that not only marked the cinematic debut of the Marvel mutants, but also played a key role in popularizing superhero movies. Among the stars of the ensemble cast was James Marsden, who played Scott Summers, a.k.a. Cyclops, the eponymous team’s field leader capable of shooting optic blasts from his eyes.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with James Marsden about his latest movie, Sonic the Hedgehog, and when the conversation turned to X-Men, he noted how while he and his cast-mates knew that this movie would be unique, he never imagined that the franchise would grow the way that it did. As the actor told me:
I think we all hoped it would become what it’s become, and we knew it had the power to with the legacy of the X-Men universe. They’ve been around since 1962, 1963? And so when we first started, it was 40 years of backstory and superfans. So we knew if we do this right, this could be something forever, for a long, long time. I’d hoped, but I did not anticipate that they’d still be making them. I mean, I thought maybe they’d make 4 or 5 of them in its success, but how many have they made now, 10? So it’s kinda crazy and really cool.
The X-Men were among the first superheroes that launched what we now know as the Marvel Comics universe in the early 1960s, with others including the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and The Hulk. So as James Marsden noted, there definitely was plenty of source material to pull from, and it also helped that the X-Men had risen on the popularity spectrum from the animated series that aired from 1992 to 1997.
X-Men was indeed critically and commercially successful enough to generate numerous direct sequels, but when you throw in the Wolverine and Deadpool movies, as well as The New Mutants (whenever that ends up arriving), Fox’s X-Men franchise ended up being comprised of actually 13 movies. James Marsden is also well-known from movies like Superman Returns, Enchanted and Anchorman 2, as well as TV shows like 30 Rock, Westworld and the forthcoming CBS All Access series The Stand, but his time on the X-Men movies still ranks as a high point in his career, Marsden continued:
Obviously I’m not a part of all of them, but you exist in that universe and it’s always something I’ve been really proud of. It was definitely the first time in my career I was like, ‘Now I’m a part of something really special right now, and this is a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity.’ It’s rare to know you’re a part of something special while you’re shooting. Oftentimes you shoot it and it becomes some sort of surprise success, i.e. like The Notebook or something like that, where no one knew when you were filming it. But during the X-Men movies, it was like, ‘Okay, this is something unique. This is something special.’
James Marsden reprised Cyclops in X2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand, with the latter movie seeing him being killed by Jean Grey when she was consumed by her Phoenix personality. However, thanks to Wolverine’s time traveling in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Marsden’s Cyclops was restored to life and cameoed at the end of the movie. Cyclops was also played by Tim Pocock in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and by Tye Sheridan in X-Men: Apocalypse, Deadpool 2 (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo appearance) and Dark Phoenix.
Now that Fox has been acquired by Disney, the Fox X-Men franchise is over, and the plan is for the mutant heroes and villains to be rebooted within the Marvel Cinematic Universe at some point. James Marsden said last year he’d be “down” for reprising Cyclops within the MCU, but assuming that a new actor is brought aboard, he’s hopeful that this person is able to overcome what he saw as the role’s biggest challenge: the other actors and audience not being able to see their eyes.
Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for all the biggest updates concerning the X-Men’s cinematic future. For now, you can watch James Marsden as Sheriff Tom Wachowski in Sonic the Hedgehog, which is now available for digital purchase, and will come out on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD on May 19.