An NBA Legend And An Iconic Popstar Tried To Audition For X-Men

Shaquille O'Neal in Steel

Twenty years ago, X-Men completely changed the world of comic book movies. While it's true that Superman: The Movie, Batman, and Blade already existed, it was the feature about Marvel's most famous mutants that changed the industry's perspective about the blockbuster potential of the material after a decade filled with critical and box office disappointments.

Obviously the majority of X-Men's impact came after its release and the ticket sales were calculated – but it's also worth noting that there were plenty of people who making attempts early on to get in on the ground floor. This included a variety of celebrities, including both Michael Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal.

To celebrate the movie's 20th anniversary, Observer recently wrote a feature looking back at the production of X-Men, and executive producer Ralph Winter offered some interesting perspective regarding notable individuals who wanted a shot to be in the blockbuster. As it turns out, before Patrick Stewart landed the role, the famously bald, wheelchair-bound leader of the team was targeted by the singer of "Thriller", and the then center for the Los Angeles Lakers wanted a shot at playing a character who never ended up being in the movie. Said Winter,

I have lots of warm memories of people that came in wanting to be in the movie. Michael Jackson was a big comic fan and wanted to play Charles Xavier. Shaquille O’Neal showed up at the offices and wanted to play Forge, who wasn’t in the movie.

The idea of Michael Jackson playing Professor Charles Xavier is ludicrous for a number of what should be obvious reasons, but to Shaquille O'Neal's credit we still have not seen a live-action version of Forge – who is a mutant whose ability gives him a knack for invention. If the character were to be brought to the big screen now, of course, one would hope that he would be played by a Native American actor, as that's his background in the comics.

To Shaquille O'Neal's credit, it's not hard to see why he saw X-Men as an attractive option. The list of aforementioned 1990s superhero movies that were critical and box office disappointments very much includes Steel, which starred the NBA Hall of Famer. He's clearly a comic book fan, and the Marvel movie could have been a chance to fix his reputation in that regard... but it wasn't meant to be.

Michael Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal aren't the only ones to miss out on being in X-Men, but at the very least they were smart enough to try and go after the project instead of turning it down. One of the most famous behind-the-scenes stories in the history of the project is about the search for the actor to play Wolverine and the production being turned down by both Russell Crowe and Viggo Mortensen. After Dougray Scott signed on and then had to walk away due to Mission: Impossible II commitments, Hugh Jackman got his shot, and the rest is history.

Keeping all of the above in mind, would you want to see Shaquille O'Neal get his shot to be in a comic book movie now? Hit the comments with your thoughts, and if you're now in the mood to revisit X-Men in celebration of its anniversary, you can purchase it either digitally or on Blu-ray/DVD, or stream it exclusively on HBO Max.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.