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17 Heroic Facts About the X-Men Movies

If you feel like a villain for thinking that the glut of superhero movies regularly filling theaters around the world is too much, you might want to direct your attention to the X-Men movie series. The first of the currently seven films in the ongoing story of the team of mutants came out 15 years ago this week, beginning the strong reemergence of some surprisingly nuanced films starring costumed crusaders that Batman & Robin almost single-handedly destroyed. As the trailers for X-Men: Apocalypse and Deadpool, the next films in the X-Men saga, wow audiences at Comic-Con, we're looking back at some facts about the franchise that are best read without a pair of Oakley shades.

1. JAMES CAMERON AND KATHRYN BIGELOW WERE AT ONE POINT SET TO PRODUCE AND DIRECT.

Years before Bryan Singer officially signed on to direct in 1996, Stan Lee and longtime X-Men comic writer Chris Claremont pitched an X-Men movie to James Cameron (Terminator, Aliens, Titanic) and Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) to produce and direct, respectively. Claremont was keen on Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) to play Wolverine, and Angela Bassett to play Storm. When Stan Lee piqued Cameron’s interest about the Spider-man series instead at the meeting, Claremont knew he had lost them. In 1994, 20th Century Fox bought the film rights to the comic series after Carolco Pictures went bankrupt.

2. JOSS WHEDON WROTE FOUR LINES OF THE FIRST X-MEN MOVIE, INCLUDING THE INFAMOUS "TOAD" ONE.

Several writers were hired to work on an existing draft of the script, including Whedon. Most of his changes were ignored on account of his “quick-witted pop culture referencing tone,” something he didn’t know until he was invited to, and attended, a read-through. His exchange between Cyclops and Wolverine stayed ("It's me." "Prove it." "You're a dick."), as well as Storm asking Toad if he knows what happens when his kind gets struck by lightning. Whedon claimed she was supposed to say that in a much more low-key tone. The Buffy television creator did end up heavily contributing to the franchise down the line: one of the two X-Men comic book story arcs that X Men: The Last Stand was loosely based on was the Whedon-penned “Gifted.”

3. ROBERT RODRIGUEZ TURNED DOWN THE CHANCE TO DIRECT X-MEN.

Rodriguez rejected big-budget movie projects at the time because he didn’t think they would be fun. Bryan Singer initially said no to directing X-Men, then changed his mind after reading the comics. During filming, Singer read online that he had been fired. Executives had to tell him that wasn’t true.

4. RUSSELL CROWE WAS THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY WOLVERINE.

Instead Crowe suggested his friend, a virtually unknown Australian actor named Hugh Jackman. Despite the recommendation, Dougray Scott was cast, but Scott had to drop out to keep his commitment to Mission: Impossible 2. Then the role was given to Jackman, who joined on October 11, 1999, 19 days into production.

5. JACKMAN TRAINED BY WATCHING MIKE TYSON VIDEOS IN HIS TRAILER.

He would shadow-box along with the footage, and asked the writers to make the fights ugly, not long and heavily choreographed affairs. The actor also purposely took ice cold showers in the morning to make him as angry as Logan.

6. JANET JACKSON DROPPED OUT OF THE FILM.

The singer-actress was cast in the role of Storm, and even had a chance to visit the set, before dropping out to not disrupt her concert tour. Halle Berry took the part instead, and didn’t let it go for the sequel, even though it meant that she had to back out of shooting a different movie: Gigli. Another actor who left the project because of scheduling conflicts was Jim Caviezel, who was set to play Cyclops.

7. PATRICK STEWART HAD NEVER HEARD OF X-MEN.

When he was first asked what he knew about the X-Men, Stewart thought he was being asked about The X-Files.

8. THE CAST PARTIED AT SIR IAN MCKELLEN’S HOUSE.

James Marsden recalled that the original cast would meet up at the Magneto actor’s house for barbecues and sing show tunes by the piano.

9. MCKELLEN AND STEWART DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO PLAY CHESS.

A chess master came in to teach them.

10. SABRETOOTH WAS A FORMER WRESTLER.

Tyler “Nitro” Mane was initially hired as a stunt man. When Bryan Singer spotted him, he promoted him to cast member.

11. THE MYSTIQUE MAKE-UP PROCESS TOOK MUCH LESS TIME OVER THE YEARS.

In the first film, it took nine hours for Rebecca Romijn to be painted Mystique blue. For X2 they got the process of putting on 110 prosthetics down to six hours. By the time Jennifer Lawrence was portraying the character in X-Men: First Class, it “only” took three hours.

12. THERE WAS SOME TROUBLE WITH USING CONTACT LENSES.

Tyler Mane left his Sabretooth contacts in for too long and was unable to see for a day. Before getting her request granted in future installments to have her eyes yellowed by CGI, Romijn wore yellow contacts that limited her vision. She was worried that she would inadvertently kick Bruce Davison (Senator Kelly) in the face on the helicopter, which is exactly what happened.

13. JAMES MARSDEN WAS TOO SHORT TO LOOK HUGH JACKMAN AND FAMKE JANSSEN IN THE FACE, EVEN THOUGH HE IS ALMOST 5’11”.

He had to stand on apple boxes and raised tracks in Cyclops’s scenes with Wolverine and Jean Grey. At least Marsden was given a lifetime supply of Oakley sunglasses for wearing their product.

14. BRYAN SINGER ONCE MADE THE CAST AND CREW WAIT TWO HOURS ON THE SET OF X2 SO HE COULD "THINK."

The director sat on a log in the middle of a field while precious light was fading to figure out how to fix a scene where Wolverine and Jean Grey talked about “a relationship that they never really had.” When he returned to civilization, he asked the present camera crew if they thought that the two characters should kiss. They all raised their hands, with one male member asking if they can do more than that.

15. FAMKE JANSSEN DID NOT KNOW HER FATE UNTIL HALFWAY THROUGH SHOOTING X2.

Only the studio president’s copy of the script revealed her death. Even though she wasn’t in the scene at the end in the Oval Office, Janssen appeared in costume in all of the publicity shots set there.

16. RYAN REYNOLDS ACKNOWLEDGED ALL OF THE PHYSICAL TRAINING SOME CHARACTERS HAD TO GO THROUGH.

Wade Wilson’s sarcastic comment in X-Men Origins: Wolverine about enjoying being stuck in an elevator with five guys on a high-protein diet was improvised on set by Reynolds.

17. JAMES MCAVOY AND NICHOLAS HOULT MAY HAVE OVER-PREPARED.

McAvoy played a younger Charles Xavier in X-Men: First Class, so he took it upon himself to shave his head before shooting. Turns out that he was supposed to have a full head of hair for the movie, so he had to wear hair extensions. Before playing Hank McCoy in the same film, part of Hoult’s research was to watch episodes of Frasier to get Kelsey Grammer’s accent down. Grammer played Beast/Hank McCoy in X-Men: The Last Stand.

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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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