‘X-Men’: Michael Jackson Wanted To Be Professor X, Charlize Theron Turned Down Jean Grey Role

Twenty years ago today, my beloved X-Men first made their way to the big screen. It was thanks to 20th Century Fox and Bryan Singer, two things that no longer exist in the world…well, at least not how they used to. As someone who pretty much learned how to read through Marvel’s X-Men comics (It’s the only reason I know what “Dosvedanya” means), it was a huge moment for me. But X-Men was also a hugely important movie for the fledgling superhero movie genre, which had been struggling to regain its footing after the Batman franchise fell into ridicule. It couldn’t have been done without X-Men, Blade, and later Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.

Twenty years ago there simply wasn’t the same journalistic infrastructure there is now, and so a lot of the stories about the X-Men production have been spread through word-of-mouth. Like, we all remember those early stories about Dougray Scott being considered for Wolverine, right? And Russell Crowe and Viggo Mortensen? Two of those three actors probably would’ve been fine. The other is Dougray Scott. Anyway, Observer took a look at some of the many names that tried to be part of X-Men but, for whatever reason, just didn’t make the cut.

So let’s start off first by acknowledging that X-Men might not have ever happened if it weren’t for X-Men: The Animated Series. Not only did the Fox toon reinvigorate interest in the comics, but also in Hollywood to get cracking on a movie. David Hayter was ultimately hired to write the script. A relative unknown at the time, Hayter beat out loads of exceptional talent who tried and failed: Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven, Panic Room), Christopher McQuarrie (the Mission: Impossible films), Ed Solomon (Men in Black), Tom DeSanto (Transformers) and Joss Whedon (The Avengers).

As different as X-Men might’ve been with any of those writers, imagine how it would’ve changed if the casting were completely different. Hayter and Singer flew to Vancouver where they offered her the role of Jean Grey, a pivotal role that would go to Goldeneye’s Famke Janssen. Theron was pretty hot at the time, as she was just coming out of The Cider House Rules and The Astronaut’s Wife. Nothing she did in 2000 compared to X-Men, though. She wouldn’t actually come close until three years later with The Italian Job.

There were other big names who sought roles in X-Men but, thankfully, were not seriously considered for the movie…

“I have lots of warm memories of people that came in wanting to be in the movie,” producer Ralph Winter said. “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.”

Hayter added, “Every day I was surprised by the faces coming in. Like, I’d find Mariah Carey sitting in my office wanting to go talk to Bryan about being Storm or something. So that’s always shocking.”

Just imagine the complaints about Mariah Carey as Storm! Or Michael Jackson as Professor X! Chances are the bad buzz would’ve destroyed the movie before it ever got off the ground, and then we’d have been without two decades of Marvel’s merry mutants on the big screen. Yeah, it ended in pretty shitty fashion. Fox sold to Disney, Dark Phoenix a flop, and who knows what we’ll get out of New Mutants. But X-Men was the first superhero movie in a long time that felt HUGE, like everything we wanted comic book films to be. The franchise remains my all-time favorite and will unless Marvel Studios can change my mind.

Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.