With the Fox/Disney deal almost upon us, it’s time to turn our gaze to the most sprawling of Marvel franchises: the X-Men! There have been many, many X-Men movies. A few of them have even been pretty good. But comic movie fans are stoked to see what happens when the mutants join with the biggest movie franchise of all time. Free from the convoluted timeline shenanigans, and empowered by Disney’s bottomless coffers, these are some dream casting choices for the X-Men’s return to the MCU.
The Original X-Men
Professor X: Jeffrey Wright
Professor Charles Xavier is the paternal center of the X-Men universe, and in previous movies has also been its moral core. Comic fans will know that while Professor X has noble aspirations of a better world, he has often been a pretty secretive guy. He dreams big, but he often crosses the line in pursuit of his goals. Jeffrey Wright has the warmth and wisdom you’d need in the leader of the X-Men, but his work on Westworld shows that he’s also good at playing morally conflicted. Most importantly, he’d look great with a shiny bald head.
Cyclops: Richard Madden
While past versions of Cyclops have focused on what a drip he can be, that’s not all there is to Scott Summers. Sure the guy’s been known to repress his feelings, but he follows the rules because he’s always on the verge of falling off the edge. He acts the handsome everyman, but Cyclops is full of pain. Where some see a stick in the mud, others see a passionate revolutionary. Richard Madden is ridiculously square-jawed and handsome, and has played upstanding (and uptight) characters in Game of Thrones and Cinderella. He brings complexity to those roles, and will be able to sell Cyclops’ roiling inner conflict.
Jean Grey: Jane Levy
In a lot of ways, Jean Grey is a really hard character to get right. She started as the quintessential good girl, but her most famous story has her going full evil god. Adaptations are often too excited to jump to the end of that process, and don’t leave time for Jean to be nice. She’s compassionate and popular, cool without ever being mean. Besides having the big red hair, Jane Levy brings that effortless cool to every role she’s given. Ask her to be sweet and she’ll be believably popular without needing to be caustic or sarcastic. You can see Levy as the nerdy girl who wants to lock it down with Madden’s Cyclops, but you can also believe that she wants to embrace her wild side and do something crazy with Wolverine. Levy is fun and easy to love. When it’s time for her to embrace her dark side, it’ll be that much more heartbreaking.
Beast: Sean Maher
Hank McCoy is a nerd, but he’s not shy and sniveling. He’s loud and bombastic. He’ll recite Shakespeare while hacking a computer with his hands and punching a bad guy in the face with his foot. (What? Beast can punch with his feet). While most geeks know Sean Maher as Simon from Firefly, he has a wide ranging career of genre roles, voice acting, and he’s literally done Shakespeare. His performances are big, his vibe is nerdy. He does excitable technobabble well, and you always believe that he’s proud of his accomplishments. Give him some blue makeup and a little pair of glasses, he’d make the perfect Beast.
Iceman: Colton Haynes
Iceman was originally conceived of as a counterpart for the Human Torch. That means Bobby Drake should look like a teen heartthrob, a look that Colton Haynes can’t seem to turn off. Haynes is no stranger to playing superheroes, having been a regular cast member on Arrow for years. After coming out as gay, Haynes starting getting a lot of attention from Out Magazine for how honest he was in sharing his experiences. In a lot of ways, those experiences mirror Bobby, which gives Haynes unique insight into what makes the character tick. The coming out story would give Bobby a big part to play in the story and puts a unique spin on his relationships with characters like Kitty Pryde and Emma Frost. It’d be fun to see Haynes do charming, goofy, and just a bit hapless.Continued below
Angel: Aaron Staton
I almost didn’t include Angel. To be frank, he’s kind of lame. His wings might make for a striking visual but as powers go, they aren’t the most interesting. His transformation into Archangel has a lot of drama and pathos, but needs a lot of screentime for it to make sense. That’s screentime I’d rather give to almost any other X-Man. That said Aaron Staton would certainly work. Angel is one of the original X-Men after all, and Staton has the stature for the resident rich kid. He’s got a great WASP-y vibe, and strange birdlike proportions already. But Staton is a great actor, and I wouldn’t want to stick him in a bit part. He’d need a bad guy to contrast with, someone he could play off of. A lot of people associate Angel with Apocalypse, but actually there is an X-villain he’s got an even more personal connection to. More on that below!
The All-New All-Different X-Men
Wolverine: Daniel Radcliffe
This is an idea that’s gaining traction on the internet, and being met with an equal amount of backlash. Some people can’t see Radcliffe beyond his role in the Harry Potter movies- open your minds! Radcliffe has proven himself to be a versatile and talented actor, bringing his A-game to serious drama, campy schlock, and even some truly terrible projects. You think at 5’ 5” he’s too short? News flash hotshot! Wolverine is 5’ 3” in the comics! You think Radcliffe doesn’t have the right body type? Remember Chris Pratt on Parks and Rec? These things are changeable- mutable even!
Those are all true things but they frame the issue in the negative. What makes Radcliffe actively the right man for the job? Looking at his post-Potter career, the dude’s developed a manic edge of desperation. It’s the kind of desperation that made him take his penis out in Equus. It made him take roles in weirdo movies like Swiss Army Man and Guns Akimbo. If you can only see Radcliffe as Harry Potter, look beyond the boy wizard and look at the real man. There’s a guy with a berserker rage living inside him. I for one want to see him let it out.
Storm: Yetide Badaki
If you sit down and try to come up with one adjective to describe Ororo Munroe, it wouldn’t be a stretch to arrive at ‘regal.’ Here’s a woman who’s one of the most powerful mutants on Earth. She accepted worship as a goddess, led the X-Men, and even became the Queen of Wakanda. Halle Berry never had that key quality. Alexandra Shipp hasn’t been given much to do, but she seems more like a cool punk than an unstoppable queen. Yetide Badaki on the other hand, has experience playing a powerful goddess on American Gods. We’ve seen her in various wigs and costumes, and she transforms herself with every costume change. I’m pretty sure she could rock the white wig and contacts. She’s got the talent, the look, the voice, and she’d be the first African actress to play Storm. She’s perfect for the part on a surface level, but she brings an extra elemental ineffable quality to the role.
Nightcrawler: Robin Lord Taylor
The contrast between Nightcrawler’s faith and demonic appearance is a powerful metaphor, but it’s not the core of his personality. Kurt Wagner is a roguish, winking, Errol Flynn loving swashbuckler. He needs to be played big! Loud! Joyously. Thus I submit to you: Robin Lord Taylor, Penguin of TV’s Gotham. That show is… not good… but Taylor’s performance is beyond amazing. He does big and campy, and somehow manages to turn the nonsense script into a believable character. He also seems incredibly game to put the time into the makeup chair he’d have to in order to play the beloved mutant. His face even has a similar elfin quality to how Kurt is typically drawn. Nightcrawler has the potential to be lost under special effects, but Taylor would do the work he needed to figure out how to push the makeup into giving a brilliant exhibition.Continued below
Colossus: Florian Munteanu
This one is a bit of a risk. Florian “Big Nasty” Minteanu is a boxer and bodybuilder from Germany with one film credit to his name: playing the son of Ivan Drago in Creed II. It was not a performance that called for a lot of range from Munteanu, but he did what he needed to do very well. He seethed with anger and screamed rage in the ring- with a surprising amount of depth! Later in the film, his panicked sadness at being abandoned by his mother showed that he was capable of a bit of nuance. Piotr Rasputin would call for a LOT of nuance. Colossus has been known to rage, and he’s faced deeper sadness than almost any other X-Man, which is saying something. But he’s also deeply sensitive and sentimental. He’s gentle. He’s an artist. But I believe with a good director and good cast chemistry, Munteanu would effectively bring Colossus to life.
The Next Generation of X-Men
Kitty Pryde: Haley Lu Richardson
Casting young actors is always hard, because they tend to age faster than the roles they are playing. If you cast a real teen as Kitty Pryde, the actress is going to age up before the movie starts filming. So it’s not about finding someone who is young, it’s about finding someone with a youthful energy. With Kitty, I wanted someone with a great smile, who I could imagine calling Professor Xavier a jerk. Kitty’s a relatable everygirl, who buys computer parts at the mall in Michigan, takes ballet lessons after school, and has an inappropriate crush on Colossus. Who wouldn’t want to see Haley Lu Richardson do all those things? At 23, she’s 5 years younger than Munteanu and her performances have ranged from irrepressibly sunny (in Support the Girls) to acidic nastiness (in Split). Her character always manage to feel like full people, and she’s covered the range of teenage feelings across her roles. She’s got the range, the warmth, and the inner strength to play Shadowcat.
Psylocke: Sonoya Mizuno
The most important word I could think of to describe Psylocke is “posh.” She comes from wealth and privilege and no matter how many dubiously written body-swap traumas she goes through, she always maintains her sense of class identity. As a ninja, Psylocke also a physically demanding role. That leaves one person uniquely qualified for the job: Sonoya Mizuno. You might remember her as Araminta in Crazy Rich Asians, the fabulously wealthy woman who’s wedding was at the center of the story. From that we know she’s got the voice and the attitude down. She’s also a professional dancer, and if you saw her as the silent Kyoko in Ex Machina or as the thing from the end of Annihilation, you know she can harness those dance skills into a unique performance. I’ll admit that Psylocke in not one of my favorite X-Men, but Mizuno would bring so much to the role that I’d be disappointed if the new movies didn’t include her.
Rogue: Alexandra Daddario
In the early X-Men movies, Rogue sort of took on the role of Kitty Pryde and was Wolverine’s young sidekick. In the comics though, Rogue is true to her name- she starts as a villain. She’s a vampy southern belle, who takes out most of the Avengers in her first appearance including Iron Man… and Captain Marvel. It’s that rivalry that makes Rogue exciting in the MCU. She can be a hero in the X-Men and a villain in a Captain Marvel sequel. Alexandra Daddario is a good actress with a wide range of roles. She’s done soaps (All My Children), she’s done comedy (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, New Girl, Baywatch), she’s done horror (We Have Always Lived in the Castle, American Horror Story), she’s done… a lot of movies with The Rock (Rampage, San Andreas, Baywatch again). She has a striking, almost otherworldly look, and the fabulous campiness to play the conflicted Rogue.Continued below
Gambit: Justin Baldoni
Obviously, Remy LeBeau is handsome. But it’s not a generic square-jawed handsomeness. He’s lithe he’s sneaky. He’s a charmer, a rake, a cad. He has a tendency to get into places he shouldn’t. He’s kind of a d-bag, but you find yourself liking him despite yourself. That is an incredibly tricky needle to thread, but I think Justin Baldoni could pull it off. Most famous for playing Rafael on Jane the Virgin, Baldoni has the look and also the likability. Rafael is a flawed guy trying to do his best, and no matter how many times the telenovela demands him to act like a jerk Baldoni always comes back, vulnerable and shirtless, and you somehow forgive him. Like Gambit, Baldoni is more of a lover than a fighter, but you wouldn’t want to get clobbered by him either way. Or maybe you would, no judgement. Now we just need to see if he can do the ridiculous Cajun accent.
Forge: Jay Tavare
Not one of the better known X-Men, Forge has nonetheless been around since the early 80s. He’s a war vet, an inventor, and an on-again off-again love interest for Storm. He works well as a member of the team, and he works just as well as a supporting character back at the mansion. The guy in the chair if you will. Unlike Gambit, Forge is a big square shouldered dude who needs to be believable as a veteran as he walks around his high tech bachelor pad in a bathrobe. Jay Tavare has got the right look, and brought a big presence to movies like Bone Tomahawk and the original Street Fighter flick. He also did voice work for Metal Gear Solid V, and brought gravitas to some truly silly technobabble.
Armor: Kae Alexander
X-Men works best as a multi-generational story. It takes place at a school, and can always be setting up characters to take on a more prominent role in a later story. Armor was introduced to the comics in 2004, and has been a pretty stalwart member of the team, even if she hasn’t made it into other media yet. We’ll change that by casting Kae Alexander. She’s used to doing effects heavy work from her role as one of the Children of the Forest in Game of Thrones, but she also has a great punk attitude in the criminally underrated British comedy Fleabag. Hisako Ichiki can be quiet and long suffering, but she’s also got a bit of a sarcastic edge.
Villains Turned Heroes
Emma Frost: Vanessa Kirby
The former White Queen of the Hellfire Club is one of the most interesting characters in the whole X-Men soap opera… and the movies have managed to botch her twice. On the surface, she’s a pretty traditional ice queen, but the more time you spend with her, the more you realize she’s got going on. She’s a truly dedicated teacher, has deep (hidden) wells of compassion, and she’s head over heels in love with Cyclops. She’s also got great dynamics with Iceman, who she’s something of an evil mentor for, and Kitty, who she can never quite befriend. Vanessa Kirby has been making a strong go of being a go-to Hollywood villain (in Mission Impossible: Fallout) and she’s got the royal attitude thing down (was literally a princess in The Crown). She’d be great as a villain, a reluctant hero, or a romantic foil. Or better yet, all three!
Magneto: Christoph Waltz
Previous X-Men movies have really made me sick of Magneto, which is crazy because he’s (one of) the best villains in all of comics. Casting him is no fun, because Christoph Waltz is so obvious it’s not worth discussing, but okay, since we gotta: Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz has made a career out of playing some real mustache twirling villains. But he’s brought a lot of depth to characters as well. He also relishes in doing the craziest genre flicks, having just donned a silly hat and rocket hammer in Alita: Battle Angel. Waltz is the only actor who could believably threaten an apocalypse while wearing a fuschia cape- and still get you to root for him! Whether the movies wanted to play up the Magneto vs Xavier dynamic (*snore*), use Magneto as a terrorist, have him be a charismatic cult leader, or skip to the part where he is headmaster of the school, Waltz is utterly perfect for the job.Continued below
Juggernaut: Shea Whigham
When people think Juggernaut, they think about his hulking physique. That is the wrong approach. Juggernaut is so comically big, he’s going to be mostly a special effect (Deadpool 2 had the right idea). Often overlooked is the rest of the character: Juggernaut is Professor Xavier’s half-brother, a bad dude who’s literally named Cain. While he starts out petty and jealous, he eventually turns into more of a blue-collar working villain for hire. Later still, he reforms and works alongside the X-Men, but never quite gets past his tensions with his brother. Shea Whigham is a tremendous actor who would sell each of those phases believably. Instead of being another musclebound goon, Whigham would make Juggernaut into a complex foil for Professor X.
The Full-On Villains
Bolivar Trask: Ben Daniels
In the MCU, the X-Men are going to need an army of CGI robots to slaughter, and that means the Sentinels. And where you have the oversized purple death bots, you have their inventor Bolivar Trask. There’s not much to Trask. He’s a slimy mad scientist. He’s got a government contract. He’s got a great mustache. Let’s start with that last one. You know who’s a good actor with a great mustache? Ben Daniels! He rocked that ‘stache in the excellent and underrated Exorcist TV show, and in Star Wars: Rogue One. Put Daniels in a control room, give him some orders to bark, and he could do this role in his sleep.
Cameron Hodge: Vincent Kartheiser
The X-Men defends a world that hates and fears them. A lot of their enemies are simply bigots. Though Stryker is a famous human supremacist villain thanks to his part in previous movies, Cameron Hodge is a lot more interesting. Hodge was a childhood friend of Angel’s, similarly rich and entitled. Then things take a turn. He founds an anti-mutant hate group. He tries to kill his former best friend. After dying the first time, Hodge became a cyborg. A terrifying cyborg. Eventually he sold his soul to a demon and become a hell-powered Cyborg. Hodge is way scary, and much more complex than your average anti-mutant bigot. That’s just one reason why Vincent Kartheiser would be good for the role: he’s played a complicated rich jerk (on Mad Men) and a demon powered psycho (when he was a kid on Angel). But most importantly: Kartheiser as Hodge would be forced to have a showdown with Aaron Staton’s Angel. The two of them played frenemies beautifully on Mad Men, and X-Men could allow them to have a final epic confrontation. X-Men is at its core, a soap opera, and this is one soapy rivalry I’d love to watch play out with death rays and hellfire.
Omega Red: Kristofer Hivju
Most people who like Omega Red became fans outside of the comics. There’s just not a lot to him. He’s a psychotic ex-soviet experiment gone wrong, who’s got unbreakable tentacles and also is an energy vampire. What he’s got going for him is an amazing look. That makes him uniquely suited for a movie. It’s what made him so memorable in all the video games and cartoons he’s appeared in. Omega Red doesn’t talk, he shouts. He doesn’t have conversations, he has shrieking villainous monologues. Similarly, Kristofer Hivju is a man with a striking look who’s known for being loud. He played the shouty scarlet-bearded Tormund Giantsbane on Game of Thrones. I’m not saying his movie costume needs to be entirely comics accurate, but I wanna watch this guy in some sort of Soviet Dracula getup swinging around his vampire tentacles. Who wouldn’t want to watch that movie?
Mister Sinister: Glenn Howerton
Wait, wait, wait, hear me out. Mister Sinister is one of the most bonkers villains in comics. He’s an evil mastermind with a juggalo geisha face, who sits a throne that looks like it was designed by a particularly sexually frustrated H.R. Geiger. His cape is also a set of tentacles, which he regularly uses to choke out other villains. He’s been known to clone himself, blast himself to bits, and dissolve into writhing slug slime. Any movie that tries to make Mister Sinister a guy in a suit has failed on the most fundamental of levels. Sinister doesn’t have an office, he has a lair. He’s not trying to convince people to follow him, he’s teaming up with demons, assassins, and extra-dimensional beings to complete some sort of incomprehensible experiment. He’s a man who truly and utterly believes he is a golden god.
He needs to be played by someone who is glam and fabulous, someone who can go from a whisper to a scream mid-sentence. He needs to combine David Bowie’s performance in Labyrinth with Eddie Redmayne’s performance in Jupiter Ascending. And who can do all those things better than It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Glenn Howerton. Dennis is something of a supervillain already. Sure it’s played for laughs, but picture Dennis drinking blood at the top of a twisted phallic spire, slurping it between his jagged needle-like teeth. Are you laughing now? You are? That’s fine, it was all part of his evil plan. Your whole life, all part of his plan! Mwahahahaha! Howerton has got the crazy bombast to pull off one of the most singular villains in all of comics. And you know you’d buy a ticket just to see him.