For an era synonymous with big hair, Spandex, and outsized personalities, it’s amazing in hindsight that we didn’t get more big-budget superhero movies in the 1980s.
Granted, there was nothing like the appetite for comic book blockbusters now, but just imagine what cinema culture would have been like if the superhero trend kicked off in the time of Reagan rather than the elder Bush son.
We’re looking at how we might recast the franchise that kickstarted the glut of comic book cinema, X-Men, if it had existed in the ’80s, much like we did with the Avengers and the Justice League. Granted, this all-star cast probably would have demanded salaries necessitating the budget equivalent of a mid-sized country’s gross domestic product to get any movie off the ground. But who cares about a thing as trifling as money when you’ve got an enormous fantasy sandbox to play in.
Here’s how we’d cast X-Men if the movies were around in the 1980s.
Wolverine – Kurt Russell
One viewing of Big Trouble in Little China or Escape from New York is enough evidence that Kurt Russell would have slipped seamlessly into the blue and yellow duds of Wolverine. The gruff charisma and loner psyche of Snake Plissken ties in well with Logan.
Russell has a wealth of experience in playing the notes a director might require of the actor playing Wolverine. Look at Plissken’s distrust of the government and authority. R.J. MacReady’s weary yet tough and battle-ready capability also dovetails into Logan’s psyche, a man always prepared to fight no matter how beaten down he might get, emotionally or physically. Russell also has comedy experience, something that’d come in intensely useful for Logan’s quips and interplay with the rest of the X-Men.
Cyclops – Tom Cruise
If you’re looking for a boyishly handsome lead as the face of your brand for decades, it’s been hard to look past Tom Cruise. He’s enormously popular and remarkably athletic. He’s also amiable, disciplined, and loyal. All of these are traits that pair up well with Scott Summers.
There’s an emotional complexity to Summers in that he struggles with the consequences of his actions and how he often inadvertently hurts those he cares about. That gives him the sort of depth we’d like to see Cruise explore.
And yet he and the character, despite Cyclops’ cool powers, share one intransient attribute: they’re both so clean cut it makes them somewhat boring. That, while maintaining their relatively scandal-free respective places at the heads of their fields, allows others to shine alongside them. Cruise is a great fit for the leader of the X-Men.
Storm – Grace Jones
One of the most dynamic artists we’ve seen, Grace Jones, is a complex chameleon capable of succeeding in almost anything she turns a hand to. She’d prove a compelling choice to depict the rise of Storm from a successful criminal to a teacher and warrior for peace.
Jones bringing to bear Storm’s relationship with nature should offer some engaging moments, as an actor with the intelligence of Jones has the ability to make unexpected choices to drive forward a scene or plot. The eclectic nature of Jones as a performer opens up some intriguing possibilities, such as Storm embracing her darker side or taking on more of a leadership role within the X-Men, either of which she’d handle with power and, for want of a better term, grace.
Jean Grey – Julia Roberts
In Erin Brockovich, the role that won her an Oscar, Julia Roberts exhibits extraordinary passion for an important cause. Passion is Jean Grey’s defining trait, and the main reason Roberts would prove a successful Phoenix.
Roberts seems to possess an easy empathy and interest in those around her, and, as a psychic, would naturally attune herself to the emotions and thought processes of others. Focus, ambition, and force of will live strongly in both Jean and Roberts and, as Hollywood depended on Roberts as the cornerstone of many movies, so too do the X-Men on Grey as their rock.
Gambit – Raúl Juliá
Remy Lebeau is the most charming rogue this side of Han Solo. His affable presence and crystal-clear sense of morality offers a meaty role for an actor to sink his teeth into.
Though Raúl Juliá’s elegance contrasts with Gambit’s own demeanor, his brand of explosive charisma would find a perfect match in a man who can literally control energy. Gambit has an intense sense of self-belief in his own capability to succeed, as well as a monumental ego that others need to temper to stop him from going out of control. While it’s difficult for an outside observer to state whether or not an actor has an overinflated ego, especially one who has passed away, Juliá would certainly have had little trouble in exploring that side of the character. The future patriarch of the Addams Family would have been made for an excellent inclusion in the mutant world.
Rogue – Molly Ringwald
Who better to play a young rebel than an actor who, in perhaps her most famous movie, spent a day in detention? Certainly, public perception of Molly Ringwald in the 1980s was largely that she was a role model above all else, though she’s a talented thespian and would find a lot to work with in Rogue, not least because she’s a young character who’s discovering who she is.
Despite her rebellious nature, there’s a sense of vulnerability and naivete to Rogue that means her powers are fitting for her character — drawing from the power of others while remaining somewhat detached. Ringwald could draw on her experience of playing teenagers in love (or lust) to play that side of Rogue effectively.
Beast – Kiefer Sutherland
We all know by this point how tremendous Sutherland is in playing the all-American action hero after his many seasons saving the president, his family, and the Land of the Free itself on 24. The relentless physicality playing Jack Bauer demands is something Sutherland could easily port over to the hulking blue Beast, more likely through heavy makeup than motion capture, given the technological state of the era.
He’d handily pull off the more intellectual aspects of the character as well. Sutherland has a knack of spinning the most technical and incomprehensible dialogue and ideas into something more relatable and easy to understand. It doesn’t hurt that he has plenty of genre experience either.
Iceman – Eddie Murphy
As much a sucker for typecasting as Hollywood is, sometimes studios go against the grain and cast against type, finding some unexpected gems. Eddie Murphy, of course, was a megastar in the ’80s. His high-octane comedy brought him great success and he injected a great deal of energy into everything he did. Slowing down that tempo to play Iceman, rather than to do so for a part in a serious drama, is on the surface a mismatch, but there’s an aspect of Murphy that would make him a fitting choice here.
Professor X – David Bowie
Who better to lead a ragtag group of outsiders than the Pied Piper of Weird?
David Bowie is a name that’s commanded respect for decades and while Charles Xavier is a man more known for his subtleties than Bowie showed in his bold creative and fashion statements, he’d have no trouble in dialing back his impulses to play the humble psychic. The late icon was, lest it be forgotten, a good-to-great actor on his day, with Labyrinth perhaps his most famed role.
Perhaps most importantly, Bowie, like Roberts, seems to have a deep, ingrained sense of what it takes to be a good person and to have a strong sense of empathy for others. That’s a strong asset to have for someone playing a psychic.
Magneto – Sean Connery
Ian McKellen would have still been a fitting choice for Magneto in the ’80s, but in the interest of shaking things up, let’s go with one of the more charismatic yet somehow simultaneously understated performers of his era, Sean Connery.
The Scot could have played a few more bad guys in his storied career, and Magneto would have suited him well. Erik Lensherr is a highly intelligent, strong-willed mutant, and it’d be interesting to see Connery play this quasi-cult leader hellbent on eliminating all humans. Taking an actor so widely liked and admired and turning him into an evil warmonger with a God complex is something we’ve seen before (i.e. with McKellen, and later Michael Fassbender), but for the suave Connery, it’d be an intriguing departure for the former James Bond.
Mystique – Sigourney Weaver
Sigourney Weaver is an actress who tackles genre roles with relish, and she’d have the opportunity to chew up the scenery in an X-Men movie as Mystique. Weaver’s highly skilled and can slip in and out of varied characters with ease, so Mystique would hold a different challenge for her — an angry shapeshifter without her own true identity. That’s a canvas for any actor to paint on.
The only downside is that she would not play the character when she is in the guise of someone else, lessening the screen time of a tremendous talent. To lend further credence to what Weaver brings to the table, she even has a track record of playing characters with blue skin (Avatar), even if that happened far later than our ’80s timeframe.
Sabretooth – Mickey Rourke
When it comes to rough-and-tumble Hollywood stars, there were none more prominent than Mickey Rourke in his heyday. The star of films such as 9 1/2 Weeks and Barfly was a noted boxer, and in the ’90s, left acting for a time to become a professional pugilist. He’s another gruff, no-nonsense type, which makes him the ideal man to step into the boots of superhuman brawler Sabretooth in our ’80s X-Men flick.
As the shadow version of Wolverine, Victor Creed is a nigh-unstoppable force of nature, with comparable powers to Logan. He’s most at home amid violence and hunting his victims, and Rourke has always had the air of someone with a hint of bloodlust. The only snag here is that Rourke actually played a supervillain in Whiplash in Iron Man 2, but in our timeline, Sabretooth came first. Sorry, Tyler Mane and Liev Schreiber.
Colossus – Mr. T
Few stars of the ’80s were as big as Mr. T, in prominence, popularity, and stature. With Rocky III and The A-Team propelling him to enormous heights, there was no getting away from the man who played B.A. Baracus almost the entire decade. Imagine if he’d had a plum role in a superhero franchise as well.
Mr. T and Colossus are approximately the same size. The only real difference is that one is from Siberia. Well, that and his skin is made from metal, of course. They do share a sense that while they’re physical behemoths, they’re gentle souls — T seems full of bravado, but he’s displayed a compassionate soul underneath. What’s more, Colossus is stoic enough that T needn’t have a wealth of acting skill to play him.
Cable – Clint Eastwood
It’s almost too good a match. The telekinetic marksman and Dirty Harry. Men of action rather than words, with the ability to evoke a great sense of power to all those witnessing them in the flesh.
Vastly cooler than his old man, Cyclops, Cable is a badass and was at one point even said to be capable of time travel — he’d have to be in order to appear in our movie, as his first appearance was in 1990. Eastwood can do a lot with a little, and Cable, a broken-down old warrior, would slot perfectly into his wheelhouse.
We’ll get to see a big-screen version of Cable in the Deadpool sequel, but even now, there are few people we’d like to see take on the role more than Eastwood.
So what did you think of our casting decisions? Would you be first in line at the theater, or would you have hated it worse than X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Let us know in the comments.