Fox’s X-Men universe is on an upward turn, with Logan and Deadpool raising the bar for R-rated comic book movies, and X-Men: Apocalypse representing the only misfire in an excellent return trilogy for the saga. New Mutants, Deadpool 2, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix are all set to release within the next year, and as the rights move further from Marvel Studios’ grasp, all that’s left is to wonder what a Marvel Cinematic Universe X-Men team might look like.
We’re talking a scenario (think Spider-Man, if you will) in which an X-Men movie or franchise plummets to the point of no return, and a deal is worked out with Marvel that means rebooting the saga and replacing the entire cast. But, who doesn’t want to see Wolverine standing alongside the Avengers?
This isn’t to start a debate over the future of the X-Men, or to argue for either side; this list is simply a fan casting for an entirely hypothetical situation. We’ve taken 15 X-Men and assigned them an actor based on who we feel would be at home in the MCU, taking age range, past work, and current contracts into account. Let’s go ahead and Cast the X-Men for the MCU.
15. Colossus – Kristofer Hivju
Colossus has so far appeared in four of Fox’s X-Men movies, most notably as one of the two X-Men that Ryan Reynolds claims the studio could afford for Deadpool. Traditionally a Russian mutant whose metallic form gives him a physical power at complete odds with his pacifist nature, Stefan Kapicic provides the voice for the latest incarnation of the character, who is entirely computer generated.
We’re moving away from CG Colossus and returning to the physical portrayal of the original X-Men trilogy, only we’re replacing Daniel Cudmore with Kristofer Hivju. Everyone’s favorite Game of Thrones Wildling, Hivju is not strictly Russian (the actor hails originally from Norway), nor does he have the physicality of Cudmore at just six-feet tall. But nothing is impossible in the modern age of visual effects, and there’s no telling just how imposing a 6’7” Tormund Giantsbane might look.
14. Kitty Pryde – Hayden Panettiere
Kitty Pryde has been something of an afterthought for the X-Men series, but she is a character around whom our hypothetical MCU could potentially build a franchise. Kitty continues to develop into a leading character in the world of Marvel, and has taken up various mantles over the years, including Ariel, Shadowcat, and even Star-Lord following Peter Quill’s departure from the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Hayden Panettiere is better known for her television work, but she has led a superhero show in that time, and four seasons of development on Heroes (and five on Nashville) has turned her into an awards contender. It’s only a matter of time before she makes her name on the big screen, with both the experience to hold her own against Marvel’s biggest names, and the youth to begin playing Kitty at a relatively young age and grow with the character.
Incidentally, she shouldn’t have a problem selling a romantic relationship with Colossus. She is married herself to Ukrainian boxer Wladimir Klitschko, who stands at exactly 6’7”. You couldn’t make it up.
13. Psylocke – Alicia Vikander
Olivia Munn’s version of Psylocke was featured prominently in the marketing for X-Men: Apocalypse, only for the ninja- telepath to make barely more than an overblown cameo. Many don’t even realize that the character made an appearance (as played by Meiling Melancon) in The Last Stand.
It’s become almost difficult to take Psylocke seriously as a member of the X-Men, but the MCU could make a huge statement in casting Academy Award-winner Alicia Vikander in the role. The Danish actress is committed to a Tomb Raider reboot, and so scheduling would suggest that casting her as the lead in another franchise is an unrealistic prospect.
12. Gambit – Ben Barnes
Remy LeBeau is a tough character to get right, as evidenced by the fact that Channing Tatum’s Gambit movie has been in development for well over two years, and Taylor Kitsch remains our only on-screen Gambit. The character comes with a huge weight of expectation, being one of the most popular names in the X-Men roster, and any actor will need to find the right blend of accent, charm, and sass.
Ben Barnes brings effortless charm wherever he goes, from Dorian Gray to Prince Caspian (in which he delivers a European accent for good measure). Both performances show that he has the potential to lead a movie, should Marvel follow the Fox route and give the character his own spin-off.
Barnes is an experienced actor, whose stock is only rising following a recent appearance in Westworld, but his young age and relative anonymity ensures that he doesn’t overshadow our other choices.
11. Mystique – Natalie Dormer
The most recent trilogy of X-Men films has redefined Mystique from a straight-up villain (as portrayed by Rebecca Romijn in the original films) to a complex and layered character. Replacing Jennifer Lawrence in any role is always going to be next to impossible, but now that Mystique is a familiar anti-hero to casual moviegoers, you need an actress who can convincingly reach both ends of the spectrum.
Natalie Dormer has done it all. The English actress has played a hero in The Hunger Games, a villain in Elementary, and everything in between in Game of Thrones (though, ironically, serial manipulator Margaery Tyrell is about as good as characters come on that show).
10. Beast – Michael Cera
Nicholas Hoult has done a fantastic job at playing both sides of Beast since his debut in X-Men: First Class. Hoult has become a leading figure in the revival of the X-Men by overplaying nerdy scientist Hank McCoy, which makes the impact that much bigger when he changes into Beast, but there’s always room for a little more nerdy.
Michael Cera may be the single most awkward person on the planet, and his transformation into the giant blue monster would convey the difference between Hank and his alter ego even more obviously than Hoult’s. His comedy background means that he is responsible for the comic relief in our X-Men/MCU collaboration, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is proof that he has the action chops to compete with his comedic timing, and that he can be taken seriously as a comic book character.
9. Rogue – Hailee Steinfeld
Discounting the Rogue Cut of Days of Future Past, Anna Paquin has been absent since The Last Stand, and it’s easy to forget how central she was to the plot of the early X-Men movies. Rogue was first introduced as our entry point into Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, but her underwritten and introverted portrayal was unfamiliar to comic fans, and the character took a backseat as the films progressed.
Paquin wasn’t necessarily at fault, but Hailee Steinfeld brings arguably a bigger screen presence. At just 20 years old, Steinfeld has already led her own Golden Globe-nominated coming of age movie, reinvigorated a potential franchise (Pitch Perfect), and been recognized at the Oscars. She perfectly represents the next generation of leading ladies, as we expect Rogue to play a major and recurring role in our MCU, and her experience in both comedy and drama opens the door to a bubbly but conflicted performance closer to the Rogue of the comics.
8. Iceman – Logan Lerman
As a student of Professor X and love interest to Rogue, Bobby Drake was also a recurring member of the original X-Men movie line-up. Bobby was actually a founding member of the very first X-Men team, and given the character’s young age, we can’t think of an actor better placed to convey his impact on the world of Marvel than Logan Lerman.
Lerman’s experience as the young star of Percy Jackson brings a sense of naivety of a character who regularly feels out of his depth, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower is all the proof you need that he can carry the complex coming-of-age Bobby has gone through in the comics. It would be wise of the MCU to explore Bobby’s sexuality and Lerman could carry that off perfectly.
7. Storm – Gugu Mbatha-Raw
We won’t pretend that Lupita Nyong’o (a favorite of several X-Men casting lists) wasn’t our first choice to portray Ororo Munroe; but having been cast in next year’s Black Panther, Nyong’o is already committed to the MCU.
We found the next best thing in Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Mbatha-Raw made her name on British television, scoring a recurring gig as Martha Jones’ sister Tish on Doctor Who. A brief supporting role in Larry Crowne opened the doors to movie appearances in Jupiter Ascending and Beauty and the Beast, to go alongside her leading role in a 2016 episode of Black Mirror.
6. Cyclops – Ian Harding
For the most ill-fated love triangle in comic book history, we’re looking at actors in a similar age range for our next three picks, who we feel might have an interesting chemistry as Wolverine, Jean, and Cyclops. We start with the latter, who has had a rough time of it in recent movie history. The MCU’s Cyclops should be everything James Marsden’s Cyclops failed to capture: a strong and fair leader, and often the emotional core of the team.
Ian Harding might be a surprising choice, seeing as his movie roles over the years have been reduced mostly to bit parts, but he has been the one male constant in Pretty Little Liars for seven straight seasons. Harding has genuine chemistry with just about everyone on the show, and it’s important that Cyclops have a real connection to Jean for the general tragedy of their relationship to unfold.
5. Jean Grey – Emma Stone
While Famke Janssen is hardly to blame for the mishandling of Jean Grey in The Last Stand, we’d like to see a version of the character that is introduced as shy and introverted. That way, the change of personality is more apparent as she is overwhelmed by her powers, and so our actress should be versatile enough to play almost two different characters.
It goes without saying that Emma Stone can play just about anything. From the very start of her career, with films like Superbad and Easy A, she proved that she can play the awkward girl next door type; she has kicked ass in Zombieland, won an Oscar for La La Land, and is just a year away from her first villain role in Cruella.
There’s plenty of talk among fans that she should join the DCEU as Poison Ivy, but here’s hoping that she follows The Amazing Spider-Man with another Marvel franchise and signs on as the next Jean Grey.
4. Wolverine – Shia LaBeouf
Eccentric might be an understatement when describing Shia LaBeouf’s off-screen antics over the last few years, but it’s easy to forget that Robert Downey Jr. revolutionized Tony Stark and kicked off the MCU after going through a similar “breakdown”.
What’s never changed about Shia is his commitment, and we don’t doubt for a second that he would take the role of Wolverine anything less than seriously. That includes buffing up and keeping a low profile, but he’s already back on the right track as he prepares to play John McEnroe in the upcoming Borg vs. McEnroe.
3. X-23 – Sofia Boutella
The next actress to play Laura Kinney has nothing to gain by following Dafne Keen, so we’re taking the character in a slightly different direction. We find it hard to believe that Marvel would count on a preteen actress to lead an MCU movie, and if the Shia renaissance fails, the studio would no doubt prefer an older actress to fall back on.
We might not even have to tweak the origin story, as Cable presumably exists in our MCU, and could feasibly time-travel Sofia Boutella into the present day to eventually become the new Wolverine. Boutella could pass as a relative of Shia’s Wolverine, but her physical attributes take priority over anything else. The Algerian actress made her name as a street dancer, which came in handy for Kingsman, in which she plays an assassin with blades for feet (remind you of anyone?)
She is currently leading The Mummy’s box office charge alongside Tom Cruise, which is proof if it was needed that she can hold her own against the very best in Hollywood.
2. Professor X – Mark Strong
Between them, Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy have been consistently raising the bar for the next incarnation of Charles Xavier, which leaves us and the X-Men franchise with very few choices going forward. Not many actors can pull off the bald look in the first place, and then there’s the added responsibility of watching over a relatively inexperienced cast in the same way the character watches over the X-Men.
Mark Strong just ticks all the boxes. Not only does he have experience in the comic book genre – with credits including the Kingsman series and Green Lantern – both are perfect examples of his range. In one, he plays the wise mentor figure, which in itself is more or less an interpretation of Professor X minus wheelchair. In the other, he plays a villain, which could play to the darker, more manipulative side of Professor X that the franchise has so far been reluctant to push.
1. Magneto – Ralph Fiennes
As if following Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender wasn’t hard enough, Magneto has become very much a character who bats for both teams in recent years, with both actors airing more on the side of anti-hero than outright villain. Finding an actor to portray villainy and empathy in equal measure has been our most difficult challenge yet, but at the same time, it was a no-brainer as soon as Ralph Fiennes was thrown into the mix.
An X-Men recast gives Fiennes the rare opportunity to jump from one iconic villain to another, having played Lord Voldemort over eight Harry Potter films. It’s a credit to Fiennes that while there is nothing redeeming about Voldemort, he can play the hero just as convincingly, likewise portraying mentor figures as recently as Spectre and Lego Batman.
Finally, the British actor’s sense of comedic timing has gone underappreciated over the years, with performances in The Grand Budapest Hotel and In Bruges as evidence. Though you don’t necessarily want a funny Magneto, we have seen the potential for the type of fish-out-of-water comedy that comes with Magneto working alongside the X-Men in the latest trilogy.
Who would you like to see cast in Marvel’s X-Men? Let us know in the comments!