We’ve seen Hugh Jackman play the role of Wolverine in nine feature films, six main X-Men movies (including two cameos), and three of his solo films. We decided to breakdown Wolverine’s history on the big screen starting with the failed film in the early 1990s and the first installment directed by Bryan Singer.
WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN (1991)
Carolco, the studio behind stuff like Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Total Recall, Rambo 1-3, Universal Soldier, and Basic Instinct once tried to put together a live-action feature film based on the X-Men with James Cameron producing, Kathryn Bigelow directing (Point Break, Near Dark), and Gary Goldman (Navy Seals, Big Trouble In Little China, Total Recall) writing the script.
The film was titled Wolverine & The X-Men.
X-Men writer Chris Claremont said he wanted to see Bob Hoskins (The Long Good Friday, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) as Wolverine and Angela Bassett (Boyz n The Hood, Bigelow’s Strange Days) as Storm which would make perfect sense for that era.
CLAREMONT: “At the same time, when I was looking at the pairing of Ororo [X-Men’s Storm] and Logan, to me it seemed perfectly rational to have Angela Bassett and Bob Hoskins, because the image I had of Hoskins was from the films he made in England where they emphasized, in terms of his character, the harshness, the Cockney, the brutality of him. There was a film he did called Lassiter with Tom Selleck, and if you look at the two of them together, Tom Selleck is this 6-foot-plus powerful, handsome, glorious leading man and Hoskins is this little cop.”
I’m old enough to remember when Oscar-winner Jack Nicholson had been rumored for the part of Wolverine at some point in the early 1990s. This wouldn’t be surprising given that Jack had earned a lot of praise from critics/audiences for his role as The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989 and likely due to that positive experience was open to the idea of another comic book role.
He also ended up playing a feral character in the film Wolf in 1994 co-starring with Michelle Pfiecher and James Spader, both would eventually land their own Marvel Comics roles with Janet van Dyne/Wasp and Ultron. His character in Wolf when transformed happened to use Wolverine’s signature facial hair.
This potential X-Men role was seemingly given a nod in the opening scene of Martin Scorsese’s The Departed when Frank Costello (Nicholson) gives the young version of Matt Damon’s character Colin Sullivan some comics that included a solo Wolverine comic.
James Cameron’s participation is interesting given that his 1984 film The Terminator, directly lifted themes and visuals (Wolverine’s metal skeleton used for T-800) from the X-Men comic run Days of Future Past which had been published in 1981.
In 1993, Gary Goldman moved on to developing a sequel to Total Recall adapting Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report with the intention that Arnold Schwarzenegger would return along with director Paul Verhoeven as the Precogs would be mutants in this version (mutants in Total Recall being a contribution of former director David Cronenberg). It eventually was reworked as an original property for Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise as the Total Recall elements were stripped away.
The project ultimately didn’t come together with James Cameron pivoting his attention to a Spider-Man film for Carolco Pictures instead that Jim would write and direct after completing his 1994 spy flick True Lies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Moving on to the Lauren Shuler Donner and Bryan Singer era of the franchise starting with the first installment that debuted in theaters on July 12th, 2000.
Andrew Kevin Walker (8mm, Event Horizon) was one of the first screenwriters to take a crack at the 20th Century Fox incarnation, a consistent collaborator of director David Fincher the pair worked together on Seven, The Game, Fight Club, and Panic Room. Andrew’s version included the Sentinels something that we wouldn’t get on the big screen until X-Men: Days of Future Past despite intentions to include them in original versions of X-Men: The Last Stand. The versions Bryan Singer in Days of Future past ultimately used looked nothing like their comic book counterparts.
There were rewrites from Laeta (Avatar, Ghost In The Shell, Shutter Island, ), John Logan (Gladiator, Skyfall, The Last Samurai, Spectre, Alien: Covenant), Josh Whedon (Toy Story, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Alien: Resurrection, The Avengers), and James Schamus (The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hulk).
Christopher McQuarrie also did some uncredited work on the script, who had previously worked with Bryan Singer on The Usual Suspects. David Hayter ultimately got the screenwriting credit on the film. Hayter would also work on the sequel X-2: X-Men United.
Some of the early directors offered the film included Rush Hour’s Brett Ratner (directed X-Men: The Last Stand), Desperado’s Robert Rodriguez (also offered Deadpool). Bryan Singer coming off the success of Oscar-winner The Usual Suspects was given the job.
While I don’t think most people can picture anyone else in the Wolverine role besides Hugh Jackman there was a point in the casting phase that Scottish actor Dougray Scott was originally cast in the role but due scheduling conflicts with John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II he eventually had to turn down the project and the studio had to quickly find a replacement.
Hugh Jackman recalls that Russell Crowe turned it down as well allowing him a shot at the role. The pair would eventually work together on Tom Hooper’s version of Les Miserables.
Crowe telling Howard Stern that Hugh was perfect for the role and really didn’t think he would have done as good as Jackman did.
CROWE: “There’s no way I would have ever done that. Even if I’d done the film, I wouldn’t have carried it through with the grace and the direction that Hugh gave it.”
Ridley Scott’s Gladiator released the same year as X-Men and earned Russell an Oscar for Best Actor. I think he managed to get over it.
The film would go on to earn $296.3 million on a budget of $75 million and helped launch Hugh’s Hollywood career. Not to mention being one of the key factors as to why superhero films have become such a dominant force at the box office.
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man would help push the genre even further.