X-Men could star in a superpowered TV show, if Fox can convince Marvel

Fox will have to negotiate with Marvel if it wants to repeat the success of the smash hit '90s cartoon about the superpowered mutants.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Storm, Jubilee, Cyclops, Professor X, Wolverine and Beast from the classic "X-Men" cartoon. Admit it: you're singing the theme tune right now. Marvel/Fox

The X-Men could be swooping back onto your TV screen. As well as considering a return for beloved TV hits of yesteryear "24" and "The X-Files", Fox wants to bring the X-Men from the big screen to your living room in a possible new live-action show.

Marvel comics-based mutant superhero team the X-Men previously rampaged across the small screen in a Saturday morning cartoon back in the 1990s. The smash hit show was first aired on Fox and lasted 76 episodes across five seasons from 1992 to 1997. All together now:

The animated show was then followed by a series of live-action movies mostly led by director Bryan Singer, from 2000 onwards. The series split in two with "X-Men: First Class" featuring younger versions of the characters from the earlier movies; the two generations were united in the most recent movie "Days of Future Past", but the next film "Apocalypse" will continue the story of the younger characters. The older generation, including Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen, are not set to appear in "Apocalypse", but who knows? They could pop up again in the TV show if it ever happened.

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There's no news about which direction the proposed TV show would go story-wise, as Fox is still in negotiation with Marvel, according to TV Insider. Just because Fox owns the movie rights to the X-Men it doesn't mean that the studio can simply greenlight its television network to produce a small-screen version.

The film rights for characters from Marvel comics are complicated. Marvel has latterly built its own empire of live action spin-offs -- including the "Iron Man" and "Avengers" movies, and "Agents of SHIELD" and "Agent Carter" TV shows -- which are all based in a shared universe. But they don't include Marvel comics characters Spider-Man (owned by Sony), or the Fantastic Four, or any X-Men characters, which are owned by Fox. In fact, Marvel can't even use the word "mutant".

This creates the weird situation where there are different versions of the characters Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in the rival Fox and Marvel movies. Played by different actors, they have different backstories: they're mutants in the Fox X-Men movies, but they aren't in Marvel's forthcoming "Avengers: Age of Ultron".

As if that wasn't confusing enough, the rights kerfuffle seems to be prompting Marvel to subtly revamp the mythology at the source of the two competing movies series', apparently to lean away from the whole mutant thing. The comics recently changed the long-standing origin of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as children of mutant villain Magneto, and the Marvel TV show "Agents of SHIELD" introduced elements from the Inhumans comics that provide an alternative to mutation as a source of superpowers.

If the rights can be sorted out, an X-Men TV show is unlikely to appear until late 2016. In the meantime, "X-Men: Apocalypse" and a film starring Channing Tatum as mutant Gambit are both set to hit theatres next year.

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