The X-Men franchise began the boom of expanded worlds and comic book characters. But its director may have been the real villain all along.
We take a look at Tatiana Segal's in-depth piece for The Hollywood Reporter.
Bryan Singer's X-Men changed the way studios view comic book movies. It took the characters, stakes, and the story very seriously. It was an allegory for acceptance and homosexuality at a time when those things were even more controversial than today.
The movie was a resounding success, and we're still seeing sequels because of it.
But not everything was well behind the scenes. It's been twenty years since the film's release, and The Hollywood Reporter just released a huge piece on how a monster was created in the process.
Let's take a look at how the movie became a breakout hit while behind the scenes, one of the town's worst abusers gained more and more power.
How Bryan Singer Tarnished X-Men's Legacy
Singer's erratic and abusive behavior created anarchy and repercussions we're just now beginning to understand.
Things started innocently enough. It was about casting stars, so when people like Michael Jackson showed up to try out for Professor X, the studio never really considered it and assumed it was just a director flexing star muscles.
The same for when Shaquille O'Neal stopped by.
Singer was 34 when X-Men came out, and it rocketed him to stardom. The film's budget was 75 million dollars and went on to make $296,339,528 worldwide. The movie was widely respected.
"X-Men was a truly pioneering film. You have to remember; this was before Spider-Man. It was the first major Marvel adaptation to reach mainstream audiences," says Sony film chairman Tom Rothman, who was then Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman. "The seriousness with which it treated its themes of otherness, discrimination, and alienation gave commercial action filmmaking a jolt of emotion and purpose."
"It's critical when analyzing Bryan Singer's body of work that we center the experiences and trauma faced by his victims and put their continued well-being first," says GLAAD's Mathew Lasky. "GLAAD stands for the protection of LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ youth, and those who would wish to do them harm are no friend of the LGBTQ community."
Not everything was what it seems.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, "Behind the scenes, crises raged, including drug use, tantrums, and a writers' feud. Adding to the drama, one of the film's actors filed a civil suit four months after production wrapped, claiming that he was raped by three of Singer's friends and business associates — although none of them were involved with X-Men."
Lauren Shuler Donner, one of the film's producers, says, "It's a weird business, the film business," says Shuler Donner. "We honor creativity and talent, and we forgive the brilliant ones. Unconsciously, we probably do enable them by turning a blind eye to whatever they're doing and taking their product and putting it out to the world."
Singer's career was red hot after The Usual Suspects. Everyone wanted him, and Fox had put so much money into X-Men they were hoping they could get a colossal director to sign on and make this an event film.
Top of the line writers had worked on many drafts of the script, and they hoped this could be a big hit.
Before X-Men, Singer worked on Apt Pupil; it was a humble movie that received favorable reviews. The real story was the behind the scene, two young boys who accused the director of asking them to strip naked for a scene. They were 14 and 17 at the time.
These suits settled for an undisclosed amount, and Singer's career moved on.
Singer was given seemingly unlimited chances.
Singer was focused on X-Men, which was undergoing rewrites from Christopher McQuarrie and Joss Whedon. But people behind the scenes were unhappy with the process. "Bryan would bring people to story meetings who weren't involved in the movies. Young guys. A different person every time," says one source who was present.
Despite these famous names, sole credit for the film went to Singer's assistant, David Hayter, who was very into comics and asked to write new scenes all the time.
"[Singer] started taking me to script meetings with Peter Rice and Tom Rothman, and he would say, 'Just sit there, take notes, don't say anything and don't tell anyone you are writing the script,'" says Hayter. "Ralph Winter knew, and he asked me to highlight everything I'd done in the script at that point, and it was about 55 percent of the script. Ralph went to Peter Rice and said, 'Look, here's the deal. David, the phone guy, has been writing the script. You have to make a deal with him, or we are in serious legal jeopardy. Peter called me into his office and offered me $35,000 and said, 'That's all you'll ever get. Be happy with that.'"
Writers who were not credited revolted, an arbitration ensured.
McQuarrie and Ed Solomon, who also wrote a draft, asked for their names to be removed from the movie. It cost them millions in residuals.
When it came to casting, Fox got its stars...but Singer was allowed to give his boyfriend a role, and many young men claim he offered spots to extras who would have sex with him in return. Some of these men were underage at the time.
Alex Burton, an 18-year-old who played the bit part of Pyro, filed a civil suit against three of Singer's friends and associates claiming that he had been plied with drugs, sexually assaulted by the trio at the DEN outpost in Encino, held against his will and threatened with physical harm between July 1999 and May 2000. That period that encompasses most of X-Men's six-month production. The suit did not name Singer, but does declare that one of the associates "threatened to use his power and influence in the entertainment industry to prevent Burton from gaining employment in the field of entertainment."
Burton was not brought back as Pyro for the sequel. Singer's reps claim it was because he was not a good enough actor.
The judge in the lawsuit awarded Burton $6 million, but the amount was never paid. In November 2019, Burton's lawyer filed a renewal of judgment, citing an additional $4.8 million in accrued interest.
"Why have we accepted that the exploitation of women is outrageous and fair game to confront but are not willing to when it's gay men exploiting young men or boys?" says attorney Daniel Cheren, who has represented Burton since the suit was first filed in 2000. "The ability to exploit is exactly the same. Who is more manipulatable than a teenager?"
At the same time, X-Men was blowing the world away. And people were not paying attention to the very serious allegations behind the scene.
X2 was happening right away. And despite the issues behind this scenes, Singer was brought back.
Singer came to set high, and production had to be halted. He gave drugs to crew members, and people worried that the set was a dangerous place. While high, he got the actors to perform a stunt that injured Hugh Jackman enough to cause him to bleed.
When producer Tom DeSanto argued with the studio, they sided with Singer and sent DeSanto back to Los Angeles.
That caused almost all the cast members to confront Singer and promise they would quit if DeSanto left. Supposedly, that's when Halle Berry famously said to Singer, "You can kiss my Black ass."
What a real-life hero!
A negotiation was reached, DeSanto stayed, and filming was finished. The movie was put together in the edit and still turned out great. It earned $408 million worldwide, and there was no sign anyone wanted Singer to stop making these huge movies for Fox.
While Singer stepped away for the third movie, Fox brought him back for 2014's Days of Future Past and 2016's Apocalypse.
This is all while more allegations were levied at the director - again around the sexual assault of another minor.
In fact, Singer didn't have any consequences to his actions until Bohemian Rhapsody, when he disappeared from the set for still undisclosed reasons, and the movie had to be finished without him.
When that movie hit Fox in the pocket, they finally cared enough to fire the guy. The golden goose stopped producing...
But the damage had been done. Decades of allegations had come out, and it's hard to know what kind of effect his actions had on the people involved.
How did this all happen?
It's hard to write these words and know that the answer is "money." Despite all the terrible things Singer did, he was allowed to stay on because he always made the studio money. While some of his defenders say the media's fixation on him stems from homophobia, another Fox executive says Singer was able to benefit from a horrific Hollywood double standard "Everyone was afraid to say anything because the feeling was, 'Would we say this to a straight director who was a womanizer?' "
I get that argument, but it's a basic strawman.
What's wrong is wrong, we should be stopping it no matter who is doing it.
It's a moral imperative!
Not to insert me into this news item, but I moved to Hollywood in 2012, and my first job ever, the older assistant pulled me aside and told me the only thing I needed to know while working on the Fox lot was to avoid Bryan Singer at all costs.
His actions, parties, lawsuits, and abuse was as much as an open secret as Harvey Weinstein's horrific actions as well.
Until recently, people have not felt the power to take these kinds of personalities down mostly because we've rewarded the abusers who continually make studios money over and over.
It really was not until #MeToo where the world saw this kind of reckoning from inside Hollywood.
And when you look at the news and see people like Jeffery Epstein and the power and influence he held, it's not hard to see how Hollywood could have been dealing with the same thing.
These kinds of articles are crushing to write because the only thing we can do to make it better is just to change everything at the top. To listen to people when they have allegations and to promise that if we ever have any power, we will create a safe environment for the people around us.
Oh, and we can pressure studios not to hire people like Bryan Singer ever again.
What about X-Men's Legacy?
GLAAD, for one, now looks at X-Men and Singer's films through a different prism. The organization removed Bohemian Rhapsody as an outstanding film, wide release, nominee at its 2019 Media Awards in the wake of the Atlantic allegations.
"It's worth noting," says GLAAD's Lasky, "that there have been many other cast and crewmembers on Singer's productions whose talents were essential in creating positive LGBTQ representation on films that he directed. We hope that those cast and crew members will continue to fight to tell LGBTQ stories in Hollywood on projects with other directors."
If you enjoy today's comic book films, you have X-Men to thank. It helped prove that well-made, written, and intelligent films could rise above expectations and connect with a mass audience.
But the way these films were manufactured allowed a pedophile to harass and torment people for decades.
There's a lot to deal with when it comes to watching these movies now. What should be a great legacy with social and economic repercussions also has drastic moral repercussions as well.
I want to believe Hollywood learned its harsh lessons, but that remains to be seen.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.