1. Let’s pretend that we live in a better world where Fox is able to put aside its ego and work with Marvel on an X-Men movie franchise that is more faithful to the comics and fits into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
John Cassaday / Marvel Comics
For the X-Men to make sense in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, let’s say the X-movies take place a few years ahead of the timeline of the rest of the Marvel films. This way the movies can subtly lay clues for what’s to come in other MCU movies while existing off to the side, and in a future where normal humans are horrified by the idea of mutants. We meet the X-Men at the Xavier School, and they’ve existed for at least a few years, and mostly operate in secret.
2. The movie should hinge on the love triangle of Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Wolverine.
Frank Quitely / Marvel Comics
This drawing by Frank Quitely captures the ideal dynamic of these three characters — “good girl” Jean is drawn to the sexy, badass Wolverine, but is still involved with her long-term boyfriend Cyclops. Cyclops should be uptight and angsty, but also be a believable romantic rival of Wolverine — commanding, intense, sexy in a nerdy way.
3. Gael Garcia Bernal as Wolverine
Olivier Coipel / Marvel Comics, Sam Santos / Getty
Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal is our Wolverine — cool, rugged, mysterious, intense. It would be difficult to step into a role made iconic by Hugh Jackman, but he could do it, especially if he brought his own energy to it. Also, as a bonus, Bernal is 5’6”, so he’s about the height of the comics version of the character more than the tall, strapping Jackman. Also, since Marvel would obviously want to use Wolverine in Avengers movies, let’s imply that he already has a history with Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.
4. Anna Kendrick as Jean Grey
Frank Quitely / Marvel Comics, Ian Gavan / Getty
Famke Janssen’s version of Jean Grey in the original franchise was like a supermodel goddess, but Kendrick could play the character closer to her roots as a “girl next door” type who is gradually overwhelmed by her incredible psychic powers. Kendrick fits perfectly into the love triangle we’re setting up too — she seems demure in contrast to Bernal, but almost too perfectly matched with our Cyclops…
5. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cyclops
Daniel Acuna / Marvel Comics, Michael Buckner / Getty
Cyclops is a tough role to cast, since you need a guy the audience sees as attractive and interesting, but he has to seem like a total nerd in contrast with Wolverine. Gordon-Levitt is our man — he and Kendrick would come off like a “perfect” couple, but one that’s just a little too boring to be at the center of a story. This version of Cyclops should be doing his best not to crack under the pressure of trying to hold the X-Men together while his relationship with his long-term girlfriend Jean Grey dissolves. You should get the sense that he’s a guy who has been so focused on being Charles Xavier’s star student and heir apparent that he’s lost touch with his desires, much less Jean’s. That brings us to…
6. Rosamund Pike as Emma Frost
Mahmud Asrar / Marvel Comics, Charley Gallay / Getty
Emma Frost starts off as a villain in this story, as a member of the Hellfire Club secret society and the headmistress of the Massachusetts Academy, the rival school of the Xavier Institute. She’s cold, calculating, and snarky, but totally committed to educating and protecting mutants. It should be established early on that there’s some kind of spark between Emma and Cyclops, which should come to a head in the third act when Emma is forced to defect to the X-Men’s side. By the end of the film, they should begin a psychic affair — she’s drawn to his complex, repressed mind, and she’s everything Jean is not. Pike is just a bit older than Gordon-Levitt, which is just as it should be in this complicated but sexy dynamic.
7. Kiernan Shipka as Kitty Pryde
Mahmud Asrar / Marvel Comics, Jason Kempin / Getty
Our Kitty Pryde is a young teen played by an actual young teen, Kiernan Shipka. (You might know her as Sally Draper on Mad Men.) Kitty is our point of view character — she should join the Xavier Institute in the first act, after the Massachusetts Academy tries to forcibly recruit her. She and Emma Frost should totally hate each other, and she should immediately bond with Wolverine, who teaches her how to defend herself.
8. Lupita Nyong’o as Storm
Mahmud Asrar / Marvel Comics, FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP
This is no-brainer casting, right? Storm is a central member of the X-Men in this movie, and quickly develops a maternal relationship with Kitty.
9. Antonia Thomas as Rogue
Mahmud Asrar / Marvel Comics, Larry Busacca / Getty
Rogue should start out in this story as a student of Emma Frost at the Massachusetts Academy. This should set up an awkward dynamic with the X-Men when she defects along with Frost in the third act — no one should trust her at first, but she quickly proves herself just by being the sassy, heroic Rogue we all know and love.
10. Christoph Waltz as the voice of Nightcrawler
Mahmud Asrar / Marvel Comics, Dave J Hogan / Getty
The version of Nightcrawler in this film series ought to be entirely CGI, much like the sort of performances Andy Serkis has done in the Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes series. His voice should be provided by Christoph Waltz, because can you name another actor in Hollywood with a German accent who could seem so jolly? Nightcrawler should be a swashbuckling comic relief character who steals every scene he’s in.
11. ??????? as Colossus
Adi Granov / Marvel Comics
This one is really difficult! Our Colossus should a bit older than Kitty Pryde, but still age appropriate, since they should immediately have a crush on one another. So if you know any super ripped guys who are, say, 18 to 20 years old…
12. Michael Cera as the voice of Beast
John Cassaday / Marvel Comics, Cindy Ord / Getty
Beast is another all-CGI character, like Nightcrawler. Michael Cera may seem like a weird choice, but his voice would perfectly convey the irony of a sweet, awkward genius trapped in the body of a big blue monster. Beast should be a supporting character in this — it should be established that he was one of Xavier’s first students along with Cyclops and Jean, but these days he’s more focused on teaching and being the school’s resident scientist/doctor.
13. Colin Firth as Professor Charles Xavier
Frank Quitely / Marvel Comics, Anthony Harvey / Getty
This is not an easy role to step into, as you’d have to compete with both Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy’s widely beloved interpretations of the character. Colin Firth could handle this, though, and bring his own sort of gravitas to the role. The Xavier we meet in this movie should be very inspiring and benevolent, but there should be some implication that he’s got some dark secrets we’ll find out about in later films.
14. Vincent Cassel as Magneto
Paolo Rivera / Marvel Comics, PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP
This version of Magneto should be immediately set up as a frenemy of Xavier, and a former adversary of the X-Men. When we meet him, he’s already infiltrated the Hellfire Club at the request of Xavier, but there should be some complication that leads to him turning against both sides and going his own way. Vincent Cassel’s version of Magneto would split the difference between Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellan’s versions while bringing his own odd, sinister sexuality to the role.
15. Jessica Chastain as Mystique
Stuart Immonen / Marvel Comics, Ian Gavan / Getty
Mystique should be a mysterious character in this — she’s engineering a conflict between the X-Men and the Hellfire Club, but to what end? And what’s her connection to Charles Xavier? And…wait, is she Nightcrawler’s mom? We should leave this movie wanting to know the answers to these questions about her, and more.
16. Gerard Butler as Sebastian Shaw
John Cassaday / Marvel Comics, Stephen Lovekin / Getty
Sebastian Shaw is the big bad of this movie — he’s the Black King of the utterly corrupt Hellfire Club. He has a horribly abusive relationship with Emma Frost, and there should be some implication that he’s somehow connected to both Wolverine’s origin and Tony Stark. Gerard Butler is the right dude for this role, since he’s beefy enough to be an intimating physical presence, and could convincingly play an old money creep.