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How X-Men: The Animated Series Paved The Way For The MCU

Created by Marvel legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men are arguably one of the most popular groups of heroes in comic book history, and there is no denying that the yellow spandex-wearing superheroes from Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters have had a fascinating run since their debut in "X-Men" #1 in 1963, including an animated series that debuted on October 31, 1992: "X-Men: The Animated Series."

There are those out there who would argue that "X-Men: The Animated Series" is one of the best animated superhero shows out there, and a lot of that high praise probably has to do with how the critically acclaimed cartoon (via Rotten Tomatoes) was mainly aimed at a younger demographic but still managed to captivate older audiences by telling emotional stories that touch upon real-world issues within its fictional narrative.

For some, the well-crafted and engaging "X-Men: The Animated Series" is nothing more than a fun blast from the past, but the well-renowned show set the stage for the next level of superhero cinema evolution, leading to its own live-action franchise and eventually the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

X-Men: The Animated Series showcased how successful a shared Marvel universe could be

The MCU has used several big-name superheroes from the comics and some lesser-known entities, with many of them making their debut in supporting roles or cameos. Some would eventually go on to star in their own solo movies or TV series. Even the continuity-free "X-Men" movies brought in some exciting characters from the pages of Marvel's most popular titles that most people probably wouldn't have expected.

Way before these franchises were experimenting with a vast array of roster choices, "X-Men: The Animated Series" arguably helped kick-start several Marvel characters' career transition from page to screen, with artist Larry Houston having added Easter eggs in the series related to such MCU stars as Black Panther, Deadpool, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man (via The Hollywood Reporter). Many fans would probably agree that seeing so many familiar faces from the comic books make cameos was one of the reasons the show was so entertaining.

The gripping storylines, catchy theme song, well-renowned main lineup of heroes, and slew of superb guest stars all contributed to "X-Men: The Animated Series" being an unexpected success story that showcased how much potential a shared Marvel universe really has outside of the comic book realm. As artist and producer Will Meugniot told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017, "Our show demonstrated that the Marvel universe, as a whole, had commercial value far beyond what anybody estimated." Other individuals involved with the series saw what the mutants could accomplish and wanted to take things to the next level.

A Fox Kids executive pushed the feature film division to adapt the X-Men

Out of all the characters at Fox Kids CEO Margaret Loesch's disposal, the X-Men were among those that stood out to her the most. She bet big on the group of mutant heroes, and it could have cost her her career. "I identified with the X-Men. I believed in the show, even when Fox was telling me I was risking my job over it," she told Inverse. But despite any doubt, Loesch persisted in bringing "X-Men: The Animated Series" to life, and for five seasons, the show resonated very well with home audiences.

But Loesch didn't stop there, making it known at Fox that her passion project could be much bigger. "During my time there, I began to have regular meetings with Fox's feature division," she said. "I went to them and told them, 'You need to develop X-Men into a feature because it's going to be a big hit and it could usher in a new age for Marvel.' Once the cartoon was a success, they listened to me and that's what led to them making X-Men into a film."

And she was right. The mutants' move into live-action cinema became a multibillion-dollar franchise at the box office (via Box Office Mojo), and Rotten Tomatoes has designated half of the films Certifed Fresh. But the colossal achievement was merely a stepping stone on the path to the MCU.

The cartoon heavily influenced the X-Men movies and the MCU at the same time

As executive story editor Eric Lewald told Inverse in 2022, "This show helped to inform the first X-Men movies, which, of course, set the stage for the MCU and all the incredible movies they're making with Marvel characters now." He was right in more ways than one.

Bryan Singer revealed on the talk show "Charlie Rose" in 2000 that he didn't know anything about the X-Men when he signed on to direct the first movie. But then he watched every episode of the animated series, which must have influenced his work on "X-Men" and "X2." There's no denying that "X-Men: The Animated Series" had a substantial impact on "X-Men," but the Saturday Morning cartoon also had an effect on the MCU.

Another person who worked on "X-Men" was Kevin Feige, now the head honcho of the MCU, in his first Marvel job, which helped him learn about what to do and what to avoid when bringing Marvel comics characters to the big screen (via Vanity Fair). "Watching that process on X-Men and X2, in particular, where the budgets were relatively limited and therefore you couldn't do everything we do nowadays in the films—you had to drill down on the characters," Feige said in 2017. "We keep that lesson nowadays, even when we do have resources to do whatever [we] want. It doesn't have to be big. Do it from the character's point of view instead of as a removed way."

The cartoon is making a comeback that may take place in the MCU

While there have been hints that mutants exist in the MCU, when it comes to when the X-Men will fully make their debut, Kevin Feige went on the record in 2019 saying, "It'll be a while. It's all just beginning and the five-year plan that we've been working on, we were working on before any of that was set. So really it's much more, for us, less about specifics of when and where [the X-Men will appear] right now and more just the comfort factor and how nice it is that they're home. That they're all back. But it will be a very long time." (via io9).

There's really no telling when they'll arrive, but it does seem like "X-Men: The Animated Series" is making a comeback with a revival titled "X-Men '97," which will pick up exactly where the '90s cartoon left off. The news has led fans to speculate about not only which stories from the comics the series could adapt and which dangling plot threads it could resolve but also whether it's set in the MCU.

When the show's head writer and executive producer, Beau DeMayo, was asked about the latter, he gave what some might consider a very thought-provoking response: "I'm gonna go with no comment here because part of the surprise will be finding that out when you experience the show" (via The Direct). While that is far from a confirmation, it certainly leaves the door open for the chance that "X-Men: The Animated Series," which paved the way for the MCU, could very well become a part of it.