This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first ‘X-Men’ movie, which kicked off a new approach to superhero films and paved the way for everything that came after including the mammoth Marvel Cinematic Universe.
As former Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman, Tom Rothman:
“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. The seriousness with which it treated its themes of otherness, discrimination and alienation gave commercial action filmmaking a jolt of emotion and purpose.”
While ‘X-Men’ is not a perfect film, it is a very important entry in this genre. Unfortunately, the enjoyment of it and many of its sequels has been damaged, perhaps irreparably by accusations leveled against director Bryan Singer. Starting before ‘X-Men’ was even filmed, in 1997, two teenage male extras from his previous movie, ‘Apt Pupil’ filed a civil lawsuit after they stated that they were forced to strip naked for a group shower scene. (The case was settled out of court.)
Singer’s penchant for young boys became well-known. It also appears that his drug use caused problems on the set, which eventually led to Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) being injured and most of the rest of the cast threatening to walk out.
The Hollywood Reporter published a lengthy examination of Singer’s bad behavior on the set of ‘X-Men’, including his young visitors, erraticism, and other problems.
As part of the article, producer Lauren Schuler Donner lamented:
“It’s a weird business, the film business. 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.”
As another exec who was involved with ‘X-Men’ added:
“His behavior was poor on the movie. We accommodated him on the first movie, and therefore we can accommodate him on the second movie. And on and on. And it created a monster.”
Another person involved with ‘X-Men’ recalled:
“Bryan would bring people to story meetings who weren’t involved in the movies. Young guys. A different person every time.”
Some young actors have stated that Singer offered them auditions for ‘X-Men’ in exchange for sex, but no legal action was taken. However, there are some questions surrounding the casting of one bit character– Pyro/John Allerdyce. The character didn’t have any lines. He was basically a glorified extra, who appears in one classroom scene with Iceman (Sean Ashmore) and Rogue (Anna Paquin) as well as other extras dressed to resemble famous mutants from the comics.
Alexander Burton, who was 18 at the time, was cast with no prior acting experience. Burton lived in Los Angeles but Fox paid to fly him to ‘X-Men’s Toronto set, something that was unheard of such a minor role. (The majority of extras are cast locally, obviously to save money.)
After ‘X-Men’s release, Burton filed a lawsuit against three of Singer’s friends and business associates– Marc Collins-Rector, Chad Shackley, and Brock Pierce, claiming that they had plied him with drugs, held him prisoner, sexually assaulted him, and threatened him with physical violence and to blacklist him in the entertainment industry. Pierce was later dropped as a defendant, and Singer was not named in the suit.
Burton and two others were awarded $6 million, but the amount was never paid. A renewal was filed last year. Burton has never appeared in another production and has changed his name. The role of Pyro was expanded in ‘X2: X-Men United’ and recast with Aaron Stanford.
Collins-Rector and Shackley are known to have visited the ‘X-Men’ set during production, as was Gary Goddard, who has been accused by several men of abuse when they were boys including star Anthony Edwards (‘ER’, ‘Top Gun’).
Singer’s behavior on the ‘X-Men’ set was disruptive in other ways. While Singer admitted to using pain medicine for his back, others suspect he was abusing other drugs. Producer Tom DeSanto is said to have attempted to shut filming down after he learned that Singer and other crew members were under the influence of a narcotic. Singer defied him, leading to Jackman getting cut and bleeding during a stunt. (The incident was reportedly captured on film.) When Singer ordered DeSanto to leave, the entire cast, still in costume (minus Ian McKellan, who was not on-set, and Rebecca Romijn), confronted him and threatened to quit. Halle Berry (Storm) reportedly told Singer “You can kiss my Black ass.”
Back to Donner’s statement, Hollywood overlooked his bad behavior, even the reported pedophilia. This is possibly due to the fact that his alleged victims were male. There seems to be a double standard when it comes to teen boys who are seemingly expected to be sexually active. In May of this year, rapper Boosie boasted that he had hired a female prostitute for his 14-year-old son and his nephews who were 12 and 13 at the time.
Or as one executive stated, was his penchant ignored for fear of appearing homophobic?
“Everyone was afraid to say anything because the feeling was, ‘Would we say this to a straight director who was a womanizer?’ “
Singer returned to helm ‘X2: X-Men United’ (2003), then later for ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ (2014) and ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ (2016). He also executive produced two related TV series, ‘Legion’, and ‘The Gifted’. Among his other post-‘X-Men’ directing jobs were ‘Superman Returns’, ‘Valkyrie’, and ‘Jack the Giant Slayer’.
Then in 2017, as Singer was working on ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the #MeToo movement hit Hollywood. Reportedly, Singer knew that his days were numbered, leading to severe depression and allegedly heavier drug use which caused problems on the film’s set until Dexter Fletcher was eventually chosen to finish it. (Singer claimed that he had to leave England to return to the US to care for his ailing parents.)
Two articles that had been written that laid bare Singer’s alleged abuses of underage boys were suppressed. However, in 2019, The Atlantic published one of them, written by Alex French and Maximillian Potter. This exposé was originally supposed to have been printed in 2018 in Esquire.
In 2018, Singer was hired to direct another comic book movie, ‘Red Sonja’ for Millennium Films. Even after the publication of The Atlantic‘s article, Millennium Films planned to keep Singer, until public outcry became too loud to ignore. He was very quietly fired in March of 2019. He has laid low ever since and has not announced any new projects.
Rami Malek, star of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ and ‘Apocalypse’s Sophie Turner have spoken openly about how difficult it was to work with him.
However, after all of this, Singer has never been charged with a crime or personally sued by any alleged victims.
“He was very nervous and he would act out when he was insecure, as many people do. But his way of acting out would be to yell and scream at everybody on the set. Or walk off the set or shut down production. You have to understand, the guy was brilliant, and that was why we all tolerated him and cajoled him. And if he wasn’t so fucked up, he would be a really great director.”