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Was Cyclops Killed in X-Men for James Marsden’s Superman Returns Role?

Was Cyclops Killed in X-Men for James Marsden's Superman Returns Role?


  • Cyclops met an early demise in
    X-Men: The Last Stand
    due to scheduling conflicts caused by his role in
    Superman Returns
  • Fans were left disappointed by the rushed handling of the character, as Cyclops’ importance was overshadowed in the film.
  • Cyclops made a surprising return in
    X-Men: Days of Future Past
    , giving closure to audiences who missed his presence in the franchise.

X-Men: The Last Stand was one of the biggest movies of summer 2006. The previous two X-Men films were major box office and critical hits, and with the third film teasing an epic final showdown and an adaptation of the Dark Phoenix Saga, fans were excited. Audiences certainly showed up in droves during its opening weekend, when it broke the record for the biggest Memorial Day opening weekend at the time. Yet critical and fan reaction to the movie was more negative and was seen as a significant step-down in the franchise.

There were a lot of criticisms of the third movie, from smashing together The Dark Phoneix storyline with the mutant cure storyline in a film whose runtime was shorter than X2: X-Men United to the handling of certain characters. One was Cyclops, played by James Marsden. Despite being the leader of the X-Men in the comics, he was killed off early in the movie by The Phoenix. This certainly took fans by surprise since not only was he a major character, but he was also in the posters suited up in his costume, despite never wearing it in the film. Why did the filmmakers kill off Cyclops so early? Here is how a rushed release date, a bitter studio executive, and Superman killed Cyclops in X-Men: The Last Stand.

Cyclops’ Role Was Reduced Due to Scheduling Conflicts

James Marsden played Cyclops in X-Men and X2: X-Men United and was set to have a major role in X-Men: The Last Stand. The original idea was that following the events of X2, Cyclops would begin pushing the X-Men harder to train and ensure they could avoid death after losing Jean Grey. He would have built the Danger Room and would have been present throughout the movie.

Yet in the finished film, Cyclops’ role is subjugated to the first 20 minutes. The film establishes that he has been checked out since Jean’s death, to the point that Wolverine is subbing in for him in Danger Room lessons, and Xavier is looking to Storm to lead the X-Men. Cyclops later goes to Alkali Lake and finds Jean Grey alive. Jean uses her powers to stop Scott’s optic blast to look into his eyes, but when she kisses him, she ends up killing him. Audiences don’t see him die onscreen, as Wolverine later finds Cyclops’ glasses floating when they discover Jean Grey, but Cyclops’ body is not shown. Later, it is revealed that Jean Grey did, in fact, kill the man she loved using the Phoenix Force.


Whatever Happened to X-Men Origins: Magneto?

20th Century Fox was planning on giving Magneto his own origin film, which is why the movie never made it to the big screen.

This was a quick death for a beloved character and someone whose star power was on the rise. While Marsden was a relative unknown when he was first cast as Cyclops in 2000, by 2006, he had started to make a name for himself, including a prominent role in the romantic box office hit The Notebook and a role on the hit television show, Ally McBeal. Marsden had clearly become a favorite of director Bryan Singer, who cast him in his next movie after X2: X-Men United, the film that would cause scheduling conflicts for Marsden on X-Men: The Last Stand. That movie was Superman Returns.

James Marsden in Superman Returns

Superman Returns

Release Date
June 30, 2006

Bryn Singer

154 Minutes

Warner Bros. Pictures

On June 30, 2006! Look Up In The Sky!

Bryan Singer directed both X-Men and X2: X-Men United, but despite both films being box office and critical hits, 20th Century Fox did not rush to sign him to direct X-Men: The Last Stand. By 2004, he decided to direct Superman Returns, the latest in a long line of in-development Superman films that Warner Bros. had been trying to make. Warner Bros. set a release date for Superman Returns for June 30, 2006. In an odd twist of fate, future X-Men: The Last Stand director Brett Ratner was signed on to do Superman Flyby, the film that turned into Superman Returns, meaning Signer and Ratner traded films.

20th Century Fox chairman Tom Rothman was so upset by Singer leaving X-Men: The Last Stand in favor of another studio tentpole superhero film he fast-tracked X-Men: The Last Stand and set a release date for May 26, 2006, even though they did not have a script. The idea was to get X-Men: The Last Stand out before Superman Returns. Singer said he would have returned to direct X-Men: The Last Stand after Superman Returns had the studio held off on the release date, but 20th Century Fox wanted the movie out quickly to match the three-year gap between X-Men and X2: X-Men United.

Singer had cast James Marsden in Superman Returns. Marsden was not playing Superman, Lex Luthor, or any comic book character; instead, a new character was invented for the movie: Richard White. Richard White was the nephew of Daily Planet editor Perry White, Lois Lane’s fiancee, and apparently the father of their child, Jason. Richard White is very much in the style of Marsden’s character in another movie, The Notebook, and even Cyclops in the X-Men films, the “other guy” that stands in the way of the main romance but is also never played as a jerk but just a nice guy. Marsden would play a similar role in Enchanted the following year.

When Marsden was cast in Superman Returns, it was clear that there would be an issue as X-Men: The Last Stand and Superman Returns were now competing films with similar production schedules. Bryan Singer also offered Iceman actor Shawn Ashmore the role of Jimmy Olson in Superman Returns, but he declined due to scheduling conflicts with X-Men: The Last Stand. While Marsden likely hoped to do both films, rumors have circulated that the Cyclops character was killed off as an order from the studio as punishment for doing Superman Returns. While that has never been confirmed, it does say something about the Fox X-Men films that Marsden would rather play a non-superpowered original character than one of Marvel’s most famous characters.

The Fox Movies Never Knew What to Do With Cyclops

While Cyclops’ death in X-Men: The Last Stand certainly frustrated fans, this was far from the first time the character was given the short end of the stick in the film. Despite being one of the original X-Men in the comics and one of the most iconic characters in the franchise, the X-Men films seemed to have little interest in Cyclops. He does appear in the first film, X-Men, and it is arguably the biggest role he has in the film franchise. The film established him as the leader of the X-Men and also a rivalry between him and Wolverine for Jean Grey.


X-Men Could Replace The Avengers as Marvel’s Main Franchise

With the premiere of X-Men ’97, it might be time for the X-Men to reclaim their spot as Marvel’s top team from The Avengers.

It was clear by X2: X-Men United that the filmmakers and studio had pivoted and prioritized Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine as the star character. Cyclops is quickly dispatched early in the film, is absent for all of Act II, and shows up as a mind-controlled puppet in the third act before breaking free. Cyclops was supposed to have a subplot in the film where audiences would have seen him undergoing torture by Stryker and his people, but it was cut from the final film. Marsden’s first three appearances as Cyclops in the X-Men film series are brief and, in many ways, damaged the reputation of the character for years, one that is being repaired thanks to X-Men ’97.

Marsden Cyclops Returns in 2014…and Maybe 2024

2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past looked to unite the cast of the original X-Men trilogy and the new cast from X-Men: First Class in a time travel story adapting the iconic comic storyline “Days of Future Past.” The film brought back many of the X-Men left alive at the end of X-Men: The Last Stand, including Wolverine, Storm, Shadowcat, Iceman, and Colossus, and even brought back Professor X, who died at the end of The Last Stand but was teased to be alive in the films post-credit scene. Due to dying in The Last Stand, Cyclops did not get his grand return…at least not until the very end.

X-Men: Days of Future Past ends with Wolverine waking up in a new timeline that is different from those seen in the original X-Men trilogy that branched from events in the 1970s where Mystique did not kill Boliver Trask. Wolverine wakes up to a brighter future, where X-Men: The Last Stand never happened, as both Jean Grey and Cyclops are alive. Marsden and Jean Grey actress Famke Janssen’s cameos were kept secret until the film’s release, and it was a nice surprise for audiences as it gave some much-needed closure.

With a new timeline set, 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse looked to introduce a new, younger Cyclops for the film’s 1980s setting. Actor Tye Sheridan stepped into the role for both it and 2019’s Dark Phoenix (as well as a brief cameo in Deadpool 2), but similar to the previous films, it appeared that those behind the camera struggled with what to do with Cyclops as the movie tended to prioritize James McAvoy’s Professor X, Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, and Jennifer Lawerence’s Mystique.

The upcoming release of Deadpool & Wolverine has fans eagerly anticipating many Marvel cameos. In addition to Hugh Jackman returning as Wolverine, Aaron Standford is reprising his role as Pyro, and Jennifer Garner will appear as Elektra from 2003’s Daredevil and 2005’s Elektra. James Marsden hinted there is a chance he could show up in the third film as reportedly Deadpool & Wolverine was shooting very close to the set of Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Nothing is confirmed, but it would undoubtedly get a big response from the audience to see Marsden return as Cyclops for what appears to be a goodbye to the 20th Century Fox X-Men films, particularly if he shows up in a comic-accurate costume like the recent multiverse X-Men cameos have been. X-Men (2000) is streaming now on Disney+. Deadpool & Wolverine is headed to theaters on July 26, 2024.

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