This is the thirty-third installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes. For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.
“Generation X” was a made-for-television movie which aired on the Fox network in 1996. The film was a precursor to the cinematic X-Men films, the first of which would hit theaters just a few short years later, and actually shares an aesthetic as well as thematic elements with those films.
The film revolves around a new team of teenage mutants, recruited into Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters by Sean Cassidy (Banshee) and Emma Frost. The film was based on a comic book of the same name which had just premiered two years before, and concerned a new campus which had been set up for the teenage students. The name of the school in the main X-Men books was changed to the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning.
The team featured Jubilee – who had been a popular character in the animated X-Men television series – Skin, Monet St. Croix and Mondo from the comics as well as two original characters – Refrax and Buff – who were created for the film. The new characters replaced the characters of Husk and Chamber, whose powers would have been too expensive to create for television at the time. Mondo was also changed from the comics. The Mondo in the film was an amalgamation of the characters Mondo and Synch from the comics.
While the film is often erroneously referred to as a pilot, it was never intended to spawn a television series. While there was talk of possibly following up the film with a series if it were successful, those plans were never followed through with. Instead, the film acted as a sort of “proof of concept” for an X-Men feature film, which began pre-production and planning almost immediately due to the success of the “Generation X” movie.
While the film is mostly panned by fans today, at the time it was very well received. The major complaint by modern fans seem to stem from Jubilee being played by a white actress, instead of Chinese-American as she was in the comics. Interestingly, this character was originally written to be Dazzler, but was changed at the last minute due to Jubilee’s popularity both in the comics and on the animated series.
The exterior location for Xavier’s school was Hatley Castle, the same location used for the X-Mansion in the first three theatrical X-films as well as the Luthor mansion on “Smallville” and the Queen mansion on the first two seasons of “Arrow.” The use of Hatley Castle helps to tie “Generation X” in visually with the films that followed.
Jeremy Ratchford, who played Banshee in the movie, is often cited as also having voiced the character in the animated series. Ratchford’s own website does not cite this credit in his filmography, though Ratchford did audition for the role of Wolverine in that series. Ratchford also expressed interest in playing Wolverine in the theatrical films, but that part eventually went to Hugh Jackman.
Emma Frost is probably the closest character in the film to her comic counterpart. Frost is played by Finola Hughes, who audiences at the time remembered from the television series “Blossom.” In the film, like in the comics, prior to becoming an instructor at the Xavier school Frost had another group of students called the Hellions who were mentioned to have been killed.
The villain of the film is Russell Tresh – another original character created for the film – played by Matt Frewer. Frewer plays the character very similar to Jim Carrey’s Riddler in “Batman Forever.” While the character can be over-the-top during much of the film, he also brings a sense of real threat to the characters and can be downright diabolical.
An unrated cut of the film exists and was released to VHS in the UK and other European markets. The unrated cuts features several scenes not in the US television version, and includes Jubilee using some R-rated profanity as well as Russell Tresh threatening to “mind rape” Skin’s younger sister. It is a decidedly darker cut of the film.
While by today’s standards “Generation X” may seem lacking in many areas, in the context of the time it was released it certainly was a step above from anything Marvel was doing at the time. It also served to kickstart the X-Men film series, which in turn ignited a superhero movie renaissance that has lasted for over 15 years. It could be argued that without “Generation X” there would be no Marvel Cinematic Universe today.
“Marvel In The 90’s: GENERATION X”. Twitch Film
“Exclusive: Director Jack Sholder on Fox’s Generation X, controversial castings and the X-Men effect”. Blastr
“Fox Tuesday Night at the Movies Generation X”. Variety