In 1996, Fox made a superhero movie before it was cool. That movie was Generation X, a made-for-TV film adaptation of the eponymous X-Men spin-off comic book, and it follows a group of teenage mutants honing their powers at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. This early Marvel adaptation has been largely forgotten, but Generation X is available for free on YouTube.
Generation X brought the then brand new mutant team to the small screen in what was going to be an ongoing series but only aired as a TV movie.
Generation X is a team of mutant teenagers created by Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo, many of whom debuted during the Marvel comics crossover event “The Phalanx Covenant” in 1994. The team launched with their own title in September of the same year.
The group was led by former villain Emma Frost and the mutant Banshee. The Marvel heroes featured in the comic were altered slightly for the Generation X movie. Jubilee, Skin, M, and Mondo made the cut for the film, but the characters Chamber and Husk had powers that were too visually complex to reproduce on screen.
With the consultation of Lodbell and Bachalo, characters Refrax and Buff were created as replacements. The hope was that if the characters caught on, they could join the cast of the Marvel comics and become Generation X staples across television, comics, toys, and more.
For a Marvel movie, Generation X has a meager budget – only $4 million. But for a TV movie in 1996, this was a big bet. Originally conceived as a pilot, Generation X tells the story of Jubilee, a teenager who accidentally activates her firework powers while playing a game in an arcade. She attracts the wrong kind of attention but is rescued by Emma Frost and Banshee, who take her to train at their school.
In the comics, Jubilee is one of the few Asian-American Marvel characters, but the Generation X movie cast Caucasian actress Heather McComb in the role.
There, Jubilee meets her Marvel mutant cohorts and gets an education on how to live life as a mutant. Her new life is not all hugs and rainbows; Jubilee and Skin’s dreams are invaded by the scientist Russell Tresh, whose obsession with the dream world drives his mad quest for power. Skin succumbs to Tresh’s power, and Generation X assembles to rescue him and defeat Tresh.
It is a far cry from the modern Marvel movie, but putting Generation X in the context of its time, there is some cool stuff going on here. The film swings for the fences, bringing a vibrant cast of teenage characters to life while touching on the complex issues of identity and autonomy that make the X-Men universe so compelling.
That said, it is far from perfect. Marvel comics can do anything within their panels, but Generation X could only capture a fraction of the source material that inspired it with its meager $4 million worth of 1996 special effects.
The film also caught grief for its casting of Jubilee. In the comics, Jubilee is one of the few Asian-American Marvel characters, but the Generation X movie cast Caucasian actress Heather McComb in the role.
Looking past casting and effects, many criticized the script for the movie. The teenage elements were largely praised, but the superpowered plot failed to hit the mark. To be fair, the Marvel movie template did not exist when Generation X was made.
Generation X pre-dates the start of production for X-Men, which went on to become a blockbuster and help launch the superhero craze only four years later.
The closest things to a template for a successful superhero movie were Superman and Batman, both of which were major studio pictures. Doing X-Men on a budget was an ambitious move that, in this case, did not pay off, but one has to admire the guts of the endeavor.
Though Fox had a Marvel flop on their hands with Generation X, they took an even bigger bet a few years later with 2000’s X-Men. This mutant movie may look strange in comparison to modern Marvel movies, but it set off a superhero craze that has not stopped for more than 20 years.
Along with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, Ang Lee’s Hulk, and 2003’s Daredevil, the early X-Men movies were working out the kinks for future Marvel cinematic endeavors and, perhaps more importantly, proving the commercial viability of the superhero genre. As cringy as it may be now, Generation X is part of that same lineage.
When you browse Marvel films on Disney+, you likely won’t come across Generation X any time soon. But with the advent of the cinematic multiverse, we can count it as canon, right? Right.
Explore the origins of Marvel movies with Generation X on YouTube today and take your nerd cred to a whole new level.