How The X-Files Helped Create Breaking Bad

Vince Gilligan was a long-time writer for The X-Files, which is how he first met Bryan Cranston, years before coming up with the idea for Breaking Bad.

By Phillip Moyer | Updated

Breaking Bad was one of the most-celebrated television shows of the late 2000s through the early 2010s. The X-Files, meanwhile, was one of the most celebrated TV shows of the early 90s through the early 2000s. While it comes as little surprise that The X-Files had an influence on Breaking Bad, it turns out that we can pretty much thank The X-files for the show’s very existence.

The first and most obvious example comes in the form of Breaking Bad‘s showrunner, Vince Gilligan. Gilligan cut his teeth on the series, working on it as a writer, director, and producer from 1995 until 2002. He also became the co-creator of the shortlived spinoff series The Lone Gunmen.

Gilligan’s work on The X-Files came at the very beginning of his career. He had only one credit to his name beforehand — the writer of the 1993 fantasy comedy Wilder Napalm. The film made only $84,859 at the box office, and Gilligan had a two-year gap in his resume. If it weren’t for him landing a job on The X-Files, we might never have heard from the talented¬†Breaking Bad¬†creator again.

Vince Gilligan more than proved his mettle working for the much-celebrated show, showing his knack for creating suspense and crafting unnerving situations. He was responsible for such highly-regarded episodes as Season 5’s “Bad Blood,” Season 6’s two-parter “Dreamland,” and another Season 6 episode “Drive,” featuring a little-known actor known as Bryan Cranston.

Bryan Cranston and David Duchovny on The X-Files

Bryan Cranston was far from being a household name when he appeared on The X-Files as Patrick Chump, a man who is compelled by a piercing, head-exploding noise to drive west as fast as possible. In his early career, he had played single-episode parts in a surprising variety of shows, including Mighty Morphin’ Power RangersSeinfeldTouched by an Angel, and Walker: Texas Ranger. While it may not have seemed like it at the time, his role in this standalone episode of The X-Files would prove to be his big break.

While performing as the tormented, fast-traveling man, episode writer, and The X-Files co-executive producer Vince Gilligan was watching, Cranston’s villainous-yet-sympathetic performance reportedly struck Gilligan with an idea: would it be possible to create a series whose protagonist had qualities that are usually reserved for villains? Ten years later, Gilligan shot the idea, casting Cranston as the main character, and Breaking Bad was born.

Bryan Cranston wasn’t the only Breaking Bad actor to appear on The X-Files — in fact, there’s no shortage of major Breaking Bad actors who also showed up in an episode of the classic Sci-Fi series. For example, Aaron Paul, who played Jessie Pinkman across Breaking Bad‘s five-season run, appeared in the Season 9 episode Lord of the Flies. Paul played David ‘Sky Commander Winky’ Winkle, a teenager who finds himself in the center of a bizarre series of insect-related incidents.

Other Breaking Bad actors who appeared in The X-Files include Dean Norris (who played Hank Schrader), Raymond Cruz (who played Tuco Salamanca), Michael Brown (who played Uncle Jack), and Danny Trejo (who played Billy Black). All of these actors’ performances likely impressed Gilligan enough to give them a part in his acclaimed show.