In Nazi-occupied Poland, 14-year-old Erik Lehnsherr is separated from his parents upon entering the Auschwitz concentration camp. While trying to reach them, he causes a set of metal gates to bend towards him as the result of his mutant ability to create magnetic fields and control metal manifesting, only to be knocked out by the guards. In the not too distant future, U.S. Senator Robert Kelly attempts to pass a "Mutant Registration Act" in Congress, which would force mutants to publicly reveal their identities and abilities. Present are Lehnsherr, now going by the name "Magneto", and his telepathic colleague Professor Charles Xavier. Seeing Lehnsherr in attendance, Xavier becomes concerned with how he will respond to the Registration Act.
Meanwhile, in Meridian, Mississippi, 17-year-old Marie D'Ancanto accidentally puts her boyfriend into a coma upon kissing him as the result of her mutant ability to absorb the powers and life force of others manifesting. She runs away from home and adopts the name Rogue. In Alberta she meets a mutant named Logan, also known as Wolverine, who possesses superhuman healing abilities and metal "claws" that protrude from between his knuckles. While on the road together, they are attacked by a minion of Magneto's, Sabretooth, until two of Xavier's students, Cyclops and Storm, arrive to successfully save them. Wolverine and Rogue are brought to Xavier's mansion and school for mutants in Westchester County, New York. Xavier tells Logan that Magneto appears to have taken an interest in Wolverine, and he asks him to stay while Xavier's mutants, the X-Men, investigate why. Rogue meanwhile enrolls in the school.
Senator Kelly is abducted by two more of Magneto's minions, Toad and Mystique, and is brought to their hideout on the uncharted island of Genosha. There, Magneto uses Kelly as a test subject for a machine powered by his magnetic abilities that generates a field of radiation, inducing mutation in normal humans. Kelly later escapes by taking advantage of his newfound mutation. When Rogue uses her power on Wolverine in view of her classmates, she is convinced by Mystique, disguised as classmate Bobby Drake, that Xavier is angry with her and she should leave the school. Xavier uses his mutant-locating machine Cerebro to find Rogue at a train station, and the X-Men go to retrieve her. Meanwhile, Mystique enters Cerebro and sabotages it.
Having left ahead of Storm and Cyclops, Wolverine finds Rogue on a train and convinces her to return to the school. Before they can leave however, Magneto arrives and reveals that he is after Rogue rather than Wolverine. Although Xavier attempts to stop Magneto by mentally controlling Sabretooth, he is forced to release his hold on Sabretooth when Magneto threatens the police who have converged on the train station, allowing Magneto's Brotherhood to escape with Rogue. Kelly arrives at Xavier's school and Xavier reads his mind to learn about Magneto's machine. Realizing the strain of powering it nearly killed Magneto, the group deduces he intends to transfer his powers to Rogue and use her to power it at the cost of her life. Kelly's body rejects his mutation and his body dissolves into liquid. Xavier attempts to locate Rogue using Cerebro, but Mystique's sabotage incapacitates him and he falls into a coma. Fellow telekinetic/telepath Jean Grey fixes Cerebro and uses it, learning that Magneto plans to place his mutation-inducing machine on Liberty Island and use it to "mutate" the world leaders meeting at a summit on nearby Ellis Island. The X-Men scale the Statue of Liberty battling the Brotherhood while Magneto transfers his powers to Rogue and activates the mutating machine. As Wolverine confronts and distracts Magneto, Cyclops blasts him away, allowing Wolverine to destroy the machine. He transfers his powers to Rogue and his healing abilities rejuvenate her, while incapacitating himself.
Professor Xavier and Wolverine recover from their comas. The group also learn that Mystique escaped the island battle and is impersonating Senator Kelly. Xavier gives Wolverine a lead to his past at an abandoned military installation in Canada. Magneto is imprisoned in a complex constructed of plastic and is visited by Xavier, and warns him he intends to escape one day and continue the fight.Patrick Stewart as Prof. Charles Xavier
The mutant founder of the X-Men and the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, who hopes for peaceful coexistence between mutantkind and mankind and is regarded as an authority on genetic mutation. Although restricted to a wheelchair, his mutant powers include vast telepathy, which is amplified by the Cerebro supercomputer that he invented with Magneto's help.
Hugh Jackman as Logan / Wolverine
A Canadian roughhouser with the mutant ability to sense others with enhanced animal-like senses, heal rapidly from numerous injuries (which makes his age impossible to determine) and wield three claws extending past the bridge of each knuckle, who has lived for fifteen years without memory of his past apart from his dog tags and an adamantium-encased skeleton.
Ian McKellen as Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto
An Auschwitz survivor with the mutant ability to generate powerful magnetic fields and manipulate metal, who was once friends with Xavier (with whom he helped to build Cerebro) until his belief that humans and mutants could never co-exist led to their separation, leaving him to develop a sophisticated knowledge in matters of genetic manipulation, which he uses in an attempt to mutate the world leaders in order to allow mutant prosperity.
Halle Berry as Ororo Munroe / Storm
A Maasai con artist with the mutant ability to manipulate the weather, who teaches calmly and caringly at Xavier's school but has become bitter with other people's hatred for mutants, sometimes making her hate humans in return simply because she is afraid of them.
Famke Janssen as Dr. Jean Grey:
The mutant doctor of the X-Mansion who is Cyclops's fiancée. Her powers include telekinesis and telepathy.
James Marsden as Scott Summers / Cyclops
A mutant who is Xavier's second-in-command and the X-Men's field leader, as well as an instructor at the Institute. He is engaged to Jean Grey. His powers include a strong red beam of force shooting from his eyes, which is only held in check by sunglasses or a specialized ruby-quartz visor, which also enables him to control the strength of the beam to fire when in combat.
Bruce Davison as Sen. Robert Kelly
An anti-mutant politician who wishes to ban mutant children from schools using a Mutant Registration Act. He is kidnapped by Magneto in a test of his mutation machine, which causes his body to turn into a liquid-like substance. He dies before Jean could save him.
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as Raven Darkholme / Mystique
Magneto's mutant loyal second-in-command, who seems completely facile with respect to modern technology. Her powers include altering her shape, voice and mimicking any human being, which is almost secondary to her role as "the perfect soldier".
Ray Park as Mortimer Toynbee / Toad
A very agile mutant and henchman of Magneto. His powers include a prehensile tongue, a slimy substance that he spits onto others, and enhanced agility.
Tyler Mane as Victor Creed / Sabretooth
A brutal and sadistic Canadian mutant mercenary and henchman of Magneto. His powers include a ferocious, feline-like nature, enhanced animal-like senses, fangs and healing abilities similar to Wolverine's, and claws extending past each finger.
Anna Paquin as Marie D'Ancanto / Rogue
A mutant seventeen-year-old girl forced to leave her home in Mississippi when she puts her boyfriend into a coma by kissing him. Her powers include absorbing anyone's memories, life force, and in the case of mutants - powers through physical touch.
Additionally, Shawn Ashmore appeared in a minor role as Bobby Drake / Iceman, a mutant student at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters who takes a liking to Rogue. His powers include generating ice. David Hayter, Stan Lee, and Tom DeSanto make cameo appearances. George Buza, the voice of Beast in X-Men: The Animated Series, appeared as the truck driver who drops Rogue off at the bar at which Wolverine fights. Other cameo appearances include Sumela Kay as Kitty Pryde, Katrina Florece as Jubilee, Donald MacKinnon as a young Colossus sketching a picture in one scene, and Alexander Burton as Pyro. Gambit was considered for one of the students at the X-Mansion. Singer remembered, "We thought about Gambit as the young boy on the basketball field, but the feeling was that if he has the basketball and then releases it and it exploded, [then] people would be like 'What's wrong with those basketballs?'" Kevin Feige had a cameo as a Weapon X tech, but his scenes did not make the final cut of the film.
Marvel Comics writers and chief editors Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas wrote an X-Men screenplay in 1984 when Orion Pictures held an option on the film rights, but development stalled when Orion began facing financial troubles. Throughout 1989 and 1990, Stan Lee and Chris Claremont were in discussions with Carolco Pictures for an X-Men film adaptation, with James Cameron as producer and Kathryn Bigelow directing. A story treatment was written by Bigelow, with Bob Hoskins being considered for Wolverine and Angela Bassett being considered for the role of Storm. The deal fell apart when Stan Lee piqued Cameron's interest on a Spider-Man film, Carolco going bankrupt, and the film rights reverting to Marvel. In December 1992, Marvel discussed selling the property to Columbia Pictures to no avail. Meanwhile, Avi Arad produced the animated X-Men TV series for Fox Kids. 20th Century Fox was impressed by the success of the TV show, and producer Lauren Shuler Donner purchased the film rights for them in 1994, bringing Andrew Kevin Walker to write the script.
Walker's draft involved Professor Xavier recruiting Wolverine into the X-Men, which consists of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Beast, and Angel. The Brotherhood of Mutants, which consisted of Magneto, Sabretooth, Toad, Juggernaut and the Blob, try to conquer New York City, while Henry Peter Gyrich and Bolivar Trask attack the X-Men with three 8 feet (2.4 m) tall Sentinels. The script focused on the rivalry between Wolverine and Cyclops, as well as the latter's self-doubt as a field leader. Part of the backstory invented for Magneto made him the cause of the Chernobyl disaster. The script also featured the X-Copter and the Danger Room. Walker turned in his second draft in June 1994. Laeta Kalogridis, John Logan, James Schamus, and Joss Whedon were brought on for subsequent rewrites. One of these scripts kept the idea of Magneto turning Manhattan into a "mutant homeland", while another hinged on a romance between Wolverine and Storm. Whedon's draft featured the Danger Room, and concluded with Jean Grey dressed as the Phoenix. According to Entertainment Weekly, this screenplay was rejected because of its "quick-witted pop culture-referencing tone", and the finished film contained only two dialogue exchanges that Whedon had contributed. Michael Chabon pitched a six-page film treatment to Fox in 1996. It focused heavily on character development between Wolverine and Jubilee and included Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Beast, Iceman, and Storm. Under Chabon's plan, the villains would not have been introduced until the second film.
Fox considered Brett Ratner as director, and offered the position to Robert Rodriguez, but he turned it down. Following the release of The Usual Suspects, Bryan Singer was looking to do a science fiction film and Fox offered him Alien: Resurrection, but producer Tom DeSanto felt he would be more appropriate for X-Men. The themes of prejudice in the comic resonated with Singer. By December 1996, Singer was in the director's position, while Ed Solomon was hired to write the script in April 1997, and Singer went to film Apt Pupil. Fox then announced a Christmas 1998 release date. In late 1997, the budget was projected at $60 million. In late 1998, Singer and DeSanto sent a treatment to Fox, which they believed was "perfect" because it took "seriously" the themes and the comparisons between Xavier and Magneto and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, unlike the other scripts. They made Rogue an important character because Singer recognized that her mutation, which renders her unable to touch anyone, was the most symbolic of alienation. Singer merged attributes of Kitty Pryde and Jubilee into the film's depiction of Rogue. Magneto's plot to mutate the world leaders into accepting his people is reminiscent of how Constantine I's conversion to Christianity ended the persecution of early Christians in the Roman Empire; the analogy was emphasized in a deleted scene in which Storm teaches history. Senator Kelly's claim that he has a list of mutants living in the United States recalls Joseph McCarthy's similar claim regarding communists.
Fox, who had projected the budget at $75 million, rejected the treatment which they estimated would have cost $5 million more. Beast, Nightcrawler, Pyro, and the Danger Room had to be deleted before the studio greenlighted X-Men. Fox head Thomas Rothman argued that this would enhance the story, and Singer concurred that removing the Danger Room allowed him to focus on other scenes he preferred. Elements of Beast, particularly his medical expertise, were transferred to Jean Grey. Singer and DeSanto brought Christopher McQuarrie from The Usual Suspects, and together did another rewrite. David Hayter simultaneously rewrote the screenplay, receiving solo screenplay credit from the Writers Guild of America, while Singer and DeSanto were given story credit. The WGA offered McQuarrie a credit, but he voluntarily took his name off when the final version was more in line with Hayter's script than his.
Russell Crowe was Singer's first choice to play Wolverine, but he turned it down, instead recommending his friend, actor Hugh Jackman for the part. Jackman was an unknown actor at the time, while a number of more established actors offered their services for the role, with Singer casting Dougray Scott. Part of Scott's contract included a sequel, but Scott backed out due to scheduling conflicts with Mission: Impossible 2 in early October 1999. Jackman was then cast three weeks into filming, based on a successful audition.
Patrick Stewart was first approached by Singer to play Xavier on the set of 1997's Conspiracy Theory, which was directed by X-Men executive producer Richard Donner. James Caviezel was originally cast as Cyclops, but backed out due to scheduling conflicts with Frequency. James Marsden was unfamiliar with his character, but soon became accustomed after reading various comic books. Marsden modeled his performance similar to a Boy Scout. Eric Mabius expressed interest for the role of Cyclops. Angela Bassett was approached to portray Storm in late 1997, as was Janet Jackson. Anna Paquin dropped out of the lead role in Tart in favor of X-Men. Terence Stamp was considered for Magneto before Singer cast Ian McKellen, who had acted in his previous film, Apt Pupil. McKellen responded to the gay allegory of the film, "the allegory of the mutants as outsiders, disenfranchised and alone and coming to all of that at puberty when their difference manifests," Singer explained. "Ian is an activist and he really responded to the potential of that allegory."
The original start date was mid-1999, with the release date set for Christmas 2000, but Fox moved X-Men to June. Steven Spielberg had been scheduled to film Minority Report for release in June 2000, but he had chosen to film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and Fox needed a film to fill the void. This meant that Singer had to finish X-Men six months ahead of schedule, although filming had been pushed back. The release date was then moved to July 14.
Filming took place from September 22, 1999 to March 3, 2000 in Toronto and in Hamilton, Ontario. Locations included Central Commerce Collegiate, Distillery District and Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. Casa Loma, Roy Thomson Hall and Metro Hall were used for X-Mansion interiors, while Parkwood Estate (located in Oshawa, east of Toronto) was chosen for exteriors. Spencer Smith Park (in Burlington, Ontario) doubled for Liberty Island. Post-production was hectic, with Shuler Donner saying that "we had to lock picture and score and edit, sometimes at the same time."
The filmmakers decided not to replicate the X-Men costumes as seen in the comic book. Stan Lee and Chris Claremont supported this decision. Claremont joked, "you can do that on a drawing, but when you put it on people it's disturbing!" Producer/co-writer Tom DeSanto had been supportive of using the blue and yellow color scheme of the comics, but came to conclude that they would not work onscreen. To acknowledge the fan complaints, Singer added Cyclops' line "What would you prefer, yellow spandex?" – when Wolverine complains about wearing their uniforms – during filming. Singer noted that durable black leather made more sense for the X-Men to wear as protective clothing, and Shuler Donner added that the costumes helped them "blend into the night".
Oakley, Inc. provided the red-lensed glasses worn by Cyclops, a customized version of the company's own X-Metal Juliet. Wolverine's claws required no cast of Hugh Jackman's hands, and were built so he could easily put them on and take them off for safety reasons. Production had insisted that they be attached at all times under a full prosthetic sleeve but designer Gordon Smith refused to do it. Production also insisted on real metal blades, which Smith also refused to do, making injection-moulded plaster blades instead. 100's of pairs were built for Jackman and his stunt doubles. Rebecca's wore 110 individual silicone prosthetic, Only the edges were glued, the rest were self-sticking. The prosthetics were built flat and wrapped her body. They were internally colored with food coloring and needed additional makeup or paint. The original agreed to and tested design was, to color her skin with cosmetic grade food coloring as well, which looked remarkable, says Gordon Smith, but at the last minute Bryan Singer insisted on painting her skin to look opaque, as in the comic book, which added 6 hours to the makeup, making the ordeal very difficult for her. There were also no facilities provided to exhaust paint fumes, during one of Canada's colder winters. Romijn reflected, "I had almost no contact with the rest of the cast; it was like I was making a different movie from everyone else. It was hell."
In the late 1990s, computer-generated imagery was becoming more commonly used. Singer visited the sets of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Titanic to understand practical and digital effects. Filming had started without a special effects company hired. Digital Domain, Cinesite, Kleiser-Walczak Construction Co., Hammerhead Production, Matte World Digital, CORE and POP were all hired in December 1999. Visual effects supervisor Mike Fink admitted to have been dissatisfied with his work on X-Men in 2003, despite nearly being nominated for an Academy Award.
Digital Domain's technical director Sean C. Cunningham and lead compositor Claas Henke morphed Bruce Davison into a liquid figure for Kelly's mutation scene. Cunningham said, "There were many digital layers: water without refraction, water with murkiness, skin with and without highlights, skin with goo in it. When rendered together, it took 39 hours per frame." They considered showing Kelly's internal organs during the transformation, "but that seemed too gruesome", according to Cunningham.
Singer approached John Williams to compose the film score, but Williams turned down the offer because of scheduling conflicts. Then Singer set on his usual composer, John Ottman. However, once Fox pushed X-Men from December to July, Ottman's commitment to direct Urban Legends: Final Cut made him unable to work with Singer. Michael Kamen was eventually hired. Given the film was only completed shortly before its premiere, Kamen wrote the score to the finished scenes, which were sent to him just as work was done on them. Singer asked him not to use any songs in the soundtrack as he "didn't want to date the movie". Due to Kamen's unfamiliarity with the comics, he only tried to "represent Bryan Singer's filmic tone that he's made, for a comic book, a quite serious movie, which is about the capacity of humanity to categorize people by race, religion or type, and prejudice people against them based on their innate characteristics". Character-specific themes were written to "identify these characters, as you go through the film, because they're not always clear." For instance, Mystique's motif, focused on the cello as Kamen found it "a very erotic-sounding instrument", played in the soundtrack as she was disguised as Wolverine. Due to time restrictions, the producers scrapped their original plan to record the score in London and did it in Los Angeles.
Kamen's first draft of the score had been described as having an abundance of themes and rich orchestrations. During early recording sessions, producer Lauren Shuler Donner expressed her dissatisfaction with Kamen's music and forced him to rewrite the entire score by using less themes and more electronic elements.
X-Men had its premiere at Ellis Island on July 12, 2000, two days before a wide opening in 3,025 theaters in North America. It would also debut in Australia that weekend to take advantage of the school holidays, while most other territories would get the film in August. Marvel Studios was depending on X-Men's success to ignite other franchise properties (Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Hulk, and Daredevil).
Fox Broadcasting Company aired a special entitled Mutant Watch to promote the movie that partially includes in universe scenes of a senate hearing featuring Senator Robert Kelly. This featurette was included as a bonus feature on some of the video releases. On June 1, 2000, Marvel published a comic book prequel to X-Men, entitled X-Men: Beginnings, revealing the backstories of Magneto, Rogue and Wolverine. There was also a comic book adaptation based on the film. A console video game, X-Men: Mutant Academy, was released on July 6, 2000 to take advantage of the film's release, featuring costumes and other materials from the film.
On its opening weekend in North America, X-Men earned $54,471,475 in its opening weekend, a record for comic book films that far. The film eventually grossed $157,299,717 and made $139,039,810 in other countries, coming to a worldwide total of $296,339,527. X-Men was the ninth highest-grossing film of 2000. It is the lowest-grossing film in the series. The success of X-Men (alongside Blade) started a reemergence for the comic book and superhero film genre.
X-Men received positive reviews from critics. Based on 166 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 81% were positive with an average score of 7.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Faithful to the comics and filled with action, X-Men brings a crowded slate of classic Marvel characters to the screen with a talented ensemble cast and surprisingly sharp narrative focus." Metacritic collected an average score of 64/100 from 33 reviews indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Kenneth Turan found "so much is happening you feel the immediate need of a sequel just as a reward for absorbing it all. While X-Men doesn't take your breath away wire-to-wire the way The Matrix did, it's an accomplished piece of work with considerable pulp watchability to it." ReelReviews.net's James Berardinelli, an X-Men comic book fan, believed, "the film is effectively paced with a good balance of exposition, character development, and special effects-enhanced action. Neither the plot nor the character relationships are difficult to follow, and the movie avoids the trap of spending too much time explaining things that don't need to be explained. X-Men fandom is likely to be divided over whether the picture is a success or a failure". Desson Thomson of The Washington Post commented, "[T]he movie's enjoyable on the surface, but I suspect many people, even die-hards, will be less enthusiastic about what lies, or doesn't, underneath".
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said he "started out liking this movie, while waiting for something really interesting to happen. When nothing did, I still didn't dislike it; I assume the X-Men will further develop their personalities if there is a sequel, and maybe find time to get involved in a story. No doubt fans of the comics will understand subtle allusions and fine points of behavior; they should linger in the lobby after each screening to answer questions." He also gave it a "thumbs down" on Ebert & Roeper. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone noted, "Since it's Wolverine's movie, any X-Men or Women who don't hinge directly on his story get short shrift. As Storm, Halle Berry can do neat tricks with weather, but her role is gone with the wind. It sucks that Stewart and McKellen, two superb actors, are underused."
The film was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, but lost to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. X-Men was successful at the Saturn Awards. It won categories for Best Science Fiction Film, direction (Singer), writing (David Hayter), costume design, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman) and Supporting Actress (Rebecca Romijn). Nominations included Performance by a Younger Actor (Anna Paquin), Supporting Actor (Patrick Stewart), Special Effects and Make-up. Empire readers voted Singer Best Director.
X-Men was originally released on VHS and DVD in November 2000, to take advantage of Thanksgiving in the United States. In its initial home video weekend, the film earned $60 million in rentals and direct sales, making it earn more than all films in theaters outside from leader How the Grinch Stole Christmas. X-Men finished 2000 as the seventh highest-grossing home release of the year with $141 million, with 78% being earned through sales. A new two-disc DVD version was issued in 2003 in anticipation to the theatrical release of sequel X2, titled X-Men 1.5. The DVD includes the theatrical version of the film along with the option to add deleted scenes, and several new additional features.
X-Men was released on Blu-ray in April 2009, with bonus features reproduced from the X-Men 1.5 DVD release. Unlike the US edition, the UK release of the Blu-ray includes a picture-in-picture mode called "BonusView", and an in-feature photo gallery.
After the film's critical and financial success, a series of films followed starting with, X2 in 2003.