It’s almost laughable to think of a world where there isn’t a successful X-Men movie franchise, but back before the original film was released in 2000, one of Hugh Jackman’s friends told him he thought the X-Men movies would bomb. At the time, there hadn’t really been a successful superhero movie franchise. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man wouldn’t come until two years later in 2002. And, up until then, even the most notable superhero franchises – Richard Donner’s Superman series, which launched in 1978, and Tim Burton’s Batman franchise, which began in 1989 – had been plagued by some pretty horrible sequels.
Basically, there was still uncertainty surrounding the viability of superhero franchises. X-Men was one of the first movies to tip the scales in favor of adapting comic book heroes for the big screen, as well as trying to create some kind of consistent franchise out of it. Jackman’s story comes from an interview in Variety, and it’s pretty funny to think about what might have happened had he taken this advice:
“I remember finishing the first movie, and a mate of mine who was in Hollywood, he goes, ‘Dude, I’ve heard not very good things about the movie. You really should book something else before it comes out.’ So, there was about a 4-month gap, he goes, ‘Just make sure you got something else, because when it comes out you’re back down at the bottom of the pile again, you know?’ Happily, he was wrong, but no one really knew, there was no comic book genre. Comic book movies were really not around at the time.”
Seventeen years later, Jackman has starred in nine of Fox’s ten X-Men movies, retiring this year with James Mangold’s Logan, a hard-R X-Men western set in the near future that gave Jackman’s tenure as Wolverine the grand finale it deserved. But when it came time to hang up the adamantium claws, Jackman turned to an unlikely source of wisdom: his good friend Jerry Seinfeld. On Variety’s “Actors on Actors” series, Jackman sat down with Willem Dafoe, and the two spent roughly 30 or so minutes discussing their careers and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
In the interview, Jackman said:
“What happened was I had a dinner with Jerry Seinfeld, who’s a friend of mine. I was asking him about the end of the series. I said, ‘How did you decide?’ And, long story, he kind of said, ‘Look, I’ve always believed, creatively, you should never spend everything… because it’s almost Herculean to start up again. You should always have something in the tank. Leave the party before it gets too late kind of theory. And then somehow it spurs you into the next thing,’” he recalled to Willem Defoe during his segment on Variety‘s “Actors on Actors.”
“As he was talking, I went home and I said to [his wife] Deb on my way home in a cab… ‘This is the last one.’ She goes, ‘What?’ I said, ‘I just know this is the last one,’” he continued.
“I woke up the next morning with this very strong idea, which [Logan director] Jim Mangold and I had been working on, of treating it not like a comic book movie in any way, treating him not like a superhero but as a human being who’s lived a life of violence and let’s make a movie about the ramifications of violence,” he explained. “I was thinking The Wrestler. I was thinking Unforgiven… The moment I’d had that thought I was supercharged, super excited, absolutely sure I’d never play it again and very nervous.”
You can tell, while watching Logan, that Jackman and Mangold intended for this to be a send-off to the character. It’s a very definitive story with a real ending, and it’s a direct response to the trend of all superhero movies functioning as an extended set-up for whatever the next movie is. Additionally, the idea of Unforgiven as an inspiration makes perfect sense. Clint Eastwood’s 1992 film is another genre flick that’s similarly preoccupied with offering a definitive ending, both as a movie and as part of the entire western genre, which had been slowly dying out until that point, being replaced by action and sci-fi movies.
Of course, we’d all love to see Jackman play Wolverine one more time, but the lineup of X-Men films that Fox has at the ready may be enough to fill the void of his absence.