How Fox Kids' acclaimed X-Men: The Animated Series battled Hollywood's push for goofiness

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Oct 30, 2017, 5:20 PM EDT (Updated)

Can you imagine a television and film landscape that isn’t littered with Marvel superheroes? Well, if it hadn’t been for X-Men, Fox Kids’ seminal animated series, you probably wouldn’t be able to see Thor: Ragnarok on the big screen this weekend.

Thanks to The Hollywood Reporter’s dynamite in-depth oral history with the creators of the hit show – including showrunner Eric Lewald and producer Haim Saban – we can see that hit status was never guaranteed, especially were it not for the clear-eyed perseverance of Fox Kids CEO Margaret Loesch, and the intrepid fortitude of the visionary creators who stuck to their guns to present what many consider one of, if not the finest representation of the X-Men on to appear on screens big and small.

Back in the early ‘90s, movies and shows based on Marvel comic book characters were basically pariahs, with the only previous adaptation win coming in 1978 with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno in CBS’s The Incredible Hulk. A full 10 years after that show went off the air, and against enormous odds, on Oct. 31, 1992, Fox KIds launched X-Men’s pilot episode, "Night of the Sentinels," and helped change the masked face of pop culture (along with fellow network animated show, Batman, which also debuted a quarter century ago, in September of 1992.)

Beyond the two-part pilot, the rest of the ambitiously serialized show wouldn’t debut until early in 1993, due to a slew of production challenges, including network politics, animation difficulties, and casting woes – namely because the casting company thought they were gearing up for a traditionally goofy Saturday morning cartoon.

That goofiness battle would continue, even after the show became a big hit, at times, because of that success. According to Lewald:

“There was incredible pressure to change it around and make it younger, sillier, or give them a pet dog. To dumb it down or make it younger. Luckily, everybody on the creative side banded together and had, ‘No, you'll have to fire me’ moments.  [Marvel would say], ‘Put toys in or give Wolverine some Wolverine curtains.’ ‘No we're not going to do that.’ If you were a 30-something serious defender of right and justice in your world, would you be wearing pajamas of yourself or would you be calling yourself on your Wolverine phone? No, you wouldn't. He's a serious guy. This is not a toy show. Sorry. ‘You'll have to fire me to change it.’”

Sounds like there were some heroes in the writing room, too. And there are plenty of other heroic challenges overcome by the show's creators outlined in THR's sprawling report, too. So check it out, then let us know how you think Fox Kids' X-Men changed the landscape of pop culture.