Lately, Fox and Marvel have had a real yen for making superhero origin stories. But offscreen, the Writers Guild of America has had its hands full determining the origin of the X-Men: First Class screenplay itself.
After an unusually complicated credit dispute, WGA arbitrators determined Tuesday that Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer deserve story credit and Ashley Miller & Zack Stentz and Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn will share screenplay credit on the Fox/Marvel franchise film, set for release in the U.S. on June 3. In an odd twist, Josh Schwartz and Jamie Moss, the first two writers on First Class, were left out even as Turner, who never wrote on the script, was included. (Though a potential appeal is still in the offing.)
How did this happen? The anomaly points less to the ever-frustrating WGA credits process than to the unique nature of the comic-book world that Marvel and its studio partners continue to grow. And the stakes are high because credited writers typically become eligible for bonuses and royalties if the films do well (as they often do).
After X2: X-Men United grossed $408 million in 2003, Fox took a serious look at expanding the franchise by breaking off individual characters from the core group of X-Men, even as it moved toward making a third movie in the series. So in 2004, David Benioff was hired to pen a Wolverine spinoff, and Turner was hired to write a Magneto spinoff. Over the next four years, those two scripts were developed and eventually rebranded as X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men Origins: Magneto.
David Goyer came on to direct Magneto in April 2007 and also worked a bit on Turner’s script, which took a look at Magneto’s origins as a Holocaust survivor and his early friendship with Professor Charles Xavier. Even though it was ready to cast and go forward, Fox kept waiting to get X-Men Origins: Wolverine in shape enough to entice Hugh Jackman back to the franchise, since his character was a more bankable hero than Magneto’s revenge-minded evil mutant.
At one point, the two scripts were going to be intertwined a bit in the Marvel universe fashion (see: The Avengers), but ultimately, even though it cycled through a number of potential directors, Wolverine went ahead in early 2008 with Rendition director Gavin Hood at the helm. Released to kick off the summer May 1, 2009, Wolverine grossed $373 million worldwide and Magneto was essentially backburnered.
In the meantime, Schwartz (Gossip Girl, The O.C.) was hired by Fox in November 2008 to write a First Class script about the origins of the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning that would bring a younger vibe to the franchise. A year later Singer announced his intention to come back and direct First Class after writing a new, independent treatment that was then spun into a script by Moss.
Miller and Stentz were brought on after Moss. Then Vaughn, who had been attached to direct both X-Men: The Last Stand and Thor, came aboard to direct in May 2010, bringing his collaborator Goldman with him. The four of them worked on the shooting script in London before Vaughn and Goldman took over. Simon Kinberg, who is also a producer, did revisions during filming but didn’t seek credit (nor did Goyer).
Schwartz did want credit, and he and Moss could appeal the result, but only if they can point to something improper in the process. Schwartz’s original screenplay apparently hewed very close to the X-Men: First Class comic miniseries from 2006-07 that focused on characters from the first trilogy of films, such as Jean Gray, Beast and Cyclops, as teenagers. Most of those characters were ultimately booted in favor of a focus on the early relationship between Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto. That didn’t stop Schwartz from pre-arbitrating the credit situation in April of this year, so the argument may not be over. (As one of the participating writers cracked, “If you have a dog in the hunt, you go for it.”)
As that transition occurred, material from the Magneto script became a strong fit for the new shape of the First Class story line, including the Nazi doctor villain on whom Magneto is seeking revenge. In August, Lauren Shuler Donner, who was a producer on both projects, said that Magneto was pretty dead but admitted that a lot of its material was subsumed by First Class.
More of these cross-pollinated debates could occur as Fox — and Marvel — continue to branch out into various niches of their overlapping character universes. Fox has a Deadpool spinoff in development, being written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, that gained momentum after Wolverine‘s opening. And a Wolverine sequel is in development with a script being written by Christopher McQuarrie, while a fourth X-Men film is a possibility.
Future credit disputes are inevitable, regardless. To paraphrase an exchange from the Magneto script that ended up in the climactic moment of the First Class trailer:
“The credits will not bring you peace.”
“Peace was never an option.”