Imagine a world in which the catalyst for the movie Logan was directly connected to Wolverine’s guilt over ignoring the events of Captain America: Civil War. This alternate future could have easily happened: a Marvel canon in which the X-Men are the focal point of the MCU instead of Iron Man, Captain America, and the rest of the Avengers.
Longtime X-Men comic book writer Chris Claremont believes that the reason why X-Men are given less attention in the Marvel comic book canon is directly connected to the way the film rights have played out: “If the X-Men film rights were owned by Marvel Studios and not Fox the, X-Men would probably still be the paramount book in the canon,” Claremont told Bleeding Cool. “The reason for the emphasis on the other titles is because Marvel / Disney control the ancillary film rights whereas all the film rights for the FF — the Fantastic Four — and the X-Men are controlled by Fox who has no interest in the comic books.”
If Claremont is correct, then this explains why there might be a perception within the Marvel books themselves to favor the characters in the MCU. But what about the reverse: What would the MCU look like if the licensing deals had worked out differently? In the realm of the comic books only, the question of canonicity isn’t a big deal since all these heroes are in the same universe. This makes the exclusion of the X-Men in the MCU a question of movie legality, not a question of popularity.
The X-Men film franchise (and their popularity) predate the MCU by eight whole years. Plus, thanks to the ‘90s cartoon, the popularity of Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Professor X, et al. were embedded in the zeitgeist much stronger than Captain America and Thor. In short, a different film rights deal, combined with a plan for an interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe, would have likely seen the X-Men dominating.
And if they did win in that popularity contest, the mutants would have tipped the power scales in the MCU. In the original Mark Millar-penned Civil War storyline, the X-Men specifically sit out the entire Captain America versus Iron Man conflict, even though Tony Stark specifically asks the X-Men to help out. Here, Millar smartly sidelined the X-Men because including the depth and breadth of their powers in the original Civil War narrative would have created some players that could have easily ended it all. Imagine if Storm had sided with Tony? Or Professor X with Captain America?
Bottom line: Your average mutant has crazier powers than your average Avenger. (And many Avengers don’t even have “powers.”) The issue of of including the X-Men in the MCU is a little like asking yourself what these movies would look like if there were eight more Thors running around. Again, the original Civil War comic excluded the “real” Thor (though there was a fucked up robot clone Thor) and the movie version did the same.
An alternate universe in which the X-Men share the screen with the Avengers would quickly result in the Avengers playing second and third fiddles to the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters or the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Part of it is the built-in popularity of the X-Men IRL, but it’s also true most the X-Men could kick all the Avengers’ asses.
Unless, of course, members of the X-Men joined the Avengers, which of course, has happened. In the comics, Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver are the children of Magneto AND members of the Avengers. This is why, briefly there were dueling movie-Quicksilvers: one version was in Avengers: Age of Ultron and another in X-Men: Days of Future Past. In a bizarre nod to dueling comic-book movie continuity, Age of Ultron killed its version of Quicksilver off promptly while X-Men: Apocalypse saw the death of Magneto’s daughter, a kind of ersatz Scarlet Witch.
In our world, this bizarre equilibrium concerning Magneto’s children serves as vague reminder of how powerful the X-Men would have been in the MCU. Could the MCU version of Steve Rogers have survived even meeting Wolverine?
It may still play out in the comics, but even if the rights were worked out for the films, the X-Men would overpower the MCU to the point of making them unrecognizable.