Marvel Studios Negotiated for Rights to X-Men: The Animated Series Theme

Cue the X-Men theme music — and the checkbook. Disney and Marvel Studios likely paid a "heavy price" for the rights to the X-Men: The Animated Series theme song, according to X-Men '97 consultant Eric Lewald. The first X-Men title from Kevin Feige's Marvel Studios, the all-new animated series revisits and continues the iconic era and cast of mutants from the original show Lewald developed and showran for Marvel Entertainment and Saban. But rights to the classic theme song, which opened all 76 episodes and five seasons of the beloved '90s animated series (now streaming on Disney+), were subject to separate renegotiations when Marvel began developing the revival set to premiere in 2023.

"[The X-Men: The Animated Series theme song] wasn't a done deal necessarily when they were producing the new show. The rights were all over the place," Lewald said during a recent appearance at Pennsylvania's Steel City convention. "I think a secondary person had the rights to the music, so it was a negotiation for them. Obviously, you can't do the new show without that song."

Lewald added: "But the guy selling it knew the same thing, so I'm sure it was a heavy price." 

A snippet from the theme music most recently appeared as part of Danny Elfman's score for Marvel Studios feature film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, credited as "X-Men Theme Song," playing when Patrick Stewart cameos as a multiversal Professor Charles Xavier. Another riff from the theme is heard in the season finale of the live-action Disney+ series Ms. Marvel, accompanying the reveal that Iman Vellani's Kamala Khan has mutated genes.

During the show's first San Diego Comic-Con panel in July, X-Men '97 head writer and executive producer Beau DeMayo confirmed the sequel series is "bringing back that classic '90s sound with a little bit of a modern edge." The Newton Brothers (The Haunting of Hill House, The Walking Dead: World Beyond) are composing the score inspired by the original instrumental theme by Ron Wasserman.

It's unclear if sole ownership of the X-Men theme rights belonged to Wasserman, Haim Saban, or Saban Entertainment co-founder Shuki Levy, a prolific composer and producer behind Power Rangers and Digimon. In 2019, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the estate of late composer Gyorgy Vukan, alleging the X-Men theme is "substantially similar" to Vukan's theme for the 1980s Hungarian TV series Linda. The suit — filed against Marvel, Disney's Buena Vista Television, Amazon, Apple, Saban, and more — said "the soundtrack of X-Men is widely regarded as the most iconic soundtrack of any animation series in the 1990s." 

Wasserman recalled in a 2016 interview with Inverse, "[At] Saban, everybody was 'work for hires' where they're taking a majority of your rights." The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers composer added Saban "kept tight reins, like the old studio days, people signed under exclusive contracts and kept on the lot."

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X-Men '97 features the voice talents of original X-Men: The Animated Series cast members Cal Dodd, Lenore Zann, George Buza, Alison Sealy-Smith, Chris Potter, Catherine Disher, Adrian Hough, and Christopher Britton. New cast additions include the voices of Jennifer Hale, Anniwaa Buachie, Ray Chase, Matthew Waterson, JP Karliak, Holly Chou, Jeff Bennett, and AJ LoCascio. Marvel's X-Men '97 is streaming fall 2023 on Disney+.