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Stan Lee’s First Marvel Movie Cameo in ‘X-Men’ Almost Didn’t Happen

San Diego Comic-Con 2019: ”X-Men“ producer Tom DeSanto

The first “X-Men” movie, released in 2000, was also the first of 34 Marvel theatrical films featuring a cameo by Stan Lee (Lee also appeared in the TV movie “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk” in 1989). However, as “Transformers” and “X-Men” producer Tom DeSanto explained during Thursday’s “A Celebration of Stan Lee’s Life and Legacy” panel, it almost didn’t happen.

“I was trying to get Stan to do a cameo in ‘X-Men 1,’ and we were shooting up in Toronto and there was always an excuse,” said DeSanto. “So, Stan finally agreed and he said on the phone call he’s like, “Tom, you don’t understand I’m in a lawsuit with Marvel right now.”

“They don’t want me to do that,” added Lee.

DeSanto relented and responded, “Stan, you are Marvel. This is all gonna pass, everyone is all going to be friends in a year. Come out, do this.”

At the time “X-Men” was filming, Lee hadn’t actually sued Marvel yet. But he had signed a new contract in 1998 that entitled him to 10 percent of the profits from movies, television and other media based on characters he created or co-created, and very shortly after Lee determined that Marvel wasn’t living up to that contract. Lee ultimately filed a lawsuit in 2002; Marvel settled in 2005 for an undisclosed sum.

But the burgeoning legal disagreement didn’t end up keeping Lee off the “X-Men” set. He showed up to film that cameo, and appeared briefly as a beach-side hot dog vendor during the scene when Senator Kelly walked out of the ocean.

stan lee cameo ranked x-men

20th Century FoxUnlike later cameos, Lee isn’t the focus of the shot, and he’s easy to miss. He’d get his first “hey look, it’s Stan Lee” cameo in 2002’s “Spider-Man.” That’s partly because of the last-minute way the cameo came together, according to DeSanto.

“We had one day of shooting in Los Angeles and this is where Senator Kelly comes out of the water and he’s been transformed, he’s like this jellyfish man but there was no lines of dialogue. But, we created this hotdog vendor for Stan to do. So Stan comes out and literally everybody is super excited, everybody wants a photo, and Stan realizes the impact he has had on all these creatives in the movie world. Before that time there was probably four people – it was me, Kevin (Feige), Joss Whedon, who really knew who Stan was unless you were a fanboy. But Hollywood didn’t see him that way,” added DeSanto.

“So Stan comes out, he’s awesome, does his cameo and as he’s leaving he goes, ‘Hey, Titanic Tom DeSanto, next movie, how about you give me a line?'”

“It’s funny. Everything that Stan did in his life, his cameos were his favorite things,” added Desanto. Which prompts the question: which of those 35 appearances was Stan the Man’s favorite favorite thing? Well, DeSanto said he knows the answer to that one too.

“The first time I ever asked him, what’s your favorite cameo?, he told me, “Thor, because I got two scenes.'”

Hard to disagree with him on that.

TheWrap is in San Diego all week long for Comic-Con 2019 — check out all of our ongoing coverage here.