The X-Files first hit screens 30 years ago, with the original series running from 1993 to 2002. It followed the paranormal investigations of FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), a believer in the supernatural, and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), a skeptical doctor. The series had two follow-up movies, in 1998 and 2008, and two short revival seasons, in 2016 and 2018. It was also recently announced that a reboot—without Mulder and Scully—is currently being planned.
From the opening credits song and its trademark “The Truth Is Out There” slogan to Mulder’s iconic UFO “I Want to Believe” poster, many elements of the show are familiar pop culture touchstones. But here are 10 things you might not know about The X-Files.
Related: 10 Lesser-Known UFO Crash Incidents
10 The X-Files Is Filled with Cameo Appearances
Mulder and Scully encountering new bizarre phenomena each week also meant that new actors were constantly needed. Luckily, the show managed to snag a few actors who had already made a name for themselves. “Terms of Endearment” stars Evil Dead’s Bruce Campbell as a demon who wants to be a father, while Jodie Foster voices a murderous tattoo in “Never Again.” Also, Hollywood icon Burt Reynolds plays God in “Improbable.”
The X-Files also featured appearances from many actors who were unknown at the time but went on to be massive stars. To name just a few, Ryan Reynolds is briefly in “Syzygy,” a young Shia LaBeouf makes an appearance in “The Goldberg Variation,” and Luke Wilson plays two versions of the same character (one via Mulder’s POV and one via Scully’s) in “Bad Blood.”
9 The Theme Song Was Created Partly by Accident
For the theme song, The X-Files creator Chris Carter asked composer Mark Snow to come up with “something that Boy Scouts could hum at the campfire, as a scary song. You know, something akin to The Twilight Zone.” Carter sent over “How Soon Is Now?” by The Smiths as inspiration, saying that he loved the sound of the guitar. Incidentally, Love Spit Love’s cover of that song was used a few years later for theme of Charmed.
Snow was struggling to write the theme when he accidentally rested his elbow on his keyboard one day while the echo effect was turned on. That sound finally kicked things off, and he started figuring out a melody to lay over the top, trying out flute, piano, and violin. None of them were right, and then he came across a sample called “Whistling Joe” on his Proteus 2 synthesizer. His wife Glynn offered to “beef it up a little bit,” resulting in the theme’s iconic whistle being half-human, half-machine.
The track, sometimes titled “Materia Primoris,” charted in multiple countries, as did the remix versions by DJ Dado and Triple X. The X-Files is also mentioned in other songs, including Catatonia’s “Mulder and Scully,” Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch,” and Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week.”
8 Duchovny and Anderson Hated Each Other
In real life, Anderson is the believer, and Duchovny is the skeptic. “Psychokinesis appeals to me,” says Anderson. “ESP, telling the future, I love that stuff.” The other big difference is that while Mulder and Scully had a will-they-won’t-they romance, Duchovny and Anderson hated each other. In a 2016 interview with Variety, Duchovny explained that “the crucible of doing that show made monsters out of both of us.”
Their relationship became friendlier when they reunited for The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008). “Our relationship has definitely become a proper friendship over the last few years,” Anderson says in the same interview. “I think we’re more on each other’s side. We’re more aware of the other’s needs, wants, concerns, and mindful to take those into consideration.”
Another quick piece of trivia about the two lead actors is that both of them wrote and directed episodes of the show. Anderson was involved with “all things,” while Duchovny wrote and directed a handful of episodes.
7 One Episode Was So Disturbing That Fox Stopped Airing It
The X-Files wasn’t afraid to be scary—look no further than the Flukeman monster (played by Darin Morgan, who went on to become an X-Files writer) for proof of that. However, season four’s “Home” took things to a new level. Spoiler warning: the episode starts with infanticide, has a heavy helping of violence, and is centered on an incestuous inbred family. Writer James Wong recalls “getting a call from a producer. He goes, ‘You guys are sick!’”
“Home” was first broadcast in October 1996 and ran without any warnings—TV Parental Guidelines didn’t come into effect until January 1, 1997. Fox then didn’t air reruns of the episode for the next three years. In October 1999, it was finally shown again, this time with the show’s only TV-MA rating for graphic content. Fox pushed the disturbing nature of the episode in their marketing, with the TV Guide advert reading, “Only on Halloween… would we dare air an episode so controversial.”
6 Final Destination Started Out as an X-Files Episode
Jeffrey Reddick was a massive fan of The X-Files and wrote a spec script called “Flight 180” after reading about a woman who switched flights after her daughter told her she had a bad feeling about it. The original plane crashed, and Reddick thought, “That’s creepy—what if she was supposed to die on that flight?” In Reddick’s script, Scully’s brother has a premonition about his plane crashing and manages to cheat death. However, Reddick never submitted the script; instead, it became Final Destination (2000).
Coincidentally, X-Files writers James Wong and Glen Morgan (brother of Darin Morgan, writer and Flukeman) were brought in to help with the screenplay. Wong also directed the film, so Final Destination has X-Files fingerprints all over it. Reddick’s original script is available to read online via Bloody Disgusting.
5 Spin-Offs and Crossovers
The success of The X-Files led to numerous crossovers and spin-offs—some of which were more successful than others. The Lone Gunmen spin-off, which followed the adventures of the eponymous trio who occasionally helped Mulder and Scully, only lasted one season. An animated spin-off called The X-Files: Albuquerque, which would have been about agents dealing with the cases that Mulder and Scully deemed too silly, was in development but has been canceled.
The best-known crossover is probably The Simpsons episode “The Springfield Files,” where an animated Mulder and Scully arrive to investigate an alien, but there are many others. “X-Cops” sees the duo cross paths with the Fox reality show Cops. “Unusual Suspects” features Detective John Munch (Richard Belzer), a character from Homicide: Life on the Street and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. “Millennium” provides closure for Carter’s canceled show Millennium by having Mulder and Scully enlist the help of Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) on their case involving the Millennium group.
There are also numerous X-Files stories told in comic book form, including crossovers with 30 Days of Night, where Mulder and Scully get caught up in vampire shenanigans in Alaska and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with the Lone Gunmen investigating the half-shelled heroes.
4 The X-Files Helped Make Breaking Bad
Vince Gilligan was a writer for The X-Files, and one episode, in particular, played an important part in his creation of Breaking Bad. The season six episode “Drive” is about Patrick Crump, a nasty character who must be driven west by Mulder to prevent his head from exploding. Gilligan wanted the audience to be able to sympathize with this horrible man by the end of the episode and believed that “Bryan [Cranston] alone was the only actor who could do that, who could pull off that trick. And it is a trick. I have no idea how he does it.”
Walter White required the same trick, and Gilligan wanted to cast Cranston after being impressed by his X-Files performance. But AMC executives were resistant, only knowing Cranston as the kooky dad from Malcolm in the Middle. Gilligan made them watch “Drive,” and it was enough to convince them of his acting chops.
A few other Breaking Bad actors had also previously made X-Files appearances, including Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman) in season nine’s “Lord of the Flies” and Dean Norris (Hank Schrader) in season two’s “F. Emasculata.”
3 Unmade Episodes
A fair few X-Files stories never made it to TV, with one of the more notable ones being a remake of George A. Romero’s iconic zombie flick Night of the Living Dead (1968) that was slated for season seven. Romero himself was set to direct, and horror author Stephen King, who had penned the fifth season episode “Chinga,” was going to write. However, it didn’t come to be for reasons that remain unknown.
Another episode that never got off the ground was about the ghost of Abraham Lincoln haunting the White House. It was going to be a season four episode, but after being forced to do extensive rewrites on “Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man,” Glen Morgan and James Wong decided to ditch it. “I had done a lot of research, and I had always wanted to write a feature about Lincoln’s ghost,” Morgan told Cinefantastique. “But I felt they didn’t want my heart and soul anymore, so I wouldn’t give this one to them.”
2 Star Trek Parodied The X-Files
The 1996 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” features two characters who are parodies of Mulder and Scully. Dulmur and Lucsly, names that are near-anagrams of Mulder and Scully, are from the Department of Temporal Investigations (DTI—an acronym that is clearly evocative of FBI). The truth-seeking pair appear again in Christopher L. Bennett’s book Watching the Clock (2011).
James W. Jansen, who plays Lucsly, also happened to star in The X-Files as Dr. Heitz Werber, who hypnotizes Mulder so that he can recall the night of his sister’s alien abduction. Mulder works with Werber in a few episodes to perform hypnotic regression therapy on other alien abductees, including Scully herself.
Although not a parody, Californication, which stars Duchovny as novelist Hank Moody, includes a nod to The X-Files. When Hank wears a suit in “The Trial,” he complains that he “looks like a f**king FBI agent.”
1 The Scully Effect
Anderson’s portrayal of an intelligent female scientist and FBI agent inspired countless women to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). This phenomenon has become known as the Scully Effect. In 2013, Anderson commented on her awareness of Scully as a source of inspiration: “We got a lot of letters all the time, and I was told quite frequently by girls who were going into the medical world or the science world or the FBI world or other worlds that I reigned, that they were pursuing those pursuits because of the character of Scully.”
The Scully Effect isn’t just anecdotal, though. In 2018, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media released an official report on the phenomenon, finding that “among women who are familiar with Scully’s character, half (50%) say Scully increased their interest in STEM.” Not only that, “nearly two-thirds (63%) of women that work in STEM say Dana Scully served as their role model.”