Is ‘X-Men ’97’ A Hit?

Wolverine X-Men 97 Episode 8

Around my corner of the internet, folks can’t stop talking about X-Men ’97. From breaking down the comic book origins of the series to just straight gushing about the characters, it’s more like X-Men 24/7, and I couldn’t be happier. But [Carrie Bradshaw voice] I started to wonder: is X-Men ’97 a hit series? Or is that just the fans talking?

To undercut myself here at the moment, it doesn’t really matter other than as a thought experiment. I’m not worried about X-Men ’97 getting canceled or anything… They’re already well into completing Season 2, and Season 3 is reportedly in development as well. This is more about looking at what makes something a hit series that breaks through the bubble we all exist in, versus a hit inside that bubble, and that bubble alone.

And the other thing, while I’m continuing to undercut the argument I haven’t even made here yet, is that it is nearly impossible to quantify a hit in the modern age of entertainment, as there are different standards for everything. Back in the day, four million viewers on broadcast television was a sure sign your show was getting canceled. Nowadays it’s a certified hit.

With all that in mind, let’s break down what we can break down to try to determine if X-Men ’97 is a crossover hit — and if that crossover is more Operation: Zero Tolerance, or X-Tinction Agenda. A good way to kick this off was with an obscure metaphor only clear to comic book fans, I’m sure.

Critical Response

X-Men 97 Jubilee Mojo Episode 4

Let’s start with the absolute easiest and (all apologies) least important quantifier: critics scores. I say this not to dismiss critics, of which I am one, but because aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes smooth out things into “rotten” or “fresh.” And despite strides in positive directions, the audience scores are a cluster of group-think that represents die-hard fans willing to log into Rotten Tomatoes dot com and present their views, which is not a fair sample set.

That said! As of this writing, X-Men ’97 Season 1 sits at 98% Fresh with 64 reviews, and 94% Fresh with 500+ audience ratings.

Meanwhile, Metacritic, which applies a score out of 100 instead of the Rotten Tomatoes good/bad binary, has the show sitting at 82, from 14 reviews — indicating Universal Acclaim. Their audience scores have it at 7.7 with 283 reviews.

These are not a lot of reviews, mind you. By comparison, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes has 226 reviews on RT and 56 reviews on Metacritic. This points more towards the lack of accredited TV critics than anything else, really. But still, even beyond what I said above this is a fine measure but not one we should be using to slam dunk the “X-Men ’97 is a hit” basketball like Cyclops on the court in Episode 1.

Google Trends

Google Trends is another inexact measure but in a different way than the critics’ scores above. This comes from it being based on search volume, versus the number of people interested. It’s also difficult to quantify TV shows against each other this way since they’re all on different release schedules.

However, in the interest of seeing how X-Men ’97 fares against other shows released in the same general timeframe, I threw it against three series: Shōgun on FX and Hulu, Baby Reindeer on Netflix, and Young Sheldon on CBS:

X-Men 97 vs Shogun vs Baby Reindeer vs Young Sheldon Google Trends

I realize that seems like a mildly insane mix of shows, but the three others are all series their respective networks would consider hits. Shōgun is a big enough hit for Disney (who owns FX and a majority stake in Hulu) that they’re considering a second season, against all reason. Baby Reindeer is the biggest crossover hit Netflix has had since, perhaps, Squid Game. And Young Sheldon is on there mostly because it’s a reliable performer for CBS and is ending, so there’s a little more interest than usual.

It’s pretty clear from the above that X-Men ’97 is more in line with — sorry to everyone — Young Sheldon, up until the final few episodes of that latter series. Meanwhile, it’s dwarfed in search interest by both of the other shows. I’ll also mention there’s an even bigger gap when you run this just with the United States, versus worldwide.

Regardless: there’s interest there, it’s just not at the level of shows that seem to have broken through to the mainstream.

For perhaps a fairer one-to-one, I also ran X-Men ’97 versus Star Wars: The Bad Batch, which has been airing its final season around the same time. In that case, X-Men ’97 dwarfs it — but we’re also comparing a first season against Season 3, and interest tends to flag with all shows over time. Perhaps of note, Bad Batch matched X-Men ’97 for the finale of the former series:

X-Men 97 versus Star Wars The Bad Batch Google Trends

Viewership Numbers Shared By Disney

You’re going to see a pattern emerging here, which is that given streamers are still pretty cagey and inexact about their streaming numbers, we don’t have a lot of good info to go on.

Here’s what we do know: five days after the two-episode premiere of X-Men ’97, Disney shared that the premiere episode had seen 4 million views, and the debut was the “most-viewed full-length animated series” on Disney+ since What If…? Season 1.

There are a lot of caveats here, not least of which is that this is not four million viewers, it’s four million views, which Disney defines as hours watched divided by the runtime of the series. This means anyone who watched multiple times is counted extra… And I’m guessing more than one person watched the premiere more than one time in the first five days of streaming. I mean, I did.

More promisingly, and overall better for Disney was the accompanying news that views across all five seasons of X-Men: The Animated Series increased 522% since the trailer premiered. This is exactly the reason for legacy sequels like this show, to keep viewers in the streaming ecosystem. So getting back to the premise of our piece, X-Men ’97 is a hit in exactly the way Disney needed it to be a hit.

X-Men ’97 Nielsen Ratings (Or Lack Thereof)

Gambit dies x-men 97

Let’s widen things out, though, and talk about Nielsen ratings. Nielsen is an unaffiliated third party that measures streaming shows by millions of minutes watched. So again, this is not viewers, but it is helpful to the argument here because it compares Disney+ streaming numbers against Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Max, Peacock, Paramount+, and Apple TV+ in the United States.

So far, X-Men ’97 has not hit the Nielsen Top 10. At all. Even if you break it down to only Streaming Originals, versus Overall (which includes Acquired shows, and Movies), it has yet to make a showing on their charts.

Mind you, the data that Nielsen shares is a month old, which is part of why I waited to write up this piece. Given Nielsen measures by minutes, a 30-minute long show like X-Men ’97 is at a disadvantage versus hour-long series, and/or those that have more episodes. A 60-minute long show that drops 10 episodes at once will naturally get (potentially) more viewers than a 30-minute long show that only has two episodes.

However, the current Nielsen Top 10 is for the range of April 8-14, 2024, which includes Episode 5, “Remember It.” Not only does the show now have five episodes of data, but that particular episode felt like the breakthrough one that turned X-Men ’97 from “for the fans” to “you have to watch this.”

That could still happen, but as is it was not on the chart. This week was dominated by Fallout, with a record-breaking 2.901 million minutes viewed for Prime Video. On the bottom of the chart, Star Trek: Discovery with 257 million minutes viewed on 58 episodes. At number nine, The Gentlemen on Netflix, entering its second month on the service with 287 million minutes viewers.

In fact, while we don’t know whether X-Men ’97 is number 11 on the list, or number 45, it’s regularly been beaten by shows like Is It Cake? and The Magic Prank Show. Does that mean those are more mainstream hits? Again, not necessarily. However, it points to the difficulty of quantifying all of this without verifiable data submitted by the streamers.

…And Then There’s FlixPatrol + Variety

Two final data points here before we reach a conclusion. FlixPatrol is a site that culls together streaming data from a number of sources to make a determination about its overall rankings. And generally speaking, even for Disney+, X-Men ’97 isn’t number one in most countries. It’s certainly in the Top 5 most places it’s streaming, but… What else is streaming on Disney+ right now? As of this writing, the series was ranked sixth overall, after Family Guy, Simpsons, Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy, and at the top, Bluey.

Variety also released a report on May 13 that gibes with this, noting that X-Men ’97 was the number three most-watched Disney+ original of the year so far. However, it only held 6.8% of the total viewership of streaming originals on the service, versus 11.8% for Marvel’s Echo, and 23.3% for Percy Jackson. And further, they’ve started printing numbers from a service called Luminate, which also does not have X-Men ’97 on the charts for May 3-9, 2024.

So… Is X-Men ’97 A Hit?

X-Men 97 Episode 8 voice cast

You’re going to get a very unsatisfying answer here, but it’s the real answer: X-Men ’97 is either a hit or not, depending on how you look at it.

From the critical and fan reaction perspective? The show is absolutely a hit. Not only is the reaction overwhelmingly positive, but it seems to have repaired some of the damage the non-stop “Is that it for the MCU?” talk has done. Granted, all that could fizzle out if the next project (i.e., Deadpool & Wolverine) is bad, and sticklers will point out that X-Men ’97 isn’t technically part of the MCU. But it’s the Marvel brand, viewers love it, critics love it, and that’s a big win.

It’s also a qualified hit from the Disney+ perspective, as touched on above. One of the main jobs of shows on streamers is to reduce churn, i.e., the likelihood that you will hop out of the app and either go to another app or even worse, go outside your house. The horror. That either people are watching X-Men: TAS and then X-Men ’97, or vice versa, is great for the streamer because that means people are spending more time on the service, using Disney+ will become habit forming, and it will ideally become part of your regular rotation. Certainly, people could be watching these two shows and peacing out, but it’s equally possible they check out the live-action X-Men movies, then some other Marvel movies, and keep going from there.

Now the big one, what about from the viewership perspective? No? It’s not? Or at least, we don’t know what level of viewership Disney needs to consider X-Men ’97 a success, and animated series in general do not get nearly the audience of live-action series, so the show is not likely expected to perform at the level of even Echo, a lower-budgeted Marvel series. But from a mere “amount of people watching the show” perspective, while we don’t have concrete numbers, it’s clearly not at the level of a show we would consider a mainstream success.

Does this matter? Like I said up top as well, not really. The show will keep going for seasons beyond this one, the loyal fans will continue to love it as long as the quality stays high, and it’s doing its job, the reason it was greenlit in the first place. Do I personally wish this had come through as “Yes, the X-Men show that caters to you, Alex, personally, is a mainstream success and now you too are validated?” Sure. But as is, we can take a really excellent X-Men series the core audience is loving, and take that as a win.

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