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The History Of The "I Want To Believe" Poster - 1993-2016

Article by Brian A. Terrenova
Page Editor:  A.M. D.

If you're an X-Files fan new or old one thing is for sure, no sight is more familiar to you than the iconic poster displayed on the walls of Mulder's basement office at the FBI, with its hopeful words that represent the struggle of one's faith or beliefs - "I Want To Believe" - boldly presented upon it. And like many fans you couldn't have missed the time they changed the poster, almost entirely, from Seasons 3 to 4, but did you know that it had changed again after that? Here we'll look into the different versions of the famous "I Want to Believe" (IWTB) poster that Mulder proudly displayed to represent his case for all things paranormal or extraterrestrial.

First up is the original version of the poster seen from Seasons 1 to 3 (1993-1996).

During an interview at the Smithsonian in 2008 Chris Carter stated that the original idea came from him, saying that he had wanted to get a picture of a spaceship with the words "I Want to Believe" on it in the style of Ed Ruscha, an artist know for putting text into his paintings. When the art department presented the final product to Chris, he had recognized the photograph of the flying saucer they had used as a cropped version of the famous Billy Eduard Albert Meier's "Photo Nr. 494" (Billy Meier photo 494). When Chris asked them if they had gotten clearance to use that photograph, they replied with an "Oh yes!". Unfortunately, this was not the case, as a few years later Fox Legal called Chris, stating that they had "an intellectual property lawsuit" due to the use of the Billy Meier photo.

The second version of the IWTB poster was used regularly for Seasons 4 and 5 (1996-1998) and later reappeared for the Season 10 miniseries (2016).

Due to the rights issues with the original poster, the production team had to have a replacement designed for Season 4. The new poster was a complete overhaul, keeping only the original concept from Chris Carter. Although the new poster was visually different from its predecessor, this change is never noted by the characters. To them it is the same poster that has adorned the walls of the X-Files office since Season 1. 

For this poster the production team created their own UFO and set it above a much closer view of a wooded area with a large tree extending up the left side of the poster. The text was changed to a larger and bolder font type, which is also spaced closer together. The overall color palate - outside the border and text - was made darker and muted. Lastly the white border on this poster has even widths on the sides but is much taller on the top and bottom.
For the Season 5 finale, "The End" this version of the poster met a tragic end when the production team decided to have the Cigarette-Smoking Man burn down the X-Files offices in a symbolic move signifying the end of the show's time in Vancouver.

Although this article stated above that this poster was only used in Seasons 4, 5, and 10, this version of the poster did make a brief appearance in the series finale, "The Truth" in Season 9, where it can be seen on the floor during the pan shot of the emptied X-Files office just before Agent Doggett picks it up. Since that shot is so brief, it would be safe to assume that it was a pick-up shot done after the principal photography, because in that same scene when Doggett picks the poster up off the floor, it is back to the usual poster that was used from Seasons 6 to 9.

Despite being burned in the end of Season 5 and the brief cameo in Season 9, this version of the IWTB poster would once again grace the walls of the basement office in 2016 for the Season 10 X-Files revival. In the first episode of Season 10, "My Struggle" we see Mulder and Skinner enter the old and emptied basement office where the poster is still lying on the floor. Out of frustration Mulder steps on it and then kicks it in half. Now given that this is his old basement office we have to presume that the poster was left there from the series finale, "The Truth" at the end of Season 9. Unfortunately, this gives us a couple of continuity errors:
1) The poster used for Season 9 was slightly different from this version of the poster - I'll go into detail about that a little later on - which admittedly is not a big deal, considering the two are very similar, although it's not like it didn't go unnoticed.
2) The real continuity issue is this: in "The Truth" after seeing the X-Files office emptied of all X-File-related material, Agent Doggett rolled up the IWTB poster and took it with him. This one is a bit more of an issue for me as it's a pretty big error. If Doggett took the poster with him, how, then, could it still be on the office floor fourteen years later? Well, I have a theory about that actually - read on!

Later on in Season 10 we see this same poster, taped back together and with a pencil stabbed through it, back on the basement office wall where it belongs. Poor little poster: stepped on, torn in half, repaired with tape, and then stabbed. Ouch.

The third version of this poster was first seen in Season 6 and lasted all the way to the end of the original series run in Season 9 (1999-2002).

When the show made the move to L.A. it would be some time before the iconic poster would be displayed in the X-Files office again - sixteen episodes, in fact. In the Season 6 story "Alpha" Mulder was gifted a new poster from a kindred spirit, and at first glance it seemed to be the same poster that was used in Seasons 4 and 5; however, upon closer inspection there are a few differences.
It is not known why the production team decided to make changes to their already redesigned poster, but since it is so close to the last version it's fair to say that it had nothing to do with rights issues this time. The changes are pretty minimal compared to the last overhaul:
1) The saucer has been flipped so that it is now flying in the opposite direction. My own personal belief is that this was another symbolic choice marking the change in location of the show's filming.
2) The underbelly of the ship and the trees behind the text have been darkened.
3) The white border is now the same width on all sides of the poster.

As mentioned before, this new version of the poster would survive all the way to the Season 9 finale, "The Truth" the end of the original run of the series, where Agent Doggett can be seen saving it from the wiped-out X-Files office. Where it went to after that, who knows? It certainly didn't make it to the Season 10 Revival. Or did it?

Ok, that's a trick question. The "Season 6-9" poster did NOT make it to the Season 10 revival, but the poster from Mulder's old office did. So how can this be? Well, to really understand this we have to separate reality from fiction here. The "Season 6-9" poster was not seen on screen after Season 9, but the poster in Season 10 is meant to be the same poster within the show's reality, just as the "Season 4-5 & 10" was meant to be the same as the "Season 1-3" poster.

So, now we know that this is another case of a poster change in reality, production-wise, but not a change within the show's own fictional continuity, which means we are left with, how can it be on the office floor when we saw Doggett take it with him? Ah, well, here's my theory on that; when Doggett, Reyes, and Gibson left the basement, poster in hand, they next went to Kersh's office, where Gibson warned them of the danger to Mulder and Scully's lives. From there I believe they went back to the old basement office to arrange for the helicopter they needed to get to Mulder and Scully in time, and when they did, Doggett dropped the poster on the floor once again. The urgency of the situation made them all forget about the poster for the next fourteen years. There you have it; in the absence of any on-screen explanation, I feel this one holds up pretty well, if I do say so myself, but the reality is we may never know for sure.

The fourth, and so far final, redesigned poster used in The X-Files was seen in the appropriately named 2008 film The X-Files: I Want to Believe.

By the time of the second feature film, six years have passed since the events of "The Truth" Mulder has been convicted of murder by a kangaroo military court, which forced him to spend those six years in hiding, aided by his former partner, now lover, Dana Scully. Within their secluded Virginia home, Mulder has turned part of the living space into a makeshift X-Files home office, complete with a new "I Want to Believe" poster. I say "new" because the crumpled-up version of the famous poster used in this film doesn't fully match any of the posters used in the show before it. But I say "doesn't fully match" because it's not a complete departure either. In fact, the poster itself is identical to the "Season 4-5 & 10" poster, with only one difference; it lacks the white border entirely. Frank Spotnitz has said that when it came time to make the movie, they had one of the posters left over from Season 5, and so they used that. This certainly makes sense based on the design, but then it doesn't make sense as well due to the white border discrepancy. Perhaps it was an early test print made for Season 4; we may never know. Whatever the case, this simple change made this poster the fourth variation of what it is arguably the most recognizable piece from this show.

It is also fair to assume that this poster was new to Mulder as well, seeing as how the Season 10 revival had shown us that the poster from his basement office was still there on the floor eight years later. Or fourteen years later, depending on where you are counting from.

One thing that is interesting to note here is that this movie was filmed in Vancouver, same as Seasons 4, 5, and 10, and they all share the same poster design with the saucer flying off to the right. So if I am correct about the possible symbolic change to the saucer in the "Season 6-9" poster marking the change in location filming, then it's possible that the poster choices for The X-Files: I Want to Believe and the Season 10 revival were intentional. Or maybe I am reading too much into this.

Over the years this poster - in any of its four versions - became a symbol of the show that, once seen, instantly takes you back to all of your favorite adventures.  Many fans have kept the faith alive with one version or another hanging in bedrooms and offices all over the world. It is something I myself proudly display in my own home. When it comes to the X-Files, I want to believe we'll never see the end of it.

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