Why David Duchovny Walked Away From The X-Files After 7 Seasons

The eighth and ninth seasons of "The X-Files" are frequently lambasted by the show's fans as its flop years. David Duchovny, who played co-lead character Fox Mulder, had left the show, and Gillian Anderson was re-teamed with Robert Patrick, playing a new character named John Doggett. Robert Patrick is a hugely capable actor and John Doggett is a fine character, but many fans were averse to accepting Doggett as a "replacement Mulder." Eventually, Anderson's role would be reduced as well, and Doggett would be teamed with another new character named Monica Reyes, played by Annabeth Gish. Again, Gish is a very talented actress, and paranormal investigation show with Gish and Patrick would have been fine, were it not saddled with the "X-Files" imprimatur. 

When Duchovny left the show, there was a lot of fan speculation as to why, leading to ongoing argumentative chicken-and-egg discussions online. Did Duchovny leave because the show wasn't as good as it used to be, or was the show not as good as it used to be because Duchovny was eyeballing the door for a year? 

The truth is, it turns out, not all that out-there. Duchovny left the show because of a problem that is becoming increasingly common with actors: The studios are finding creative ways to deny them their royalties. 

The Bones case

Attentive readers may remember the landmark 2019 court case wherein the cast of, the executive VP of, and the novelist who invented the hit long-running TV series "Bones" successfully sued Fox over the studio's denial to pay them their contractually promised profits. In very brief: Fox was engaged in a shady underbidding scheme wherein their own distribution affiliates could pay a pittance for distribution rights, broadcast the show to a wide audience through their own vertically integrated streaming services, and keep all the advertising lucre for themselves. The actors had expected Fox to sell the show to the highest bidder (a long-standing standard in distribution deals), and were essentially denied a huge amount of royalties as a result. Fox repeatedly lied about what they were doing and, according to the plaintiffs, had affected a "cavalier" attitude to their wrongdoing.

The actors won the case, and Fox had to pay $179 million in damages. It might seem that these sorts of cases are going to become increasingly common going forward as studios shift away from traditional TV broadcast and theatrical distribution models and toward their own vertically integrated streaming services. However, in August of 2020, the 1948 case United States vs. Paramount Pictures was overturned, allowing vertical integration to run rampant once again. Studios may now, as they did in the 1940s, own their own theaters and distribute their own materials. Occasionally, a case will most certainly still arise, as the high-profile lawsuit actress Scarlett Johansson filed against Disney over the distribution model of "Black Widow."

Something similar happened with Duchovny in 1999 as it did with the "Bones" cast in 2019. "The X-Files" was an enormous hit TV series, and was syndicated in markets around the world. Reruns were common, and show creator Chris Carter was making millions thanks to the distribution deals. Thanks to some shady accounting at Fox, however, Duchovny was cut out of a lot of said deals, with money promised to him being actively denied. The story goes that Carter knew about Duchovny being ripped off, but refused to tell him. The truth came to light eventually, and Duchovny and Carter's relationship became strained.

Mulder ran out of things to do

Duchovny sued Fox, and the case eventually settled out of court for $20 million. Duchovny had signed a contract to remain on "The X-Files" through the seventh season. Once his contract was up, he elected not to re-up. 

Rumors at the time speculated that Duchovny was leaving the show to pursue a film career. Also, in a few interviews in 1999, Duchovny had also said that there wasn't anywhere else for Mulder to do as a character. He said that he thought five years had been enough, and that seven years was most certainly enough. Mulder's arc was finished. The studio agreed to keep Mulder on the show in a limited capacity, but all of the creative attention was refocusing on Doggett, much to both Duchovny's and Gillian Anderson's chagrin. After only so much time, Mulder was off the show. 

Duchovny and Anderson would eventually return to "The X-Files" in 2008 for the lackluster feature film "The X-Files: I Want to Believe." They would also both return in 2016 for a pair of brief, follow-up seasons (with only 16 episodes between the two of them). One can speculate that Duchovny and Anderson were more cautious about their contracts following Fox's previous debacle. 

"The X-Files" was a topical show that used fantasy creatures and farfetched government conspiracies to reflect the post-Cold War angst felt by Americans who had started mistrusting their own government. It was a product of the 1990s. After 11 seasons, two feature films, and a lawsuit, it's likely "The X-Files" will not return. 

But the reruns are out there.