X-Files fans were split into Mulder & Scully shippers vs. non-shippers

September 10 marked the 30th anniversary of the very first TV show that I ever loved, The X-Files. And since that fateful Friday night in 1993, “The X-Files” became a both cultural phenomenon and cult classic. There was the Simpsons crossover and the shoutout in Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week.” It helped perfect the alternating mythology/Monster-of-the-Week genre and shape Internet fandoms and culture. There were even college courses taught about it. “LOST” may have had the whole Man of Science vs. Man of Faith arc, but Scully and Mulder did it first and did it sexier.

One of the biggest cultural impacts that the X-Files had actually comes from X-Philes (X-Files fans). They coined the terms “ship” or “shipping,” which refers to wanting characters to get together romantically. In this case, X-Philes were divided into fans who wanted to see Mulder and Scully get together and fans who didn’t. Remember the episode “Triangle” and how that gave each side what they wanted? The shipping debate was a whole thing.

What began as a cult favorite became so ubiquitous that the series — along with the iconic duo of Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) — became household names to fans and non-viewers alike. The lead pair’s will-they-won’t-they chemistry and the debate surrounding their relationship changed the language used by fandoms. With Mulder positioned as the believer and Scully as the skeptic, audiences were treated to compelling character dynamics — including questions about the nature of their relationship — in addition to conspiracy-laden and often-spooky storylines.

Talk to an X-Phile today and you’ll still get an array of opinions over Mulder and Scully’s relationship, which began as a friendship with elements of “UST” — unresolved sexual tension, as fan sites called it — and culminated in romance, in a way only “The X-Files” could portray one, after many seasons.
Fans were largely divided into two camps: Relationshippers — eventually shortened to “shippers” — who clung to every long look or feisty exchange between Mulder and Scully as evidence of the pair’s undying love for one another. The anti-romance crowd, or “noromos,” preferred focusing on alien conspiracies and monsters — or simply making fun of shippers.

“I couldn’t stand that shipper stuff,” said Don Presnell, a senior lecturer at University College at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. “That’s not what the show was about.”

But there’s no denying how much the online discourse revolved around the Mulder/Scully pairing, whether it involved shippers and noromos good-naturedly (or in all seriousness) “flaming” each other in online forums, or Mulder/Scully fanfiction, or fan videos set to schmaltzy love songs. “The X-Files” was not the first or last show to get viewers invested in the relationship of fictional leads, but the term “shipper” moved beyond online Philes’ inner circle and began to be used by fans of everything from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to the “Harry Potter” series. It’s now a commonly used word in fan culture and recognized by multiple dictionaries.

“Whenever I see people online using the word ‘shippers’ or ‘shipping this couple or that couple,’ I feel a sense of pride,” said Eileen Pereira of Nevada. “I know I’m not the creator of these chat phrases and words, but I was part of the group that helped to initiate it into the online lexicon. I’ll see it in print and think, ‘Yup, we did that. We started that.’”

[From CNN]

So, “The X-Files” was my first fandom. My dad and I watched my very first episode on my birthday in 1998, and I was hooked. It was Season 5, so I spent hours watching FX marathons, renting from the library, and scouring early Internet fan websites and message boards learning all that I could about the show to catch up as much as possible before the movie came out and Season 6 started. I bought so many books, too, all of which I still have! I thought Duchovny, Anderson, and Nicholas Lea were all SO hot. I remember the shipper debates online and earnestly discussing them with a friend in school. She was a fierce non-shipper. I was a wishy-washy shipper that wanted them to hook up but wouldn’t have been devastated if they didn’t. Ah, memories of the heyday of early Internet fandoms. What a time. You know, I still want to believe.

Photos credit: Diyah Pera/Twentieth Century Fox / Avalon, Kred, PacificCoastNews / Avalon

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26 Responses to “X-Files fans were split into Mulder & Scully shippers vs. non-shippers”

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  1. Jais says:

    I was a shipper. But I didn’t see the later episodes or movies so I actually don’t know if they ever got together? I remember the first movie coming out when I was in hs and it seemed like they were going to kiss but then Scully got bit by something. It was a giant tease.

    • H says:

      You should totally watch the episodes from the last couple of years of the show (the reboot,). It really explains their relationship.

      FYI, I was a huge shipper so I was very happy with the way Chris Carter portrayed the relationship in the later series. I remember going to see the first movie and when they wound up not kissing, I practically screamed in the theater. And not from joy.

      I still remember the David Duchovny song by Bree Sharp. Good times.

      • Colleen says:

        “David Duchovny, why won’t you love me? Why won’t you love me?”

      • Jais says:

        Yep, my friend and I went when we were in hs and nearly screamed in the theater at the only kiss. I was in college and then out of the country so never saw the final seasons bc I didn’t have a tv. Then there was a Netflix series but I didn’t follow well bc I never saw the actual last seasons. The whole son thing was throwing me.

  2. EPLFan says:

    We probably met in forums at that time. I have rare event posters and still have my highly valuable misprint movie action figure never removed from the box (it’s a Scully figure but printed as Mulder).

    But massive non-shipper over here. During the pandemic I learned a good friend of mine (who I met in real life in the 2010s) was also an X-Phile and we got into it for an hour about how hard it was to be a non-shipper on those forums. And also, given our ages, why were we allowed on those things? What were our parents thinking? Ah, the early days of the internet…

    Also, Krycek was the hottest. I will die on this hill.

    • TigerMcQueen says:

      Total shipper here. But Krycek was indeed the hottest.

      So many great characters on that show.

    • Rosie says:

      @EPLFan, we may have! I was in in my early teens and while going down memory lane for this post, I also had a moment of, “I cannot believe my strict parents let me do that.” A lot of the time, I went on while I was at my grandparents’ house and my grandpa was pretty actively involved in monitoring what I was doing, though. He’d set up and do work while sitting next to me. There were other (non XF) forums I went into at the time that thinking back, were batsh-t. I cannot believe I was so unsupervised for some of those lol.

  3. Lisa says:

    She just gets more and more beautiful and this is not ok

  4. LeonsMomma says:

    When the show was first on, the day after me and two co-workers used have lunch to go over episodes. So much fun.
    Also had no idea that this was how the term shipping originated!
    Was not a Mulder/Scully shipper (if I remember correctly.)
    Re-runs are on Comet tv at night now.
    Also, Krycek was the hottest!

  5. Tila says:

    My mum was in the STEM field and we used to watch this together when I was growing up. It never occurred to me that the two characters should ‘get together’. I was too engrossed in the storylines which were so weird and wonderful to me. Without disrespect, I feel that American audiences need to tune into a relationship arch the ‘ship’ or, become ‘team xyz’ or to ‘root for’ and can’t just enjoy something without that.

  6. Mireille says:

    Non-shipper here for Scully and Mulder. I agree with the professor that wasn’t what the show was about. And those two were more like brother and sister. BUT, I did want Scully and John Doggett together!!! I thought they were a better romantic pairing. I love this show. Still love this show. I love the monster-themed shows better than all the alien ones. The writing and acting on this series were superior. This was a show that thoughtfully explored the ideas of aliens and monsters. No other show could touch it. I still remember as a college kid sleeping with the lights on at night for a week after watching the episode Squeeze (with killer Eugene Victor Tooms). I also kept checking all the vents in the house with a flashlight. LOL! And I AM PROUD to say I watch the episode Home when it originally aired on network TV for the first and only time. It was never repeated on network TV again, because it was considered too disturbing and controversial. It was both scary and disgusting at the same time and I LOVED IT!!!! BY today’s standards, it’s pretty tame though. So, YES, long live the X-Files!!!

    And yes, Alex Krycek was damn hot!!!!

    • Colleen says:

      @Mireille, It’s 2023 when Tooms is scheduled to return!

      • Mireille says:

        Thanks for this comment. This made my morning! LOL! I am home alone working…now I gotta go check the vents…

      • Christine says:

        I am still completely freaked out by Victor Tooms, Donnie Pfaster, and Home. I can’t watch any of these episodes when I am alone.

    • AmyB says:


      I too saw Home when it first aired – OMG, that episode is beyond disturbing!! I love The X-Files and loved the sexual tension between Mulder and Scully, but I think it was best left that way. Tooms was such a great character, but honestly knowing he was played now by that creep pedo actor Doug Hutchinson (who married then 16-year-old Courtney Stodden) kind of kills it for me now lol.

      All this talk of the series, makes me want to binge the early seasons – I really loved the juxtaposition of the monster of the week/with the conspiracy and alien ones.

      • Mireille says:

        Tooms was such a great character, but honestly knowing he was played now by that creep pedo actor Doug Hutchinson (who married then 16-year-old Courtney Stodden) kind of kills it for me now.

        –OMG!!! I didn’t know that!!!! That’s just horrible. I didn’t know Doug played Tooms. Ugh. These actors…I swear…

      • Stacey Dresden says:

        At least poor little Courtney Stodden got away from Tooms. I was about 10 when I was way into X files and yep check box for Shipper

      • AmyB says:

        @Stacey Dresden

        Yes, good for Stodden for escaping that toxicity. I remember how crucified she got in the media in the beginning. That poor girl – basically her parents gave her away to a 50-year-old pedophile. So disgusting.

  7. Barbara says:

    I was a total shipper! They did have a son together lol. I have fond memories of the fanfic for the show, I even contributed to a couple.

  8. Gil says:

    I was a kid when I watched my first X Files episode.

    It was 1995 and in Mexico they would air one episode a night. I was hooked since then.

    I remember I had to wait months and months for the new seasons because my family could not afford cable. But I would record the episodes in our VHS recorder so I could have my own marathons. Best show ever. I will ship Mulder and Scully forever, no matter how shitty season nine is.

  9. Concern Fae says:

    Non/shipper here. Mostly because I was old enough to know shows tend to go downhill fast once a will-they-or-won’t-they couple hooks up.

    Did another whole series rewatch when they announced the reboot. Became unsettling when I realized all the conspiracies, basically everything, went back to the government being evil. Even when a corporation was the baddie, it turned out the government was making them do it. And the show was on FOX! Once I saw it, it became really creepy.

    We truly are in a world The X-Files created. People seeing evil government conspiracies everywhere. And all the TV series are just lore episodes, without realizing that we crave monsters of the week.

  10. CrispyBacon says:

    This was also my first fandom and I was a hardcore shipper (but the type who loved UST and wanted them together but like, at the end of the series). I even had a whole shipper website (that even has its own entry on Fanlore) with spoilers and fanfic and was friends with some of the big shipper site admins. God, what a weird time it was for me!

    I tried to watch the reboot a few years ago and it unsettled me, though, as the paranoia and conspiracy theory stuff that leaned left in the 90s now seemed very much to lean toward the political persuasion that I am *not* and well, maybe best to leave the past to the past.

  11. Kate says:

    This post makes me so happy. I didn’t watch the show until college when it was on re-runs on FX (96/97) and I’m a Phile to this day. I even went to a tiny con in Dallas to see Kim Manners speak in the late 90’s. I’ve never been to another one. I was a shipper but really just loved the sexual tension between those characters. As a middle aged woman when I re-watch (which I do often) I feel like that man is absolutely not worth it. I know people bring this up every time this show is discussed but it definitely made me aware of my bisexuality.

  12. Aidee Kay says:

    I was a hardcore shipper but was so disappointed by the way Chris Carter wrote the Mulder/Scully romance in the movies and in the reboot (which I could hardly watch, I thought it was sooooooooo bad). Honestly the fan fiction for Mulder/Scully was the best part of the show and their relationship was far better depicted — more nuanced, more complex, and way hotter — in fic than in canon.

  13. Kay Hendricks says:

    Loved the X-Files from the beginning and definitely shipped Mulder and Scully. In case anyone is interested, I am old enough to remember, and I think this is backed up if you look on the web, that the first show where characters were actually “shipped” was the original Star Trek. I never shipped Kirk and Spock, mostly Spock and me.

  14. Anna says:

    My first episode was Pusher. I mean, what a start. I was hooked immediately and at 41 X-Files is still my fave show. Will always be. Seasons 8 and 9 and the second movie didn’t exist, though. The sequel I loved, it was just so much fun, even though there was some bad stuff as well. But who cared. We fans will always remember Seasons 1-7 as the real X-Files anyways.

    I was a noromo, but lived for the UST. When I got older I wanted them to be together and the series to end. We all knew what happened to shows where the main characters got together…So yeah. When Scully got pregnant at the end of Season 7, that should have been an open end and we all would have been fine with it.