Ranking All the X-Men Movies

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With Logan hitting theaters this week, marking the tenth installment of the original Marvel film franchise, we’re feeling a little nostalgic of 17 years and counting of mutant mayhem. Started in 2000 and still at least sort of in the same continuity (got to love in-canon reboots), the X-Men have had their ups and downs over the decade and a half of big screen adventures. Resembling the best and worst of the superhero movie renaissance at different times, here’s how we rank the films of the X-Men series.

10. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

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Unquestionably one of the worst superhero movies ever made, the first Wolverine spinoff is nothing but a cash cow. Fox exploited the popularity of Wolverine, and Hugh Jackman’s admittedly fantastic and consistent portrayal, in this nonsensical prequel that, at the time, seemed like a franchise killer. Sure, the special effects are somehow worse than in each of the previous entries, but it’s the cliched story and startling carelessness with beloved characters that ruins this one. Besides not matching up with any of Wolverine’s origin as explained in X2Origins also betrays the character’s arc in that film by even telling this story. And what’s the point of anything that happens in the movie when the main character’s memory gets erased in the last five minutes? It’s too bad that Liev Schreiber’s excellent Sabretooth didn’t make it past this film like Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool did, but otherwise, this worthless prequel deserved the rewrite it would get with Days of Future Past.

 

9. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

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The skeleton was there. The cure escalating to human weapons against mutants to Magneto waging war feels like where the trilogy was always heading. Famke Janssen is great in the moments where the resurrected Jean Grey/Phoenix has more to do than absent-mindedly stare while destruction happens around her (the one truly great scene of the film is when she rips Xavier to shreds after he tried to contain her for decades). At some point, there was a satisfying third X-Men movie here, but it got destroyed the second Cyclops was killed. From that moment, it was clear Brett Ratner and co. had no respect for the franchise they were taking over. Mystique betraying Magneto? Iceman sort of cheating on Rogue with Kitty Pryde? Wolverine repeatedly crying? Rogue taking the cure, betraying everything the X-Men are about?! Kelsey Grammar’s Beast is a standout and the action is impressive (this is the one, after all, where Magneto turns the Golden Gate Bridge into a hovercraft), but this movie just doesn’t understand what makes the X-Men so special.

 

8. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

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Easily the weakest of the Bryan Singer directed X-films, Apocalypse suffers simply from trying to accomplish way too much. Completing the trilogy that started with First Class, ushering in a younger cast to take over, pulling of one of the X-Men’s most iconic yet complicated villains, and giving Wolverine back his backstory is really pushing how much you can fit in one superhero movie. The result is that pieces of each of those things works, but none of them consistently. The new Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler are wonderful, but could use another scene or two of development. Xavier and Magneto get some powerful moments, together and separate, but Mystique is pretty much wasted this time around. Apocalypse sometimes works as a foil to both Xavier and Magneto, but is handled far too seriously to, well, be taken seriously. Wolverine’s extended cameo is a great sequence, but comes totally out of nowhere. The film is undeniably ambitious, and the climax largely works (Phoenix!), but all these moving parts fail to form a cohesive narrative at any point. It’s a disappointment to be sure, but one from a filmmaker who still gets this universe, even if it feels fractured this time.

 

7. The Wolverine (2013)

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There’s nothing really spectacular about the second solo Wolverine outing, but nothing really terrible about it either. In terms of the larger X-Men franchise, it’s sort of just there. It’s plot was undone less than a year after its release when Days of Future Past rewrote the timeline, so it’s a movie that barely even got a chance to be significant. That said, the film does have a really cool noir vibe that at least makes it feel different enough from most other superhero movies. Wolverine broods under neon lights in the rain here. It looks great, and the action, especially the bullet train sequence, is some of the best of the franchise. Also, far better than the movie she’s in is Wolverine’s new companion Yukio, a samurai sword-wielding young woman with the ability to see peoples’ deaths before they happen. But aside from that, a routine plot, some crappy dialogue, and the most boring villains of any X-film bring this one down.

 

6. X-Men (2000)

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Despite being the film most responsible for the current superhero craze, the original X-Men is relatively modest by today’s standards. It’s a good team superhero movie before Joss Whedon perfected that very thing with The Avengers twelve years later. But while Storm and Cyclops don’t stand out nearly as much as say Black Widow and even Hawkeye in the Disney/Marvel films, X-Men lands the most important thing an X-Men movie should land: misunderstood people fighting for acceptance. From Rogue’s puberty mishap to Mystique’s throwaway line “People like you were the reason I was afraid to go to school as a child,” Bryan Singer understood from the start what makes the X-Men so special in the pantheon of other superheroes. There’s tragedy to this group of powerful misfits. Yet the humor is never forgotten, with the perfectly cast Hugh Jackman butting heads with the team’s more stoic members. Throw in some more great casting with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan and this was a solid, sometimes great start to one of Hollywood’s strangest, most unpredictably strong franchises.

 

5. Deadpool (2016)

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Following the evolution of superhero films from 2000’s X-Men to this meta-commentary on the whole genre this franchise started is sort of fascinating. Deadpool is blindingly self-aware and far and away the funniest superhero movie ever made. After the dismal failure of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds famously pushed for almost a decade to get this film made. The result was the exact movie fans wanted. Deadpool’s mouth moves as fast as his bullets fly through the heads of his enemies. The film uses its R-rating to full-effect, subverting everything we’re used to in superhero movies with crude, violent humor. The plot may be a bit derivative and the villains fail to leave an impression, but so long as Deadpool is talking, which is most of it, the film is firecracker of a superhero movie, one that will hopefully push more studios to take chances on these films.

 

4. X-Men: First Class (2011)

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Think back to 2011. After two terrible X-Men movies, Disney/Marvel was introducing all the Avengers and we were eagerly anticipating Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film. The X-Men seemed finished. The genre was moving on without them. Enter Matthew Vaughn, a then up-and-coming director who had previously dropped out of directing The Last Stand. Set in the ’60s, First Class is built on an intentionally cheesy tone. There are psychedelic training montages and the most outrageous outfits from the period. But at the core of it all is the friendship between Xavier and Magneto, two leaders of their kind with the same goal. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender beuatifully sold their uneasy chemistry, working perfectly in sync with the script’s justifications for their eventual departure. The cheese factor may occasionally undermine First Class‘ drama, but not when it counts. The Cuban Missile Crisis climax on the beach remains one of the best scenes in any superhero movie, as friends become enemies and set the course for a world struck more with fear than hope.

 

3. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

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Bryan Singer’s triumphant return to the franchise over a decade after he left it makes for a bonafide superhero classic. Confidently tying together just about every piece of the X-Men franchise up to that point, Days of Future Past is the kind of sequel you get only after spending over a decade with these characters, through both good and bad. This in-canon reboot “fixes” everything The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine destroyed to reset the series with a fresh new timeline open to any and all possibilities. How do you accomplish that while still making a worthy entry? Days of Future Past deeply roots itself in its three main characters, Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique, as they step into the roles they’re destined to play, and then alters them. With Mystique holding the fate of mutant perception, not to mention the future, in her hands, Xavier and Magneto desperately ploy to bring her to the respective sides they chose in First Class. But while the young cast excels in the drama, the old cast gets a nostalgic reunion that allows them to all just be awesome in a dystopian future. The film occasionally feels like its going to crumble under its own ambitious weight, but it never does, making for one of the most fun, emotional, and generally coolest superhero movies to date.

 

2. Logan (2017)

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After getting familiar with dystopian futures in Days of Future Past, the franchise would return to grim future, albeit one far less showy than the obliterated cities of the Sentinels’ war against mutants. In Logan, mutants are in hiding and aren’t being born. But the possibility of a new generation is what sets Wolverine and Xavier on one last mission for their kind. James Mangold’s second go at the X-Men universe far surpasses The Wolverine by being the exact opposite of it. Where Logan’s trip to Japan was a competent but fairly routine superhero adventure, this western road movie slows things down and puts a sharp magnified glass on its characters. No film has understood Wolverine as well as Logan, and it doesn’t waste that understanding on CGI-heavy romps, but quiet scenes of introspection. Take the dinner scene in the middle, where Xavier coerces his former student, now practically a son, into staying at a nice family’s home for a meal. Xavier gives Logan a look at what a normal life looks like. It’s a life Wolverine and his “daughter,” the fascinating and just all-around awesome Laura, a.k.a. X-23, will likely never get to live. The final shot of the film is one of beauty and hope. In a genre that clings to its characters and refuses to let go, in fear of having to use them again in the sequel, Wolverine’s sendoff isn’t just fresh, it’s profound. Hugh Jackman has being playing this mutant rights savior for 17 years, and he’s well earned his rest, but thankfully only after his best work with the character.

 

1. X2: X-Men United (2003)

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X-Men was a good movie that mostly served to set up the world of the mutants and the politics within it. X2 was the first of the series to really get to dig into those themes without holding anything back. Take for instance the best scene of the entire franchise, where young Bobby Drake returns to his family’s home after the X-Mansion is attacked. His parents don’t know what he is, so he “comes out” to them. After ushering blame and questions, his mother finally says “We still love you Bobby,” yet she lets him go in fear when the cops show up and Pyro blows them all to hell. The parallels to the LGBT community are hardly subtle here, but they don’t need to be. From their creation, the X-Men have always resembled the outcasts, the oppressed, and the “unequal.” That’s never represented better in the series than when a teenage boy comes out to his parents just hoping they’ll understand and accept him. But X2 is more than just one flawless moment for a secondary character. With the characters all separated, the script and the elongated runtime let characters like Jean Grey and Rogue really breathe this time around. That and the action remains some of the best of the genre. Nightcrawler’s one mutant assault on the White House. Wolverine’s rage-induced defense of the X-Mansion. Magneto’s prison break. The X-Jet weaving around Storm’s tornadoes. Wolverine going toe-to-toe with his “sister” of sorts. Yet, between all the high-stakes action, rich character arcs, and resonant themes, there’s still time made for Wolverine’s grumpy wisecracks, Nightcrawler’s naive charm, Magneto teasing and toying with his former enemies, and Mystique’s sass in the form of a well-placed middle finger. X2 just clicks into place everywhere it needs to. Bryan Singer’s sequel was the first true superhero film masterpiece, full of levity, thrills, and a much-needed ass-kicking kinship for everyone who grew up just a little different from the “norm.”

 

How would you rank the X-Men movies? Let us know in the comments below!

 

By Matt Dougherty

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