The X-Men franchise is starting to wind down… well, at least in its current form. 2017 delivered Logan, Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine, and 2018 gave us Deadpool 2, another successful outing of Ryan Reynolds as a proper, fourth wall-breaking Wade Wilson. Looking to the future, Dark Phoenix will wrap up the main X-Men film series soon, and following numerous delays, The New Mutants is finally set for release on April 3, 2020, although it’s entirely possible it could be moved again.
With the X-Men property now under the Disney banner following the company’s purchase of 21st Century Fox, it’s only a matter of time before Marvel’s mutants are eventually going to be incorporated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe mythology, though that’s a long way off. In any case, the current X-Men franchise has unquestionably been a major cornerstone for the superhero movie genre’s rise in popularity in the last two decades.
So as we prepare for Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants to bring an end to this iteration of the current X-Men franchise, here’s our ranking of all the X-Men movies up to this latest installment, from worst to best. Let’s kick off with the one that most of you likely look at with contempt and sadness.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
X-Men Origins: Wolverine promised to tell the epic tale of how Wolverine’s skeleton was bonded with adamantium and how he lost his memories. Well, at least we got the origin part. With the exception of Hugh Jackman delivering a satisfiable Wolverine performance, Liev Schrieber’s improved Sabretooth and the amazing opening credits, nothing about this movie screamed excellence.
Origins felt like a weird offshoot of a regular X-Men movie than a true Wolverine story. In some ways it actually made Wolverine seem less interesting. It’s for the best this movie was wiped from continuity after X-Men: Days of Future Past.
X-Men: The Last Stand
X-Men: The Last Stand is a perfect example of a movie that juggles too many plots and characters. Instead of following both Jean Grey’s transformation into Dark Phoenix and the creation of a mutant “cure,” the third X-Men entry should have dedicated full attention to just one of these narratives. Even if that had been the case, that may not have been enough to shift The Last Stand from a mere action-fest to something compelling.
The treatment of certain fan favorite characters (I’m looking at you, Cyclops and Juggernaut) certainly didn’t help matters. The Last Stand did have a few bright spots, like Kelsey Grammer’s Beast, but overall, it was an underwhelming conclusion to the original X-Men trilogy, making us all the more glad the series didn’t end with that.
If X-Men: Apocalypse had come out 10-15 years earlier, then maybe it would have earned better reception. The problem with this installment is not only did it hit on many of the same beats we’ve seen in previous X-Men movies, but the story just felt incredibly generic. It takes more for a superhero movie to be successful nowadays than just showing the hero(es) preventing the bad guy(s) from taking over the world, unleashing destruction, etc.
Apocalypse barely brought anything special to the table plot-wise, especially with the main villain. So while it’s an okay movie overall, there’s nothing particularly exceptional about it. Except for that Quicksilver sequence. That’s a delight to watch.
Four years after X-Men Origins: Wolverine failed to satisfy critically, The Wolverine managed to find some solo story redemption for the clawed mutant by taking him to Japan, a location near and dear to his comic book counterpart. The first two-thirds of the movie were a blast, as we saw Wolverine fighting the Yakuza while he dealt with his malfunctioning healing factor.
The movie also arguably showed Wolverine at his highest level of ferocity up to that point in the franchise. Unfortunately, The Wolverine‘s clunky third act was a little too weighed down in the more fantastical comic book elements, but in the end, it was a decent adventure for Logan.
It’s the movie that started it all, and even though Blade preceded X-Men by two years, many will argue that the latter helped kick off the modern superhero movie craze. Introducing folks who didn’t read the comics or watch the ’90s animated series to the world of mutants, X-Men was an action-packed romp that also explored how discrimination has affected those born with extraordinary abilities.
At a time when a lot of superhero movies weren’t taking themselves seriously, X-Men was a welcome break since it didn’t seek to make light of the source material. Sure, X-Men didn’t fully embrace its comic book roots (as evidenced by those black leather costumes), but we’ll forever be grateful for its captivating story and what it did for the superhero movie genre.
There was a lot riding on Deadpool 2 to come close to matching its predecessor’s excellent blend of action and wackiness, and while it might not entirely measure up, the sequel is definitely still enjoyable. Along with delivering more of the elements we enjoyed in Deadpool, Deadpool 2 explored the concept of family and Deadpool ultimately finding a place where he belongs.
The movie also introduced us to Josh Brolin’s Cable and Zazie Beetz’s Domino, and while it remains to be seen whether we’ll ever see this incarnation of the X-Force again, at least these versions of the characters had one movie to shine in. It should also be noted that along with the theatrical cut, fans can also watch Deadpool 2 unfold differently in the Super Duper extended cut and the PG-13 cut known as Once Upon a Deadpool.
X-Men: First Class
Taking a cue from X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the main X-Men series decided to wind the clock back to the early 1960s to show how Professor X and Magneto first met each other, and how the very first team of mutant heroes formed. It’s a good thing the franchise went in this direction, because thanks to X-Men: First Class, the series was revitalized.
With a story that mixed superheroes flair with spy adventures, good performances from most of the main cast and great dialogue, X-Men: First Class benefitted from getting distance from its predecessors, and the end result was a movie that was both exciting and intelligent.
Deadpool is very much the black sheep of the X-Men franchise, in that it doesn’t feel like an X-Men movie at all. Hence why it’s not in the top 3 on this list. Nevertheless, given Deadpool‘s connection to the X-Men universe, as well as the movie include Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Colossus, we must include it! That’s perfectly fine, because Deadpool was unlike any X-Men or superhero movie that came before.
With zany humor, fourth wall breaking and over-the-top violence, Deadpool is a great example of what happens when you take a risk with a property and it pays off big time. We should all be thankful to whoever leaked that animated test footage and forced Deadpool out of development hell.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Loosely adapting the original 1981 Days of Future Past comic arc, X-Men: Days of Future Past was the movie that brought the old and new X-Men generations together through time travel. As both a continuation of the original trilogy and the next entry of the “First Class” trilogy, this movie managed to combine the best of both worlds for an epic and entertaining tale that spanned across decades.
A great bonus that came from the temporal shenanigans is that much of the X-Men franchise’s continuity issues (and mistakes) were wiped away when the timeline was changed, leaving the franchise a relatively clean slate to work with for future entries.
Like Deadpool, Logan was unlike any other superhero movie that came before. In this case, Wolverine’s third movie felt more like a modern Western, and it is arguably the maturest of the X-Men movies. While the cinematic Wolverine has usually been a captivating protagonist to watch, Logan cut to his core and arguably spotlighted him when he was most “human.”
By eschewing many of the comic book-y elements in favor of character study and putting both Wolverine and Professor X in their most vulnerable states, Logan served as a remarkable conclusion to both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s time with this franchise, and will forever be known as one of the most unique tales in this genre.
X2: X-Men United
Obviously the rankings on this list are subject to debate, but there’s no denying that X2: X-Men United is the movie from this selection that best melded the X-Men mythology with a story appealing for all kinds of moviegoers. Even though Wolverine was once again front and center as he encountered a figure from his past, all of the major characters were able to shine at one point or another.
While the action was as dazzling as ever, it was also great to see X2 hit even harder on those outcast themes. This was one of those rare sequels that improved upon its predecessor and then some. While it’s a shame that X2‘s immediate successors failed to measure up, they can’t take away from how fantastic this installment is, and it still reigns supreme as one of the most acclaimed superhero movies ever.