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Ranking the "X-Men" Movie Franchise

Copyright 2011 by 20th Century Fox.

Copyright 2011 by 20th Century Fox.

A bit of a bygone relic in the years of the mighty Marvel Cinematic Universe, the X-Men film series was, at one point, sitting at the top of the superhero world. Rubbing elbows with the likes of Spider-Man and Batman, the X-Men franchise and its many spinoffs managed to bring in a mighty $6 billion before finally bowing out in 2020. Say what you will about the quality of the individual movies, but that's quite an accomplishment.

This list will attempt to rank the movies of the X-Men film series, and all those that tied into the lives of Marvel's favorite mutants. May these movies not be forgotten by the eventual, inevitable coming of mutants to the MCU.

Copyright 2009 by 20th Century Fox.

Copyright 2009 by 20th Century Fox.

13. X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Oh, Wolverine. You were so popular in those first three X-Men movies. You deserved a solid spinoff. What the devil happened here?

The beginning of an abandoned / retooled series of 'Origins' movies, X-Men Origins: Wolverine details the life of Logan (Hugh Jackman) before he meets up with the X-Men. After a series of flashbacks to Wolverine and Sabertooth (Liev Schreiber) galivanting through the battlefields of history the film puts the pair on Team X, a group of mutants who carry out missions for Major William Stryker (Danny Huston). Logan abandons the team after Sabertooth goes too far, but a tragedy leads him on a vengeful warpath towards his murderous half-brother and his former commander.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine seems like it should be a pretty simple story, and to a degree it is. Bad people hurt Wolverine and he decides to kill them. There are too many characters shoehorned in, though, and none of the actors have enough time to shine. This never should have been the first movie appearances of Gambit, Silverfox, Blob, Kestrel, Emma Frost, and Deadpool, yet they're all here, and they're all undercooked. The script doesn't come close to justifying the waste of all this potential, putting these neat characters in so-so action scenes with bad special effects.

Hugh Jackman tried his best in this one, he really did. Same for Liev Schrieber, who acquits himself quite well as Sabertooth. Their dynamic is the best part of the movie. As soon as you see Wolverine's fake CG claws you know X-Men Origins: Wolverine isn't going to be great, though, and it all just keeps going downhill from there. (Thankfully, Deadpool comes back in time later and rectifies this movie's greatest crime: Sewing Wade Wilson's mouth shut. What a dumb idea.)

Copyright 2006 by 20th Century Fox.

Copyright 2006 by 20th Century Fox.

12. X-Men: The Last Stand

Coming off the strong performance of X2, X-Men: The Last Stand should have been much more than it was. If director Bryan Singer hadn't decided to go play with Superman he could have crafted a worthy, poignant, interesting end to his trilogy. Instead we got this Brett Ratner-directed Frankenstein, and while there are a few fun moments The Last Stand is a chore to watch. Shame on you for leaving, Bryan.

The Last Stand begins at a moment of opportunity - and crisis - for mutants. A new 'cure' to the mutant condition has been found, and mutants everywhere need to decide whether they want to take it or not. Magneto (Ian McKellen) dislikes the very idea, and begins to strike back against the American government. Wolverine and Storm (Halle Berry), meanwhile, return to Alkali Lake - and find Jean Grey (Fake Janssen), thought to be dead, simply unconscious. Jean's powers have blossomed, and an alternate identity, that of the Phoenix, turns her into a murderous force with few scruples.

The Phoenix storyline is a classic, set up reasonably well in X2, and the mutant cure is a great angle for a team as racially-sensitive as the X-Men. Mashing the two storylines together was a poor choice. Neither is given the necessary amount of care, as this film - like so many others in the X-Men movies - juggles way too many characters, new and old, ruining the story. This time around we get Juggernaut, Multiple Man, Angel, Beast, Kitty Pryde, Callisto, Psylocke, Arclight, Kid Omega, and Leech, and not a single one of these new additions feels impactful or interesting.

Worse, however, is what The Last Stand does with its returning cast. The X-Men team we've come to know and (kinda) love is blown to pieces, unceremoniously killed or kicked to the curb thanks to the poor writing. The lion's share of the cool moments go to Wolverine and Magneto, and in a movie this packed with wasted space slashing stuff and moving metal around is not enough to save the day.

Copyright 2000 by 20th Century Fox.

Copyright 2000 by 20th Century Fox.

11. X-Men

The movie that kicked it all off, X-Men is a pioneer of the modern superhero movie. Without films like X-Men, Blade, Spider-Man, and one or two of the Batman films, the genre would not be what it is today.

... but with that said, X-Men is not a good movie. It does not hold up well at all.

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Though at first glance an ensemble piece, X-Men centers on the troubles of young mutant Rogue (Anna Paquin) who runs away from home when her powers nearly kill her boyfriend. Befriended by Wolverine, who just happens to be passing by, Rogue winds up at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters... and is soon captured by Magneto, who wants to use her power for an evil plan. The X-Men must step in to stop Magneto and save Rogue.

Pretty standard plot for an X-Men story, and it's a wacky one - one with holes. Magneto has some strange ideas for trying to bring humans and mutants together. The primary plot aside, though, X-Men is a pretty breezy series of scenes that sometimes work and sometimes don't, held together by actors who are sometimes well-cast and sometimes... aren't. For every Magneto and Charlies Xavier (Patrick Stewart) there is a Cyclops (James Marsden) or Storm (Halle Berry) who don't embody their characters very well. Even Hugh Jackman, who eventually made the role his own, doesn't feel all that much like Logan.

X-Men's greatest weakness, however, is its runtime. It's no wonder that this film feels like an inadequate introduction to the X-Men, because it is a slim one hour and forty-four minutes long, yet still doesn't feel all that action-packed. Despite being a little boring at times this movie flies by. How does one of the most iconic superhero teams of all time not warrant a two-hour movie? Especially with such a large cast? Pump those numbers up and throw in a few more fights, hopefully with some better wirework.

Copyright 2019 by 20th Century Fox.

Copyright 2019 by 20th Century Fox.

10. Dark Phoenix

After a powerhouse beginning with X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, the rebooted X-Men seemed like they were on the path to success. It's a shame that they followed up with the tepid X-Men: Apocalypse... and then finished weakly with Dark Phoenix. They didn't even bother to put 'X-Men' in the title this time.

Dark Phoenix begins with a mission to space. Things don't go well for the novice X-Men, and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) gets blasted by space energy. This turns out to be the Phoenix Force, and as Jean grapples with the massive power boost the X-Men must compete with a mystery woman (Jessica Chastain) for Jean's allegiance.

Yes, they tried the Dark Phoenix storyline again, and no, it didn't work. Dark Phoenix is an improvement over X-Men: The Last Stand, but it doesn't come close to the grandeur this story deserves. Aside from Jean, who is played pretty well by Turner, and Tye Sheridan, who gives Cyclops some life, the cast doesn't seem to care all that much that they're in this movie. Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique is the standout when it comes to apathy, though James McAvoy's Xavier and Nicholas Hoult's Beast also feel weirdly out-of-character and one-note. (Why is Xavier suddenly such a greedy jerk?)

As the final X-Men movie we will ever see outside the MCU, Dark Phoenix is pretty disappointing. Chastain's Vuk (who?) is a limp final villain, and aside from a few neat action sequences - the train jumps to mind - everything here pales in comparison to the previous three films. Quicksilver (Evan Peters) doesn't even get a cool speed sequence. This is a coherent, competent movie, but a poor end to this iteration of Marvel's mightiest mutants.

Copyright 2016 by 20th Century Fox.

Copyright 2016 by 20th Century Fox.

9. X-Men: Apocalypse

Let's get X-Men: Apocalypse's biggest problem out of the way first: You do not cast Oscar Isaac and then waste him. He is too good an actor to play an overpainted, monotone megalomaniac with generic plans to rule the world. Take it back, Fox, take it back.

Going on the offensive from the start, titular villain Apocalypse begins causing trouble around the world, using his Four Horsemen to destroy civilization. The X-Men, now full of new recruits and badly lacking in experience, set out to stop him. Series familiars Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Stryker (Josh Helman) get in the way. It's a pretty standard save-the-world plot.

Stylish and attractive in a thoroughly predictable manner, Apocalypse fails in the same way so many previous X-Men movies failed: It introduces in too many new characters, or, in many cases, brings back old characters with new actors and backstories, and none of them are fleshed out or interesting. Who cares if Psylocke, Angel, Storm, and Magneto are the Four Horsemen? None of them do anything cool except Magneto, and he's awesome because of the first two movies, not by virtue of his actions here. (Though, admittedly, Fassbender gets a chance to show off his acting during his tragic introduction.) The teenaged versions of the original crew get a bit of time to shine at the beginning of the movie, but they're quickly overshadowed by Apocalypse's boring plan.

In short, Apocalypse is an underwhelming retread of the X-Men franchise. It's all flash with very little substance or novel commentary. Mutants have it hard and are misunderstood, so let's all fire off some energy beams at the bad guy and call it a day. Reintroducing Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Storm, and Jubilee called for a lot more character work than Apocalypse allowed, leading to new iterations of these characters that feel even less interesting than their often-lackluster predecessors. Bleh.

(But that Quicksilver scene. That was pretty cool, right? Yeah. That was pretty cool.)

Copyright 2020 by 20th Century Fox.

Copyright 2020 by 20th Century Fox.

8. The New Mutants

A movie plagued by delays, casting problems, the purchase of its production company, and a literal plague, The New Mutants is better than it has a right to be - but still isn't amazing. This is probably the first 'decent' movie on this list.

The New Mutants chronicles the troubled lives of a group of teens in therapy, albeit a form of therapy that feels more like a prison. Watched over by the seemingly-benevolent Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) the New Mutants struggle with their destructive powers, bounce off one another's often-volatile personalities, and try to puzzle out just where they've been incarcerated in the first place. All is not what it appears, and the film does a good job setting up a background villain whom we will probably never see.

The New Mutants is uneven. Wisely limiting its cast to seven characters (one of whom is barely in the movie) the film gives its actors plenty of room to breathe, interact, express their personalities, and show off their powers, and for the most part the performances are good. (Though the accents could use some work. Anya Taylor-Joy's Majik can't decide if she's Russian from one scene to the next.) The script doesn't do much but allow them to talk, however, and fails to provide a compelling reason for why they can't just break out of the asylum. Majik in particular seems way too powerful to remain contained for long, and her abilities undercut the horror this movie is supposed to convey.

As a team-building exercise The New Mutants isn't bad. These actors probably deserved a second chance - and a bigger budget - to explore the possibilities of this spinoff franchise. Alas, The New Mutants was the last of the X-Men franchise movies to emerge from Disney's looming shadow, and it's unlikely we will ever see this version of these characters again.

Copyright 2013 by 20th Century Fox.

Copyright 2013 by 20th Century Fox.

7. The Wolverine

Essentially the blueprint for a better film, The Wolverine is the movie viewers should have gotten as the first X-Men spinoff. Despite falling in seventh place this movie is much, much, much better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and would probably be higher on the list if not for some fatal third act missteps.

Taking place after X-Men: The Last Stand, The Wolverine sees Logan stuck in a rut. Plagued with guilt over the death of Jean Grey he wants only to live as a hermit - but the world, of course, won't leave him alone, and an associate of an old friend comes looking for Wolverine with a request. Logan gets whisked off to Japan, and soon finds himself in the crosshairs of the Yakuza... and far worse. This might not be that big of a deal for him, except, uh oh, Wolverine loses his powers. That's a rough development.

Two-thirds of The Wolverine is great. Hugh Jackman is given plenty of room to practice his art, and with the rest of his X-Men buddies out of the way the character is more somber, more serious, and quite a bit more violent. The action is intense and stylish, there are a number of scenes that look like paintings in motion, and the rest of the cast is pretty danged good. Unfortunately the third act has a serious case of superhero movie-itis, and what should have been a dramatic, emotional finale turns into a dumb smackdown involving a big suit of mechanical armor. Bleh.

Still, if you can let that blemish go, The Wolverine is a solid, enjoyable film. The majority of the runtime shows a level of filmmaking finesse lacking in many of the movies leading up to this point, and Jackman's Wolverine begins to feel like the stunted Canadian wildman from the comics. (Albeit one who is still way too handsome.)

Copyright 2018 by 20th Century Fox.

Copyright 2018 by 20th Century Fox.

6. Deadpool 2

Deadpool was a surprise revelation for superhero cinema, proving that a badly-rendered character could, in fact, be redeemed in the right hands. The sequel to such a strong comeback therefore needed to do everything bigger, bolder, and better, and while Deadpool 2 is definitely a bigger movie than the first it's neither bolder nor better. Still, this is a damned funny movie when it hits its stride.

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is riding high off of his victory in the first movie, but this quickly go awry when love of his life Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is killed by a hit squad. After much moping and a suicide attempt Deadpool is inducted into the X-Men, but he proves way too violent for the group and is imprisoned alongside teenaged mutant Russell (Julian Dennison). While in jail Russell is targeted by the time-travelling Cable (Josh Brolin), and Deadpool takes it upon himself to protect Russell from his would-be assassin.

Deadpool 2's story is pretty good, but there are plot beats that serve the humor more than having the humor support the plot beats. Deadpool's recruitment and deployment of X-Force, for example, serves virtually no purpose in the story, and despite being one of the funniest sequences in any superhero movie feels like filler. Deadpool 2 also largely fails to recapture the genuine emotion of the original movie, and while Deadpool and Russell do have a good relationship it's nowhere near as fun or compelling as Wade's romance with Vanessa. Deadpool 2 tries to do a bit too much, and winds up being a bit weaker for it.

Does that make it a bad movie? Not a chance. Deadpool 2 is breezy fun. Ryan Reynolds is still hilariously obnoxious as Deadpool, Josh Brolin is great as Cable, and Zazie Beetz absolutely needs to jump into the MCU as Domino. The whole cast is welcome, frankly - they just deserve a stronger movie than they got here.

Copyright 2011 by 20th Century Fox.

Copyright 2011 by 20th Century Fox.

5. X-Men: First Class

The critical failures of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine left the franchise at a crossroads. Much of the team was dead after The Last Stand and no one seemed all that interested in the Origins movies, so where to go from here? The answer, of course, was back in time. Retool the Origins concept into another team movie. The decision was a good one, and we got X-Men: First Class.

Harkening back to the days before the X-Men, First Class observes the dual lives of Charles Xavier, a posh, flirty young professor, and Erik Lehnsherr, a grim man seeking vengeance for the murder of his mother. Their common goals bring them together to form the first iteration of the X-Men, facing off against Hellfire Club leader Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his own band of mutant misfits. The Cuban Missile Crisis gets in the way.

Though not every mutant gets a proper treatment in First Class - the 'lesser' members of the two teams are pretty forgettable - the starring actors here are fantastic. James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, and Kevin Bacon all have well-developed character dynamics and motivations, and the script expertly bounces them off one another with a compelling twist on a tense historical event. Mutant powers and special effects do not outshine character in this one, a problem that stunted many of the earlier movies, and setting everything during the Cuban Missile Crisis grounds First Class in reality quite nicely.

If First Class has a major flaw it's that the 'returning' characters don't feel the same as the originals. Xavier and Magneto are somewhat familiar, but Moira MacTaggert, Mystique, Beast, and Emma Frost might as well be different characters altogether. (Honestly, this Emma Frost probably is a different character.) This is more of a soft reboot, and while that's ultimately fine is gives the whole franchise a disjointed quality that would only be amplified in the films to come. If you can ignore that sensation, though, then First Class is a solid superhero flick.

Copyright 2003 by 20th Century Fox.

Copyright 2003 by 20th Century Fox.

4. X2: X-Men United

Often heralded as one of the best superhero movies ever made - or at least it was for the decade after it came out - X2 is what most of these movies should have been: Character-driven, focused, action-packed, morally-conflicted, and cool. And while it doesn't succeed on all these fronts (Cyclops gets screwed over yet again in this film), X2 is the best you're going to get out of the original X-Men cast.

X2 opens on a world in conflict. Rogue mutant Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) has tried to assassinate the President of the United States, and mutants everywhere are under threat by a mankind that hates and fears them. This turns out to be a plot by the distinctly human William Stryker (Brian Cox) to goad his government into action, and the X-Men must uncover and foil his scheme before he can commit a worldwide mutant genocide. The fact that he can chemically brainwash mutants makes this more complicated than it sounds.

The stakes are high in X2, just as they were in X-Men, though because Stryker is such a compelling villain they work a lot better here. Brian Cox gets to chew the scenery wherever he goes, even if he's just moving from identical to identical room in his command center. Yet it's the X-Men themselves that make this movie shine. Wolverine is, of course, at center stage, but aside from Xavier and Cyclops the entire cast feels uplifted in this film, with ample opportunities to have fun, bicker, full-on fight, and forge uneasy alliances with one another. The decision to make Magneto and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) temporary good guys was a good one, and McKellan continues to provide a morally-gray performance that is a lot of fun to watch.

Not everything in X2 works. Some of the action scenes have not aged all that well compared to modern superhero movies, and the script doesn't quite know what to do with three of its teenaged leads. Still, X2's faults are pretty minor compared to many of the movies on this list, and there's a lot to like about the X-Men's second outing. It's a shame that this was followed up by X-Men: The Last Stand, because the original trilogy seemed like it was on a strong trajectory. Oh well.

Copyright 2014 by 20th Century Fox.

Copyright 2014 by 20th Century Fox.

3. X-Men: Days of Future Past

Created as a massive course correction by director Bryan Singer, Days of Future Past was meant to tie up the franchise's many, many, many loose ends. Reconciling the events of the original trilogy, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and X-Men: First Class proved a challenge for eagle-eyed viewers, and despite First Class's general success it didn't seem to connect all that closely to the first three movies. It's a bit of a miracle, then, that a film with so many moving parts is as good as Days of Future Past. This is the closest the X-Men films got to an Avengers-style crossover film.

Jumping into the future, Days of Future Past depicts a dystopian fate for mutantkind. Mutants are constantly hunted by robotic killers named Sentinels, and the Sentinels are steps away from catching what remains of the X-Men. The solution? Send Wolverine's consciousness back into the past so he can stop Mystique from killing weapons designer Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), ushering in the age of mutant hatred that eventually led to the development of the Sentinels. Logan recruits the reluctant Charles Xavier and Beast of the 70s to help him, and after a cool jailbreak Magneto comes along for the ride as well.

Days of Future Past is split into two segments, future and past, and the future does not acquit itself all that well. There are too many unnamed mutants, there's too much exposition, and aside from a few tense moments the old cast doesn't do much besides stand around and look worried. The plot to send Wolverine back into the past via Kitty Pryde (Eliot Page) makes little to no sense. It's nice to see a lot of these cast members again after a few movies absent, but Wolverine aside none of them are used all that well.

It's the past that makes Days of Future Past a great movie, and mercifully the majority of the action takes place in the past. Once Wolverine hits the 70s the movie becomes a lot of fun, and he has to navigate a snippy alliance with a disillusioned Xavier and Beast, not to mention a thoroughly-untrustworthy Magneto. The group remains just small enough that they're all given plenty of room to breathe and grow as characters. And when they do throw in a new face it's Evan Peters as Quicksilver, whose slow-motion kitchen scene is poetry in motion.

Does Days of Future Past fix the franchise's problems? Not really. It gives the old team of X-Men a happier ending, true, but it also further muddies Wolverine's origins and raises questions as to whether or not the original trilogy ever happened, none of which are ever resolved. You'll also be left wondering why the team doesn't just call in Quicksilver every time they have a problem. Still, Days of Future Past is a nice handover between generations of X-Men, and while it's not a perfect movie it's still a great, emotional rollercoaster on par with many of the better MCU films.

Copyright 2016 by 20th Century Fox.

Copyright 2016 by 20th Century Fox.

2. Deadpool

Ah, Ryan Reynolds. By all rights we never should have seen you in the X-Men franchise again. Praise be to him, for without his dogged determination to have Deadpool done correctly we would have forever been stuck with the version from X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Instead we wound up with a performance so perfectly in-character that it rivals Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man.

Tossing aside the trash appearance of Wade Wilson in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Deadpool paints the story of a pretty mercenary brought low by cancer. Leaving girlfriend Vanessa behind Wade accepts a miracle cure offered by the shady Ajax (Ed Skrein), only to be tortured, badly burned, and transformed into a mutant with a supernatural healing factor. Bent on revenge, Deadpool dons his iconic costume and decides to take Ajax down.

Wisely limiting its cast and focusing most of its time on the man in red, Deadpool is a strong character piece that also happens to be really funny. Deadpool's origin is tragic and traumatic, and the loss of his amazing relationship with Vanessa - seriously, romance has never been done this well in other superhero movies - is played really, really well. Occasionally Deadpool's weird, meta sense of humor undercuts the emotion, but once you accept that Wade's mouth is used as a coping mechanism he develops into a great, compelling character. It helps that Reynolds is surrounded by a fun cast, and Deadpool makes good use of everyone. (Who would have thought that Colossus could be this amusing?)

Deadpool isn't for everyone. Its violence and body humor is a distinct step above the other X-Men movies, and the jokes often hit crude levels. Deadpool is a mouthy jerk who never shuts up, and Reynolds plays the character that way throughout, for good or for ill. Yet that is also the movie's greatest strength: It knows exactly what it is and what it wants, and you get what you'd expect if you know anything about the Deadpool character. And if it weren't for just one more character-driven movie, Deadpool would easily hit number one on this list.

Copyright 2017 by 20th Century Fox.

Copyright 2017 by 20th Century Fox.

1. Logan

X-Men: The Last Stand was meant to be the end of an era, and it failed. X-Men: Days of Future Past was meant to bring the original X-Men to a close, with... uneven results for the original cast. And Dark Phoenix? Yeah, that, too, was an ending, and we'll leave it at that. Needless to say the X-Men franchise has not been great at providing closure for its characters. There's only one film that really nails a strong goodbye, and it's Logan. Hoo boy is this a goodbye.

The year is 2029, and mutants are dying out. No new mutants have been born in ages, and the original batch are either dead or hiding from a hit squad led by Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Logan is now a limo driver, trying to scrounge up cash so he and a dementia-riddled Xavier can escape their hellish new lives. Logan and Xavier become saddled with a young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen) whose powers are nigh-identical to Logan's, and the trio must flee Pierce's Reavers.

Logan is a sad, sad movie. The happy ending of Days of Future Past has been destroyed, with hints that Xavier accidentally killed the X-Men. Logan's powers are failing, and his attempts to care for longtime friend Charles are both awkward and heartbreaking. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart act their hearts out in every scene, and you can feel the weight of their shared years in every move. Yet this is also a movie about new families, and despite being a newcomer Dafne Keene's Laura slips between Jackman and Stewart with effortless panache. Watching the three of them travel and bond is wonderfully tragic, especially since the movie makes it clear that things are not going to end well.

Logan's overarching plot about clones is not all that interesting, and it doesn't have to be. This is a film driven by relationships, and Pierce's mission to recapture Laura serves as a vehicle to move the characters around, nothing more. Logan is all about saying goodbye to the X-Men franchise of old, and though past stories failed many of the characters this tragedy brings horrific, poignant closure to the tortured lives of Wolverine and Professor X. It would be fun to see Jackman and Stewart reappear in the MCU, yes, but nothing they do there will ever measure up to this movie.

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