Bryan Singer’s original X-Men kickstarted a superhero boom when it premiered in cinemas at the turn of the century, and now the genre is the front and center in cinema. The X-Men movies took the comic books seriously, exploring themes of prejudice and isolation that are present in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Marvel creations. It is fair to say that without the X-Men movies, we would not have the Dark Knight trilogy by Christopher Nolan. X-Men also paved the way for a lot of sequels and spin-offs, growing a convoluted, branching timeline and some movies of incredibly varied quality. Here are the X-Men movies from worst to best.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
The origin story of Logan proves an unnecessary and forgettable outing that had the potential to be so much more. For all his hard work as Wolverine, Hugh Jackman could not elevate this film above its poor scripts, its storytelling, and its incredibly bad CGI.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
When Bryan Singer left to make Superman Returns, he was replaced by director Brett Ratner who took the seminal “Dark Phoenix Saga” and drained all the elements of its cosmic drama and gave us Dark Willow Mk 2 as the villain, while the main characters were slowly killed off or they were sidelined.
The Wolverine (2013)
The second Wolverine spinoff was a significant upgrade on X-Men Origins, and it took a leaf out of Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s classic comic-book run to send Hugh Jackman to Japan. The story gave the film a stand-alone feel, and The Wolverine is a breakaway from the X franchise thanks to its amped-up samurai narrative. Jackman was terrific in the title role as we track the character World War II soldier into the present day. The lack of a strong villain hinders the proceedings, but overall, it is a solid movie, and the mid-credits scene was memorable.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2006)
Apocalypse made an effort to bring the classic, giant blue villain of the title to the big screen. Oscar Isaac did his best as Apocalypse but could not overcome a pound of make-up and a quartet of much-hyped but largely mute minions. The newest class of X-Men, Sophie Turner as young Jean Grey, Tve Sheridan as young Cyclops and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the young Nightcrawler were likable, and a hint at classic stories to come in the final act was enough to keep the fanboys and fangirls squealing and excited for more.
X-men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
This movie was an improvement on The Last Stand, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a faithful retelling of the Dark Phoenix Sage, even though it is taken out a few of the major elements from the comic run. The problem is that however well-made it is, it cannot escape feeling familiar as it does not do anything new, in terms of superhero movies. Jessica Chastain’s villain character is underdeveloped, and the script is not strong enough, so the cast is hampered, and it does not excite the audience.
X-men: First Class (2011)
Recasting Magneto and Professor X may have caused some issues back then, but Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy proved to be good in Matthew Vaughn’s prequel First Class. Anchored in the 60s, this movie felt like a classic Sean Connery Bond flick with added super powers. Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr’s turbulent early relationship was explored, as well as the origins of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) which are known fan favorites. The movie has a combination of humor, engaging performances and set pieces that made this movie a winner.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
After a fallow period, the X-Men franchise came back strong. After First Class, Days of Future Past brought two strong casts together for what might be the only time. The dystopian future contrasts nicely with another strong period setting, and Jackman reminded us just how great he is as Wolverine. Evan Peters steals the show as Quicksilver, while McKellen and Stewart got to resume their on-screen bromance, with everything wrapping up in a satisfying epilogue.
The original X-Men was the movie that started it all. It stands as an important picture beyond the confines of the list. The film juggles a wide and varied cast in classic X-Men style, smoothly introducing us to the world of the mutants and the themes of intolerance that the X-Men movies has always held at its center. Amazing performances from McKellen, Stewart, Jackman, Anna Paquin and Famke Janssen and a sharp script were only let down by a plot that could not match their potential and a largely underwhelming finale.
One of the best things that Fox has done is to let the X-Men franchise filmmakers explore themes and genres outside the bounds of the main movies. James Mangold took things to a whole new level with the gripping and emotionally raw Logan. This movie is a bleak vision of the future in which mutants are all but extinct, and Wolverine must protect a young girl who is like himself. It stands unconnected from the rest of the series, while still drawing on the amazing connection developed between Jackman and Stewart over 17 years of collaboration on the franchise. This is the perfect send-off for Jackman and a testament to the potential of this type of genre. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will wonder if the studios will be able to release another movie like Logan.
X2 is the best X-Men, and it is right up there among the best superhero film that the genre has to offer. Singer’s sequel began with a stunning action sequence showing Nightcrawler breaking into the White House, and it did not let up from there. X2 was a perfect synthesis of thrilling spectacle and thematic resonance, harkening back to the best X-Men comics. The plot of the movie sent the film to an emotional climax that saw Jean Grey sacrifice herself at Alkali Lake. This is a stunning film whether you like superhero movies or not.