Superhero ensemble films owe a huge debt to the X-Men franchise. Without the thoughtful world-building, frequent levity, and sparkling dialog characterizing the best of the X-Men films, we’d have no Marvel Cinematic Universe. No Avengers, no Endgame, no Iron Man!…just somber Batmen parading by in rubber suits. X-Men blew jaded audiences away, until the franchise shat on their own continuity. But when they were good, they were very, very good.
Of course, any ranking list will be subjective. That’s all the disclaimer you’re going to get from me. With no further ado, here are my top to bottom favorite X-Men films, including Dark Phoenix. (But not including Deadpool. I don’t consider those X-Men films, no matter what Wade Wilson tells you.) Also: Spoilers ahoy.
The X-Men Films, Ranked From Best to Worst
- X-2: X-Men United – X2 is the Empire Strikes Back of X-Men movies. Or Aliens to Alien. It’s the rare sequel surpassing an excellent first film. X2 keeps the perfect X1 cast and expands both character stories and world-building. It’s exciting and amusing. Villains work with the heroes on common goals, which is a win like peanut butter and bananas. X2 somehow increases the real world stakes while maintaining small-scale closeness. This is the best movie in the X-Men franchise, paving the way for Avenger films to follow its formula. It’s too bad about the later X-Men flicks, isn’t it?
- X-Men (2000) – OMG do these actors look young. (Even Patrick Stewart, whom I adore but was clearly born old.) Anyway, this movie was a revelation. Fun, funny, and fast-paced, creating well-written and well-played characters with covalent chemistry. X-Men set the tone for what a superhero film, and especially an ensemble, could be. Ian McKellan was fantastic villain — sympathetic in aims, but not methods. And above all, the plot implied real world issues we could relate to. Well done, Fox Studios…well done.
- Logan – While most lists place Logan as the best, I simply can’t. It’s a A+ movie, but doesn’t feel like a superhero film. It feels like a grim and gritty Western — which is intentional. Logan (the film) even directly references Shane (the film). And it’s a difficult story to watch. The Mutants are destroyed; Professor X is debilitated, depressed, and dying; Logan is a complete wreck; the finale is devastating. It’s a great swan song for the franchise (and should have stopped there), but it’s not fun on any level. I don’t think I’ll watch it a second time. I prefer the ensembles and their levity. Sue me.
- X-Men: First Class – Back to the fun, but with all new actors in prequel roles! First Class does expand on the list of Mutants, which is cool, and explains a few backstories, which was unnecessary. (Prequels really don’t have to do this to make good films. See: Star Wars.) And I missed Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, in spite of the excellent younger casting of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Altogether: First Class was a first class film. Great writing, directing, pacing, and acting, with decent ensemble chemistry and a satisfying payoff.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past – This is a good movie. All the X-Men films until this point are good movies. There should be a big gap between Days of Future Past and everything that comes next, which all suck on varying levels of suckage. In any case, Days suffers a bit because there are dueling actors playing the same roles, there’s time travel mucking with the continuity (or trying to fix it? Not entirely sure), and because they essentially wasted the combined vast talents of Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, and Hugh Jackman. That’s no small feat.
- The Wolverine – Where were the X-Men? Why did this story happen? I don’t have a lot of thoughts on the plot: it was just kind of a strange diversion from anything else in the X-Men universe. I’d say this film is competent, but not very enjoyable. We do see Jackman’s bare behind, so it’s got that going for it. I actually just watched this film for the first time, since the first Wolverine origin story was so bad that I gave up on the sequel. So I was never knew The Wolverine continues the The Last Stand story with Jean Grey, and then has an end scene that leads directly into Future Past. I would have seen it this earlier if I knew it had actual continuity. Also, by showing Logan’s claws as bones at the end retroactively makes Wolverine Origins have some decent follow-up (even though the Sabertooth problem broke the story completely). And if Deadpool is IN the X-Men universe, they why make Yokio twice? She was good in The Wolverine. They should have picked one of the hundreds of unused Mutants for DP2. I know, I know, we also have DP twice too. I always mentally struck Origins from cannon in my mind, but with The Wolverine leading into Future Past, I could sort of head-cannon it all with time travel? I guess time travel can fix anything, including two Dark Phoenixes and two Yokios and two Deadpools (but the two Sabertooths still don’t work). Time travel is cheap and annoying as an all-purpose fix. At least Endgame used it sensibly, for the most part.
- X-Men: The Last Stand – I HATED this movie when it came out. I still dislike it greatly, but there’ve been even worse films since, so…yay for Last Stand? I should stop talking about this right here, but it’s hard to shut me up when I’m complaining, so here we go: The Last Stand is so poorly envisioned as a climax to two spectacular films that it kind of takes your breath away. Some characters die for no good plot reason, Jean Grey is no longer relatable after years of sensible buildup, and even the great Sir Ian McKellan looked just silly flying on the Golden Gate Bridge. It was such a shame, after all their careful world-building, to shoot their franchise in the foot with a bad, bad, BAD story like this. I think they had to make First Class just to cleanse our palettes.
- X-Men: Apocalypse – What an expensive mess. The bad guy is ludicrous and the good guys get lost in the endless shuffle of misty effects. And the plot? Um…? I don’t even know what that movie was about. Apocalypse himself could have been an Egyptian god version of Thanos, if his lines had been better — or if his motivations were remotely understandable. I’ll see this again soon and see if it makes any more sense the second time.
- X-Men: Dark Phoenix – It’s pretty. Yay? But why we had to revisit Jean Grey’s story a second time confounds me. Neither time do they get this right. This movie is almost insultingly incompetent, the characters are taken in strange directions for no apparent reason, and the villain is insipid. I’d say they should put this storyline to bed, but I felt that way about the endlessly rebooted Spider-Man movies, and then we got Tom Holland to prove the third time can be extremely charming. (Not to mention the animated Sony Spider-Verse film rebooting things brilliantly a 4th time, so what do I know?)
- X-Men: Origins: Wolverine – Warning: I’m about to rant. I can’t consider this film cannon. It’s bad on every level and Jackman himself seemed to know it. Sabertooth becoming Logan’s brother pissed me off beyond retrieval, because it makes X1 look stupid. And Gambit was poorly used — an abysmal waste of a great comic book character. And that version of (Ryan Reynold’s) Deadpool was such an abomination that (Ryan Reynold’s) Deadpool had to kill it, almost retroactively making seeing Origins: Wolverine worth it.
But since we’re not including Deadpool in the X-Men rankings and we’re striking Origins: Wolverine from cannon, none of this matters. 🙂
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Seriously, ignore him. He only thinks he’s an X-Man.
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I think people know that I tend to agree with whatever Jill says like some sort of gormless fan boy but the fact of the matter is that that woman knows her stuff! Oh… there is, literally, half a planet between us so don’t think that she’s threatening me!
X-Men has been my favourite superhero franchise since I started reading the original comics back in the sixties. I’m talking the original, original team of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Angel, and Iceman when they all had matching blue and yellow uniforms. I’ll be honest and say that the next generation of X-Men passed me by as when they came out in the seventies I was interested in a different sort of magazine. That didn’t stop me jumping on the film series though. And, by and large, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen.
However I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t find a few threads to pull at…
The youth of Patrick Stewart; I have to agree that he hasn’t really changed (apart the hairline) since I first saw him as Sejanus in ‘I,Claudius’ back in 1976. Just as some people have “resting bitch face” I think he has been middle aged probably since puberty. It’s not so much a case of he looks young back then, more likely that the portrait in his attic has finally fallen off the wall and he’s started to show his age. Mind you, he is pushing 80 with a very short stick… this time next month he’ll have had his birthday.
Logan is a hard watch if you have any empathy with the characters but is worth the heartache. It takes the characters who have seemed invulnerable for so many films and pits them against the one enemy they can’t beat… time. And time is taking away their powers; like all old people Logan doesn’t heal as quickly and Xavier is suffering from dementia. Now that is frightening for anyone (trust me, my only consolation is that I’m now too old to develop early onset Alzeimer’s!) so imagine the problems caused by losing control of a brain that powerful. The end is gut wrenching but does do a neat job of tying up their story arcs.
I’d move X-Men: Origins: Wolverine up for a couple of reasons…
1, to move X-Men: Dark Phoenix to the bottom of the heap. Huge screen, powerful speakers all turned up to 11, the climax of one story or the start of another, all the experience of making great superhero films, yet I still managed to fall asleep through most of it. Virtually the only way I managed to watch all the way through was by standing up for it! Before anyone panics this was at home rather than in the cinema; yes I bought it… I’m a hopeless completist.
2, because I’d got a post-production copy and it was fascinating to see it in the rough before watching it again as a finished product.
3, a gay friend of mine recommended it mainly because of the scene where Hugh Jackman jumps naked out of the adamantium bath! He’d seen it about half a dozen times within the first week of release.
I enjoyed the younger generation cycle of the films. James McAvoy is brilliant; I’d pay to watch him peeling potatoes. I first saw him in the original UK version of Shameless and then he seemed to be in everything… The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last King Of Scotland, Starter For Ten, and every time a different character. By that I mean totally believable with any accent and characteristics… but then you’ve surely seen him in Split so I need say no more. Also I prefer Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique; she’s an actor painted blue rather than a model painted blue. Fassbender/McKellen? Both equal in my humble.
My biggest peeve is why weren’t the X-Men in the MCU? I know that’ll be to do with something grown up like conflict of rights but come on! Can’t you all play nicely together? I mean Stan Lee did a couple of cameos for them and can you imagine Endgame with X-Men?