I wasn’t big into superheroes growing up. I knew the standards (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.) and had some toys but, as far as pop culture stuff goes, I was far more interested in Star Wars and then Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That changed significantly when I was nine with the introduction of X-Men: The Animated Series into the FOX Saturday morning cartoon lineup. I was immediately hooked on the series, on the universe, and on the characters. I cared about the X-Men and the situations they found themselves in thrilled me. It was the first show I remember that took its young audience seriously and treated us like the semi-responsible teenagers we would soon become. As a result, I read some of the X-Men comics, fell even more in love with the world, and later, I followed the production of the first movie with an intensity only rivaled by my anticipation for Phantom Menace (*sad Price is Right horn*). This is my favorite superhero movie franchise and no matter how good or bad the Marvel and DC movies are, I’m always more excited about a good X-Men movie and more disappointed by a bad X-Men movie than anything coming from the other franchises. With Dark Phoenix opening to miserable reviews this weekend and the Disney merger now a done deal, this chapter of the X-Men is closing and thus, I felt it time to look back on the franchise and rank the movies that make up this universe.
NOTE: I went back and forth on whether the Deadpool movies and the various Wolverine movies should be included in this discussion. Ultimately, I think they belong though there’s a case to be made that these movies are X-Men-adjacent not X-Men-proper.
11. Last Stand (2005)
There are some good elements in Last Stand but the vast majority of them come down to the success of the previous films in the trilogy. “Do you like X-Men movies? Well this sure is an X-Men movie!” seems to be the tagline. Losing Bryan Singer’s direction (he left to make Superman Returns) is one thing; replacing him with Brett Ratner’s big bag of nothing was quite another. Ratner took the helm of a franchise on the brink of superhero domination and rammed it into the ground on takeoff. Lazy writing, an absurdly overstuffed story, and a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes the X-Men great are just a few highlights of the mess that is Last Stand.
10. Apocalypse (2016)
Apocalypse is probably better than at least the next film on this list but it’s also far more disappointing. Coming off of First Class and Days of Future Past, it seemed like the X-Men series had finally found its groove. With Singer in the director’s chair (making this the first X-Men movie since X2 that was directed by the same director of the previous film) and a cast that included some rising young stars and Oscar Isaac, Apocalypse felt like a sure thing…until it very much was not a sure thing. The story is muddled, the acting is, frankly, quite bad, and the promise of the cast is squandered. As a huge X-Men fan, this is probably one of the five or ten most disappointing movies of my life.
9. Origins: Wolverine (2009)
It is impossible to defend Origins as an actual good movie. It is very much not a good movie. Moreover, it failed the relaunch the X-Men brand post-Last Stand and even led to the scrapping of a series of planned Origins spin-offs. I acknowledge all of this while also acknowledging that, even still, it’s a very watchable movie for me. Maybe it’s a guilty pleasure, maybe it just scratched the X-Men itch and brought to life one of the more interesting storylines from the comics/animated series, or maybe it’s because Gambit appears in the form of my beloved Taylor Kitsch/Tim Riggins. Whatever the case may be, each time I watch Origins (and I have watched it far more times than I’d care to admit), I think, “Gosh that was bad but yeah, I’m definitely going to watch it again sometime.”
8. The Wolverine (2013)
This second attempt at a Wolverine spinoff is, for me, the exact opposite of Origins: It’s a competent, well-made film that I never even think about watching. I was underwhelmed in my first viewing and I’ve never gotten past that feeling in either of my subsequent viewings. Honestly, I sometimes forget it exists, especially in a post-Logan world. When I do remember it exists, I’m hard-pressed to remember much about it, good or bad, other than perhaps the action sequence on the train. Wolverine is FINE but it doesn’t have Tim Riggins so how fine is it really?
7. X-Men (2000)
The OG doesn’t get nearly enough credit for laying the groundwork for the myriad superhero movies that have come since 2000. I was supremely pumped for this movie when it came out and it never occurred to me then that it could possibly be anything less than a smash hit but in retrospect, this was a very risky endeavor. There are definitely some bumps within X-Men that likely would’ve been ironed out if it weren’t essentially the first movie of its kind and much of the plot is fairly nonsensical on close inspection. But the fact that it still holds up as a quality superhero flick is a testament to the entire production and it started the franchise out on a very high note.
6. First Class (2011)
Big props are owed to Matthew Vaughn for reinvigorating a franchise that had lost almost all of its cultural relevance in the years since X2. There are gripes to be had with First Class (Montage! Montage! Montage!) but the new cast is superb across the board and Vaughn clearly understood the tone and depth of this universe. It’s a fun movie but it still has teeth and it handles its material with an appropriate level of seriousness. Of the new cast and their character interpretations, Michael Fassbender is particularly brilliant.
5. Deadpool (2016)
Deadpool had been rumored and taken through various production periods so often that by the time it finally debuted, anyone who had followed the project couldn’t help but feel nervous. A friend of mine, a long-time comic reader, literally whispered, “Please be good, please be good” as the lights in our theater dimmed and our screening began. It’s almost as if fans of these comics and this character willed it into a quality movie. It doesn’t hurt that Ryan Reynolds made the PERFECT Wade Wilson and the PERFECT Deadpool, but Tim Miller and FOX deserve a ton of credit for understanding their character and allowing him to be his dirty and unsanitary yet charismatic and charming self on screen.
4. Deadpool 2 (2018)
I know lots of people who found Deadpool 2 to be disappointing compared to the first one. For me, however, I thought it was a great story for highlighting the best elements of the character, the X-Force sequence was magnificent (although hilariously short lived), and as I’ve always said, there is no movie franchise that is not made better by the addition of Josh Brolin. This movie also removed any fear I had about its predecessor being a one-off, lightning in a bottle situation. Now my only question is how effectively the Merc with the Mouth can be incorporated into the X-Men Universe-proper.
3. Days of Future Past (2014)
DoFP isn’t *quite* to the level of, “I think this movie is great and I won’t be hearing any arguments to the contrary” but it’s close. Time travel is always a dicey proposition and the confusing nature of the narrative is both the source of frustration for this movie’s detractors and ultimately the downfall of the franchise as a whole as it moved into Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix. But this was everything I wanted in an X-Men movie, bringing together both parts of the cast and telling a magnificent story with a flair that feels more like the animated series than any other entry from this franchise. I’ve watched this movie perhaps more times than all of the other X-Men movies combined, and I always find it compelling.
2. X2: United (2003)
As mentioned previously, I think the first X-Men is a great achievement in comic book filmmaking. But I thought it was a GREAT movie, maybe even as good as an X-Men movie could possibly be, until X2 dropped in 2003. Then it was like, “Oh. So, THAT’S what a great X-Men movie looks like.” The maturation of the actors in their roles, the introduction of a few new characters, the improvements in shot selection, set pieces, and the like all combine to make X2 not just a great X-Men movie but one of the great, (and now, I think, overlooked) comic book movies ever made.
1. Logan (2017)
The best of the X-Men movies is oddly the least enjoyable, at least for me. I’ve gotten beaten down by the rise of gritty superhero movies, though not because of their edge so much as the often-uninspiring stories they tell. The decision to make this an R-rated feature and to let Wolverine go “Full Wolverine” was an important one, to be sure, but it’s not THE reason it’s so good. Logan sets itself apart from most of its post-Dark Knight contemporaries by telling a strong, compelling story that pairs beautifully with its broken, exhausted hero. Jackman is incredible in this role and he gives the movie all he has left to give but it is his pairings with both Stewart’s addled Professor X and Dafne Keen’s Laura that bolster Logan’s overall quality. Through these relationships, the movie offers redemption to Logan, a character who has literally a century of sins for which to atone, and it does so with equal measures of grace and heartbreaking brutality.