Find out the definitive ranking of every X-Men film!
Boy, are there a lot of these things. Being a franchise that’s spanned 20 years, and about to conclude when The New Mutants releases (whenever that’ll be), in the X-Men franchise there’s been the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and about everything in between. Let’s take a look at them all, starting with the lowest, and ending in the highest.
12. X-Men: Dark Phoenix
It might surprise a couple of you to see this one in the absolute worst position, especially when there’s a litany of memes about how bad Origins and The Last Stand are. But personally, I find boring to be worse than bad – I’ll watch The Room over Taken 2 any day. Dark Phoenix is about as boring as the X-Men series ever got, with its re-hashed storyline, dull tone, and phoned-in performances (especially from Jennifer Lawrence, who looked like she wanted to retire from the franchise about 2 movies earlier).
The worst part about the whole thing is that this was promoted as the movie to ‘fix’ The Last Stand and do the Dark Phoenix Saga from the comics justice. Despite having incredible source material, a great example of what not to do, and a team of incredibly talented people on and off screen, they still came out with a bad movie. Fool me twice, I suppose.
11. X-Men: Apocalypse
I wish I had more to say about this movie, because really a lot happens. It mixes together Ancient Egyptian overlords, a suitably huge scale for a movie called Apocalypse, and practically every major mutant except the ones who haven’t been born yet in-universe. There is a neat bright spot when Apocalypse de-nukes the entire world with a ponderous speech and an overused Beethoven symphony, but that’s honestly about it.
Despite the parts that come together to make it, everything in this movie is just so… meh. I couldn’t be excited about another Quicksilver slow-mo scene that went on for far too long this time around. Seeing the Phoenix emerge to save the day with zero build up elicited naught but a shrug. I even heard a few ‘oh come on!’s in the cinema when Wolverine stepped out for his obligatory cameo, and the British never talk in the cinema. You get sent to the Tower of London for that, as should this movie.
10. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Here we are, at the classic ‘bad’ X-Men movie. All the usual problems are in this one, including the glut of characters and a basic script, but the one thing that stands out so much in this one is the terrible effects – Wolverine’s claws in particular look worse than they did in even the earlier movies. The only thing everyone universally agrees on as being superior than its predecessors is the opening credits, which see the immortal Wolverine and Sabretooth clawing their way through every major US war from the Civil War onwards.
There’s so much this one did wrong, and yet so much good came of it. Screwing up Deadpool so badly that it became Ryan Reynolds’ sole purpose in life to redeem it, resulted in the Deadpool movies. Turning the badass Wolverine into a whipped Canadian lumberjack called Jimmy, established a solo narrative that paved the way for Logan. Essentially, this movie is a whole lot of crap that fertilised the soil from which beautiful things grew.
9. X-Men: The Last Stand
Why is The Last Stand such a pariah among X-Men films? Sure, it is really bad overall, I’m not arguing that. There’s too many heroes and villains, the script is terrible, and there’s so many unresolved plotlines for a movie called The Last Stand. But I’d challenge anyone to explain to me how it’s worse than any of the above. Maybe it was because this was the first objectively bad one in a franchise we had no idea could get even worse.
But nowadays, The Last Stand rests content and happy in Meme Heaven knowing that it provided us with so much happiness by making fun of it. Besides that, there are some genuinely great moments, from Magneto stopping the police convoy, to the fight at Jean’s house, to the Golden Gate Bridge scene – that last one is such a creative and awesome show of power they brought it back for the (inferior) baseball stadium scene in Days of Future Past.
8. The Wolverine
It’s from here onwards that the X-Men films start to get more good than bad. The Wolverine stands at around the 50/50 mark, and it’s not too surprising that producers still saw potential in solo films – Hugh Jackman is such a charismatic guy, and Wolverine is such an eternal badass that it’s difficult for him not to be compelling in even the most boring scenarios.
This time around there’s a new Japanese setting to keep things fresh, some genuinely good acting, slightly fewer characters than usual (although still too many), streamlining the plot, and a bit of creativity in the fight scenes, where Wolverine has to actually fight people instead cutting through them without a second glance. However, it wasn’t enough to save this one overall.
7. Deadpool 2
I’ll admit I like this one a lot less than it might deserve. There’s not too much intrinsically wrong with Deadpool 2; it’s a perfectly good superhero film – better than average, in fact – but following something as fresh and unexpected as Deadpool, it didn’t quite have the same impact. The jokes were less funny this time around, it was a wee bit too long, and the action scenes leaned more into standard superhero fare.
That being said, I’m not completely blind to some truly excellent parts of this film. The world could always use more Zazie Beetz and Deadpool 2 obliged; Josh Brolin’s Cable was pretty great; and the skydiving scene should rank among the funniest sequences in film history. Maybe this one should be higher on the list – it’s only the quality of the rest that keeps it down this low.
Putting it in a list like this, it’s comforting to see that at least half of the X-Men films are unequivocally good. Looking back at the one that started it all, X-Men is gloomy as hell, and it’s quite shocking seeing how far later entries steered away from that tone. Starting off with a couple of horrific scenes with trauma at Auschwitz and Anna Paquin sucking the life out of her boyfriend, X-Men stands out by making the mutants really feel like outcasts from society – abnormal rather than super.
Not much really stands out in particular as being exceptional, but it’s the overall cohesion of the movie that keeps it compelling from start to finish. The enemy for the first half of the movie isn’t megalomaniac supervillains, it’s the fear and cruelty of common people, the paranoid rhetoric of career politicians. This movie stands superior to all the rest in one way – it actually meant something real.
For a long time, X2 would stand as one of the best sequels ever made, one of the few that actually outdid its predecessor. To this day, it’s hard to argue with. This is probably the one time where the ridiculous amount of characters doesn’t work against the film – returning X-Men like Jean and Cyclops are improved, and new characters like Nightcrawler and Pyro more than earn their keep with some extremely memorable moments.
In many ways, X2 is the perfect blockbuster superhero movie. It’s got everything we want to scoff down popcorn to, from action, romance, tragedy, special effects, and so many gorgeous celebrities it’s not fair. The only weakness of the film is how it abandoned some of the themes and subtext that made the first film and original comics so compelling.
4. X-Men: First Class
First Class and X2 are both fantastic blockbusters, but First Class stands above for two main reasons. The first is the sheer style of it – there’s a kind of 60s campiness that provides a bit of comic book joy, and while X-Men was great for its dark grunginess, First Class did an excellent job of capturing the popping colours and optimistic tone of the early comics.
The second is focus – naturally, there’s still a whole bunch of side characters, but First Class makes sure to keep the perspective always on the tragic friendship of Charles and Erik. Some prodigious talent came together to create this iteration of Magneto, from Fassbender’s *ahem* magnetic performance, some ludicrous shows of power, and Henry Jackman’s incredible theme song. Not to mention that coin scene, which is one of the best moments ever filmed.
Something like Deadpool seemed like such a fantasy – an R-rated comedy superhero film based on a fourth-wall breaking cult antihero, and following the disastrous iteration in Origins. And yet, through the combination of some dedicated creators and a heaping buttload of fan support for the test footage released in 2014, the movie got greenlit. It says a lot about the vision of Fox producers that it took 11 years from inception for a Deadpool movie to get off the ground, and in that time they made three truly terrible Fantastic Four movies.
While the plot is a little bit rote, the hilarity, action scenes, and ridiculous chemistry between Reynolds and Baccarin make this one of the most entertaining films of all time. This is another example where the forced pressure of passion and a limited budget can produce diamonds.
2. X-Men: Days of Future Past
To be honest, this one’s my personal favourite. This is X-Men firing on all cylinders, giving us a delicious medley of all the things that made both the old series and new so great. The future Sentinel fights are breathtakingly cool, the Quicksilver Time In A Bottle scene is legendary, and appropriate attention is given only to the characters that matter (I’m pretty sure Sunspot doesn’t even get a line).
The younger actors are at their absolute best here, especially McAvoy’s heartbroken Xavier battling disability and a proxy for heroin addiction, and Lawrence in the first and only time she would truly become the unstoppable badass that is Mystique. Sure, time travel is a bit of a cop-out plot, but when it gives us that last scene of Wolverine walking through the mansion, the nostalgic chills are real.
This movie is perfect. It’s shot beautifully, acted brilliantly, and adds a neat Western theme that perfectly fits Wolverine’s character. The score is excellent, especially Laura’s theme, and it has a story of tragedy and real consequences that superhero franchises are typically afraid to commit to. I can’t think of anything this movie misses the mark on.
It somehow manages to contain the best fight scenes of the franchise (Logan vs. X-24; Laura vs. the Reavers in Mexico; Logan stabbing the paralysed Reavers) as well as the most emotional moments – you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who managed not to shed a tear at either Charles or Logan’s deaths. This is the send off to the X-Men that Dark Phoenix should have been, the send-off such a venerable series deserved.
And that’s a wrap on our ranking of all 12 current X-Men movies. Did we do you favourite dirty? Let us know in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this, check out Drew’s thoughts What To Take From Each Marvel-Netflix Show, And What To Leave Behind.
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I’m not trying to attack you…but I honestly don’t see how you can say that Dark Phoenix was a rehashed storyline. Because no X-Men movie has ever had Jean as the protagonist. If you referring to X3 having already adapted elements of the Dark Phoenix Saga then I found it strange that you don’t consider Deadpool to be a rehashed storyline since X-Men Origins: Wolverine also adapted Wade’s origin story. Again, trying to attack I just find your take on the movie to be odd.
Plus the movie was based on the first half of the Dark Phoenix Saga when Jean wasn’t the Dark Phoenix (it just replaces the Hellfire Club with those aliens). She doesn’t become the Dark Phoenix until at the very end of the movie where she is a firebird like in the comic. There was suppose to be a sequel that expanded on the story and explore the cosmic aspect but it got cancelled, which makes it even less of a rehash of X3 since that movie had Jean be the Dark Phoenix throughout it’s entirety.