In 2000, the X-Men film franchise kicked off the era of the modern superhero movie. While DC’s Batman and Superman had both largely flamed out, Marvel (though its film rights had been parceled out to the likes of Sony and 20th Century Fox) was starting to claim a foothold on comic book adaptations. Not long before, in 1998, Blade had begun to make its mark, but that’s not so much of a superhero as a supernatural movie (but who am I to judge?).
Following X-Men‘s lead, Spider-Man started its franchise run in 2002 and has rebooted itself ad nauseam, but X-Men has stayed the course, with some low-key reimaginings, spinoffs, and course corrections to fix continuity, though never truly rebooting. While each film has not always been the strongest (I’m looking at you, Origins and Apocalypse), some of them represent the best of the pre-MCU era (and others keeping the bar raised high), clearly laying the groundwork for what was to come.
Over twelve films across nearly twenty years, we’ve seen some incredible highs and some cringe-worthy lows in the X-Men franchise. Now that Dark Phoenix has brought the series to an end, I’ve done a full rewatch of each film (I tried not to fast-forward through a few of them…) and ranked them all. Here is the X-Men film series ranked from worst to best. Let us know what you think!
12. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Honestly, I shouldn’t have rewatched this one (you’re welcome, loyal reader!) to reaffirm my knowledge that this is a terrible movie. It’s nearly unwatchable in many cases and almost wholly irredeemable. We follow Logan from the discovery of his powers in childhood and throughout the century. He fights in war after war and falls into the evil machinations of William Stryker, which leads him to gain his adamantium claws and lose his memories.
I think there are only two worthwhile moments throughout the film: the introduction of Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool (though they glued his mouth shut, which is garbage!) and the absolutely gorgeous opening time-passing montage over the opening credits.
11. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Apocalypse is a deeply flawed film with a decent enough premise (we’ll see this as a running theme across the franchise). Some moments of the film are fun enough, particularly when focusing on Quicksilver or some of the period aspects, but the CGI is incredibly rough (honestly, I think Stargate had better Egypt/Pyramid-oriented effects in the late 90s!). They wasted the brilliant Olivia Munn on a flat, boring character, and Oscar Isaac is unrecognizable (in every way possible) as the villain. What’s worse, his eponymous character has essentially the same motivation as Thanos and is nowhere near as successfully executed.
10. Dark Phoenix (2019)
This is the film that killed the X-Men franchise (though it’s not the first time that Phoenix did that, nor is it entirely this film’s fault). Dark Phoenix wants to be much stronger than it is. It’s touted as the end of an era, but it doesn’t pull it off. Fittingly, Simon Kinberg’s long-awaited conclusion to the uneven X-Men franchise is equally as uneven. While it’s never as laughably bad as The Last Stand or with eye-roll-inducing special effects like Apocalypse, it just won’t stand alongside X2 or Logan the way that it clearly wants to.
For all the explosive effects (which do outstrip the deeply disappointing, horrendously bad Apocalypse), no one has really been able to adequately capture the truly cosmic scope of the Dark Phoenix Saga, or of recapturing what First Class and Days of Future Past promised us in terms of emotional investment. This isn’t a terrible film, but unfortunately, that’s really the best I can say about it. So much of it feels middling and lifeless, leaving us wishing for more of what came before.
9. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
This is the first attempt to adapt the much-lauded Phoenix saga to the big screen (though not the first). It’s just bad, in general, attempting to round out the storyline of the original X-Men trilogy with a gigantic, epic battle for the fate of all mutants in San Francisco while also trying to shoehorn in the cosmically-epic Phoenix story about the most powerful mutant in the universe. It ends up as a convoluted mess that just doesn’t work at all, trying to do about fifty different things all at the same time).
8. X-Men (2000)
There aren’t mediocre X-Men films – they’re either great or terrible. Luckily, from here on out, the X-Men franchise is just good. It’s quite possible that I’m letting my nostalgia get the better of me, but I don’t think so. I fully recognize X-Men‘s flaws, but I’m quite forgiving of them. There’s pretty rough dialogue and middling CGI, for sure. The effects can be attributed to the turn of the millennium, at least.
X-Men brought the A-List Marvel team to the big screen for the first time, pitting the inimitable Professor X (Sir Patrick Stewart) against Magneto (Ian McKellan), and digging into deeper themes of prejudice and sacrifice. Despite its problems, it’s definitely a milestone in 21st-century cinema.
7. The Wolverine (2013)
Until Deadpool came along, Wolverine has been the only member of the X-Men to get his own movie – let alone two of them. Despite the horrendous misfire that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, they somehow resurrected the franchise to bring Logan back. This is a much more intimate story, drawn right from the comics (huh… whattaya know… relying on the source material can be good!). While Origins is a hot heap of garbage, The Wolverine is a taut thriller with a solid emotional core and intense fight scenes. Logan is called back to Japan (after having survived the Nagasaki nuclear attack) to meet an old friend who wants to help him die.
This one should have been rated R to really allow Wolverine to let loose, but it gave us a stepping stone to the amazing, moving Logan a few years later.
6. X-Men: First Class (2011)
X-Men: First Class is a soft reboot of the series masquerading as a prequel. The writing and directing (thank you, Matthew Vaughn) are excellent, the effects are solid, and it’s set during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This gives us a period piece that allows us to play around in the X-Men world.
It breathed new life into the decade-old franchise with the brilliant, cerebral James McAvoy as Professor X and Michael Fassbender as Magneto, both in their prime, along with Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, leading the team and finding their place in the world. Kevin Bacon plays a wonderfully diabolical villain; unfortunately, January Jones is just deadpan as the normally witty Emma Frost. The only real difficulty in this film is what it does (and will continue to do) to the X-Men Franchise timeline, though the later Days of Future Past will attempt to remedy this. All in all, First Class is just a rejuvenating entry in this long-running franchise.
5. Deadpool 2 (2018)
Deadpool 2‘s only fault is that it doesn’t have the surprise coming-out-of-nowhere factor that the first film had. We had no idea what to expect when Deadpool came out, and Deadpool 2 had a lot to live up to, and in my opinion, it absolutely stands up to the bar set up by its predecessor. It features the creation of the X-Force, Cable who’s trying to do the whole “kill young Hitler” thing by traveling back in time to take out a mutant who devastated his timeline. It’s actually maybe not as irreverent as the first one, though it has its portion of wonderful dark humor, along with a good deal of heart.
4. Deadpool (2016)
Ryan Reynolds’ titular character comes back from the indignity of having his mouth sewn shut in Origins: Wolverine to have his own movie. He plays Wade Wilson, a mercenary diagnosed with horrific, terminal cancer who is exposed to a serum that makes him a mutant with regenerative abilities (like Wolverine’s, but cooler). This means he just can’t die, so he goes on a rampage trying to find a cure for his problem (and the woman he loves).
Deadpool set the precedent for successful R-Rated Marvel movies, proving that they can be profitable and funny. It’s truly hilarious and immensely rewatchable.
3. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
After the introduction of the younger X-Men team in First Class, fans were perplexed as to how they could reconcile the multiple timelines in the X-Men universe. The events didn’t seem to line up – characters were out of place and time, relationships (Mystique and Xavier, for example) didn’t seem to jive with what we’d seen before – it’s the classic prequel problem. And then Simon Kinberg and Bryan Singer (I know, I’ve avoided really talking about him until this point, but you can’t really talk about this series without giving him some credit…) picked up the reins once again and used a time travel storyline from Uncanny X-Men comics to reconcile the timelines.
I remember being shocked that Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellan, Anna Paquin, and even Ellen Page were back alongside the new First Class cast in a truly epic time travel story that would reset the timeline and make it all work (that is, until they made Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix, which just wrecked everything.
2. X2 (2003)
X2 ups the ante set by the first film in the franchise (as well as 2002’s Spider-Man) and is so much fun. It introduces Nightcrawler and Pyro, digs deeper into Magneto’s philosophy and his disagreement with Charles Xavier, and looks ahead at unity between mutants and the humans. What I love so much about the first two X-Men films is that they not only work well as superhero action movies, but as philosophical treatises on equality, respect, and understanding between people from different worldviews. It’s an excellent film that still resonates with audiences today.
1. Logan (2017)
I’m going to make a bold claim here, but I stand by it: Logan is very nearly a perfect film. It’s bold, brash, brutal, blood-soaked, as well as beautifully poignant and moving. Hugh Jackman’s swan song as Logan is meaningful on every level. It closes out his character so well, handing it off to Wolverine’s pseudo-daughter (if they even need to continue the franchise in this direction) by giving him the thing he’s always needed: a human connection. In the end, isn’t that what this whole franchise is about? We’re all humans, regardless of whatever else we look like, and we need one another – and we need something greater.
What did you think of my ratings? Do you agree or disagree? Am I completely wrong about the utter horror that is Origins: Wolverine? Let us know!
Tyler is a teacher, librarian and the Co-host of The Geek Card Check Podcast. He has been a Film Critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018.