The X-Men Movies Ranked
The unfolding of the X-Men movie franchise has been a sobering thing, even if you partake in superheroic power fantasies. Much of the franchise was headed up by a real despicable man, Bryan Singer, and Brett Ratner was thrown in the mix for good measure. But for a certain contingent of comic book fans, the X-Men movies, and in particular the first, heralded a new era of film adaptations. A better one at first, to be sure, but one that has morphed into something…else. And as the X-Men movies have faced like two-and-a-half soft reboots, and their continuity torn to shreds by extension, they stand out as a more old-fashioned holdover of the early 2000s superhero filmmaking “tradition” against the much more polished and entertaining Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nevertheless, I’ve somehow managed to see every one of these 12 goshdarn movies (I do in fact love the X-Men), so whatever, on the occasion of potentially the last Fox X-Men movie releasing a few weeks ago (who knows if/when NEW MUTANTS will come to pass), I’ve ranked them.
EDIT 11/19/20: Added THE NEW MUTANTS to the list.
#13 — DARK PHOENIX (2019)
D: Simon Kinberg
DARK PHOENIX is incomprehensibly bad. Well, I guess it’s not “incomprehensible”; the James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender-led reboot-ish series deteriorated pretty fast. Its CGI looks straight outta 2008, the characters are so muted, the villain is almost literally faceless and not compelling. The “Dark Phoenix” storyline in the comics is tragic and emotional, but its film adaptation sure isn’t.
#12 — THE NEW MUTANTS (2020)
D: Josh Boone
Development and production hell did not, in fact, yield a final success for the Fox X-Men franchise. No, instead, THE NEW MUTANTS served as a lackluster send-off with some good ideas, with Boone’s “expertise” on teen films meant to ostensibly craft some good melodrama, heightened by superpowers. It’s what the X-Men, and the New Mutants, were always about. But this reined in narrative is too limited; it feels like not much even really happens in the film, and its dialogue, characterization, and performances aren’t nearly good enough to carry it. Maybe other X-films are more offensive, but at least they’re more fun.
#11 — X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)
D: Bryan Singer
Almost all of that could also be said for APOCALYPSE. The difference is that the titular villain is at least an iconic face, and the continuing decade-by-decade progression that started with the ‘60s-set FIRST CLASS is still, like, present. The ’80s is felt in APOCALYPSE, in the fashion and such; the ’90s did not come through in DARK PHOENIX. It’s still pretty silly that none of these characters age across 30 years. But the introduction of the new class and miscellaneous mutants (like Olivia Munn’s Psylocke) is more novel and interesting. I should also mention that Fassbender as Magneto is the only saving grace in APOCALYPSE and DARK PHOENIX.
#10 — X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006)
D: Brett Ratner
Yeah, there’s a reason why THE LAST STAND is considered one of, if not the, worst X-Men movies. It’s a mess. But I appreciate the wide array of mutants it was able to squeeze in; one of my favorite parts of the X-Men franchise is the dedication to popping in a few obscure faces here and there. Honestly, not even a remotely memorable movie.
#9 — X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009)
D: Gavin Hood
And although a lot of people like to point to X-MEN ORIGINS as the worst in the franchise, I don’t know, it’s at least incredibly goofy and memorable. Of course there’s the screwed up version of “Deadpool” in the movie, but when Ryan Reynolds does talk at the beginning of the movie, it’s entertaining [shrug emoji]. Wolverine’s little crew is fine, and the aforementioned pulls from the ranks of X-Men lore is fun. Will.i.am is in the movie. That’s cool I guess.
#8 — X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)
D: Bryan Singer
This is the moment where the reboot of FIRST CLASS fell apart. Well, I guess technically the movie itself fucked with it a bit since Hugh Jackman was in it, and then THE WOLVERINE followed it, but here, we have actors from both eras crossing over. And it’s confusing as hell. Not because the time travel stuff is especially clever or anything, just because…please, pick a thrust of this franchise. The identity crisis that would plague the next five years started here. The movie itself, adapting the storyline of the same name, dips into the ’70s and Sentinels. The future stuff is never as dark and bold as the original comics run was, but the Wolverine-centric time travel is fun. I mean, the whole X-Men franchise is basically Wolverine-centric, but cool. He’s the best X-Man. I do appreciate that from here, the producers were attempting to bring key X-Men events to the screen through the lens of each decade; they just ended up doing it pretty poorly.
#7 — DEADPOOL 2 (2018)
D: David Leitch
Cable is nowhere near as cool as he should be and the “expanded” scope is kind of wasted on DEADPOOL 2. But the pitiful team Deadpool pulls together is brilliantly (and literally) exploded so, so quickly.
#6 — X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011)
D: Matthew Vaughn
FIRST CLASS was actually a solid attempt at resettling the X-Men franchise, with McAvoy and Fassbender turning in solid chemistry as Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, respectively. Its climax is appropriately cheesy, but the ’60s aesthetic and introduction of key characters to each other is satisfying. I don’t mind prequels, on their face.
#5 — THE WOLVERINE (2013)
D: James Mangold
In hindsight, THE WOLVERINE was a great practice run for James Mangold’s infinitely superior follow-up Wolverine solo film, LOGAN. But in his adaptation of the multitude of Logan’s Japan’s experiences, Mangold created a more tense film than almost all of the other X-Men installments. Like most of them, though, it still falls into the silly superhero resolution fight.
#4 — DEADPOOL (2016)
D: Tim Miller
DEADPOOL is funny. No other X-Men film can claim this, and in fact the sequel can claim it at a much lower level. I love the character, and Ryan Reynolds’ dedication to the character and getting this movie made is admirable. It was a refreshing thing to rise out of the Fox-X-Universe mediocrity.
#3 — X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003)
D: Bryan Singer
Look, nostalgia plays a huge part in my appreciation for the first two X-Men movies. I had both on DVD and watched them over and over. But in X2, the promise of the first film’s comic-book-adaptation proficiency was fulfilled by a sequel that raises the stakes and deepens the universe. I loved this movie as a kid.
#2 — X-MEN (2000)
D: Bryan Singer
But X-MEN was a great introduction to the world. The in medias res sort of structure of introducing Wolverine and Rogue into a mutant world that has existed for decades was actually quite smart, and the characters essentially stand in for the audience. But of course, they’re quite remarkable themselves. The movie was just an incredible introduction, albeit a cheesy one, into a new, high-budget and relatively compelling world of comic book movies. For this big ol’ nerd whose very first comic books were X-Men titles, it was quite exciting.
#1 — LOGAN (2017)
D: James Mangold
But LOGAN is probably the sole good X-Men movie. Mangold’s radical departure from the film universe and inspired take on the “Old Man Logan” alternate universe storyline from the comics was incredibly affecting. It really should have been the last Fox X-Men movie. Although a huge cast of mutants is missing, Wolverine’s central place in the whole franchise means the farewell to him feels like a much more fitting goodbye than DARK PHOENIX, or possibly NEW MUTANTS.
It’s a silly film franchise, but the X-Men movies, and in fact the characters themselves, have always been a big part of my pop culture lexicon growing up. I’ve enjoyed the run, incredibly large and baffling warts and all.