Well, the Fox era of the X-Men has officially come to a close with the release of Dark Phoenix this past weekend, and given the popularity of the property and a need for a different piece to write that’s not an official review, I thought I’d go ahead and rank the entire series of X-Men films with everyone else. First though, a disclaimer: technically I don’t consider the Deadpool movies actual X-Men films since they’re not about any of the…well, X-Men, but there are only two of them so if I were to rank them on their own, that’d be a pretty quick piece; plus, they are technically part of the cinematic universe these other films take place in (continuity errors and all), so they’re included here. Just know, if you ever ask me what my favorite X-Men films are in person, those are unlikely to enter the discussion. With all that out of the way, here we go.
12. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
My #12 and #11 sort of tie last place for me, but this one takes the bottom spot largely because of how frustrating it is to watch something that could easily be the coolest solo movie story in the X-Men universe completely waste and even change integral things about the main character’s origin and the origin/presence of other characters around him (looking at you, close-mouthed “Deadpool”). It may not be the most disappointing movie in the franchise overall, but it is the one I would objectively call the worst given how much good will it actually manages to squander. The only redeeming thing about this movie is how good Hugh Jackman is in it despite how bad it ends up being. Also, Liev Schreiber as Sabertooth is pretty cool sans the wire effects.
11. Dark Phoenix
Honestly, was there ever any doubt that this would make the bottom three? It was pretty clear from the start that no one making this movie actually gave a damn about it, and as a result, it fails to make its audience care about it either. How did Fox manage to take the one writer they had mess up the iconic Dark Phoenix saga (probably the most iconic X-Men story ever) and give him the job of writing it again, with the added weight of directing his first ever feature film? Look, I’m not saying I could have done it any better or that movie-making is easy. It’s ridiculously hard. But when you have Fox’s money to spend, why hand it off to the one guy everyone complained about last time? This movie may not be the absolute worst in the franchise, but it’s by far the least engaging or interesting, and that in itself could be considered even worse. And by its placement on this list, it almost was.
10. X-Men: Apocalypse
Not all of the lower-tier X-Men films are bad; in fact, I’d venture to say that some are actually pretty underrated overall, but this is not one of those underrated entries. X-Men: Apocalypse is the one movie in the entire franchise that’s just “fine,” which to me is more annoying than being “bad” or “uninteresting,” though it certainly fights for those marks as well. After Days of Future Past’s remarkable success and reception, one might think that Bryan Singer’s return to the franchise also heralded a return to franchise form, but alas, this is where people finally saw how average Singer’s direction actually was. Apocalypse is completely wasted as a villain, and none of it feels like it matters very much, despite the “world ending” stakes the movie pretends it has. It’s not a terrible film overall; it’s just very disappointing considering the promise of its predecessor.
9. X-Men: The Last Stand
I know we’re all technically supposed to consider this one of the “bad” X-Men movies, but I actually think it’s got more merit than a lot of people give it credit for. Botched Phoenix Saga #1 notwithstanding, The Last Stand does present some interesting challenges for the X-Men to tackle: what if you could cure your mutation? Would you even want to? How would your experience with it, as well as your race and class of person, affect how the world treats you with or without it? Plus, that final battle and Magneto’s bridge-lift moment (for all their cheese) are actually pretty impressive/fun to watch. The score is even pretty good for this movie. It is a shame though about Magneto’s plot to basically do another Holocaust but with humans this time; considering his origin, and the message this movie is trying to send, it comes off a bit problematic. Still, it’s not a terrible movie, and I think it’s a bit underrated. Just a bit, though. It's still not "good."
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad movie at all, not even close. In fact, it’s a perfectly serviceable, average ride, even when compared to the higher ones on the list; however, when pitched against those others, as well as looked back on through the lens of time, it’s not as great as a lot of people remember. Still, it doesn’t have to be (in fairness) a great movie to have legitimate merit and claim to the “best” of the X-Men title, especially considering its place in helping to usher in a golden age of superhero cinema, but it’s got a lot more in common with late 90’s action aesthetics than actual X-Men lore overall, which brings it down a bit since it seems timid in reminding people it’s a “comic book movie.” Having the story be told through Rogue and Logan’s eyes was a brilliant move though considering they’re the two characters who act as audience POV through this strange new world, and the performances of Jackman, Stewart, and McKellen will go down as easily some of the best in comic book movie history.
7. Deadpool 2
This movie is just a lick below “great” and just a hair above “average.” In short, it’s just “pretty good.” Deadpool 2 certainly goes for a deeper, more interesting story than its predecessor does, but repeating some of the same jokes (occasionally line for line with the punchline altered), as well as having a general lack of novelty given that we’ve seen this character do his R-rated stint already do drag it down a bit. Also, it was a real bummer not to see that X-Force teasing pay off almost at all and not get to see more action or screen-time from Colossus or Negasonic, who practically stole the show in the last installment. Still, Ryan Reynolds remains born to play this character, the comedy (when it hits) is insanely funny, the action is great, Domino is a really fun addition to the franchise, Dopinder gets more to do (props to the writers on that one), Josh Brolin does an excellent job as Cable, and that mid-credits scene is an all-timer. Like I said, pretty good, just not great.
6. X2: X-Men United
Speaking of great, here’s where all of that starts. X2 was going to be a risk from the start, what with Spider-Man (2002) having come out only the year before and knocked it out of the park. Singer and company were going to have to step up their game big-time if they wanted to stay in the superhero conversation, and boy, did they ever. The greatest asset this movie has going for it is the intrigue behind its main villain Colonel William Stryker, brilliantly portrayed by Brian Cox in one of the most underrated performances in franchise history. Cox is startlingly good here, and his connection to Wolverine’s past is the main thread that this movie keeps pulling on in order to make itself even more interesting than it has to be; we’ve already got a great plot set-up with the villain and hero sides of the X-Men having to team up to stop their extermination at his hand, but giving him a past linked to Logan’s elevates this movie to heights it shouldn’t be able to rise to, considering its fairly average direction. The entire cast comes to play, which is fantastic, and that final shot (like Deadpool 2’s mid-credits scenes) is one for the superhero cinematic history books.
5. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Don’t get me wrong, I still thoroughly enjoy, even love, this movie at times. It’s got a plot that makes sense, some logic problems that don’t make sense, and one scene (the Quicksilver sequence) that does and then doesn’t make sense (why bring him on if you’re not going to bring him with you?), but it ends up tugging at the emotions all the same. You actually feel the mortal danger the X-Men are in here, and major credit has to be given to James McAvoy, who actually pulls off his best performance as a broken Charles Xavier in this movie. Days of Future Past is a movie about finding hope again, and it somehow managed to find it not only for its characters, but for those of us who needed it for the future of this franchise. Plus, that Xavier on Xavier talking scene is legendary stuff, and even though he doesn’t get much to do, Peter Dinklage makes the most of his role as Bolivar Trask (though they never do explain how he changes race between series). Days of Future Past doesn’t hold up as well as it should this far out from its release, but it’s a genuinely good entry in this franchise, and one that feels the least hurt from the direction just not being very interesting even while the story picks up that slack.
4. The Wolverine (Extended Cut)
This is by far the most underrated of the films on this list, and while I totally understand that the third act of this film (particularly the Silver Samurai fight) does drag it down a bit in quality, it doesn’t detract from the rock-solid filmmaking on display in those first two acts. James Mangold was an odd choice to direct the second solo Wolverine outing, but he ended up being a fit choice as well; Mangold made a Samurai movie using Wolverine as his main character, and looked at through that lens (as well as the lens of the Unleashed Extended Edition, which is unrated and easily superior to the theatrical version), the film is actually quite brilliant. Even the third act of it makes a bit more sense, and manages to not be as disappointing. Logan’s struggle with mortality, with desiring it but needing to give it up, pulls this film along a journey deeper than it really had any need to, considering how cool everything else already was, but Mangold did that; he did that for us, and gave an extra-cool train fight to boot. It may not be perfect, but it’s as close to it as Mangold was going to get this early in his franchise run, and that’s not nothing. At least they didn’t let the same writer mess up Wolverine (or our next entry) twice.
What a breath of fresh air this movie was. When I was coming out of the theater, I could not believe what I had just seen; Deadpool had come to the big screen after the most brilliant marketing campaign I’d ever seen, and not only delivered, but surpassed the expectations I had for it (and they were already pretty high). We all knew that test footage “leaked” so we could get hyped that this movie was being done right, and not only did it work, the finished film was (almost) everything we hoped it would be. Granted, some of the visual effects aren’t great, and the story ends up not meaning a whole lot overall as a fairly serviceable love/origin story, but the writing of the film, as well as the performance of Ryan Reynolds, carry this one to a whole other level. Add in some great supporting characters, some seriously kick-ass action, and you’ve got a recipe for the second-biggest R-rated success ever (domestically, anyway; internationally, it’s #1). On balance, it may not be as “good” as some of the others on here, but I enjoy it more, and ultimately, this is my list, so it lands at #3.
2. X-Men: First Class
There was no greater need for an X-Men movie to be good than when this movie came out. X-Men Origins: Wolverine had just tarnished the reputation of the franchise in such a way that most of the people going to see this movie (including myself) were very apprehensive about letting the X-Men back into their lives. Lucky for us, it ended up being the films that relished the most in its identity as an X-Men property, fully letting the yellow and blue uniform colors fly, and being a ton of fun along the way. Setting it during the cold war was a brilliant move on the part of the writers and the relationship between Xavier and Magneto in this movie is the absolute best its ever been. Seeing the origins of a bunch of new characters we’d never seen before was also really cool; we got to know them, and how they worked together as they grew into a team, something not even the original trilogy gave us pre-Wolverine. And Kevin Bacon as the film’s villain? A masterstroke. This movie is awesome.
And yet, none can top the critical, commercial, or Oscar-nominated success of Logan. What is it that makes Logan so great? Is it that it defies genre conventions and tells its story in a different way? First Class didn’t do any of that, and it was awesome too. Is it the performances of its cast, some of the best in the franchise? Yes, but some of the others had the best performances from their cast, and they’re not as good as Logan. Is it the R rating? Of course it doesn’t hurt that we actually get to see Wolverine draw some blood and go full berserker, but Deadpool was also R-rated and (although great) isn’t as good as Logan. So what is it? I’d argue it’s the writing. Logan was so brilliantly written, it managed to cut into the Best Adapted Screenplay category at the Oscars the following year, and that is a hard category to cut into, probably even tougher than Best Picture if we’re being honest, given that there are only 5 nominees in that category. This script, and Mangold himself, understand that it doesn’t matter how you spin it: Logan is doomed to be a hero, right up until the very end, no matter if it kills him or not. It doesn’t matter what he wants or what he thinks; he will always go back to being a father, a hero, a teacher, a friend, a good man at heart, no matter how much he doesn’t want to be. Logan really is a bittersweet tragedy about the cost of heroism, and what that can do to a person who’s known nothing but the fight their entire lives. This movie also features the absolute best performance in any X-Men film ever made in Patrick Stewart’s deteriorating Charles Xavier. I’m not usually one to say Jackman was snubbed for Lead Actor since he did have some pretty heavy competition that year, but Stewart absolutely could have won Supporting. That’s how good he is here. Logan ends Stewart and Jackman’s roles on poignant, bittersweet notes that resonate long after the tone drops out, and it leaves me crying in a puddle every time that ending hits. It’s a shame this isn’t the final film in the franchise, because it’s as close to a perfect ending as they were probably ever going to get.
And that, my friends, is my definitive ranking of Fox’s X-Men franchise. What do you think of this list? Would you switch any around? How would you rank the X-Men films (including Deadpool or otherwise)? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back soon with more lists/rankings!
- The Friendly Film Fan
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Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time.