There’s been a fair amount of vitriol thrown in Fox’s general direction the past few years over the quality of the X-Men movies they’ve been releasing. Thankfully, the X-Men and mutants are finally back in the hands of Marvel, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look back at the good, bad, and ugly of Fox’s ownership of the franchise.
11. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
I can say without hyperbole that this is one of the worst superhero films I’ve ever seen. I shouldn’t even have to get into why, as I doubt anyone reading this feels differently, but let’s do it for fun. First, there are the effects. Wolverine’s claws are laughably cartoony and bad, and look like they would better belong in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. The story also barely exists and everything only seems to happen so that Wolverine can beat up some more bad guys.
And then there’s what they do to Deadpool, one of the most popular comic book characters ever. He isn’t even really Deadpool in this, and apparently, the only reason Ryan Reynolds agreed to the film was that he was promised a solo movie. I mean, the dude’s nickname is “The Merc with a Mouth” and they sewed his mouth shut for the climax! Talk about not understanding the subject material…
10. X-Men: The Last Stand
Before there was X-Men Origins, The Last Stand was the awful X-Men movie everyone was talking about. Nowadays, bloated casts and low stakes action sequences are expected in X-Men movies, but back in 2006, we were still riding high off two excellent Bryan Singer entries in the franchise. And then came Brett Ratner. This movie completely ignores many of the deeper character moments seen in its predecessors, and instead focuses on ridiculous action and terrible comedy bits. Remember “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch?” It was just the worst.
Keep in mind that The Last Stand came out a year after Batman Begins, when Christopher Nolan showed us that superhero movies could still tell engrossing stories. Unfortunately, The Last Stand is most definitely the exception and not the rule. This is also where we really got to see the Phoenix Force in action, and it was a huge disappointment.
9. X-Men: First Class
There are plenty of people out there that have loved the most recent trilogy of X-Men films, but I am not one of them. And it’s my list, so if you disagree, go write your own. But in all seriousness, X-Men: First Class isn’t a terrible movie, despite my less than positive review. But I do think it’s the worst of the three, for several reasons. I’m glad that it mostly ignores the trilogy that came before it, and instead sets out to create its own universe with “new” characters. But it doesn’t really sell the time and place, despite the obvious Cold War aesthetic. All of the dialogue is so on the nose, as if the writers assume their audience are a bunch of morons that need everything spelled out for them.
January Jones is incredibly boring as Emma Frost — one of the coolest mutants there is — and the rest of the cast looks as bored as I felt watching them. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto is certainly the highlight of the film, but too much focus is given to less interesting characters like Charles Xavier and Mystique.
8. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Days of Future Past is a marked improvement over its predecessor, but brings along a whole slew of new problems to the table. Now it isn’t just the new cast we were watching, but the writers had to force Wolverine into the movie somehow in order to sell tickets. As a result we get a convoluted time travel story that still involves some of the cast from the original trilogy, now in a dark future where sentinels have killed almost all of the mutants. I actually really like these sections, because it’s a rare opportunity to see mutants actually fight as a team — something most of the other movies have lacked for some reason.
But the “back in time” story is far less interesting. I understand wanting to shift focus to Magneto and Mystique — because Magneto was the most interesting part of First Class and Jennifer Lawrence is now a superstar actress — but it doesn’t work. Both characters go through near-identical character arcs from First Class, creating a “been there, done that” feel to the story. Plus, Peter Dinklage’s Trask is woefully under-utilized.
7. X-Men: Apocalypse
The confusing past/present story thankfully went away after Days of Future Past, and Apocalypse again focuses on one time period of characters. They still shoehorn Wolverine in, but I’d rather a small cameo that comes out of nowhere than trying to contrive a way for him to be driving the story. I know plenty of people find Apocalypse to be the weakest of the three, but I think it’s the best, if only by a small margin.
Yes, Apocalypse looks super dumb. I don’t know how that awful make-up design made it into the final product. Yes, Magneto has the same character arc he’s had in the previous two movies. Yes, it’s annoying that Mystique, a character who finally came to terms with who she really is in the last movie, goes around in this one always looking like Jennifer Lawrence because the real J-Law didn’t want to sit in that makeup chair every morning. But, the action is better in Apocalypse than in either of the previous two movies, and it thankfully shifts focus to our younger heroes. Not all of them are interesting, but it’s a welcome change from finding new excuses to bring the old guard back. Hopefully they stick to this process in the future.
6. The Wolverine
This is certainly the most underrated movie on this list. I wouldn’t be surprised if a handful of people reading this hadn’t even heard of The Wolverine or forgot it existed. It tells a much more personal story for Logan, focusing on him trying to move away from the violence that has ruled his life — and on his wish to finally die. There’s a large part of the movie where he’s without his healing factor, and it really ups the stakes during the fight scenes.
The movie takes place in modern Japan and feels closer in line with the Wolverine comics than any of the other X-Men movies. It definitely gets a little silly in the third act, but I enjoy the smaller scale overall. The world isn’t ending and there aren’t other heroes backing him up. I’m not sure if this was intended to take Wolverine off into a franchise of his own, or if it was just meant as a palate cleanser for the masses getting sick of disappointing X-Men movies, but whatever the case, it works.
It’s kind of hard to look back on the first two X-Men movies in a modern context. The first one came out more than 15 years ago, after all. This was also one of the first big budget, “modern” superhero films. It came out five whole years before Batman Begins and eight before Iron Man. All of that to say, it’s easier to forgive X-Men some of its shortcomings.
The film had surprising depth at the time, focusing on the prejudices against mutant-kind and Magneto’s attempt to turn world leaders into mutants as a way to bring about change. Magneto in these early films is more of a villain than in the recent trilogy, but he still has an element of anti-hero to him, especially when compared to Xavier’s self-righteous nature. It’s also fun to see characters like Cyclops and Mystique on screen for the first time, and even smaller ones like Toad.
4. X-Men 2
X-Men 2 wins out over the first movie for its improved portrayal of the characters, better effects, and better action in general. The story isn’t quite as interesting, following Stryker brainwashing Xavier to use Cerebro in order to locate all the mutants on Earth so that Stryker can take them out. Brainwashing has always been and will always be a lazy plot device, and this is no exception. However, I do like that the X-Men end up teaming with the Brotherhood of Mutants. It creates some interesting character dynamics.
This is also where Alan Cummings’ Nightcrawler makes his debut, and he’s a perfect fit for the character. Overall, it’s more fun to follow along with this second movie, since most of the characters have already been established and the world created. The first movie in a franchise is always the hardest to make succeed, but thanks to the great path created by the first X-Men, X2 is able to up the ante in the most important ways. It’s too bad the third movie happened the way it did, with a rotating chair of directors and several rewrites.
3. Deadpool 2
It’s really hard to nail the crass, absurdist, self-referential, fourth-wall-breaking comedy that Deadpool brings. It’s even harder to nail that comedy a second time. Thankfully, Deadpool 2 delivers. It doesn’t stand out as much as the original simply because it isn’t as fresh this time, but there are few superhero movies that have made me laugh as hard — or as often.
Domino and Cable don’t stand out as new characters as much as I’d like, but they work well enough as part of the new X-Force team. The story does meander around a bit, with a lack of a true villain or active objective for Deadpool to complete. But it’s hard to focus too much on those things when you’re having such a good time. The first Deadpool is superior to the second in almost every way, but Deadpool 2 is still miles better than most of the X-Men trash films we’ve received under Fox’s guidance.
It’s interesting how two of the best and the absolute worst X-Men movies focus primarily on Wolverine. He’s easily the most popular character in the franchise, so it makes sense to keep him involved in the storylines, but these solo projects tend to be more successful than the big team-up stuff. Logan is really more about the man behind the claws, though.
This was to be High Jackman’s final performance as Wolverine, and he definitely goes out on a high note with this one. This movie is really a character study for Logan, as well as Professor X. As my review states, their relationship is truly something special in this film, as is Logan’s budding relationship with newcomer, Laura — AKA X-23. There’s plenty of action to be had, but it’s mostly a road trip kind of movie. That might seem like a weird fit, but the story and characters really drive this one through to the end, despite some under-developed villains and unnecessary plot distractions. This is easily the most unique movie in the franchise.
Deadpool isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the better superhero movies in recent years and one of the few X-Men films I can recommend without an asterisk. And it finally showed that an R rated superhero movie can work if the proper care and love are put into it.
This is exactly what I wanted out of a Deadpool movie. It’s hilarious, over the top in the best ways, and very self-referential. Ryan Reynolds was born to play this role. Sure, the story isn’t anything special, but it also isn’t bad — and it’s easier to look past a movie’s shortcomings when you’re having fun watching it. That’s something that can’t be said for most of the movies on this list. Huge thanks have to go to Ryan Reynolds for working so hard to make this movie happen. Give that man an Oscar.
There you have it, my personal ranking of the X-Men movies. You’re sure to disagree, so leave me your favorite in the comments below, and be sure to check out my rankings of the Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Marvel Studios movies!