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7. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
The worst superhero movie ever made, the first post-trilogy X film is less of a spinoff than a spinoff sizzle reel, with Ryan Reynolds' scene-stealing Deadpool and Taylor Kitsch's scene-wrecking Gambit jockeying for attention with a parade of C-listers (the Blob). Everything about the movie is incoherent — the tone, the bizarrely twisted plot, the title. But the real sin is how, by setting the action before Logan loses his memory, Hugh Jackman is stuck playing a pretty standard, boring action hero. It's a Wolverine movie without Wolverine, which is to say, not really a movie at all.
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6. X-Men: The Last Stand
Take one of the best story arcs in X-Men history. Then combine it with a completely different story arc from a completely different corner of X-Men history. Then kill off a central character with zero fanfare. Then try to awkwardly launch a next-generation X-Team inside the concluding saga of the first X-Team. Then hand it to your director and hope he can make it work. Oh, and your director is Brett Ratner.
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The film that started it all is an awkward-but-fascinating relic of an era before superhero movies became the mainstream. Like all movies in the X franchise, it feels like several occasionally oppositional movies in one. The central Wolverine-Rogue surrogate-sibling relationship is strong, with Jackman cementing Wolverine as a big screen star right out of the gate. And Bryan Singer arguably doesn't get enough credit for defining a certain brand of black-leather realism five years pre-Batman Begins. In the demerits column, an excess of pilot-episode exposition, several characters who let their ridiculous costumes do the talking, and that line about the toad and the lightning.
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4. The Wolverine
Sure, it might as well be subtitled Third-Act Problems, with a final Robo-Samurai battle sequence and a magic-blood twist that all feel beamed in from a less interesting, much goofier film. But the rest of the movie is the rare human-sized blockbuster, with a radically different atmosphere and tone that sets it apart from the rest of the franchise. The new setting helps — director James Mangold leaves the shadow-corridor sci-fi behind, in favor of a pulpy tale that mixes street-level action with outré ninja vs. samurai vs. yakuza martial artistry. But it also helps that, six films in, Jackman finally has a full-fledged character to play, with a mournful Logan haunted by his past and staring down a bleakly eternal future. The Wolverine ain't subtle — Nagasaki, Jackman's tank-topped physique, lines like ''Everyone you love dies'' — but it's got a brute-force power.
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3. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Bryan Singer's third X-Men movie is a great big whirling dervish of a megamovie, featuring X-casts past and present in a giant-size adventure. The plot depends on a few contrivances — Shadowcat has time-travel powers? — and the massive size of the ensemble means that most characters get short shrift. But that's the point, really: This is an Irwin Allen superhero movie, skipping so quickly between events that it's impossible to get bored. Along the way, Singer delivers visual-feast action scenes, showcasing deep-cut mutants Quicksilver and Blink while giving Jackman the chance to mentor the next generation. Of course, Future Past takes the already-fragile internal chronology of the franchise and shatters it to pieces. But who cares? Sentinels! Dinklage! Nixon!
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2. X2: X-Men United
A decade later, the Nightcrawler scene could still be the best action sequence of the superhero movie era. And that fleet-footed BAMF-happy opening sets the tone for an X sequel that is lighter, faster, and funnier than the first film. The mere fact that X2 is such a perfected vision made its reputation — and helped to obscure the fact that X2 also demonstrates problems that would define the franchise. There's the character pile-up, the constant fascination with Cerebro, and the complete inability to figure out what to do with Storm, among others. But there's also scenes like Iceman's ''coming out'' to his parents or the government attack on the school that get to the core of the X-Men misfit-paranoia mythology like nothing else in the series. Also, any film that briefly makes an action hero out of Alan Cumming earns immediate grade inflation.
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1. X-Men: First Class
Nothing against the emo nihilism of the original X trilogy, but in the best prequel ever made, Matthew Vaughn and returning producer-cowriter Bryan Singer crafted a new kind of mutant movie. Suave and sexy, thrill-drunk and kinky and proudly campy, First Class is most of all an opportunity for Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy to play Magneto and Professor X as two flavors of young hero-hunk — the former tormented, the latter amused — facing off against Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw (a laugh-riot monster in a villainous ascot. First Class was engineered out of a few different spare-parts spinoffs, and it has its share of frayed edges/January Jones scenes, but all the constituent parts contribute to a feeling of perpetual motion. First Class doesn't have much to do with the comics and throws half the X-franchise continuity out the window — which could explain why it's such an unencumbered, rollicking entertainment.