All the X-Men movies, ranked
12. 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.
This gallery was originally published May 21, 2014, and most recently updated June 7, 2019.
11. 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.
10. Dark Phoenix
Simon Kinberg previously co-wrote The Last Stand, so his feature-film directorial debut marks his second go-round adapting the Dark Phoenix saga to the big screen. Unfortunately, Sophie Turner actually has a lamer downward spiral than Famke Janssen, with a story line that awkwardly tries to mesh inexplicable cosmic energy with unobserved paranoia about female power gone amok. The result is a totally flavorless film that nevertheless conjures up some interesting new developments for the franchise — finally, the X-Men get along great with the President of the United States! Also, god love James McAvoy, he gives one last great performance in this wreckage.
The film that started it all is an awkward-but-fascinating relic of an era before superhero movies became the mainstream. Like every entry in the X franchise, it feels like several 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.
8. X-Men: Apocalypse
Bryan Singer’s franchise swan-song is a mess of motivations, and a couple key First Classers look too bored to even sign their checks. Can I offer a modest defense of this immodestly garish piece of trash? The absurd setpieces have a beefcake-camp power, from the Ancient Egypt opening to the nuclear montage to Magneto’s vengeful return to Auschwitz. 3/4 of the characters don’t do anything except stand around looking cheesy-glorious in costumes that look Broadway-ready. A waste of comics inspiration and of a lot of acting talent, but Apocalypse anticipates the polychromatic post-gritty turn in superhero movies like Ragnarok and Aquaman.
Your mileage may vary, and in its own meta-spoof way, Ryan Reynolds’ X-parody turned out to be as influential for superhero-movie culture as The Avengers and The Dark Knight. I have complicated feelings in general about this R-rated farce, which blends over-the-top bloodbathery with hit-or-miss gags. Credit Reynolds for finding chatty sweetness in his masked psychopath — and for giving new life to the film series by embracing the intrinsic humor of the franchise’s junky failings.
6. Deadpool 2
I worry sometimes that Deadpool will become our generation’s Austin Powers, a quoteable spoof icon who overstays his welcome. This satiric sequel comes close to extending the joke too far, and the plotstarting death of Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is a lazy-rude contrivance. Still, the screenplay by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Reynolds finds a new gear as a far-flung superteam riff, letting performers like Julian Dennison and Zazie Beetz shine.
5. X2: X-Men United
2003 was a long time ago, and the opening 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 better version of X1 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.
4. 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, 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. This is the beginning of Jennifer Lawrence spending a decade with nothing to do in the X-Men movies. First Class doesn't have much to do with the comics and throws the movies' continuity out the window — which could explain why it's such an unencumbered, rollicking entertainment.
A hard-R sendoff for Jackman, Patrick Stewart’s Professor X, and the whole blockbuster era they helped to create. And director James Mangold’s violent road odyssey looks back even further in film history: There’s no single moment in any X-movie more beautiful than Stewart waxing poetic about watching Shane one whole cinematic century ago. The ultraviolence hits an unsteady critical mass point somewhere around the arrival of the Wolverine clone — and all the gore can feel at odds with the elegiac tone. This is a sincerely fond farewell, though, with Jackman finding grace in his epic hero’s adventure. He never looked worse, he never looked better.
2. The Wolverine
A deceptively small-scale crime thriller with a propulsive B-movie sensibility and a mournful sincerity that makes other blockbusters look plastic by comparison. Jackman digs deep to find new poignance in an older, sorrowful Wolverine, living hermetic in the wilderness. He’s a dead man walking, haunted by visions of old lives and lovers. And then, through a series of strange circumstances, he lands right in the middle of a Tokyo gang war encompassing yakuza, ninjas, and a giant samurai cyborg. I’ve come around on the samurai-borg, and I think The Wolverine succeeds as a legitimate pulp adventure, with a great ensemble cast and action that feel uniquely gravitational in a typically greenscreen-y franchise. I know a lot of people view this as a stepping-stone oddity to Logan, but I think The Wolverine’s accomplishment is more sneakily profound. A philosophical divide, maybe, but one to ponder: In Logan, Wolverine accepts death; in The Wolverine, Logan figures out how to live.
1. X-Men: Days of Future Past
This prequel-sequel is a whirling megamovie, with X-casts past and present in a giant-size adventure. The plot depends on lunatic contrivances — Shadowcat has time-travel powers? — and the massive size of the ensemble means that a lot of characters get short shrift. On one hand, that’s the point: 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 (Evan Peters) and Blink (Fan Bingbing) while giving Jackman the chance to mentor the next generation. Or wait, is he mentoring the previous generation? The already-fragile internal chronology of the franchise shatters to pieces. Who cares? Sentinels! Peter Dinklage! Nixon! The excess swirls around a deeper story, personified in the contrast of McAvoy and Stewart as two eras of Professor X. It's a paradoxical dynamic: The younger man gone to cynical seed in a '70s golden age, and the elder in an apocalyptic nightmare future somehow discovering unfathomable reservoirs of hope.