There was a time when X marked the spot when it came to superhero movies.
The X-Men are the founding fathers of the current era of superpowers and capes that now dominates theaters not just in the summer but year-round. These films have gone through reboots and unlikely discoveries (an R-rated Deadpool movie works? Who knew?) and have managed to produce a dozen films in almost 20 years.
Although they aren’t the cultural force they once were — especially compared with Marvel Studios, which didn’t exist when “X-Men” arrived in theaters in 2000 — there is no denying their place in history as the beginning of a geek awakening at the movies.
Here is our ranking of all 12 X-Men films.
12. “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006)
This film was doomed the moment Bryan Singer, who helmed the first two “X-Men” films, abandoned the franchise to make “Superman Returns.” (Unfortunately, that Supes movie wasn’t the return to relevance Warner Bros. was hoping for.) Once Brett Ratner took over the director’s chair, a rushed production led to X3 losing all of the good vibes the first two films earned from fans. And a long, red coat does not a Dark Phoenix make.
11. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009)
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is one of the most beloved superhero performances ever, right up there with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Heath Ledger’s Joker. That wasn’t enough to save this movie, however: It botched the adaptation of Wolverine’s incredible origin tale from the comics, which takes place in Canada in the late 1800s. The film reduces the story of his adolescence to a few flashbacks and spends the rest of the movie building toward the debut of a mute Deadpool. (Ryan Reynolds would go on to redeem this decision on the Merc with a Mouth a few years later.)
10. “X-Men: Apocalypse” (2016)
If you’re going to name a movie after an all-time supervillain, your take on said villain better be on point. That didn’t happen here when it was decided that Apocalypse, a fan-favorite X-Men antagonist, would be portrayed by Oscar Isaac caked in makeup instead of the Josh Brolin-as-Thanos CGI approach that would have made more visual sense. You didn’t need the mind of Professor X to realize that wasn’t going to look good on film.
9. “Dark Phoenix” (2019)
The decision to reboot the story line from “X-Men: The Last Stand” wasn’t the most original way to say goodbye to this franchise and added to the feeling of irrelevance surrounding this movie. The writing was already on the wall that Marvel Studios, after Twentieth Century Fox’s deal with Disney, had a better X-Men story — even if it hadn’t come up with one yet.
8. “The Wolverine” (2013)
Stories about Wolverine’s time in Japan, from the dramatic to the romantic, always worked well in the comics and do in this film as well. Jackman gives his second-best performance ever as the indestructible mutant Logan. The final-act battle with the Silver Samurai is a bit over the top and clashes with the overall tone of the film, but we get a key hint — in the form of a mutant who can see the future — of the fate that awaits Wolverine in a later, well-received movie that ranks higher on this list.
7. “X-Men: First Class” (2011)
The start of the X-Men movie reboot gave us a different timeline (the 1960s) and new actors in key roles. The Professor X (James McAvoy)/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) dynamic was as intense as ever, thanks to Fassbender’s grinding teeth. And Mystique became an unlikely leader thanks to the relatively newfound star presence of Jennifer Lawrence.
6. “Deadpool 2” (2018)
The sequel followed the same formula of the first film: dirty humor and lots of guns and swords. And Reynolds and company gave us the guy who played Thanos as the popular mutant Cable, and an X-Force twist no one saw coming.
5. “Deadpool” (2016)
The first “Deadpool” movie cracks the top five for being the one X-Men movie made after 2008 that didn’t have fans clamoring for Marvel Studios to take over. That’s partially because Marvel Studios and its permanently PG-13 world just couldn’t “go there” with the assist of an R rating. The movie was a brutal and unforgiving mix of comedy, violence, sex and profanity that paved the way for another X-character on our list to go the R-rated route as well.
4. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014)
Merging the rebooted X-Men franchise with the actors from the original trilogy while following one of the comic book’s most popular tales worked surprisingly well in this future doom adventure. We also finally a got a fully formed Iceman in this film — a victory within itself.
3. “X-Men” (2000)
The year 2000 was the big bang of comic-book-inspired superhero cinema, which still thrives at the box office two decades later. There might not have been a Marvel Studios at all had “X-Men” not proved to Hollywood that superheroes were a trend worth revisiting.
2. “X2: X-Men United” (2003)
Widely regarded as the most satisfying X-Men film — and aided by a 2003 release date that would hold off Marvel Studios comparisons for another five years — X2 is now a classic in the age it helped create. Perfectly cast, it was a true superhero team effort almost a decade before the Avengers would arrive at the box office, and far and away the best of the original trilogy.
1. “Logan” (2017)
James Mangold’s “Logan” was an emotional and gritty goodbye, both on-screen and off, for Jackman’s one-of-a-kind performance as the legendary comic-book character. And Dafne Keen gives a rage-filled and emotional performance as Wolverine clone/his daughter Laura, a.k.a. X23. After well over a century of life, Wolverine sadly learns that even his story eventually comes to a bitter end.
The reign of Marvel Studios makes Fox’s ‘Dark Phoenix’ irrelevant, whether it’s good or not