Fox’s X-Men film franchise is perhaps one of the most important film franchises of our time, as it was essentially the beginning of the modern Superhero genre. Spanning the last twenty years, Fox’s X-Men has had its ups and its downs, spanning twelve films that introduced a giant cast of characters, multiple timelines and alternative takes on similar stories. The X-Men film franchise is memorable in the sense that it contains both some of the best films of all time, and some of the absolute worst. Now that the film series has finally reached its conclusion with the recently released Dark Phoenix (we will disregard The New Mutants considering its unknown status), I thought it only fitting to send it off with a ranking of the best and the worst.
12. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Fox’s X-Men films have definitely had some very low points, and it was actually difficult for me to decide which was its lowest. However, after going back and forth a couple of times, I decided that there was no other choice besides the infamously horrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Following the conclusion of the original trilogy, Fox wanted to continue to X-Men series with a series of origin films revolving around various characters. The first of these films was announced to be about Wolverine, and the concept was not bad. The film was set to introduce fan-favourite X-Men characters Gambit, Emma Frost and Deadpool (who were notably absent from the original trilogy), as well as explore Wolverine’s history with his brother Sabretooth and his longtime nemesis William Stryker, and document his time with the Weapon X program. In theory, this could have been a good film, but in execution, it was not. The film was riddled with muddled character motivations, poor action sequences, and little development to the story of Wolverine. Gambit and Emma Frost were essentially side characters who served no narrative significance, and the character of Deadpool was completely ruined by their decision to make him into a mindless, mute villain. I would like to note that one of the key writers behind this film was David Benioff, one of the show runners of Game of Thrones. Perhaps after the latest season of the once beloved show, we can understand why Benioff should have been kept away from both X-Men and Game of Thrones. The only real positive from this movie was the decision to cast Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, and while he was not utilized properly in the production of this film, the decision would ultimately have a positive outcome many years down the road.
11. Dark Phoenix
A little bit better than the mess that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but still an overall poorly made film is the recently released Dark Phoenix. Similarly to Origins, Dark Phoenix had many pieces of the puzzle set in place that could have allowed for the narrative to be a success, but due to poor writing, weak character motivations and boring action sequences, the film ended up leaving the X-Men film franchise going out with a whimper, rather than a bang. Fox’s first attempt at adapting the Dark Phoenix Saga was very weak, and fans believed that Dark Phoenix was meant to be the second chance at giving this story a proper film. However, Dark Phoenix failed even more with the story as it relied too heavily on concepts from the comics that had never been established in the film franchise before. This film was the first time that the notion of space was ever explored, and yet, it was a central theme in the film. The film poorly establishes the idea of the Phoenix Force as a cosmic entity, and also introduces the character of Vuk and the D’Bari empire without ever really explaining who or what they are. In addition, the Jean Grey and Cyclops romance is not explored at all, despite the promises that it would be the “emotional core” of this film. The events of the previous films are completely ignored, despite the fact that they would have added to the narrative. For example, a main conflict within the film is the fact that Professor X chose to lock away traumatic memories of Jean’s to protect her, but rather than making Xavier an empathetic figure and referring to the fact that he was aware of Jean’s actions in the original timeline (as he learned from Wolverine in Days of Future Past), they chose to pass him off as some proud, egotistical jerk who was just decided what might be best for an eight year-old girl. What is even more confusing is the fact that there is never even a mention of the final scene in X-Men: Apocalypse when Jean Grey awakens the Phoenix to stop the titular villain, and as a result, this film just did not feel part of a continuity of films. In a sense, I am happy that Dark Phoenix turned out to be disappointing, as it proved to me that Fox is no longer invested in making these films succeed, and that Disney’s acquisition of the company will leave the X-Men characters in better hands.
10. X-Men: The Last Stand
Only a slightly better telling of the Dark Phoenix Saga is X-Men: The Last Stand. Serving as the final entry of the original trilogy, this film was marketed to be the biggest X-Men film to date, and in a way, it was. X-Men: The Last Stand was not necessarily an awful movie, but it lacked direction. The film was originally intended to be a two-part film directed by Bryan Singer that would introduce the Phoenix in the first film, and have her lose control in the second film. The double-feature was also meant to introduce the characters of the Hellfire Club, likely serving a similar role as in the comics with manipulating Jean Grey’s power to serve their own agenda. But when Bryan Singer was offered to direct Superman Returns and left the project, Fox condensed the film into a single movie, and merged the Dark Phoenix Saga storyline with the Mutant Cure storyline. As a result, the film became muddled, and too much was left to juggle in the narrative. Despite the plot taking a major hit, the film still included some extremely satisfying, shocking and emotional moments. I will always remember the scene where Jean Grey has a mental showdown with Professor X, and murders him as a result. It was the kind of scene where, as a kid, I was left completely shocked. The final scene of the film, where Wolverine is forced to kill Jean Grey, was an incredibly emotional moment for his arc, and it served as a basis for his story going forward. While The Last Stand may have not been the greatest film ever made, there were definitely some strong, emotional developments that served both as a fitting conclusion to the original trilogy, and as a powerful plot device for a couple of the films to come.
9. X-Men: Apocalypse
X-Men: Apocalypse was not a bad film, but it was an overall mediocre one, especially in comparison to the two films that came before it. Similar to The Last Stand, this film was meant to be the final movie in a trilogy of films focusing on the younger versions of Professor X and Magneto. The previous film, Days of Future Past, set up Apocalypse to be this major threat that was a consequence of the X-Men meddling with the timeline, and the hope was that this would result in the largest, most emotional conflict that the film franchise had ever scene. However, just like The Last Stand, the third film proved to be underwhelming. Apocalypse as a character proved to do a whole lot of nothing in the film other than assemble a team of Horsemen, who also ultimately did nothing. There were some cool action scenes, and some really great face-offs, but in the end, it was nothing we had not seen before. Even the ending, which seemed to establish the Phoenix as an important element in the future of the story, is now somewhat soured by the fact that this film was ultimately inconsequential to its sequel Dark Phoenix.
The original X-Men film was the beginning of the modern Superhero film genre. Now, many people will watch this film and criticize it for being too short and too small in scale. However, that is because this film has not aged well. It was a product of its time, and in 2000 when it was the first superhero film in the resurgence, it was a damn good film. It introduced a strong cast of characters with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Anna Paquin as Rogue, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Sir Ian McKellan as Magneto, Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, Halle Berry as Storm and James Marsden as Cyclops. It was a fun, personal and perfect origin film for this franchise, and while it may not have stood the test of time, it is still a great movie in its own right.
7. Deadpool 2
The follow-up to 2016’s hit film Deadpool was almost always destined to fall short. As with most comedy films, sequels tend to be slightly less impressive, mostly because the jokes are rehashed and the vibe always feels a little worn out. This was the case with Deadpool 2. It was in no way a bad film. In fact, Deadpool 2 was funny, engaging and overall a great movie. However, it did end up being a step-down from the first film.
6. The Wolverine
The Wolverine was meant to be a follow-up to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but it ended up taking a much different approach. Rather than retread the tired story of the X-Men protagonist, The Wolverine found Logan traveling to Japan to face a powerful internal conflict that was a result of the emotional decision to kill Jean Grey at the end of The Last Stand. By putting Jean at the emotional core of this film, The Wolverine found its purpose in proposing the intriguing story of how an immortal man moves forward when he no longer wishes to be alive. In his quest to find a way to end his own life, Logan battles with his inner self, personified as Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey, as well as finding new purpose in protecting those he finds in Japan. The Wolverine did what it needed to do by separating itself from the original trilogy, but also maintaining awareness of the way in which they affected the titular character. Overall, this was a solid film.
As stated earlier in the article, one of the biggest shortcomings of Origins was the fact that they casted Ryan Reynolds for the role of Deadpool, but never utilized him properly. The idea of a Reynolds-driven Deadpool solo film had been thrown around for years following Origins’ release, but it seemed as though Fox was ready to scrap the idea. It was not until leaked test footage surfaced online that Fox began to see the potential for the character, and thus, Deadpool was born again. This film had a bit of everything: romance, drama, action. And it balanced everything well into a fun narrative that placed comedy at its core. It revolutionized the superhero genre by being the first R-rated superhero film, and it changed the way that most people thought a superhero should be.
4. X-Men: Days of Future Past
X-Men: Days of Future Past was an ambitious title that could be considered the Infinity War of Fox’s X-Men film universe. For this film, Bryan Singer sought to collect all the actors and characters across both timelines of the films, and connect them into one massive narrative. As such, it served as both the second film of the new trilogy, and the fourth film of the original series, weaving together the stories in a way that most people would have never imagined possible on-screen. And for the most part, Singer did a hell of a job telling this story. For all intents and purposes, Days of Future Past was both a finale and a new beginning, ending the franchise for what it was, and beginning it for a new future. On the first account, it massively succeeded. To date, it was the biggest and most epic film in the franchise, and it brought a narrative conclusion to many of the characters’ arcs, including Wolverine, Professor X, Magneto and Mystique. But on the other hand, while the events of this film were meant to have massive ripples on the future of the franchise, the subpar Apocalypse and disappointing Dark Phoenix did not take advantage of what Days of Future Past set up for them, and as a result, it is almost more fitting to consider this film to be the true finale of the franchise.
3. X2: X-Men United
Similar to what I had previously stated for the original X-Men film, X2 was essential to beginning the new superhero genre revolution of our modern time. In terms of scope, scale and story, X2 improved in every aspect on its predecessor, exploring the characters in a new way, and setting up the series for a grand finale. In a way, X2 is the X-Men franchise in its purest form: simple, new, and full of potential stories to tell.
2. X-Men: First Class
X-Men: First Class is easily the best of the films starring the X-Men team. Serving as an origin film for both Professor X and Magneto, First Class explores the core of what it means to be different, and delivers a strong, intriguing narrative set during the height of the Cold War. Using leftover concepts from the original plan for X4 and the cancelled X-Men Origins: Magneto, First Class introduces the intimidating and layered villains of the Hellfire Club, lead by Sebastian Shaw and Emma Frost. At the core of the conflict is the clashing ideals of Charles Xavier and Eric Lehnsherr, who as the story progresses, begin to see how their opposing ideas of how the Mutant race should react to humanity begin to stray further and further apart. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender serve as fitting replacements for Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan, and bring new dimensions to the characters that we never saw manifested in the original trilogy.
This film is unlike any other film in Fox’s X-Men film franchise. While many of the other films are amazing superhero flicks, Logan is just flat-out and impressive movie in general. Taking inspiration from the Western film genre, Logan sees an older Wolverine traverse a world that has long forgotten about Mutant-kind, facing emotional trials unlike any he has faced before. This film places a sense of realism onto the X-Men universe that had never been explored before. One of the film’s greatest mysteries is what has happened to the X-Men, and as the story progresses, it is revealed to the viewer that the older, unstable Professor X is losing control of his mind, and when a Mutant with as powerful of a mind as Professor X loses control, bad things can happen. The conflict is not propelled by madness or evil, but by the fight to hold onto what matters. Logan’s relationship with both the elderly, senile Professor X, and the young, vicious X23 highlight the amount of growth that his character has been given over the course of this franchise. If Days of Future Past can be considered the true finale of this franchise, then Logan is definitely a fitting epilogue, and easily the best thing to come out of this twenty year-old franchise.