Over nearly 20 years superhero movies have evolved from niche films to a full-blown genre all their own. While comic book inspired films were nothing new prior to the 2000s studios consistently showed caution when adapting properties from page to screen and a lot of times it felt like they had no idea how to do these heroes or their legacies justice. That all changed in the year 2000 when Fox released “X-Men”. It became a smash hit and solidified comic book properties as the new go-to source of inspiration for adapted films. Over the last two decades numerous studios have followed suit with their own franchises, spin-offs and, of course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe all born from the confidence sparked in studios by the success of “X-Men”. One could call it the father of the superhero movie genre as we know it today. Since the first film the “X-Men” series has produced ten other theatrical projects for a total of eleven and two more, this weekend’s “Dark Phoenix” and next years (maybe) “New Mutants”, still on the way. But realistically this weekend’s offering is the final film in a series that revolutionized cinematic entertainment forever. With that in mind, I wanted to take time to honor the legacy this series is leaving behind before Marvel eventually reboots the franchise for the MCU. So today I’ll be looking at which ten films in this eleven, going in twelve film franchise are the most memorable. These are my picks for the Top 10 X-Men Movies.
This list is simple, it’s a celebration of the ten best films from the eleven “X-Men” movies released prior to “Dark Phoenix”. The one that’s being left out should be obvious. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is a train wreck worthy of being forgotten. So, the other ten films automatically earned their place on the countdown. As you may have already figured out, this list includes any film primarily featuring X-Men characters so the “Wolverine” trilogy and “Deadpool” movies as well as films from both the original and prequel series are all included. I based the ranking on a few factors but ultimately my personal preference played a huge role in this list as it is meant to be a celebration of a film series that single-handedly made me, personally, a fan of the superhero genre in the early 2000s.
What is your favorite “X-Men” movie? Let me know in the comments below and look for my review of “Dark Phoenix” this weekend.
10. “X-Men: Apocalypse”
Sometimes I even forget “Apocalypse” exists. The third movie in the reboot/prequel series, “X-Men: Apocalypse” was meant to bring the superhero teams most powerful enemy, the ancient mutant Apocalypse, to the big screen updating him as a mutant able inherit powers from other mutants by switching from body to body, allowing him to live forever and amass a seemingly endless power set. Honestly, that sounds like a really cool idea, however, the result proved to be less than enjoyable. In addition to trying too hard to work the cast of young adaptations of Jean Grey, Cyclops, Nightcrawler and others into the mix, “Apocalypse” is bogged down by too many rehashed and borrowed elements that make it feel more like a remake than a unique exploration of the titular mutants terror. It is cool to see Quicksilver’s slow-motion speed powers again but the addition of Wolverine’s origins (for the third time), yet another family tragedy that turns Magneto against Xavier, and the mishandling and horrible design of the villain make “Apocalypse” a repetitive mess worth overlooking.
9. “The Wolverine”
The standalone “Wolverine” trilogy is a divisive one that truly got progressively better with each new entry. While the first film is an unbearable insult to the character and the fans, the second film, “The Wolverine”, is a simply okay upgrade. “The Wolverine” adapts one of the titular hero’s most popular stories as he finds himself in Japan approached by a man he once saved with an offer to surrender his regenerative powers in order to be able to die and give more meaning to his life. “The Wolverine” is indeed a fun and significant improvement, but in the end it’s simply just an alright entry in the franchise that offers enough to be worth the viewing but in the years since its release has been remembered as more of a buildup film to its superior successor “Logan”. The fact that it poorly handles one of Wolverine’s most iconic foes, the Silver Samurai, doesn’t really help. This was a film meant to right the wrongs of the first “Wolverine” film and in that regard it succeeded.
8. “X-Men: The Last Stand”
A lot of people give “The Last Stand” flack as the worst movie in the original trilogy and while that may be true I honestly enjoy it more the older it gets. The first two “X-Men” movies are more fun and overall better films, but despite a strange and incoherent story, some corny one-liners, and less focus on the heart of the “X-Men” film franchise “The Last Stand” still offers [plenrty of excellent acting and awesome battle scenes that capture the action of the franchise like never before. From a nostalgic perspective, it kind of gets better with age as a thrill ride of a film you really shouldn’t think too hard about. If nothing else “The Last Stand” can be remembered as the entry that inspired Fox to take new directions with the series and try new tones, new stories, and new actors to get it just right. It also served as the first real example of Hollywood botching a popular story in the new era of superhero films which actually helped change the way creative license was implemented for future adaptations.
7. “Deadpool 2”
The second “Deadpool” movie is a solid sequel and one I gave a perfect score when I reviewed it last year. But its legacy has been greatly overshadowed by pretty much every film still to come on this list. “Deadpool 2” takes everything fans loved about the previous film and doubles down on it with a bigger budget, more X-Men cameos, more R-rated mayhem and language, and even more fourth wall breaking and references than before. Still, it’s not quite as charming or as enjoyable as the more stripped down and focused original. “Deadpool 2” contains a deep narrative that humanizes the normally comical and sarcastic titular hero as he suffers a tragic loss that forces him to tackle his own inner demons and will to live. But when you consider the forced cameo of the Juggernaut and the use of “fridging” (if you don’t know what that is, look it up) to drive Deadpool’s inner conflict there are still areas where this movie could have been improved. Mostly though it lands this low on the list because while it is a fun and still excellent sequel it just hasn’t proven to be as memorable as those entries still to come.
The original “X-Men” film was a landmark cinematic release that changed the landscape of superhero films as well as cinema in general for just about two decades now. The first film in the franchise was a game changer proving that comic book movies could be taken seriously and setting off a wave of copycat franchises resulting in all but one of the last 19 years seeing the release of a major superhero film. That’s a legacy that can’t be ignored. However, the original “X-Men” adaptation hasn’t quite aged as well as others in the series. A lot of the effects are dated and fans like to ignore and forgive its shortcomings because it was released at a time where comic book films weren’t exactly respected or handled very well and projects like the 1989 “Batman” were a rarity. “X-Men” found a perfect balance between cheesy, pandering and satisfying opening the doors for what would become a genre all its own. For all it’s flaws and dated content “X-Men” is still the one that started it all and the fact that it’s only sixth on this list only further shows that it lead for better things that had yet to come.
The “Deadpool” movie was an interesting one. Originally the titular character was portrayed by Ryan Reynolds is the heavily hated “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. However, Reynolds was always considered a perfect choice for the role and years later he pushed for a standalone movie releasing test footage that set the world ablaze with excitement. Fox teased a mouthy, sarcastic, and faithful Deadpool and soon they revealed the Merc with a Mouth would get an R-rated movie, a rarity in the traditionally family friendly genre. The result was a brilliant origin story that felt unique and fresh and gave fans everything they wanted leading it to become the highest grossing R-Rated movie ever and the highest grossing “X-Men” film which it remain today. “Deadpool” is one of the most perfectly adapted characters in the X-Men universe which is astounding considering how horribly he was portrayed prior. “Deadpool’s” success still resonates with studios today as more and more R-rated comic book films have gone into production with an eye towards pandering to the true fans of the characters rather than trying to satisfy families and casual fans through watered down content.
4. “X2: X-Men United”
After the success of the first “X-Men” movie a sequel was inevitable, and a franchise was born. The first film established the characters and the world, but the second movie took things to the next level as heroes and villains banded together to take on a shared threat. This is where the “X-Men” films found their footing, taking a few risks and adding in new characters that fans were begging to see adapted to film including Nightcrawler and Lady Deathstrike. It also doubled down on the themes of racism and prejudice that litter the “X-Men” lore and was one of the first films in the 2000s to directly reference issues like “coming out of the closet” even if it used the mutants’ powers as an allegory in place of these real-life ideas. Of all the films in the series “X2” is one of the best at blending action and social commentary making it so much more than simply an early summer blockbuster. It perfected the themes previously explored by its predecessor and offered plenty of awesome fun and action, including possibly the most memorable scene in the entire franchise with Nightcrawler’s White House attack.
3. “X-Men: First Class”
It might be surprising to some that this entry is higher than any of the films from the original trilogy, but the truth is while the original films set the standard the reboot prequels took the franchise to a new level. It all started with “X-Men: First Class”. After the botched effort that was “The Last Stand” and the horrendous failure of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” Fox went in a new direction ditching their plans for a series of origin stories and instead exploring the beginnings of the X-Men team as a whole. With a new cast of younger talents, including James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence, “First Class” brought new life to a franchise that needed to establish a solid identity if it wanted to continue. For me it was a film that took everything we loved about the original films and perfected them while also adding new elements and a more colorful style that felt more welcoming and pleasing. “First Class” has aged gracefully too and in many ways has proven to be more timeless and polished than its predecessor offering much more insight into the relationships and personalities of some of the series’ most popular and famous characters, in some ways even improving on them and making them bigger parts of the overarching story.
2. “X-Men: Days of Future Past”
No matter who you ask “Days of Future Past” has become possibly the most celebrated team film in the “X-Men” series and with good reason. First off it serves as a great union of the older cast that started off the franchise and the newer cast that rebooted it in “First Class” while putting the most popular stand alone character, Wolverine, at the center of the action as a time traveler interacting with both generations of mutant heroes. No other film in the original trilogy or reboot series has added as much or respected the series as much as this film offering now-iconic moments and new elements to the story while also paying homage to the franchise’s past and serving as a worthy sequel to “First Class” all at the same time. That’s a lot to put on any film’s plate and “Days of Future Past” did it brilliantly. Despite juggling two realities, it presents a great story that flows well and balances the series’ traditional social subtext with plenty of action, suspense and even a twist here or there making it one of the best superhero movies of the last decade. To me “Days of Future Past” remains the one team film in the series that lived up to its potential in nearly every way.
It’s really impossible for me not to put this film at number one. “Logan” is the most critically acclaimed film in the entire franchise and with good reason. Presenting a more character-centric story based on the “Old Man Logan” comics and embracing the R-rating that made “Deadpool” as success, “Logan” was truly one of 2017’s greatest movies and finally did justice to the most popular X-Man’s standalone potential. While filmmakers had tried and failed to make a great solo Wolverine film prior, “Logan” felt like the perfect end to not only the character’s story but Hugh Jackman’s long tenure in the role that made him a household name. “Logan” remains a deep and personal story as Wolverine finally faces the possibility of his own death while also discovering he has a genetically engineered daughter who he must protect from an organization seeking to use her and other mutant children as weapons. Upon its release “Logan” quickly became many viewer’s favorite “X-Men” film, including mine, thanks to its incredible performances, dark yet hopeful narrative, and well-crafted cinematography and style that altogether help it stand out as one of the best comic book adaptations in cinema history.