In many respects, the X-Men franchise spawned the age of the superhero movie as its release signalled a shift from one-off action movies and 3-4 film franchises to Universes filled with vast arrays of intellectual property that could be auctioned off across a multitude of platforms. In the year 2000, when the first X-Men movie was released, developing CGI was able to bring characters to life that had previously been confined to the pages of comic books or the imaginations of Marvel’s readers, and with the recent send-off of perhaps the most beloved of all of these characters – Wolverine – in Logan (2017), now seems like the perfect time to take a look back on the X-Men franchise and reminisce about the 10 movies from 6 different directors across the past 17 years that the partnership between Marvel and 20th Century Fox has brought us. That’s why, in this edition of Ranked, each of the franchise’s live-action pictures shall be ranked from worst to best.
Be sure to leave a comment at the bottom of this article to let us know whether you agree or disagree with the order.
10. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Gavin Hood’s 2009 contribution to the X-Men franchise may have done a much better job of presenting Sabretooth as a viable threat than the original movies did (which was cool), but the manner in which the film put across legendary Marvel/X-Men characters Gambit and Deadpool left a lot to be desired and a whole heap of people pissed off. Perhaps the most shambolic mistake this movie made was centring the main emotional story arc of Logan/Wolverine around the mythology of Wolves, which are entirely different creatures from Wolverines (which are more like small bears than super aggressive angry Dogs). It’s not that this movie didn’t have its moments, but it felt so much like a child’s claymation project – that being a piece of art that took so many forms in the course of its development that the mish-mash quality of the final product just wasn’t up to scratch. It was so poorly received critically that Fox cancelled their plans to make the ‘Origins’ spin-off an entire franchise that would explore some of the X-Men’s most beloved characters, and while some of these characters have been explored since, the issues this movie had remain vital to the progression of the long-gestated Gambit standalone.
9. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Where to start with this one…
Apocalypse has too many characters, most of whom are completely neglected in terms of dialog or development, with Olivia Munn’s Psylocke being perhaps the most obvious example. As far as the plot goes, there were holes so large it seemed you could fit entire pyramids through them, as evidenced in the Everything Wrong with X-Men Apocalypse in 20 Minutes or Less video from CinemaSins. What’s more is that some of the characterisations entirely missed the mark – think about Magneto destroying half the planet in a magnetic fit of rage and compare it to his struggles at finding the good and bad within himself in X-Men: First Class, or even his methods of destruction in X-Men or X2. Perhaps most shockingly, Apocalypse himself was a walking contradiction whose infinite powers were not explained properly and only ever showed up when it was convenient to the plot. His character was also the source of the only bad Oscar Isaac performance of the past three or four years too. In short, this wasn’t a very good movie for a lot of reasons, not least because of how it titled itself an X-Men film yet forgot about most of what made the franchise truly great.
8. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Where do we start with this one? Some say it’s the worst superhero film (other than Spider-Man 3… Obviously) to ever be released and some say that it’s Brett Ratner’s perfect masterpiece of stupidity that’s very existence should be stricken from the records. Simply put: people hate it. For a start, all of the good guys die, and what sort of superhero movie fan from pre-Nolan’s Batman wants to go and see the final piece of a franchise when all of the heroes you’ve invested so much time in just die at the end? Furthermore, the plot is obvious and the decisions the characters are written to make just don’t make sense in the grand scheme of things. There are, however, some fairly cool moments involving Ben Foster’s Angel and Magneto (of course), as well as some interesting ideas underpinning the below-par execution, making the movie acceptable enough to not completely ruin the original trilogy. This one just didn’t sit well with loyal audiences and wasn’t nearly fun enough for the casual audience either.
7. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Because Brett Ratner had done such a terrible job of finishing his original trilogy with X-Men: The Last Stand, Bryan Singer made the Days of Future Past movie as an apology to the loyal fans who’d been let down when he abandoned the franchise for failed DC movie venture Superman Returns after X2 in the early 2000’s. The problem here was that the apology angle all seemed like PR spin for what was essentially a large reset switch for the X-Men universe, and felt less sincere and heartfelt than a dodged glance with a former spouse. Sure, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine going back in time to help out the younger and more fresh cast of the prequels was interesting enough, but it took barely any convincing for him to gain the trust of the mind-bendingly-intelligent Charles Xavier regarding his time travel being true, and everything else in the movie felt equally as forced, far-fetched and/or convenient that even Jennifer Lawrence’s badassery as Mystique couldn’t put this beyond the number 7 position in this list. It was fun, sure, but nothing more; and we all expect something more from the X-Men, don’t we?
6. The Wolverine (2013)
The second standalone Wolverine film was a prequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine (2013), and felt like a new and fresh take on the much beloved Wolverine character. James Mangold’s telling of the story that took place largely in Japan wasn’t without its detractors who felt like the film became more formulaic as the picture went on, but the ways in which Wolverine was challenged felt more worthy of investment than its predecessor, and some of the visuals were stunning. Problems in development, such as a change of director (from Darren Aronofsky who was originally signed to the project to James Mangold who was also at the helm for Logan), inevitably led to issues that had the movie feeling far from from perfect. This made The Wolverine largely forgettable and unassuming but still levels above the previous entries to this countdown. This is one of the X-Men movies that should be considered in the sub-category titled: the actually quite good ones.
5. X-Men: First Class (2011)
When Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn signed on to make the first in a prequel franchise of the X-Men universe, fans were delighted. The director had proven himself a worthwhile and different kind of comic book movie filmmaker whose handling of dark themes within a largely fun movie was the perfect groundwork for a much larger and more popular franchise like X-Men. He undeniably succeeded, creating route stories for Xavier and Magneto that didn’t detract from the original trilogy nor paid too much of a tribute to them to neglect the new cast portraying the iconic characters. Thrilling, beautifully shot, funny, and even moving, X-Men: First Class was a very good comic book movie ranked so lowly simply because of the quality of the pictures in front of it.
4. X-Men (2000)
Here’s where things start to get really interesting…
X-Men (2000) was the catalyst. The massive success of Bryan Singer’s movie was largely down to the dark and more adult themes of the picture, something that lent itself to mass culture rather than the specific “kids culture” that so many had assumed of many comic-book related products previously. With an ensemble of well respected character actors and some fantastic visuals, X-Men was a hit on all levels, owing much to its hugely invested and talented young director Bryan Singer, who was hot off the heels of his mightily successful The Usual Suspects (1995). For just how good of an example it is as an action movie, fantasy movie and superhero movie it is, as well as for all that it meant to the large budget Hollywood film industry X-Men is number 4 on this list.
3. Deadpool (2016)
“Give it the R Rating”, the filmmakers said.
“You’re crazy!” The studio said.
“We’ll do it for pennies,” the filmmakers said.
Deadpool went on to make $783million from a $58million budget and broke R-Rated records in the process. It was also nominated for a host of Golden Globe awards including Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical for its star Ryan Reynolds. Wow!
The movie itself gave the superhero genre the breath of fresh air that it so desperately needed. Loud, brash, arrogant and oh-so meta, Tim Miller’s imagining of the superhero was simply a fantastic game-changer. Much of its success was owed to the apparent lack of studio involvement – which was cleverly mocked by Deadpool himself who mentioned how he would only ever catch the same two X-Men at any one time – as well as its huge departure from any of the tried and tested characters or actors that had been a part of the franchise previously. So what if it suffered from an under-powered antagonist and very little in terms of investment for side characters? The laughs were so big you’d hardly notice.
2. Logan (2017)
Deadpool opened the door and Logan tore it to shreds.
While Deadpool found its niche in the comedy and brutality of the R Rating, Logan found its home, perfecting the previously established themes and character traits of its titular hero to create the most honest, focused and downright emotional X-Men movie of all time. Sir Patrick Stewart (Xavier) and Hugh Jackman (Logan) were excellent, and the director’s choice to make the movie more of a Western than a typical superhero film helped Logan to recreate the franchise as powerfully as Deadpool did, only in different ways. It was an emotional goodbye that the screenwriter-director James Mangold, Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman wanted, and ended up being as great of a send-off as it could have been courtesy of their collective passion. From start to finish it explored that which we had yet to see in Wolverine’s cinematic universe and did so with such a class that almost every emotional twist and turn elevated the film beyond some of its more cliche narrative threads. It was a truly fitting goodbye to perhaps the most beloved singular comic book movie hero of the century and the second best X-Men movie ever released.
1. X2 (2003)
Just as The Empire Strikes Back outdid the original Star Wars movie A New Hope, X2 outdid X-Men. In fact, it outdid every X-Men movie ever…
Director Bryan Singer made no secrets of the fact that he’d used the second Star Wars movie as inspiration for his own sequel, and with such a huge focus on the so-called antagonists of the piece – not least Magneto – it’s easy to see how important of a role Irvin Kirshner’s movie played. In this picture, the narrative aligned us with Magneto to bring sympathy to the mutants as a whole and not just Xavier’s X-Men, and suddenly we were convinced of the evils of our own kind because of the discrimination we were portrayed as collectively holding against our heroes. This was the ingenuity of the piece and has proven to be evidence of how pictures in the genre should focus heavily on morality when presenting characters with extraordinary abilities. Visually X2 was stunning too, with the Nightcrawler Whitehouse scene still being regarded as one of the best of all time some 14 years later. X2 was, simply, one of the best action/sci-fi/fantasy sequels of any trilogy ever, as it was about as fantastic as any movie in the genre could hope to be in every aspect from direction to acting and from CG to its screenplay. It should also be considered a great standalone movie. Bryan Singer’s second instalment truly is the Empire Strikes Back of the X-Men franchise and is deservedly the number one movie in this edition of Ranked.
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