Updated & edited 12th May 2019 (originally published 20th March 2017).
In many respects, the X-Men franchise spawned the age of the superhero movie as its birth signalled a shift from one-off action blockbusters (and a few 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, and with the recent send-off of perhaps the most beloved of all of these characters – Wolverine – in Logan (2017), and Disney’s recent purchase of Fox seeming to indicate a hard reset is on the horizon for the big screen versions our favourite mutant heroes, now seems like the perfect time to take a look back on the X-Men franchise and reminisce over its 11 movies from 7 different directors across the past 19 years.
That’s why, in this edition of Ranked, each of the X-Men franchise’s live-action pictures shall be ranked from worst to best.
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11. 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.
10. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
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 never explained properly. Unfortunately, this birthed probably the only bad Oscar Isaac performance of the past five or six years, too, which seems quite the achievement given his astronomic talents.
9. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
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 are nonsensical in the grand scheme of things.
There are, however, some fairly cool moments involving Ben Foster’s Angel and Ian McKellen’s 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 casual audiences either.
8. 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 returned to the X-Men franchise for Days of Future Past (2014) to issue a $200million 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 2000s. 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 mission, 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 8 position in this list. It was fun, sure, but nothing more; and we all expect something more from the X-Men, don’t we?
7. The Wolverine (2013)
The second standalone Wolverine film was a prequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and it 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, but hints of the magnificent Mangold & Jackman partnership remained present.
The Wolverine is largely forgettable and unassuming but still levels above the previous entries to this countdown, making it one of the X-Men movies that should be categorised as: The Actually Quite Good Ones.