In many respects, the X-Men franchise spawned the age of the superhero movie, its birth signalling 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 who 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 the franchise as we know it in 2019’s Dark Phoenix, now seems like the perfect time to take a look back on the X-Men franchise and reminisce over its 12 movies from 8 different directors across the past 19 years.
That’s why, in this edition of Ranked, each of the X-Men franchise’s live-action film releases shall be ranked from worst to best.
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12. 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, 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 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 title 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.
11. 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 astronomical talent.
10. Dark Phoenix (2019)
Fox’s final X-Men franchise release ahead of its reboot under the Marvel Studios banner felt less like the franchise blockbusters of old and more like a passion project sent out to market ahead of when it was due and long after its actors had ever been interested.
The picture, which re-told the Dark Phoenix narrative of X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), was the feature directorial debut of long-standing X-Men franchise writer Simon Kinberg, the writer-producer being given the reins following work on The Last Stand, Days of Future Past and Apocalypse. The filmmaker’s passion shone through in some of the picture’s more creative set-pieces which illustrated his understanding of the characters’ strengths and weaknesses as well as creativity regarding set-up and pay-off; his desire to return to a more tightly-knit central X-Men group also being more in-keeping with the best parts of the fabled comic books than in some of the franchise’s other films, most notably Apocalypse. His hiring did seem like a sign of Fox giving up the ghost ahead of being purchased by Disney however, and the clear passion the director held for the project was one he clearly could not drag out of his less and less interested cast; most notably Jennifer Lawrence who was so done with her role as Mystique by this point that she was given an absurdly short filming schedule and barely any screen time (the key beats of which were spoiled in the trailer).
Dark Phoenix did do a lot better than its sister movie The Last Stand, but it lacked the gravitas and history The Last Stand carried into it and was only mediocre so far as superhero movies go, leaving this Kinberg picture a spot below its fellow Dark Phoenix story on this list at number 10.
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