10. Dark Phoenix (2019)
Fox’s final central 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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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.