Back in the innocent year of 2000 AD, superhero flicks were a bit of a deviation from the cultural norm of the typical blockbuster fare. The days of Batman owning the box office summer were over, thanks in no small part to Joel Schumacher truly going all ham and pineapple on his 1997 masterpiece, Batman & Robin. The actor who the world knew as Superman was tragically injured, and would no longer be able to play the man who flies. Those rascally teenage turtles went back in time and might as well never come back. The Phantom was adapted by a director and a production company that hadn’t the slightest clue that the script they were bringing to life was a hard satire of the very thing they were trying to cash in on. The world was broken.
20th Century Fox nabbed a load of Marvel character rights throughout the 90s, and at the turn of the century (ahem) they cashed in on what at the time was considered one of the recognizable superhero teams at the time, the X-Men. The animated series of the franchise loomed large in the hearts of children and frustrated parents alike, and the time had come to bring those wacky, queer metaphor heroes to life.
As the X-Men rights have shifted over to the impeccable minds of Walt Disney Studios and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I thought what better time than now to take a look back on the thirteen flicks Fox released under the X name. So get ready: This is me ranking all the X-Men movies from 2000 to 2020.
13. X-Men: The Last Stand
It simply had to be. Much like what the #1 spot is most definitely going to be, this most certainly had to be the last. There are few movies I can think of off the top of my head that drop the ball in such a radical fashion as the third (and final?) installment in the OG X-Men trilogy. Overflowing with cliches and terrible decisions, The Last Stand is sort of the ultimate 2006 superhero movie, in that it had learned all the wrong lessons from the success of the genre over the past 6 years and had yet to see the future of the franchise which would come two years later in 2008 with The Dark Knight and, of course, Iron Man. It’s a sloppy movie, written by someone seemingly blinded by thinking about what they were going to have for dinner that night, and directed by a man that was born in Miami Beach. There’s nothing wrong with that last part, but he also happens to suck as both a person and director, so my point stands.
12. Dark Phoenix
Oh fun, both Phoenix movies are at the bottom of the list. Come at me, nerds! This character seems so easy to nail down as an ally-turned-foe story arc, and each time they seem to forget about the whole…. arc part? Where The Last Stand forgot to include all the scenes with Jean Grey having any sort of motivation, Dark Phoenix, directed by first-timer, but long-running X-Men producer, Simon Kinberg, decided to go the route of making her the main character. The only trouble is, they were stuck with Sophie Turner as the actor portraying her, and brings just as much pout and sneer to the character as you’d expect. It’s kind of unfair actually, as for SOME REASON they decide to put another villain in the movie, played by Jessica Chastain, who is quite literally a nothing character that is just trying to do the thing that Phoenix wants to do the whole time, but can’t because she needs the power of the Phoenix first to do it. A mind-bogglingly weird movie.
11. X-Men: Apocalypse
Coming right up was the turd appetizer to the Dark Phoenix shit sandwich, a movie that took all the praise from Days of Future Past and went: “So y’all really liked the kids in that last one right? Can we keep this up? Anyone??” The answer was, No. It’s kind of hard to defend a movie that so underutilized Oscar Issac to the point that most people don’t know he played the main villain. And that’s the biggest problem: the villain is played by an amazing actor, it’s based on an insanely interesting character from the comics, and he sucks. Like, he just doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know what he’s doing, but he's definitely doing a lot of it. I’ve seen this movie three times now and I swear to god, I have zero idea what he’s trying to do.
10. The New Mutants
The cursed film. Shot in 2017, delayed for reshoots for three years, and then dropped upon the world in the midst of one of the worst moments in recent human history (Disney acquiring Fox), The New Mutants is an amazing example of “Hey, they tried!” You can see the sketches on the outside of the film of something that could’ve been really interesting. A horror movie with mutants set at an abandoned mental hospital, where our characters' superpowers are the source of their own trauma, and also their way forward towards healing and personal fulfillment. Some of that is here, for sure, but it becomes weighted down by the overindulgence in certain parts, specifically the end, to keep the movie ever balancing on the horror blade while never shying away from the more standard superhero movie gimmicks and act devices. Looks pretty cool though.
9. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Ah, to be in 2009 again. You just gotta love it when a movie is so clearly trying to start up a side series of world-expanding franchise films and just falls flat down. There were plans for an Origins: Magneto, which I’d assume was eventually turned into X-Men: First Class, with more entries rumored. You can’t blame them for going for the biggest star and character to come out of the original movies, Wolverine. I mean, this is the guy they stuck into EVERY X-Men movie except for two of them, and that was only because they had already given him a swan song farewell flick by that time. While a pretty horrible movie by any standards, there are some fun moments in the film that weren’t that well received at the time of release, but that have aged in a pretty cool way, if not only by the very reputation of silliness the film has accumulated by this point. I’ll never not laugh at those Roger Rabbit-esque claws coming out of Hugh Jackman’s hands. Truly remarkable.
So, I’m not the biggest fan of the Deadpool movies. Sure, they’re funny and violent, with a decent amount of heart to at least get them this high on the list. But they also have TJ Miller in them, so I think I’m on the winning side of history here. Ryan Reynolds is preeeeeetty undeniable as the merc with a mouth, bringing to life a lot of the aspects of the character that made him so beloved to that one weird friend you had in high school. It’s a great riff on the state of superhero movies when it was released, and has aged pretty well by its meta nature alone. The heart in this one isn’t as upfront and connective as its sequel, but there’s still plenty of new attitude and shots at the greater genre to keep it entertaining.
7. Deadpool 2
I remember walking into Deadpool 2 with pretty low expectations when it first came out. As I just stated, I wasn’t too hyped on the first one, but didn’t mind it that much. Honestly, my major criticism of the movie was that it created this swell of Borat-like jokes from fellow movie lovers, but I think that was just me being a stick in the mud because I didn’t love something I really thought I was going to love. Deadpool 2 is essentially more of the same, but with a little more oomph, both in the spectacle of the violence and the sincerity of the emotion, and never only for either or sake, but in communication of what the story is trying to do. When you have a movie loaded with dick jokes and fourth-wall-breaking glances, it’s endearing to have it all anchored down by the occasional heart tug and bombastically executed action set piece. Also, Cable is hot.
6. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Based on one of the most famous storylines from the comics, this movie pulls off in 2014 what every superhero franchise is currently losing its mind over trying to do: connect the old and the new by way of alternate universes and time shenanigans. While it’s nothing like the original storyline of its namesake, the movie does an excellent job of combining the OG crew with the recently younged-up muties, playing off the time period vibes of the previous installment, First Class. I kind of don’t care how the mechanics of the time travel and universe-altering plot points don’t really make sense. It’s just done in a fun and entertaining way, and at the end of the day at least it’s got Peter Dinklage in it! Hugh Jackman is also absolutely insane in this movie, truly becoming the character with every scene, both physically and in performance. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the scene with him waking up in the 70s on a water bed and looking like a dehydrated piece of chicken breast in all the right ways. What a man that man be.
5. The Wolverine
Speaking of James Howlett, his previous adventure in 2013 saw Mr. Snikt getting directed for the first time by James Mangold, who is a man that knows how to direct a goddamn movie. More James Bond than X-Men movie, The Wolverine acts as almost an apology for Origins: Wolverine, much like several scenes in both Deadpool flicks do for Reynolds’ character. The setting in Japan is an obvious but welcome one, pitting the Canadian psychopath with a heart of gold against a backdrop of mob bosses and corrupt businessmen, all with the air of the very films that inspired the classic westerns most would associate it with. The bullet train sequence is one for the ages, as well as one that could’ve been so easily screwed up in different, less capable hands than Mangold’s. It’s no surprise that Jackman would be eager to reteam with the guy just a few years down the road for another slice-and-dice adventure.
This one holds a special place in my heart. The first out of the gate in what’s considered the redefining moment for blockbuster superhero fare, I think that this one has aged the best given its inherent naivety and glaring faults. A movie with its heart in the right place and its eye directed fully on creating an as close to realistic world without giving up all the nonsense that makes these characters and what they do so intriguing. Ray Park’s Toad has always been a standout for me, I don’t know why. I just love his lil’ scumbum attitude and comfy-looking jacket. There’s also such a serenity to seeing Hugh Jackman play Wolverine for the first time, completely oblivious to just how big a part of his life this character is going to become. This is also the movie where most of the OG crew gets to really shine, albeit in very one-dimensional ways, but that kind of works for these pretty broad-stroke characters.
If I’m being honest, I think this is probably the 2nd best movie of the franchise, but given that it’s pretty light on actual X-Men, and still fairly recent, I’m putting it at 3rd. But c’mon, we all get this one, right? A movie so good and so entertaining and so of its moment that even its most die-hard fans can still crack a joke about the “secretly a Western” of it all. Mesmerizingly different from the rest of the franchise, the violent tone isn’t the only thing that makes it special, it’s also the simplistic cross-country scope of the thing. Wolverine road trip movie, but he old and got a daughter who’s bein a brat! While also absolutely NOTHING like the comic book series it’s based on, Logan hits all the points you would want from a movie that was outwardly advertised as “Yo guys, let’s hang with our sharp boy one last time.” It’s a little depressing knowing now they’ve brought back Patrick Stewart, and are bringing back Jackman, deflating some of the movie’s key moments of finality. But at the end of the day, it still spins like a top.
2. X-Men: First Class
The quintessential X-Men movie, full stop. Lands everything about these characters, their place in the world, and the conflicts each of them embodies given their own experiences and special powers. A radically well-made movie by Matthew Vaughn, moving at a dizzying pace that starts off sporadic, skipping between time, place, and character, only to end at what is arguably one of the best final set pieces of any superhero film. Michael Fassbender is being hot and moving metal with his beautiful, outstretched fingers. James McAvoy has ironically luscious hair. Jennifer Lawrence is making the biggest mistake of her life AND SHE DOESN’T KNOW IT! Kevin Bacon is in it and has like five different accents! It’s perfect, and it also has one of the most badass character themes in any movie, which you can listen to and feel like an absolute boss here.
1. X2: X-Men United
Of course, it had to be X2. First Class may be the best X-Men movie in regards to tone and epic storytelling, but X2 is the behemoth of the franchise, a movie that is so well constructed it almost seems unreal. It does everything wrong (adds more characters, teams up good guys and bad guys, etc.) and gets it so right. The perfect balance of upping the stakes, increasing the action (more money!), and developing characters we’ve come to recently love in exciting ways, the movie just rips from start to finish, making it kind of hard to even pick a favorite moment (it’s the school invasion scene). One of the big faults of the movie is sidelining Cyclops, a move made even more infuriating by the fact you know they’re just going to kill him off in the first ten minutes of the next one, but this example of negative criticism towards the flick, with some other small ones, really do add to the nature of the story. Just like the first entry, this film has aged well beyond what it was initially intended to be, standing out as an inarguable illustration of what a superhero movie with a ridiculously good script can ultimately become.
So there you go! My ranking of all those X movies before they shove all these characters down our throats in one last gasp of reaching for the big dollar, only to ultimately be recast by the next generation of young, good-looking folks to take another stab at it. Will it be good? Probably not! But hey, at least we got like five and a half pretty good ones. Excelsior!
Founder of and programmer for Story Screen. Lover of stories and pizza in the dark. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading and listening to things about people watching movies. He currently resides in Poughkeepsie, NY, and most assuredly is going through a French Connection phase.