With Deadpool 2 currently in theaters and the next two X-Men films, Dark Phoenix and New Mutants, coming in 2019, I thought this would be a good time to go back and revisit the franchise that really started the comic book movie craze (no offense to Blade, but bloody R-rated vampire fare isn’t exactly the blueprint to the modern comic book film).
The X-Men franchise is unique with three directly connected, yet separate, trilogies and two wild cards in the form of America’s favorite smart ass, Deadpool. While the series has a couple of significant lows, the best of the bunch are also among the best of the genre as a whole. So, here’s a worst to best run down!
11X-Men Origins: Wolverine
To be fair, this movie had a rough road from the get-go. Production problems, poor secondary character casting, a complete misuse of Deadpool, and a leaked copy (minus finished visuals) all led to what can only be described as a mess of a film. Liev Schreiber is the lone worthwhile addition to Wolverine’s story.
10X-Men: The Last Stand
Bryan Singer’s departure from the franchise to direct Superman Returns was a bummer, because bringing Brett Ratner to helm the third entry was a disaster. The resulting film is a rushed and sloppy interpretation of the Dark Phoenix saga, which made “devastating” moments lack any sort of emotional impact.
This entry ends up feeling like X-Men for the sake of X-Men. Apocalypse is the type of villain that should have been led up to, and the appearance of the character lacks any kind of intimidation. The new additions to the cast are solid, but things are crowded so their impact isn’t as effective as it could be.
The original’s placement in this list speaks more to the quality of the films above it than anything else. The visuals were cutting edge at the time of its release and the casting was excellent. Hugh Jackman took on the iconic role of Wolverine as a Hollywood unknown and became a global superstar on the strength of his performance.
Wolverine’s second solo adventure is a huge improvement on the first. In the more than capable hands of director James Mangold, we’re taken on a journey that feels very removed from the X-Men universe. While the finale leaves a bit to be desired, the lack of other mutants leads to a lot of intense combat that gives a gritty, grounded feel to the overall film. This one tends to be overlooked, but it’s certainly worth a revisit, especially the R-rated version.
6X-Men: Days of Future Past
Combining the original cast with the new one gives this time traveling adventure a truly epic feel. The sentinels are introduced and look fantastic while giving the heroes a truly worthy adversary. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are at their best here, giving the movie a strong core to build on. The Rogue Cut Blu-ray edition is an awesome present for the fans as well!
A very odd follow up to a very odd original. The increase in budget is very well put to use as the action and overall scale are both much bigger. Josh Brolin kicks ass as Cable and Domino (Zazie Beetz) translated on screen surprisingly well. The humor is a bit less laugh out loud and it lacks some of the originals charm, but overall it’s a worthy sequel and a welcome addition to the X-Men franchise.
4X2: X-Men United
What a follow-up this one was! Spider-Man upped the bar set by the original X-Men and X2 responded accordingly. From the opening Nightcrawler attack on the White House to the Phoenix-hinting finale, X2 was a thrill ride that set, and held, the standard for team-up movies for almost a decade. It’s such a shame that Singer stepped away from the franchise after this entry, as I’m sure his third entry would have been far better than the one we got.
3X-Men: First Class
“The one that saved the franchise.” The eight years following X2 were rough for the X-Men; the only two entries were The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine, which were both disappointing at best. Director Matthew Vaughn put together a stellar group of actors and picked an intriguing set of mutants to reboot the franchise with. That combined with the always awesome Kevin Bacon in a truly villainous role resulted in a great origins tale. Exciting and impactful, this one goes down as my favorite of the central X-Men films.
Talk about a Cinderella story! The little comic book movie that, by all accounts, should have never been made ends up breaking all kinds of box office records and ended up being an absolute success in every aspect. Ryan Reynolds was on a quest for redemption after the awful representation of the character in Origins and his own failing as Green Lantern, and it finally paid off. While the budget was low, the movie was just made the right way by people who understood the character and weren’t restricted by having to fit in with the other X-Men. Deadpool is hilarious and extraordinarily violent, but still manages to have some heart. It’s a truly one of a kind, daring comic book movie.
Deadpool showed that there was a huge market for R-rated superhero movies and, in embracing that, we finally get an unleashed Wolverine seventeen years after his first appearance. Logan manages to transcend the genre; a brutal, unforgiving emotional roller coaster that stayed with me long after the credits ended. Hugh Jackman has never been better and the bleak Mad Max-style world is the perfect setting for Wolverine’s swan song. This is the height of comic book movie filmmaking and will hopefully inspire future superhero films that are intended for an adult fanbase.
Well, that’s it! Eighteen years and eleven films of mutant craziness. Next year, we’ll get two new additions to this list before a potential merger with the MCU! Be sure to let us know your ranking in comments below or on social media!
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