Dark Phoenix, the twelfth installment in the X-Men franchise, comes out this weekend. The X-Men franchise has been going strong for nearly twenty years, breaking into the cinematic world in the summer of 2000. The franchise has had its share of ups and downs, but even when it’s bad, the X-Men films are an instrumental part of modern comic book films. In honor of Dark Phoenix, here is my ranking of the X-Men franchise, including the Wolverine and Deadpool films.
11 – X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (Gavin Hood, 2009)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is an utter disaster. The X-Men franchise’s first film beyond the original trilogy attempts to tell the origin story of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), showing how he has been alive for over 100 years and how he went from Logan to Wolverine and gaining the adamantium claws and bones. Though the opening credits are cool and Liev Schrieber is a good Sabertooth, the film suffers from awful visual effects, the badly written story, and wasting classic X-Men characters like Gambit and Deadpool, who’s sewn mouth is a true cinematic crime. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is one of the worst comic book movies ever made and a film I wish never existed.
10 – X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (Brett Ratner, 2006)
After Bryan Singer masterfully introduced the X-Men to the world (more on those later), rather than completing the trilogy, he decided to take a break and go make Superman Returns. Singer was replaced by the inferior Brett Ratner and the result was a mess. Watching this film you can tell Ratner has no idea what to do with this franchise, focusing more on the big set pieces rather than give us the rounded, deep characters that we had gotten in the previous films. The film also botches the Dark Phoenix story, one of the most infamous stories in the X-MenThe Last Stand is a dull, disappointing film.
9 – X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (Bryan Singer, 2016)
X-Men: Apocalypse is a film that has plenty of issues, but also a film that has a decent amount of good in it. Yes, there are too many characters and it completely wastes Apocalypse, the X-Men’s biggest villain, and Oscar Isaac who plays Apocalypse. But, the final set-piece is cool and we get another fun Quicksilver scene set to “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics. But the best thing Apocalypse has going for it is Michael Fassbender as Magneto, who gives an emotional performance and has the most interesting arc in the new prequel trilogy. Apocalypse isn’t a great film, but it’s not a bad one either.
8 – DEADPOOL (Tim Miller, 2016)
There is a lot to like about Deadpool, like Ryan Reynolds pitch-perfect performance and the fact that they got the tone and feel of the Deadpool character, something they clearly missed in Origins. But the problem with Deadpool is the incredibly flat story and plot. Deadpool’s main goal is to find Francis (Ed Skrein) and force him to change his face back normal because he won’t think his girlfriend will love him when he’s ugly. That’s really it. All Deadpool wants to do is look good for his girlfriend. This is a very funny film, but a very shallow film that doesn’t hold up on multiple viewings.
7 – X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (Matthew Vaughn, 2011)
After the disasters of The Last Stand and Origins, The X-Men franchise was in complete shambles. How do you fix that? A prequel reboot, obviously. First Class takes place in the 1960’s and looks at the origins of Professor Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and how the mutants of that time came together to form the X-Men. Matthew Vaughn does a great job immersing us in the 60’s culture and showing how the X-Men are actually part of the real world by placing it during the Cuban Missile Crises. There isn’t a lot of dramatic weight in the film and the montages are a little cheesy, but First Class was a good restart to the X-Men
6 – LOGAN (James Mangold, 2017)
That’s right, I have Logan outside the top five. That isn’t to say this is a bad movie, I just don’t think it’s a great movie, even if most of the world thinks otherwise. Logan features Hugh Jackman’s finest performance as Wolverine and doubles down and a pretty good Western, but the film has its share of issues. The middle of the film is incredibly muddled and the villains, particularly the X-24 nonsense, are a mess and seem forced. Though it isn’t perfect, Logan is a fitting finale to a legendary hero and legendary performance.
5 – DEADPOOL 2 (David Leitch, 2018)
Where Deadpool misses is where Deadpool 2Deadpool 2 has everything that is good about the first film; the humor, the action, and Ryan Reynolds bringing his A-game. But what Deadpool 2 has is emotion and an actual plot that puts Deadpool up against more than just thugs, but puts him up against who he is as a hero and who he is as a person. Deadpool endures great loss in the film, but must use that loss to become the hero he is meant to be, even when he doesn’t think he deserves it. It’s a new level to the Merc with the Mouth and coupling it with Cable’s (an excellent Josh Brolin) story, and you have an exciting, smart Deadpool movie that will make you laugh and pull at the heartstrings.
4 – X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (Bryan Singer, 2014)
X-Men: Days of Future Past is the most ambitious X-Men film to date, as it crossed the new X-Men, McAvoy, Fassbender and crew, and the old X-Men of Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, and the rest of the original squad we hadn’t seen in nearly a decade. The film deals with time travel, which always tricky to do especially within a franchise this deep in story. But with a tight screenplay and Singer balancing the characters perfectly, Days of Future Past ends up being a compelling and thrilling entry in the franchise.
3 – THE WOLVERINE (James Mangold, 2013)
Arguably the biggest surprise on this list, James Mangold’s The Wolverine is far and away the most underrated X-Men Picking up after the events of The Last Stand, the film looks at Wolverine dealing with the guilt of killing Jean Grey while also struggling with his own mortality for the first time, as his wounds begin to not heal like they normally would and he is given an offer to give up his immortality and end his life-long suffering. The Japan backdrop is gorgeous, making this the best looking X-Men film in the franchise, and Jackman gave Wolverine a new level of depth that he hadn’t seen before. The Wolverine is a movie that needs to be considered as one of the X-Men’s best.
2 – X-MEN (Bryan Singer, 2000)
X-Men is without a doubt one of the most important comic book movies ever made. After Batman and Robin nearly killed the comic book genre, X-Men came along and changed the genre forever. This is a dark, somber, grounded comic book movie that features a big cast of no names, up-and-comers, and screen veterans, all coming together to tell the story about mutants trying to co-exist with humans. What’s best about this movie is that the film isn’t focused on the big action scenes, but focused on the characters, allowing us to be emotionally invested in every character, hoping for their survival and success. X-Men set the template for the modern superhero film and was a true game-changer.
1 – X2: X-MEN UNITED (Bryan Singer, 2003)
From the opening scene of Nightcrawler (a perfectly cast Allen Cumming) attacking the White House to the Phoenix finale, X2 does everything a great sequel should do. It grows the universe, dives deeper into the story and characters, and features bigger, more exciting set pieces. The film looks at Wolverine’s past and how William Striker (Brian Cox, who deserved an Oscar nomination for his performance) created Wolverine and his bigger plan for mutants. This is also the movie that introduced the idea of Phoenix in Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and though they didn’t complete the story well in The Last Stand, it introduced it perfectly and got everyone excited for the next film. X2 is near comic book movie perfection and as good as any comic book movie ever made.