The X-Men movies are an interesting and mostly great series that I often overlook when evaluating the comic book movie industry as a whole. It’s easy to focus on the growing Marvel Cinematic Universe and the still-developing DC films, but Fox’s X-Men series has actually been ongoing since far before the MCU existed, and is still going relatively strong today. 2016’s “Deadpool” was a surprise smash, “Logan” is poised to be a financial and critical hit, and while the most recent X-Men installment was underwhelming, there are plans ahead to continue growing the universe through film and TV.
The X-Men movies deserve a lot of credit. Not only did the success of the first X-Men pave the way for the superhero movie boom that followed, but also, while many would like to see Marvel get their hands on the property back from Fox, I would argue that their movies on average are actually better than the Marvel’s. Let’s walk through the best and worst X-Men movies to date.
There was a lot of hype around this film before its release. In what was touted to be an exciting and compelling full reveal of Wolverine’s past, this was supposed to be the first in a series of solo X-Men character films (the next rumored to be based on Magneto, which instead ended up being folded into “X-Men: First Class”).
Unfortunately, this movie did not turn out so well. In fact, I’d say it’s the only X-Men movie that’s truly bad. It starts out promisingly enough, appearing to take inspiration from famous moments in Wolverine’s solo run in the comics. But as the movie goes on it gets more ridiculous, altering characters like Deadpool in bafflingly-odd ways, exhibiting some very janky CGI effects, and devolving into cheesy drama that doesn’t allow us to really take any of this story seriously. It’s a shame that Wolverine’s origin was executed so badly for the screen, however Wolverine’s been done much better justice throughout the rest of the X-Men series.
Geek bit: The old couple Logan encounters are named Travis and Heather Hudson, otherwise known as Guardian and Vindicator from comic book team Alpha Flight, a Canadian mutant team.
After Bryan Singer kickstarted the modern superhero movie era with his success in X-Men and the wonderful X2, he dropped out of completing his trilogy to instead direct “Superman Returns“. So Brett Ratner was brought on board to get the job done the way the studio wanted, and that’s very much what the product feels like. A standard X-Men adventure that mires interesting comic book ideas with generic action movie execution.
Plots like the mutant cure from Joss Whedon’s “X-Men: Gifted” run and the iconic Phoenix saga are used for this film, but neither come close to having their full potential realized. The sinister cosmic might of the Phoenix is altered to be a split personality of Jean Grey’s that goes berserk only when the plot requires it. We also get to see the ugly origins of Marvel’s now-impressive de-aging CG effects. Overall this is an okay X-Men movie, but quite the disappointment after the ways X2 elevated the franchise.
Geek bit: Before Bryan Singer left the project, he envisioned Jean Grey being manipulated by Emma Frost, possibly played by Sigourney Weaver.
Similarly to X3, this is (sort of) the completion of a trilogy that somewhat falters after its predecessors soared. After the X-Men returned to form in a couple of excellent period pieces with a new cast, Apocalypse is much more of a standard action-based affair, not featuring as much character development or team dynamics the series had become known for.
The titular villain (a childhood favorite of mine) is surprisingly forgettable, and while the old and new X-Men character performances continue to be great (except for Jennifer “I-Thought-My-Agent-Sorted-Out-This-Contract” Lawrence) and the adventure as a whole is a fun ride, it’s another so-so entry after a couple consecutive home runs before it.
Geek bit: Originally subtitled “Age of Apocalypse”, the title had to be changed because of existing recent movie titles “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and “The Age of Adaline”.
This movie is definitely a product of its time and hasn’t aged perfectly, but it stands up as a pretty good superhero movie, and its importance to our current era of comic book cinema cannot be undervalued. While other movies like “Spider-Man” were in development at the time, “X-Men” is credited with ushering in the modern superhero movie craze, as its success directly led to studios opening the floodgates on other comic book properties.
Since this was the first major production in years to introduce superheroes to a modern audience, the overall dark and silver aesthetic is clearly a manifest trepidation in going too colorful to be taken seriously. If this movie were made today it’d be unremarkable, but the fact that the movie holds up decently 17 years and countless evolutions in superhero movies later says something about its merits.
Geek bit: Mystique actress Rebecca Romijn had too many celebratory tequila shots before having to film a fight scene with Hugh Jackman, and she ended up puking blue vomit all over him.
Another trendsetting movie in the X-Men universe, “Deadpool” was a surprise smash that opened the doors for movies that made mad bucks despite limiting their audience with an R-rating. The meta-humor and outrageous violence of this movie caught everyone’s attention, and provided a story that did great justice to the out-there character from the comics after Wolverine’s first solo movie butchered him so badly.
Certain elements of this movie don’t hold up to repeated viewings, like the token relatable origin plot, and some of the humor that’s there purely for shock value, but much of it does hold up, and the doors are now open for some truly creative, interesting and adults-only comic book cinema going forward thanks to it.
Geek bit: Fox wanted to use the mutant Negasonic Teenage Warhead but drastically alter her power set. Marvel had to agree on this, and they – on the terms that they receive the movie rights for Ego, The Living Planet (who will be integral in the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2”).
Wolverine finally got a good solo movie in James Mangold’s loose adaption for Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s comic run that saw Logan venture to Japan. The director’s fantastic “3:10 to Yuma” remake gave me hope for this, and for the most part I was thrilled with what he produced.
This film takes a better and more intriguing look at the character of Wolverine than in prior installments, tying his very nature in with his past from World War II, leading to a great adventure, featuring run-ins with Viper, his love Mariko, an altered version of Silver Samurai, ninja clans and more. The story gets a little messy near the end, but overall redeems the concept of a solo Wolverine movie, and provides an awesome tease for what’s to come. Watch the extended cut if you can, it salvages some action scenes that had to be edited for the theatrical release.
Geek bit: The film was originally planned as a prequel to “X-Men”, but Mangold wanted to tell a story not burdened by having to tie into an existing work. He also thought the theme of Logan’s immortality would be more powerful taking place after all the other movies we’d seen so far.
Bryan Singer launched the modern superhero movie era with “X-Men”, but he took it to another level of maturity and integrity to the source material with “X2: X-Men United“. Based off the “Gods Loves, Man Kills” storyline from the comics, this film tightens up the storytelling, increases the political and social parallels of the X-Men, and makes the action bigger, better and more meaningful.
The opening scene with Nightcrawler assaulting the White House is still a standout sequence of comic book movie history, and the movie maintains its excellence from there, following a story of militarized intolerance against mutants that crosses over with Wolverine’s enigmatic past. To this day, I’d argue that this movie still holds up as an excellent superhero movie, and absolutely one of the best X-Men movies to date.
Geek bit: David Hayter, voice of Solid Snake and (sometimes) Big Boss from the “Metal Gear Solid” franchise co-wrote this movie and its predecessor.
After “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, X-cinema was in a bit of a sad state. The studio took a break, and eventually enlisted Matthew Vaughn to direct a prequel. Or was it a reboot? At first it appeared to be the latter, until these younger X-characters were eventually tied in with the original cast. But either way, this is the movie that brought X-Men to the forefront of comic book cinema again.
Telling the story of young Eric Lehnsherr and Charles Xavier (the men who would become Magneto and Professor X), what defined them, and how they formed the prototype group for what would become the X-Men was brilliantly tied in with political happenings of the 1960s, mainly the Cuban Missile Crisis. The men become friends, but their relationship is splintered as they each drive closer to their respective destinies. The characters are built up very well, cast perfectly by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, as well as a pre-“Hunger Games” Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. The entire story is presented with a 1960s-era flair and style that makes this stand out as a high point of the franchise.
Geek bit: To prepare for his role as Charles Xavier, James McAvoy shaved his head, not realizing that the filmmakers planned on his character having a full head of hair for the film. McAvoy had to wear hair extensions when they started filming.
As I noted before, it was unclear if “X-Men: First Class” was meant to be a prequel or a reboot to the series, since certain aspects of their continuities didn’t quite match up. However, Fox decided to throw timeline nitpicks to the wind, bring back Bryan Singer, and combine the best of both separate generations of X-Men casts. And in my opinion, that’s what they achieved: a distillation of everything great about the disparate existing X-Men movies.
Based on a small but iconic comic book storyline of the same name and starting off years after “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “The Wolverine”, Logan and the few surviving mutants are living in a dystopian future where advanced versions of Sentinels have killed almost all mutantkind and enslaved most of mankind. Kitty Pryde must send Logan’s mind back to his 1970s self to prevent Mystique from killing Sentinel-inventor Bolivar Trask, which in turn gave eventual rise to the Sentinels that would be their doom.
This story honors the original cast as well as the incredible new players, bringing them together in a meaningful way. It also again ties the story in with pivotal world politics of the time, provides innovative and exciting new action sequences, and keeps the relevance of society’s view of mutants close to the heart of the story. Altogether, these elements and more made this film a quintessential X-Men work which, in my opinion, has not been surpassed.
Geek bit: Singer spoke with “Terminator” director James Cameron about how to make the time travel in this movie work, including discussions on string theory and alternate universes.
1 – Logan
The freshest entry on our list, “Logan” isn’t an actual X-Men movie like “Days of Future Past”, although it does depict a future that’s lost the X-Men, and how mutantkind moves forward after most have died off. James Mangold returns to direct Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier one last time. After Mangold proved the concept of a good Wolverine solo work in 2013, he perfects it in 2017 with the intimate opus of the franchise, “Logan”.
Based loosely off the “Old Man Logan” comic, this bleak Western follows an aging Logan and a small group of mutants barely scraping by after most of their kind have died off. They cross paths with a young girl with a mysterious connection to Logan, and the ensuing struggles define Logan as a character, deconstruct the modern comic book movie and strip the superhero’s purpose down to its core.
While not focused on the team this franchise is primarily based on, the deeply affecting masterwork “Logan” is simply the best movie on this list. It honors the characters in it, crafts a unique narrative vision, and turns in performances and a final product that are arguably Oscar-worthy. It may be a solo movie, but the pain and purpose in Logan’s final journey speak for all of mutantkind.
Geek bit: In an early draft of the script, Liev Schreiber’s Sabretooth was planned to make an appearance. As the heroes passed through a gambling town, they would have had to stop to see Victor Creed for help in their journey.
While Marvel has more movies than the X-Men do, their quality generally ranges from “okay” to occasionally excellent. Some X-Men films are kind of bad, but I believe they more frequently achieve excellence. The X-Men and their world have some exciting times ahead, but let’s always remember how good these movies have largely been, and how much the modern era of superhero movies owe to them.
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Seth Zielinski is a content and video producer for The Geekiverse, as well as a childhood X-Men fan who’s still waiting for Omega Red to show up in a movie.
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