So Dark Phoenix came out this weekend and it was well, it was at best okay. But it had me thinking that I had not updated by X-Men film rankings in a while. So I thought it would be a good time to reevaluate the list to see if I got it right the first time, and to add some of the films I am missing.
As always with these lists, I don’t rank them 1-10 as I feel that does not adequately reflect my feeling about each of the films and where they fit in relation to each other. What we do is the group the films into categories Fantastic, Great Good, Ok, and Trash. Fantastic are those films which get as close to perfect as we can on this side of Heaven, with compelling characters, stories, and visuals. Great are those films which I thoroughly enjoyed but they did not move me emotionally. Good are solid films that while they have some issues they still work and are still enjoyable. Ok are films that work, they have some good moments, but you can start to see some of the flaws that almost scuttle the film. Trash are those films which just don’t work, whether it is the story, the characters, the visuals, or a combination of all three, they are simply letdowns. Also within those categories, I have listed the films not in a ranked order but in chronological order.
Now for me personally I’ll always be comparing the X-Men films to the X-Men Animated Series, because for me we didn’t get the comics where I lived so this was my first and best experience with the franchise, also it has the best theme of the series. Which led to it becoming my yard post to compare anything X-Men related to. So this, and the fact that personal preference is subjective means that I might have a different order than you, but that is the good thing about reviews because this is where discussion lies. Now there may be some spoilers for you in the list below, but then most of these have been out for a while, so it should not be much of a problem.
Logan (2017) – Wow, just wow, what a fantastic film Logan is, I was expecting it to be good given the buzz around it, but nothing prepared me for just how good it was. Tonally the grounded setting gives Logan a much more brooding feel, which is helped by the first act being a slow burn, you know something is about to happen but they make you wait for it as all the pieces line up. Not only does this brooding feel give you a real sense of foreboding, but it also heightens the emotions. You just can’t help but feel for Charles, the man of immense intellect and power destroyed by his own mind, I just can’t help but see my grandfather in his performance, it is one of Patrick Stewart’s best. The cast is giving their all, everything they can and you can’t help but get hit right in the feels at times. This is the story that made the best of the universe and the setting, and it was all the better for it.
X2 (2003) – For many, the success of the first X-Men was a complete surprise, and now with the studio completely behind you (for the moment) how do you follow it up? Well, you do it by taking everything that worked for the first film, amplifying it and adding some iconic characters. To this day that opening fight in the mansion was one of the best action sequences in the franchise. It has that power because it is a bunch of military goons attacking a school, but it is also the first time we really see Wolverine go full tilt, and that’s because he cares for the students even if he wouldn’t admit it. It also have some really important themes ‘have you ever tried not being a mutant’ this along with the interesting story of using a fake attack by a mutant to forward the mutant registry gave X2 thematic weight. The big disappointment is that from this great jumping off platform they decided to bellyflop, but then we’ll save that for later down the list.
Days of Future Past (2014) – Continuing the trend of great second films in the X-Men trilogies comes the follow-up to First Class, Days of Future Past. This was a really tricky film to pull off as it had the task of trying to meld the two different timelines/casts into one franchise. Frankly, it should have been a mess, but somehow they get it to work. You have the return of old cast members, you have a new battle being formed, and you have people die left right and centre. There are some issues like the killing off of a lot of the cast in-between this and First Class which was odd, but whether it was just great to see some old faces, or just great to see a full on mutant battle, Days of Future Past just worked. Also, it retconned the Last Stand out of existence, so you know it could have been a trash film and it still would get props for that.
Deadpool (2016) – So the success of Deadpool was a surprise the studio, which had to be dragged kicking and screaming into greenlighting the movie, and even then they slashed the budget just moments before filming. This should have killed the film, but instead, it thrived. Ryan Reynolds is captivating as Deadpool, you can tell he has a lot of passion for the role (he spent a decade trying to get this film made), and he riffs well with the cast, a standout being with Colossus & Negasonic Teenage Warhead. The fight scenes are quite good, some nice use of slow motion at times, and the final rumble was quite good, though the smaller budget shows in places. A tip of my hat to whoever designed the opening sequence, I have not laughed at credits like that since Monty Python. I know Deadpool can be quite polarising, but I really enjoyed it, and its zany meta humour.
Deadpool 2 (2018) – I know I am part of a small group here, but I like Deadpool 2 better than the first Deadpool. For me it gets something that a lot of the X-Men films miss, especially those further down the list, it is about family. It is about Wade finding a family when his was taken from him, we see him at very rock bottom and that is saying something given Deadpool 1. The rapport with Colossus, Cable, Domino, Russel, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Yukio is so much fun. All of this as Celine Dion serenades us makes this a film that I have seen over and over again. I am always a sucker for a film about people finding a family whit the people around them, and Ryan is at his best here.
X-Men (2000) – The original and the trailblazer for the X-Men and broader Superhero franchises the first X-Men movie has to be given the credit it deserves for kicking this all off. That opening in the concentration camp sets the tone for the film that when given the ability humans can be truly dreadful to each other. This is where we first get introduced to the cast, the snarky Wolverine, the scared Rouge who almost killed her first boyfriend, the noble Professor X, the over confident Cyclops, and the terrible wig Halle Berry had to wear. It was a movie about building a team, getting people to know the characters, and trying to locate them in this new world, and in that it succeeds. However, of course, as it was the first in this new wave of superhero films it is also a little reserved, everyone is in black rubber suits rather than the unique costumes they were famous for. Overall X-Men was a good introduction that X2 took and ran with.
First Class (2011) – This is a movie that has the distinction of only being made because Fox had too, or the X-Men rights would lapse back to Marvel, this is not a great motivation to make a film and usually ends with a pile of trash (see the Fantastic Four for example), but for some reason it worked. Part of the strength of the film is in its casting with both James McAvoy & Michael Fassbender being strong successors in the leading roles. As well as this, its setting as a prequel gave the movie some space, whilst still being about to have the best cameo that was not even Stann Lee. It also allowed for it to be set in a really interesting time, those days during the Cuba Missile Crisis defined America for better or worse. Also, it never hurts when you have Kevin Bacon stealing every scene he is in. There will of course always be debate over what would have happened if they let Matthew Vaughn continue making the reboots, rather than defaulting back to Bryan Singer, but all in all, First Class is a great entry into the franchise.
The Wolverine (2013) – This was actually a surprising film, after the mess that was Wolverine Origins and set in a post-Last Stand timeline it had all the hallmarks of being utter trash, but instead it was actually a solid film. Now it was not revolutionary in any way but it was really good to see Wolverine explore the Japanese side to his story, something that had been missing from the movie adaptations so far. Look we get to see Wolverine fight on the top of a bullet train, the movie is worth the ticket price for that alone. But also we start to see a side of Wolverine, someone who is being tormented by his past, and who he had to kill. So, it may not have given us the best Silver Samurai, but overall it was a fun movie, that really explored the character of Wolverine, and that is a huge step up from its predecessor.
Dark Phoenix (2019) – Our second new entry onto this list in many ways replaces the one film that got moved further down. I know there is a wild variation of opinions when it comes to Dark Phoenix, for me it was just meh. It was visually fine, the story was unimaginative but better than the first time they tried this storyline. At worst this film is just dull, it is not the abysmal mess of the films below, but it is not a great let alone good film, in fact, it manages to get into the Ok category by a thin margin. It is sad that it looks like this might be the last feature film in this series went out with a fizzle.
The Last Stand (2006) – Wow where to begin summing up this mess of a film, as there are so many issues here. First, we have a film trying to smash together two very complex storylines (Dark Phoenix & The Gifted) into 90 minutes, where it would be a difficult enough task just to cover one of these. This means that we have characters thrown at us left and right with no care as to who they are and no stakes into whether they live or die. They kill off mainstay characters like Cyclops with no thought or care, and Professor X where they could not commit to their decision all the way. What makes things worse is that there are some really great moments here like Ellen Page as Kitty Pride. It just seems that either Brett Ratner was thrown in the deep end here, or just he was the wrong person to direct this cast, or maybe he did the best he could with a trash script that butchered the source material. After such a strong performance with X2 to see The Last Stand just drop the ball was heart-breaking to watch, what a waste of potential.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) – Oh wow did this film really suck, because it missed opportunity at every stage of the production. First and foremost, the decision to sew up Deadpool’s mouth has to go down as one of the more stupid decisions in the history of comic book adaptations. As well as this, you introduce one of the fans favourites, with Gambit and you do nothing really with him. Liev Schreiber is trying his best as Sabertooth, but the movie is giving him nothing to work with. The plot is predictable and rehashes over many things we have seen before, and so it doesn’t do a good job of justifying why we have this film. In the end what Wolverine Origins does is make the X-Men universe that little bit duller, and no amount of Professor X cameos can change that. The best thing is that of the Wolverine trilogy this was the low point and each successive film was better than the last.
Apocalypse (2016) – Our one big change to this is list is where Apocalypse lands. in our previous list we had it in the Ok category, but even then it was on the borderline. However, time has not been kind to this film, there are a couple of scenes that are amazing, like when Magneto loses his daughter and kills everyone and Quicksilver to the rescue. But nothing helps it from the mess that it becomes. As a bad guy Apocalypse just does not work for me in this film, he was completely lacking any charisma or presence. Look I know Oscar Isaac can do charisma and presence, (see Star Wars), and I don’t know if it was the direction or the prosthetics that let him down, but that really drags the film down. As well as this, we have big bad making thing that will destroy Earth that has a big beam of light and stuff floating around it, which if you have seen films in the recent past, you would have seen this done over and over again. While it is not the low point for the series, it is still a bit of a mess.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of the X-Men franchise