Now that mutants are officially being introduced into the MCU’s Phase 4 (Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Ms. Marvel, Wakanda Forever, etc), I figured it might be a good time to revisit Fox’s X-Men series, before it’s inevitably rebooted by Disney.
Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe began with 2008’s “Iron Man”, before Sam Raimi’s Spider-man trilogy, and following the success of 1999’s “Blade”, Bryan Singer gave us one of the most serious takes on a comic book franchise to date, with 2000’s “X-Men”!
The movie was a smash success spawning a dozen sequels, prequels, and spin-offs, with one of the most convoluted timelines in movie history. So if you’re coming to the franchise fresh, here’s my recommendations for what order you should watch them in (along with a few suggestions on which ones *might* be worth skipping)…
1. X-MEN (2000)
Directed by Bryan Singer, starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto, James Marsden as Cyclops, Halle Berry as Storm, Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, Rebecca Romijn as Mystique, and Anna Paquin as Rogue.
Even though it’s not the first chronologically, the first “X-Men” movie is still a great introduction into the mythos and really explains the mutant phenomenon along with the themes of prejudice and the struggle of minorities that goes with it. The entire cast does a great job, but Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman are perfect in their roles.
The story follows the POV of Logan as he and Rogue are introduced to Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and their plight against a world that hates and fears them. Professor X is psychic with the ability to read minds, Jean Grey is telekinetic, Storm can control the weather, Cyclops has to wear protective eye wear to protect the world from his laser eyes, Rogue can absorb other’s powers with a mere touch, and Wolverine has heightened senses, and a healing factor. We also learn that Logan was experimented on and was grafted with an adamantium-plated skeleton, and retractable metal claws, but he’s since had his memory erased. While training with the X-Men, Logan falls into a love triangle with Jean Grey, who’s dating Scott Summers aka Cyclops, which creates some tension between the team.
We’re also introduced to Magneto – a powerful mutant who can control metal – and his Brotherhood of Mutants, including: Sabretooth, Mystique (a shape shifter), and Toad. Magneto and his crew view mutants as superior to humans, and have no qualms about tearing down the status quo by any means necessary. Eventually, Logan finds a home with the X-Men team after somewhat reluctantly joining their cause in order to save Rogue, and stop Magneto from going through with his convoluted plans to mutate the world leaders at a summit in New York. It all culminates in an epic battle atop the Statue of Liberty between Wolverine and Sabretooth!
The movie ends with Logan heading off to Canada, in search of the answers to his forgotten past, while Professor X visits his ‘old friend’, Magneto aka Erik Lensherr, in his plastic prison, who warns that there’s a war coming…
2. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011)
This prequel, directed by Matthew Vaughn, takes us back to 1962, and explains the origins of both Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) years before they became sworn enemies as Professor X and Magneto! We’re also introduced to a young Mystique (played by Jennifer Lawrence) – who is close friends with Charles, and Hank McCoy aka “Beast” (Nicholas Hoult) – who has a huge crush on Raven/Mystique.
“First Class” is easily one of the best X-Men movies ever made, and has one of the best superhero soundtracks to date. Michael Fassbender absolutely crushes it with his raw anger as an unleashed Magneto, and really delivers the ultimate supervillain origin story. It’s also fitting that this is set in the early 60’s when the original Uncanny X-Men comics by Stan Lee first debuted.
We get Erik’s tragic backstory as a Jewish holocaust survivor in WWII, before growing up and using his newfound powers to take revenge against the Nazis who stole his family from him. The last person on his hit list is Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), leader of the Hellfire Club. Shaw is protected by a group of ruthless mutants, including: Emma Frost (January Jones), Azazel, and Riptide.
Meanwhile, Charles Xavier is recruited by Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) from the CIA to investigate the Hellfire Club because of his research on the mutant phenomenon. Erik and Charles end up crossing paths while attempting to apprehend Shaw, and decide to work together, and soon become close friends. Together they form a team of mutants, including: Alex Summers aka Havok (Lucas Till), Angel (Zoë Kravitz), Banshee, and Darwin. The X-Men attempt to stop Shaw from using the Cuban Missile Crisis to trigger a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union! (For more on The Cuban Missile Crisis – listen to my Epik Fails of History episodes on the topic!)
During the final battle, Erik dons his iconic helmet (that blocks psychic attacks) so that Charles can’t stop him from killing Shaw. Magneto then uses his powers to stop a missile attack, but then turns it back on the military. During the chaos, Agent MacTaggert attempts to stop Erik, but he deflects one of the bullets which then paralyzes Charles, tragically confining him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
The movie ends with one of the most badass reveals of Magneto sporting his comics accurate look, before cutting to one of the coolest credit sequences in comic book movie history!
3. X2 (2003)
The direct follow-up to the first X-Men, “X2” was a great sequel that really built on everything the first one established, while delivering more action, more mutant powers, and a more nuanced plot that really blurred the line between good and evil, as the X-Men and Brotherhood are forced to put aside their differences to face a greater threat: humanity. Logan learns more about his forgotten past, allegiances are strained, and the future hangs in the balance.
The main villain is of course William Stryker (Brian Cox), a human military leader who used to be behind the secret Weapon X project that gave Wolverine his adamantium claws. We’re introduced to Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a demonic-looking mutant with the ability to teleport, and Lady DeathStryke (Kelly Hu) – another Weapon X experiment, like Wolverine. Stryker captures Professor X and intends to use his powers to rid the world of all mutants!
In addition to characters like Iceman and Pyro getting bigger roles this time around, we also get cameos from Colossus and Shadowcat. X2 has a lot of cool sequences, including Wolverine going ham on some black ops soldiers in the mansion, but the best scene hands down, has to be Magneto’s prison break! This one also gives us one of the most emotional cliffhangers since “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, with the apparent death of Jean Grey, who sacrificed herself to save the team, right as her latent Phoenix powers began to flare up (unfortunately, the follow up to that storyline really dropped the ball…)
Skip: X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE *and* X-MEN: THE LAST STAND
Now we get to two movies that are a huge drop in quality. While I do recommend skipping them, if you haven’t seen them and / or you’re a completionist this is a good time to delve into them…
“X-Men Origins” is a mess, but there are a few highlights: Hugh Jackman continues to kill it as Logan (aka James Howlett aka ‘The Wolverine’), Liev Schreiber is great as Sabretooth / Wolverine’s long lost brother, we get introduced to Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool (sorta), a tragic opening scene (ripped right from the “Origin” graphic novel by Paul Jenkins), and a really cool credits sequence that shows Wolverine and Sabretooth fighting their way through American history, but unfortunately the rest of the movie goes quickly downhill from there. It’s really unfortunate that we never got the Weapon X movie that we were promised, especially considering the brief flashbacks in “X2” were better than this entire movie.
“The Last Stand” is a great example of what not to do with a superhero movie. This was supposed to be the climactic third chapter of the X-Men trilogy, but instead it nearly derailed the entire brand. Bryan Singer famously left the project to go work on “Superman Returns” and he basically ruined both as a result. This one is a very loose adaptation of the famous “Dark Phoenix Saga” from the Chris Claremont comics, mixed with a storyline about a mutant cure, also Magneto’s back and has a whole army or something?
There’s just so much that went wrong here: too many characters, too many pointless character deaths, too many bad jokes, too many complicated plot threads, and too many baffling character choices! Also, did we mention poor Cyclops (who got sidelined in X2), is killed off immediately, with no explanation!?
4. THE WOLVERINE (2013)
Unlike the train wreck that was ‘X-Men Origins’, “The Wolverine” (directed by James Mangold) is a fantastic stand-alone adventure, inspired by the Frank Miller Wolverine comics! This one takes Logan (once again brought to life by a beefed up Hugh Jackman) on a side quest to Japan where he faces off against a legion of yakuza ninjas, after losing his healing ability!
Haunted by the events of “The Last Stand” (like the rest of us), Logan is contemplating his immortality when he’s summoned by a dying old man he once saved, during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in World War II. Logan befriends a young Japanese mutant – with the ability to sense one’s death, named Mariko (Tao Okamoto), he saves Yukio (Rila Fukushima), sword fights her father, Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), and is ultimately betrayed by her grandfather, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), who is revealed to be the real villain all along! Long story short, it turns out that Yashida lured Logan into a trap in order to drain his life force in an attempt to make himself immortal – with the help of a mutant mercenary called ‘Viper‘, and his ‘Silver Samurai‘ mech-suit!
After Logan loses his adamantium claws in the final showdown, we get a mid-credits scene that basically retcons “The Last Stand” and teases “Days of Future Past”.
5. LOGAN (2017)
Director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman return with a follow-up to “The Wolverine” with one of the darkest and most poignant movies of the entire genre. If ‘The Wolverine’ was a samurai movie, this ‘Logan’ is definitely a western. “Logan” takes place in a bleak dystopian future where mutants are nearly extinct, and the man once called ‘Wolverine’ is at the end of his rope. Logan is laying low, trying to take care of an elderly Charles Xavier who is succumbing to dementia, when a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) aka X23, shows up in need of help. It’s revealed that she’s his daughter – cloned in a lab from his DNA. Logan embarks on one last mission to save Laura and the other young mutants like her from a sinister group of cyborg mercenaries lead by an evil scientist (Richard E. Grant).
Note: Even though this one came out after “Days of Future Past”, I actually think watching this one first adds more weight to the next one on the list…
6. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)
Based on the comic book storyline of the same name, “Days of Future Past” takes place in an alternate future, a dark timeline where Sentinels have eradicated the mutant population, and the last of the X-Men are on the run. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen) have joined forces, putting aside their differences to try and save the future by fixing the past!
Kitty Pryde / Shadowcat (Elliot Page) uses her phasing powers to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973 in order to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage) – the creator of the Sentinels project, with the help of a young, disillusioned Xavier (James McAvoy), an imprisoned Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), and Quicksilver (Evan Peters). (We also get appearances in the future by: Storm, Bishop, Colossus, Sunspot, Warpath, and Blink! ) There are so many great scenes throughout, from Quicksilver’s slow-motion super-speed sequences to Fassbender’s Magneto taking over a legion of Sentinels, this one has it all!
This movie both serves as a follow-up to the original X-Men trilogy, and a sequel to “First Class”, while seamlessly weaving in the casts of both eras! DOFP isn’t just one of the most action-packed entries in the X-Men series, it’s also one of the most emotionally resonant! To me this isn’t just my favorite X-Men movie, it also gives us the “good ending” to the series as a whole, with a brief glimpse of the happy ending that we all deserved.
7. X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)
Following “X-Men: First Class” which took place in the 60’s, and “Days of Future Past” which primarily took place in the 70’s, “X-Men: Apocalypse” takes place in the 80’s! Picking up with the divergent timeline created by DOFP, this one is more of a back to basics X-Men movie. Despite the naysayers, to me, this one feels the most like the comics.
This time, Professor X (James McAvoy) and his X-Men face off against the incredibly powerful ancient Egyptian tyrant known as Apocalypse! (Oscar Isaac) Apocalypse returns, awakened after thousands of years, and sets his sights on conquering a world ruled by the weak. He chooses four Horsemen as his acolytes: Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Arch-Angel (Ben Hardy)! This time the X-Men roster includes: Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), along with Havok, Nightcrawler, and Jubilee! Lots of high-stakes action ensues, and it ultimately takes all of the X-Men, working together as a team, to stop Apocalypse!
Skip: DARK PHEONIX *and* NEW MUTANTS
Unfortunately, the last couple of X-Men movies from Fox Studios were both rather underwhelming. A big factor in both may have been the fact that Disney Studios acquired Fox while both movies were in development. Regardless, I don’t think it’s controversial to say that these two were disappointing to say the least.
“Dark Phoenix” was *another* failed attempt at the incredible Chris Claremont storyline from the comics, with the “First Class” cast (set in the 90’s this time), except they somehow butchered it worse than “The Last Stand”?! That said, the cold open with the rescue mission in space is still awesome, even if they clearly ran out of their budget after the first 10 minutes.
“The New Mutants” isn’t a terrible movie, but as far as an X-Men movie goes it’s pretty forgettable. I think there’s a cool concept there, and some interesting characters, but I feel like they probably shoild have leaned more heavily into the horror elements of the story.
8. / 9. DEADPOOL *and* DEADPOOL 2
The Ryan Reynolds “Deadpool” movies are delightful! Nuff said, go watch em!
The reason I put these ones towards the end of the watchlist is because they riff on all the other X-Men movies (especially the Wolverine ones), so it’s a lot funnier if you’ve seen them all. There’s also tons of great X-Men characters that randomly show up, including: Colossus, Cable (played by Josh Brolin!), X-Force, Domino, (The) Juggernaut, and of course, Negasonic Teenage Warhead! Seriously, these movies are hysterical. (Note: Don’t forget to check out the extra Christmas-themed scenes from the “Once Upon a Deadpool” version of Deadpool 2 with Fred Savage!)
And now that the X-Men are going to be appearing in the MCU, it’s been officially announced that Hugh Jackman will be reprising his role as Wolverine, alongside Ryan Reynolds in “Deadpool 3”!
10. LEGION (2017-2019 Series)
Last, but certainly not least is a FX series called “Legion”. (Yes, I know it’s not technically a movie.) This is one of the most bizarre, meta, LSD-laced head trip of a show you will ever watch, and it ties into the X-Men mythos in a really interesting way. The show follows David Haller (Dan Stevens), the long, lost son of Professor X, who ends up in a psychiatric ward after a mental break and is being tormented by a nightmare entity known as “The Shadow King”! The series features an all star cast, including: Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Keller, Amber Midthunder, Jean Smart, Navid Negahban, Lauren Tsai, and Jemaime Clement.
It’s without a doubt one of the most unique shows I’ve ever seen and I can’t recommend it enough!
Erik’s Recommended X-Men Watch Order
- X-Men: First Class
- The Wolverine
- X-Men: Days of Future Past
- X-Men: Apocalypse
- Deadpool 2 / Once Upon a Deadpool
- Legion (Seasons 1-3)
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine
- X-Men: The Last Stand
- Dark Pheonix
- New Mutants
Although we’ve had some hints at mutants in the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last few years – with the reveal at the end of “Ms. Marvel” and the groundbreaking debut of Namor in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”, along with a multiversal Professor X cameo in “Multiverse of Madness” (not to mention Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and that Evan Peters cameo in “Wandavision”) – we still don’t actually know how or when the X-Men themselves will be woven into the greater narrative of Marvel’s Multiverse Saga. That said, I completely and totally trust them to get it right. I guess we’ll just have to wait to see what’s in store for the X-Men in Phase 5 of the MCU!
For our rankings of the X-Men movies, check out Episode 9 of Comic Zombie, you can read my deep dive of ALL the Spider-man movies here, and click here for a full breakdown of the MCU timeline here!