With “The New Mutants” and “Dark Phoenix” pushed back to next year, 2018 has gone from a massive year for “X-Men” fans to a more mundane year – although with “Legion” and “The Gifted” on TV and “Deadpool 2” hitting screens on May 18, we’re talking about First World Problems here. Before the “Deadpool” sequel breaks fourth walls nationwide, here’s a look back at the first 10 “X-Men” Universe films, ranked from worst to first.
10. “Origins: Wolverine” (2009) – I’m actually an apologist for this film, but on my most recent rewatch I still had to rank it last, as most fans do. It’s great to see Hugh Jackman go solo, and he proves that Wolverine is very much able to carry a film. Throw in Liev Schreiber’s Sabretooth, the ’80s action-movie vibe and funny moments like Wolvie breaking a sink and sheepishly holding up both halves, and there’s more to like about this flick than you might remember. However, the bland Gambit and Deadpool are wild misfires – especially the latter when you consider his comic background as the Merc with a Mouth. He’s silenced here, and precisely zero Deadpool fans appreciated the joke. On the plus side for those fans, it inspired Ryan Reynolds’ crusade to get a faithful “Deadpool” film made. (Full review.)
9. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) – I know I rank this lower than most fans, but it has always seemed overstuffed to me, and ultimately the whole is less than the sum of its parts. It’s nice to see the ole gang again, but everyone is shortchanged. Despite its robust running time, there’s no resolution to threads such as Wolverine’s quest for answers about his origin and Rogue’s and Iceman’s search for how to have a relationship. The main villain masquerades as a young girl as he spins illusions into Xavier’s mind – not particularly compelling, or even sensible, on screen. “X2’s” “too many cooks” problem reaches a zenith when Jean randomly sacrifices herself, a twist that feels tacked on. (Indeed, the ending is different in the novelization, which suggests it was a late script change.) (Full review.)
8. “The Last Stand” (2006) – Many would consider it blasphemy to put this much-loathed entry ahead of “X2,” but the thematic through-line about a mutant cure, and whether it’s a good or bad thing, gives this film a more solid foundation. The Dark Phoenix storyline is oddly flaccid — inspiring the likely more muscular approach of next year’s “Dark Phoenix” on the new timeline – but “Last Stand” does serve up great action moments, such as Shadowcat phasing, Juggernaut smashing, Pyro and Iceman squaring off with fire and ice, and Colossus flinging Wolverine through the air (a popular tactic from the comics). (Full review.)
7. “Deadpool” (2016) – With the saga’s most “out there” installment, I run into the “objective” versus “subjective” critique problem. Objectively, Reynolds’ passion project is exactly what it’s supposed to be, as the titular Wade Wilson (not to be confused with the Vikings quarterback who played before this character was invented in 1991) is a rare comic-book hero who knows he’s in a comic book (or a comic-book movie, as it were). And he talks about it. All. Day. Long. Subjectively, it’s not my cup of tea, but I admire this project as an example of a man with Hollywood influence getting something (an R-rated superhero movie, no less) made for the fans. (Full review.)
6. “Apocalypse” (2016) – I find myself in apologetics mode for this entry, which I see as a well-oiled blockbuster in contrast to “X2” and “X3,” which try to do too much. I’m surprised to find that Oscar Isaac’s performance as the title character is disliked; I enjoy how Apocalypse’s schemes fit the supervillain clichés yet he doesn’t cackle or twirl a mustache. He’s almost bored by the notion of destroying the world, so he comes off as a legitimate threat. Olivia Munn does nothing except stand around and look sexy as Psylocke, but for what this film is – a superhero romp – it still works. And the Next Gen, including future “Dark Phoenix” star Sophie Turner, is effectively introduced. (Full review.)
5. “The Wolverine” (2013) – As we move into the top half of this list, we see a jump from good to great. I love how “The Wolverine” is a moody character piece — as the title character struggles with the loss of his beloved Jean and tries to hide from the world — without sacrificing the superhero stylings. The supporting cast is great, including Yukio, who is cursed with the depressing power of foreseeing people’s deaths. This film looks fantastic as it takes us from the forests of Wolverine’s native Canada to Japan, which includes both traditional architecture and modern transportation, showcased in an epic battle atop a bullet train. Yashida, who aims to steal Wolverine’s powers, is a clichéd villain – the only thing that keeps this entry from ranking higher. (Full review.)
4. “X-Men” (2000) – Known by many filmgoers in 2000 as the best-ever adaptation of a comic book to the big screen, the first “X-Men” has of course been surpassed in the realms of special effects and spectacle in the 18 years since. But as a thematic piece about the legal persecution of one group of people, it is unfortunately still timely, and it makes room for us to sympathize with the points of view of Xavier, Magneto and even – to a small degree – Senator Kelly. It thrillingly introduces Wolverine, who will go on to many memorable adventures, and Rogue, who unfortunately won’t. The failures of the sequels on that count don’t diminish the effective set-up, though. (Full review.)
3. “First Class” (2011) – This reworking of the “mutants versus humans” issues of the 2000 original is a more muscular and confident movie as it takes us to worldwide locations rather than staying in New York City. The 1960s styles allow us to feel a kinship with the comic, which launched in 1963. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender seem like they could grow into Patrick Stewart’s and Ian McKellan’s older versions of Xavier and Magneto, yet they give full performances rather than doing impersonations. Throw in Moira, Azazel, young Beast, and Jennifer Lawrence as a more troubled and complex Mystique (and throw out January Jones’ bland Emma Frost while you’re at it), and “First Class” has a loaded roster. (Full review.)
2. “Days of Future Past” (2014) – Finally we arrive at an “X-Men” film that has huge storytelling ambitions and totally succeeds, rather than coming off as standard like “Apocalypse” or overstuffed like the bottom three films on this list. Although I regret that some “First Class” characters are killed off between films, this sequel makes up for it by being the best exploration of Xavier, Magneto and Mystique, even as time-jumping fan favorite Wolverine anchors the proceedings. As a bonus, “The Rogue Cut” gives us more of Anna Paquin’s character, who sadly was underused ever since the original film. I love the fact that “Days of Future Past” does an in-universe timeline reset rather than a reboot (like “Spider-Man” and “Fantastic Four” are wont to do). In addition to keeping the saga tied together, it makes for a moving story as we see the modern X-Men and past X-Men working together to save the future. (Full review.)
1. “Logan” (2017) – A comic-book film so perfect that even the Oscars took notice by handing out a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, “Logan” is a wonderful farewell for Jackman’s iconic portrayal. There are no caveats needed when reviewing this one, which has a Western vibe yet makes plenty of room for action and superhero trappings. Logan and his young charge, Laura, slice through bad guys in a delicious action sequence. Stewart’s addled Professor Xavier has a melancholy “one last mission” arc, trying to hold it together for the student who loves him like a father. Logan is as grumbly as ever in the saga’s second R-rated entry, yet we know he’s all heart inside as he shepherds persecuted mutant kids across the border to relative safety in Canada. (Full review.)
How would you rank the 10 “X-Men” Universe films? Share your lists in the comment thread below.