Marvel Studios is preparing to (presumably) reboot the X-Men into the MCU, and calls will go out for writers to meet with the studio in the next 10 or so weeks. So with the mutant superhero team on its way to finally meet the Avengers, and with Deadpool 3 just around the corner to most likely tie up the 20th Century Fox franchise of X-Men films, now is a good time to rank and review all 14 X-Men movies (excluding Deadpool 3) ahead of the MCU reboot.

X-Men is among the most important superhero franchises, because it did several things simultaneously. First, it was proof of concept that VFX have progressed enough to accurately and realistically fully represent the powers, action, and spectacle of comic book superhero storytelling in modern movies.

The Superman franchise and Batman franchise were the only ones out there making money until the 2000s, and those films had visual effects far more limited relative to what became possible with the advent of CGI and other new, complex camera effects. X-Men made brilliant use of the new technologies and kept the superhero genre alive until a heavy hitter — Spider-Man in 2002 — could arrive to establish the genre as a permanent blockbuster fixture at the box office.

Second, X-Men introduced the superhero team to the big screen, juggling multiple heroes and villains with various powers, and it did so marvelously (pardon the pun). It’s worth considering just how revolutionary it was to even attempt something of that relative scale, let alone do so with such high-quality production values and excellent storytelling.

For all of the talk of this or that superhero movie having “too many villains” or “too many cameos” that overburden storytelling and other such claims, X-Men movies prove it’s all rubbish. Good storytelling works no matter how big or small the team is.

Next, X-Men created a superhero shared universe of films, beginning the development of spinoffs for Wolverine and other characters in a larger cinematic world of connected films, before Marvel had gotten started on their cinematic plans. X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn’t drop until 2009, however, the year after the MCU kicked off with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. Still, X-Men films were setting up a larger world of heroes and building toward “event” stories just like the MCU.

Which brings me to the next important thing about X-Men franchise — it’s tone and visual style influenced both Marvel and DC movies. X-Men presented superheroes in toned-down screen versions of their costumes, in a relatively realistic world setting but with big VFX action sequences filled with superhuman powers, and incorporate humor and terrific ensemble chemistry centered around key characters in a fairly bright digital-filmed shared universe.

Kevin Feige worked on the first three X-Men films, remember, and learned all of the right lessons to bring with him to the MCU. I think the X-Men films are a very obvious template for Marvel Studio’s approach, most apparent perhaps in Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, but the concepts appear pretty consistently across the MCU.

Likewise, the Dark Knight Trilogy approached Batman by leaning more into the direction of “grounded realism” but it’s still something the X-Men pulled off for years before DC did it. And looking at Batman Begins in particular, that film is much closer to X-Men’s style and conceptual approach to adaptation of comics.

Lastly, the X-Men introduced a version of a “multiverse” before the MCU or DC, including the time travel angle that was later used in Avengers: End Game, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and The Flash for example. X-Men created alternate history and alternate futures, sent characters back in time (even having Charles Xavier interact with himself at one point), and altered the timeline to prevent a dystopian future.

This allowed X-Men to retcon its own canon and tell different versions of the same story, recasting and using period settings. Prequels, sequels, spinoffs — X-Men did it all, with a lose continuity and time-travel/multiverse retcons to make it work.

X-Men, then, was a proving ground for some of the biggest elements of modern superhero cinema, but rarely gets the credit it deserves. It’s also just one of the best franchises in any genre, superhero or otherwise, with six incredible films in particular that rank among the greatest superhero films of all time.

Of course, the franchise also had some stumbles, a few of them big. Toward the end, the main franchise had deteriorated with a series of increasingly badly reviewed and financially disappointing releases.

Only Deadpool kept the mutant flag flying high, which is why his film will be allowed to probably bring things to an end in that whole universe/multiverse, and help fold it over into the MCU for a rebooted future. Which shouldn’t be too hard — after all, X-Men already showed everyone how to do it more than once.

So, without further ado, here is my ranking and mini-reviewing of the entire X-Men franchise of films, including spinoffs and even one re-release version of another film on the list…

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014, $747.8 million) — On par with the best MCU films, this is the ultimate X-Men movie.
X2: X-Men United (2003, $406 million) — A close second place, still among the best cinematic superhero action, character, and plotting.
Logan (2017, $614 million) — A thoughtful, somber examination of a hero at the twilight of his stabby-handed career.
The Wolverine (2013, $416 million) — Specifically the vastly superior Unleashed Extended Edition, it’s a samurai-inspired thrill ride.
Once Upon a Deadpool (2018, $51 million) — Proof Deadpool is actually funnier in PG-13, a great film elevated by a perfect framing device.
X-Men: First Class (2011, $355 million) — A great prequel getting the series back on track and with a new equally charming ensemble.
Deadpool 2 (2018, $734.5 million) — Not as good as its PG-13 re-rerelease, but still a superior sequel to the first film’s impressive setup.
X-Men (2000, $296.8 million) — The original film still holds up well and is even more impressive considering it didn’t have any setup films for the team.
Deadpool (2016, $781.9 million) — A breath of fresh air at a time when the franchise was on the decline, it’s funny and rude and full of joy.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019, $246 million) — An impressive opening half-hour slowly gives way to (once again) wasting an iconic X-Men storyline.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006, $459 million) — Entertaining as pure superhero action-spectacle, it derailed the series and wasted story potential.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016, $542.5 million) — Halfway fun, halfway ho-hum, with lost potential as a superhero Mallrats of sorts.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009, $374.8 million) — Hugh Jackman is always fun to watch, but this weak entry killed chances of spinoffs for years.
The New Mutants (2020, $44.6 million) — A mess that’s seems to ramble along from scene to scene without any purpose… or entertainment value.

And there you have it, dear readers, my ranking of every X-Men movie and tie-in film, from the greatest in the series to the biggest stinkers.

If I were also to rank the animated X-Men best to worst, the list would probably be (in this order) X-Men: The Animated Series (among the greatest superhero shows ever made, animated or live action), Wolverine and the X-Men, Pryde of the X-Men (I know, it’s just one pilot episode but it was pretty great and I loved the animation), Wolverine anime series, X-Men anime series, and lastly X-Men: Evolution (which I’m not a fan of).

We’ll see where X-Men ’97 falls on the list when it debuts on Disney+ next year, but it is a continuation of The Animated Series so I have high hopes based on how good X-Men animated history has been overall, and since it’s continuing an amazing series.

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