X-Men: Apocalypse is the finale to the second major X-Men movie trilogy and the ninth installment in the series long history, once you count spin-offs like Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine and Deadpool. Since it’s the final X-Men release for this year, it’s as good a time as any to take a look back and rate all nine movies from worst to best.
9. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Easily the worst of the entire series, Origins: Wolverine nearly killed the franchise back in 2009 after the already poorly received X-Men: The Last Stand. This year’s Deadpool delighted in relentlessly mocking Origins, which must have been cathartic for cast, crew and fans alike, considering how the Deadpool character was literally and figuratively butchered by the Wolverine prequel. Although the decision to stitch the mouth of a character whose best known as the Merc with the Mouth and give him laser eyes is a widespread criticism, Origins: Wolverine has a far deeper problem – it’s entirely pointless. A character like Wolverine that has lived for more than a century has a lot of stories to tell, but Origins makes the bizarre creative decision of focusing on the Weapon X storyline, which was already explored at length in X2: X-Men United. There was so little to add to the story that Origins only succeeded in piling on necessary layers of retcons and stupidity on top of it. Fortunately, Days of Future Past effectively wrote the movie out of the X-Men continuity, so there was no lasting damage. On a more positive note, it did result in a pretty decent video game.
8. X-Men: Apocalypse
What should have been the epic conclusion to the second X-Men trilogy (which is part prequel, part sequel), ended up being a disappointing, overstuffed mess that lazily rehashed the highlights of its predecessors without adding anything new or interesting to the characters or the mythos. Too many characters are introduced with little to do and widespread global destruction is shrugged off in a manner similar to Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. X-Men: Apocalypse was a visual spectacle that felt hollow and dull, with a tacked on Wolverine cameo that serves as a blatant examples of meaningless fanservice.
7. X-Men: The Last Stand
The Last Stand suffers from almost exactly the same problem as the poorly received Spider-Man 3 – it tries to do too much at once. The finale to the first X-Men trilogy tackled the epic and iconic Dark Phoenix storyline, as well as the discovery of a cure for mutants, either of which easily could have filled a feature length movie. The result is a split focus that undermines both stories and limits them from realizing their full potential. It may not be as bad as it’s often considered, but its lack of cohesion, combined with its sometimes questionable characterization and the controversial decision to kill off Cyclops, Professor X and Jean Grey in the same movie makes The Last Stand an obvious low point for the series.
6. The Wolverine
Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is such a popular character that even the disaster that was Origins: Wolverine couldn’t prevent another spin-off from happening. Fortunately, The Wolverine was a marked improvement from Origins, taking the character in a new and interesting direction. A world-weary Logan is dealing with the fallout of The Last Stand and his trip to Japan exposes a previously unseen vulnerability to the character and makes his reevaluate his life. Setting the movie in Japan also gave The Wolverine a very distinct look and feel that felt like a breath of fresh air for the venerable franchise, not unlike the 60s spy thriller setting of First Class. The main issue with The Wolverine is lack of tonal consistency when it comes to the action setpieces. While admittedly enjoyable, the overblown spectacle was not the right fit for the somber and more grounded approach to the character the movie was going for.
The original X-Men movie paved the way for the triumphant return of the superhero movie in the early 2000s and was further proof to the world that big screen superhero adaptations were capable of mature storytelling and adult themes. By today’s standards, it’s a little too straightforward and the special effects have not aged well at all, but it still holds up remarkably well, largely thanks to an ensemble cast that includes the likes of Patrick Stewart, Ian Mckellen, James Marsden, Halle Berry and Famke Janssen and a steady sense of direction from Bryan Singer.
After a disastrous first outing in Origins: Wolverine, Deadpool seemed like a lost cause for the big screen. Fortunately, Ryan Reynolds was more than willing to reprise his role and revitalize the character and after years of development hell, Deadpool was finally made. The unapologetically crass and absolutely hilarious approach to superheroes made Deadpool stand out amidst the rapidly growing superhero movie market and made the Merc with the Mouth one of the biggest box office success stories of 2016. The movie captured the essence of the character perfectly and was only held back by its reluctance to truly break out of some fairly familiar action tropes. Unpredictable comedy more than makes up for a predictable story, but it’s not enough to get Deadpool to the top of the list.
3. X2: X-Men United
The second installment in the franchise was everything a sequel should be – bigger, better and taking the characters and the story in new and exciting directions. X2 tackled the iconic Weapon X storyline, finally revealing the truth of Wolverine’s past, while also introducing a terrifying new villain in the face of Colonel Stryker and setting the stage for the Dark Phoenix storyline. Nightcrawler storming the White House is still one of the greatest openings in cinematic history and even more than a decade after its release, X2: X-Men United holds its own as one of the best superhero movies ever made.
2. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Days of Future Past had the difficult task of combining the cast of the old X-Men trilogy with the cast of newly started prequel series. Fortunately, the classic time-travel storyline of the same name was the perfect framework for the most ambitious X-Men movie to date and the end result was a surprisingly cohesive and very enjoyable experience. For all of its moving parts, Days of Future Past had a clear emotional core and high stakes. It was a continuation of the series’ long history that tied the movies together into a unified whole, rather than simply reboot the franchise as has been done many times with other properties.
1. X-Men: First Class
X-Men: First Class arrived at a time when the franchise appeared to be dead and buried. After the double whammy of The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine, any goodwill that the franchise had earned with its early installments had rapidly faded. First Class was another prequel, and one with an entirely new cast. Gone were fan-favorites Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender taking over the roles of Professor X and Magneto and this was also the first time that Wolverine wasn’t a major, or even a minor character in an X-Men movie. It seemed destined to fail, only to end up being the best entry in the entire series. First Class took the story back to 1963, diving into Magneto’s origin and the early days of his friendship with Charles Xavier. The decision to make it a spy thriller at the height of the Cold War made it a vibrant, stylish new take on the X-Men. Fassbender and McAvoy killed it in their respective roles, and they were backed by an ensemble cast that included Nicholas Hoult, a then still relatively unknown Jennifer Lawrence and Kevin Bacon as the primary antagonist. It was the much needed jolt that revived the entire series and made every X-Men movie since possible.