Screen Gems: Ranking the movies of the "X-Men" Cinematic Universe

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

May 27, 2016

With "X-Men: Apocalypse" in theaters, I thought I'd revisit the previous "X-Men" films and rank them in order from worst to first.

The "X-Men" franchise has been a solid, but very uneven property for 20th Century Fox. I've loved most of them, but a couple were massive misfires.

Here are my rankings:

8. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009)

Despite Hugh Jackman giving his usual solid performance as the mutant with the healing factor, indestrutible metal bonded to his bones and adamantium claws, this film is a disaster. The tone is all wrong, and director Gavin Hood makes mistake after mistake. Following an opening montage which actually works, the film settles in giving Wolvering an unneeded love interest and an aimless existence. The film's action scenes are weak, the special effects look fake and what the story does to Deadpool is unforgivable. Ryan Reynolds' Wade Wilson isn't that bad, but in the final act when Deadpool is revealed to be a strange creature with the powers of many mutants the story definitely jumps the shark, It was so bad it kept a Deadpool movie from being made for years. Thankfully, another film in the series erased this one from canon, so we can all approach it as merely a very bad dream.

7. "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006)

Following the critical and commercial success of "X2," it was expected the third chapter would deliver more of the same. Boy, were we wrong. After another promising beginning, the story goes off the rails. Magneto (Ian McKellen) forms the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to handle mankind's bigotry and "mutant cure" once and for all. That plotline would be enough for most movies, but director Brett Ratner also tries to squeeze in the classic comic book arc of "The Dark Phoenix Saga." With both of those major storylines moving at the same time, neither one gets the attention or depth that it needs. When you add in enough senseless deaths to alienate even the most loyal fans (say goodbye Professor X, Phoenix and Cyclops), "The Last Stand" is a jumbled mess of social commentary and loud explosions. Enjoyable performances by Kelsey Grammer as Beast and Ellen Page as Shadowcat are wiped out because of terrible turns by Vinnie Jones (Juggernaut), Aaron Stanford (Pyro) and Anna Paquin (Rogue). When original director Bryan Singer left the project to make "Superman Returns," the studio should have put on the brakes and started from the ground up. Instead, we wound up with a rushed and jumbled product. Thankfully, this story was also wiped out of canon by a later chapter, so all we're left is the bad memory and not the absense of three major, important and beloved characters.

6. "The Wolverine" (2013)

With the memory of "Origins" from four years earlier, 20th Century Fox tries to tell another solo Wolverine movie. This one gets it mostly right. The tone is perfect, Jackman has never looked better and the story borrows from one of the character's most revered and classic arcs. The movie's scale is small, but potent. Wolverine travels to Japan at the request of a dying Japanese industrialist whom he had saved from an atomic bomb explosion at the end of World War II. Director James Mangold deftly guides the story as Wolverine explores a strange land, and finds a possible soulmate. Hampered by the loss of his healing factor and battling the Japanese mafia, Wolverine is simultaneously vulnerable yet powerful. This film would have ranked much higher on my list if the ending didn't take it completely off of the rails. Wolverine's final battle totally shifts the story's tone and makes a unique and personal journey into just another superhero slugfest. The final third of the movie is a major diappointment. We're left to wonder how good this could have turned out if the filmmakers had managed to retain their resolve and keep traveling along their original path.

5, "X-Men" (2000)

The movie which got everything started and for the most part, director Brian Singer hits all of the right notes. We're introduced to a world where super powered mutants are feared and hunted. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) is a kindly benefactor, running a school for mutants to help them learn how to deal with their powers. But his old friend Magneto (McKellen) has a very different idea about how to deal with the repeated attacks of mankind. Despite its fantastic characters, the story is groundedin reality. Led by a breakout performance by Jackman as Wolverine, the cast of heroes including Halle Berry (Storm), James Marsden (Cyclops), Famke Janssen (Jean Grey) and Anna Paquin (Rogue) follow the Professor's directon and battle Magneto and his supporters. It's an original take on the genre which shows how relationships grow and that a group of outcasts can come together to make a difference for good.

4. "X-Men: First Class" (2011)

A much-needed reboot of the series which goes a long way toward fixing the sins of "X3" and "Origins," the story begins in the 1960s. We meet much younger versions of Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). We see how their relationship began and evolved. Together, they look for other mutants to bring them into the fold for protection and education. But Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) has other ideas. He wants to use his mutant abilities and those of others to take over the world. Director and co-writer Matthew Vauhgn infuses new energy into a series which had been damaged by less than stellar chapters. This prequel helped set the stage for improved sequels down the road. it was helped immensely by the casting of McAvoy and Fassbender, but Jennifer Lawrence's shape-shifting Mystique steals the show. Along with Nicholas Hoult's Beast, she brings a crackling energy to the screen which hadn't been felt since the first time we saw Jackman's Wolverine unsheath his claws. It has action and emotion and lays a solid foundation of bedrock for the chapters which follow.

3. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014)

Continuing along the "First Class" timeline, the bulk of the action here takes place in the 1970s. Director Bryan Singer returns to guide ship and his hand delivers a magnificent story filled with time travel, world-changing action and the consequence of decisions. DOFP finishes wiping away the mistakes of previous films by changing history, leaving the series in fine shape as it moves forward. McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence and Hoult once again deliver fantastic performances. But this time they are matched by Jackman's Wolverine. From a near-future where nearly all mutants have been killed and mankind has been enslaved by robotic Sentinels, Wolverine is dispatched to the past by Professer X (Stewart) and Kitty Pryde (Page). His mission is to stop Mystique from completing a mission which will set the course of history on its path to global destruction. Jackman’s involvement in the story was a stroke of genius. He serves as the bridge between the old and new timelines, giving viewers continuity and a sense of closure. However, even with all of the strong acting in this chapter, a new character steals the show. Evan Peters (Quicksilver) is a speedster who is recruited to help Wolverine fulfill his mission. His single scene includes an amazing sequence which people are still buzzing about years later. It helps elevate this story to the top tier of mutant movies.

2. "Deadpool" (2015)

This is the story the studio didn't want to make. 20th Century Fox kept the "merc with a mouth" on the shelf for years, until leaked test footage ignited a world-wide frenzy. A massive social media campaign, backed the by film's would-be star Ryan Reynolds, finally nudged Fox to greenlight the project. This origin story is vastly different than the rest of the "X-Men" universe pictures and that's mainly because of the title character. It's rated R, with language and violence which certainly justify that rating. But, audiences flocked to see a deconstruction of the usual superhero legend. Reynolds is perfect as Wade Wilson. His performance as the heart-of-gold mercenary who is gifted with healing powers but horribly scarred in the process is exactly what I was hoping for. Director Tim Miller turns Wilson and his compatriots loose, and the result is a fun, frenzied film. Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) provides not only the love interest for Wade, but also as a foil to his personality. They are a matched pair which helps ground the film and give it heart, ects the traditional gender dynamics found in most Hollywood blockbusters. Appearances by Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) add delightful spice to the mix. Additionally, Weasel (T.J. Miller) as Wilson's friend and bartender and Deadpool's blind, elderly roommate Al (Leslie Uggams) provide laughs and expostion to help move the story forward. Deadpool continually breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience. It's a dangerous gimmick, but it works amazingly well here because that's exactly how the character acts in the comics. The villain is a bit generic but one of his henchman Angel Dust (Gina Carano) provides a super-powered foe to battle Colossus as part of the action-packed finale. Although produced on a relatively small budget, this is the highest-grossing entry in the "X-Men" universe. The combination of comedy, action and snark was more than enough to wipe away the embarassing memories of the "Origins" Deadpool and leave me anxiously awaiting the sequel.

1. "X2" (2003)

This is the chapter which stands on the top of the heap. Director Bryan Singer ramps up everything which was good about his first "X-Men" movie to expand the universe and enlarge the world he is creating. Wolverine (Jackman) and jean Grey (Janssen) get the most to do, but they are ably supported by their teammates. Storm's (Berry) role is greatly expanded and we are introduced to the fan-favorite, teleporting Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming). He stars in an action-packed thrill ride opening sequence, an attack on the White House. Nightcrawler's abilities are showcased as something we had never seen before, signifying just how powerful mutants really are. William Stryker (Brian Cox) is a formidable adversary, as he is charged with tracking down and detaining the mutants as part of the government's plan to contain the population. The struggles of mutantkind were never told better than in this chapter, which holds up very well even a dozen years after its release.

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