Nearly a decade before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was just a twinkle in Nick Fury’s one good eye, another superhero universe launched and, some missteps aside, helped pave the way for the comic-book movie paradise we live in now. This week, with Dark Phoenix, it all comes to an end, as Fox’s long-running X-Men franchise is surrendered into the hands of the Walt Disney Company. The eventual release of New Mutants aside, the X-Men are expected to one day be absorbed into the Marvel Studios machine, rebooted and retooled to fit into a world that also includes Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Eternals. For some of us, though, that initial thrill of finally seeing Cyclops, Wolverine, and Professor Xavier on the big screen will never really go away, so let’s celebrate the legacy they leave behind by ranking every X-Men movie, including Dark Phoenix , from worst to best.
12. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Amazon)
Yes, the first Wolverine movie is somehow still as bad as its reputation, despite retaining just enough bonkers energy to make it at least a little entertaining. What stands out about the film a decade after its release, though, is not just how bad it is. It’s how bad it is in light of just how much potential there was for a Wolverine origin story to do well. The most popular X-Men character of all time, with a backstory stretching through a hefty chunk of history and a past full of angst, should have been a pitch right over the plate. Instead, we got a scattershot team-up movie that seemed to lean into every possible worst instinct.
11. X-Men: Apocalypse (Amazon)
Apocalypse is the film that finally, nearly two decades after the animated series, put the mutants in a mall. Unfortunately, it feels like that’s almost the only thing the film did right. Oscar Isaac could have been a monumental, scenery-chewing supervillain, but instead, he’s reduced to a guy who basically plugs himself into a television and figures out that humans are bad because they like weapons. Or something. What could have been a superheroic deconstruction of the Reagan era was instead a movie that had another cool Quicksilver sequence, and not much else.
10. Dark Phoenix (In Theaters)
Dark Phoenix has some good ideas, and it at least tries to explore a few of them to generate a real emotional response from the audience. The film leans heavily on Jean Grey’s fear of her own power and the revelation that Professor Xavier is often kind of a jerk — Sophie Turner and James McAvoy are both well-equipped to play those emotions. Unfortunately, the film never digs deep enough, in part because the plot mechanics that listlessly drive us to that place never feel like the franchise earned them.
9. X-Men: The Last Stand (Amazon)
Fox’s first attempt to adapt the Dark Phoenix Saga isn’t a good one, either, but it carries with it a greater sense of emotional investment if only because the major players in this version of the story — Scott, Jean, and Logan in particular — have been around for two good movies by the time the story unfolds. Lackluster Dark Phoenix story aside, the film is also working with some other interesting ideas, including the idea of a mutant vaccine and how that deeply affects certain key characters. Plus, this one has Vinnie Jones as The Juggernaut and that’s…well, that’s something.
8. Deadpool 2 (Amazon)
A lot of X-men films seem to suffer from a kind of tonal confusion, never quite deciding what kind of movie they want to be while juggling all of those mutant characters. Deadpool 2 never once suffers from this. The follow-up to the wildly popular first installment kicks things off with a Celine Dion power ballad and never looks back. The story it decided on, a story about the family you choose, is a little predictable even among superhero flicks, but everyone involved is having too much fun for that to matter much.
7. The Wolverine (Amazon)
After the disastrous first Wolverine film, it seemed like there was nowhere to go but up, but director James Mangold wasn’t content with just a slight improvement. Embracing the samurai themes injected into the character by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, Mangold took Wolverine to Japan for some soul searching, some new vulnerabilities, and a whole lot of fighting. It fizzles out a little by the end, but it’s working with some powerful ideas, and that bullet train fight is an X-Men all-timer.
6. X-Men (Amazon)
When viewed in the context of the era in which it was released, the first X-Men film still feels like a minor miracle. Superhero films were not even close to the cinematic force they are now, and no one had really tried a serious take on a team movie to great effect before. The black leather uniforms and a strangely slender Hugh Jackman date the film a little bit now, but there’s still magic in X-Men, particularly when Patrick Stewart rolls into frame as Charles Xavier for the first time.
5. Deadpool (Amazon)
Ryan Reynolds fought for years to make a Deadpool movie that would course correct the character after his mistreatment in X-Men Origins, and when he finally got the film done it turned out to be so much more. Deadpool came out guns blazing like a merry trickster demon, gleefully shredding other superhero movies and laughing at itself along the way. It was a breath of fresh air in a world of self-serious comic book cinema, and it had the action movie chops to still deliver the fight scene goods.
4. X-Men: Days of Future Past (Amazon)
The X-Men franchise is littered with ideas that didn’t pay off, either because they weren’t executed properly or because they ended up as loose ends no one ever bothered to tie off. Days of Future Past, a time travel adventure that unites the young cast of X-Men: First Class with the original trilogy players, could have easily been the worst idea the franchise ever had. Instead, it became a wild, surprisingly creative team-up movie that still managed to have a heart. It also introduced the world to Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and his ability to pick the perfect song for every feat of super speed.
3. X-Men: First Class (Amazon)
You’d be hard-pressed to find two actors more capable of towering over a franchise than Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, in part because they tower over the X-Men films in a way that’s secondary to the other franchises they each also tower over (Star Trek: The Next Generation for Stewart, The Lord of the Rings for McKellen). Recasting them seemed like a fool’s errand, but James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender stepped into the roles of Professor X and Magneto, respectively, with real swagger, and carried First Class to the status of a truly great prequel… even if it does criminally waste Emma Frost.
2. X2: X-Men United (Amazon)
Sequels have a reputation for never being as good as the first film in a series, but X2 is another in a long line of second films that proves that theory wrong. With Wolverine firmly in place as the leading man of the series this time around, Jackman absolutely attacks the role and leads a wonderful ensemble cast that includes new additions like Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler and Brian Cox and William Stryker. Throw in some really ambitious storytelling and a truly emotional climax, and it’s the best team film of the bunch.
1. Logan (Amazon)
Hugh Jackman played Wolverine for 17 years and, counting his one line in First Class, appeared in nine different films. Given all the ups and downs in the X-Men franchise, it seemed sadly quite possible that he’d go out on an underwhelming note. Instead, he and James Mangold teamed up once again to deliver one of the biggest mic drops in the history of franchise filmmaking. Logan is an emotional, visually arresting masterpiece anchored by tremendous performances from Jackman and Patrick Stewart in his curtain call as Charles Xavier. It gets to the heart of who Wolverine is and what really matters to him without ever feeling overstuffed, and it’s proof that great superhero films can come in many forms. Wolverine will no doubt return to the big screen one day, and no matter who’s behind that effort, Logan will cast a long shadow.