In 2019, Fox Studios’ extensive X-Men cinematic saga concluded with X-Men: Dark Phoenix. That means it’s a rife franchise for a movie marathon! But if you watch in the order of release date, you may confuse yourself.
On one hand, the X-Men movies bounce around all over chronologically. The first few films take place in a vague “future,” while later films take place in the late 20th century. Then there’s the time travel thing, making it all even more complicated with rebooted timelines and possible futures. The franchise also has some uneven quality — including some of the best superhero movies you’ll ever see, along with a few of the worst.
With all that in mind, we think there’s an order to the movies that can make them flow nicely as long as you’re willing to forgive a few unavoidable inconsistencies, not to mention a certain unkillable mercenary’s fourth-wall-breaking antics.
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X-Men: First Class
While it was released over a decade after the first X-Men film, 2011’s X-Men: First Class is the best starting place for Fox Studios’ version of the Marvel mutants’ story. Set in the early ’60s, First Class shows us the beginnings of what becomes Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) iconic team. We get to see how the friendship between Xavier and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) forms, as well as the future Magneto’s earliest betrayals. We’re also introduced to Jennifer Lawrence as a young Mystique, who meets Xavier when they’re children but is destined to become the mutant supremacist Brotherhood’s deadliest assassin. Probably the only downside in starting with First Class is that you’ll have to wait a few movies before being reunited with this wonderful cast.
With First Class under your belt, some emotional weight is added to interactions between Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and his opposite Magneto (Ian McKellen) in 2000’s X-Men. We don’t know how much, if any, contact the pair have had since First Class. It could very well be the first time they’ve seen each since the prequel’s climax in Cuba. Depending on how far you’re willing to stretch your suspension of disbelief, a number of things in X-Men come off as either inconsistencies or intriguing developments in light of First Class. For one, there’s Mystique’s (Rebecca Romijn) eagerness to poison Xavier in spite of their earlier affection for one another. For another, Professor X acts as if he knows nothing at all about Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) even though a funny cameo in First Class reveals Logan was an early recruitment prospect.
X2: X-Men United
X2: X-Men United is far superior to its predecessor. Visually, it’s much more impressive than X-Men, particularly in the case of Nightcrawler’s (Alan Cumming) assassination attempt in the White House that perfectly takes advantage of the cinematic potential of the mutant’s powers. X2 gives us a much more comic-book-accurate version of the berserker Wolverine, and we get a bit more sympathetic portrayal of the Brotherhood. As far as the watch order is concerned, the most important thing to remember is how much of Logan’s cloudy past is revealed. He meets William Stryker (Brian Cox), the man responsible for his metal-laced bones, and the final battle takes place in the same facility where he was experimented upon.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
X-Men Origins: Wolverine tells the story of the Weapon X program that gives Logan his unbreakable bones, as well as showing the hero’s childhood in the 19th century and how he and his brother Victor (Liev Schreiber) spend the intervening years. Now, there are a couple of valid reasons some fans may take issue with our placement of this movie here. First, the events take place before the first two X-Men films. Second, and most importantly, it’s absolutely terrible. So, we don’t blame you if you choose to skip this in any marathons. But if you do choose to include it, the fact that Logan learns much more about his past in X2: X-Men United makes it best to watch this horrible prequel right after it. We’d also mention that one of a later movie’s mid-credits scenes has that much more of a payoff if you suffer through this one.
X-Men: The Last Stand
X-Men: The Last Stand is the final film to include the original cast without their counterparts from the First Class crew. Sadly, it isn’t a victorious end to the trilogy but is largely seen as one of the worst X-Men film efforts. Some of the more embarrassing parts of the movie include Vinnie Jones looking like his Juggernaut helmet was made of packing material, and Scott Summers (James Marsden) being murdered off-screen. The film isn’t without bright spots, though. Kelsey Grammer is perfectly cast as Hank McCoy, and it’s the first X-Men film in which Wolverine doesn’t get all the spotlight. Not to mention characters like Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) — appearing in nothing more than cameos in earlier films — finally get a chance to shine.
Unlike our placement of Wolverine’s first solo film, 2013’s The Wolverine needs to come in order of its theatrical release between X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days of Future Past. While most of the film takes place in Japan, early in the film we find Logan living as a hermit in the Canadian wilderness, suffering from the trauma he endured after being forced to kill Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) in The Last Stand. The film ends with a post-credits scene teasing Days of Future Past when Professor X and Magneto interrupt Logan’s walk through an airport security checkpoint. Some good news — The Wolverine is a much better film than X-Men Origins, and if you choose to skip the earlier film it won’t mar your enjoyment of the latter. With the exception of the mention that Logan was in the military during World War II, The Wolverine doesn’t reference X-Men Origins at all.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Bryan Singer used 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past to accomplish a number of important goals. Along with giving us one of the best films in the franchise, Days of Future Past eradicated the events of X-Men: The Last Stand and made way for the First Class cast to replace the originals. There are a few inconsistencies you need to forgive; for example, the lack of explanation for Wolverine having metal claws again when they were chopped off by the Silver Samurai in The Wolverine. Otherwise, Days of Future Past is an entertaining addition to the franchise with a huge ensemble cast culled from all corners of the X-mythos.
X-Men: Apocalypse is the younger cast’s first film after the older cast passes the torch. Oscar Isaac plays the film’s titular bad guy, En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse. He is Earth’s first mutant and boasts a whole host of powerful abilities. Unfortunately, while the movie brings fans a popular comic book villain they’d been wanting for years, the movie version isn’t nearly as compelling as the comic, and for the most part Apocalypse feels like rehashed noise from earlier, better films. Probably the most entertaining part of the movie is when Quicksilver (Evan Peters) uses his super speed to save the X-Mansion’s occupants from an explosion to the tune of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by the Eurythmics, which is just a variation of a similar scene in Days of Future Past.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix
The final film released in Fox’s X-Men franchise is 2019’s Dark Phoenix, a surprisingly dull addition considering the subject. Like The Last Stand, this later film tries and fails to give a satisfying adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Dark Phoenix Saga, which sees Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) transformed into a being of godlike power. The film’s production seemed doomed with Bryan Singer’s ousting from the film, extensive reshoots, and Disney’s acquisition of Fox. Considering the years put into the series and the incredible creative talent involved in the X-Men franchise — not to mention the expectations of fans — Dark Phoenix is a shamefully poor conclusion.
With how much Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) happily smashes through the fourth wall on a regular basis, it’s tricky placing his films in order with the rest of the X-Men flicks. Arguing for it to be placed here or there for logical reasons feels counterintuitive, but it’s the best we can do. Deadpool comes after the disappointing Dark Phoenix largely because of the era in which the respective films take place. Dark Phoenix is set in the ’90s while Deadpool‘s many pop culture references place it firmly in the 2010s. With exciting and often gory action along with irreverent and edgy humor, Deadpool has the added advantage of being a refreshing change after a pair of ho-hum X-Men flicks.
This is the toughest choice we’ve had to make in the X-Men order. With Wade Wilson’s hilarious references to the tragic climax of Logan in 2018’s Deadpool 2, it’s understandable if you think Hugh Jackman’s final film as Wolverine should come first. But for our tastes — considering the emotional power of Logan — Deadpool 2 simply can’t be the last film in an X-Men marathon. Fans might point out the brief appearance of almost the entire X-Men roster during Wade’s time as an X-Men trainee should somehow put this film even earlier, but we urge you to not take that hilarious cameo too seriously (unless you likewise want to ask why it is that none of the characters look like they’ve aged three decades since Apocalypse).
Logan is a perfect example of what makes putting these superhero films in order such a confusing affair. It takes place in the not-too-distant future, when most of the mutants are dead, Professor X is dying of Alzheimer’s, and the adamantium in Logan’s body is killing him. There’s no clear way to know what timeline this is taking place in. Regardless, it doesn’t matter because it’s unquestionably the best of the X-Men films. Much was made of Logan‘s R-rating upon its release, but much more relevant than how much violence is in the film or whether or not Professor X is allowed to drop f-bombs is the emotional places these former superheroes are allowed to go. When Logan stands crying over his mentor’s fresh grave, it’s perhaps the most powerful and honest moment in the character’s movie life. Logan is bittersweet, tragic, and a redemptive end to this uneven saga.
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