Watch: Trailer for X-Men spin-off movie The New Mutants
Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was even a glimmer in the eye of Kevin Feige, the man now known as the head honcho of Marvel Studios was made an associate producer on the rather risky blockbuster X-Men. Due to his superior knowledge of the Marvel comic books, he was brought on board to shepherd some of the company’s best-loved assets to the big screen.
Two decades later, the X-Men are still around, but on the verge of a big change. In the wake of the Disney-Fox merger, there’s nothing planned for the characters right now. However, only a fool would bet even a penny against these iconic creations joining the MCU and rubbing shoulders with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes sooner rather than later.
With the final X-Men movie of the Fox era — the long-delayed New Mutants — managing to arrive in cinemas over the summer, the time has come to take a look back at the franchise which blazed a trail for the superhero movies that now exercise box office dominance.
Before we get started, cast your vote for the best X-Men film below...
13. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Oh dear. Nobody emerged well from this one, with the planned Origins spin-off series quickly tossed into the nearest skip and Hugh Jackman dusted off ready for better solo outings down the line.
Read more: Where are the X-Men stars now?
It’s notable that there are very few defenders out there, with director Gavin Hood wishing he could do it again as a more experienced filmmaker and Ryan Reynolds constantly skewering the movie in the Deadpool films. Reynolds even shot the Origins incarnation of his character in the head during the post-credits scene of Deadpool 2.
12. X-Men: Apocalypse
Riding high in the wake of Days of Future Past, the franchise opted to introduce a younger crop of characters alongside the tried and tested favourites with 2016’s Apocalypse. The film, sadly, was an absolute mess that gave the newbies little to do other than look sullen and spout dull dialogue en route to a finale of pointless CGI destruction. The fact that Oscar Isaac’s dismal villain — regrettably resembling Power Rangers baddie Ivan Ooze — wasn’t even the worst thing about the movie says it all.
11. X-Men: The Last Stand
Bryan Singer ceded control of the director’s chair to Brett Ratner for this threequel, which saw the franchise take on the famed ‘Dark Phoenix’ arc for the first time. Much like Apocalypse, this film focused on spectacle and destruction rather than the depth of the characters audiences had grown to love. Also, it had Vinnie Jones doing whatever the heck Vinnie Jones was doing. Needless to say, it didn’t work, and 20th Century Fox chose to press the reboot button.
10. Dark Phoenix
The X-Men franchise’s second bite of the Jean Grey cherry might not have set the box office alight, but long-time writer Simon Kinberg’s sidestep into the director’s chair was a totally passable superhero action movie. Sophie Turner did a solid job as Jean Grey and, despite an obviously compromised finale, there was plenty to enjoy in the film as a whole. It served as a fond farewell to a franchise on the way out of the door.
Read more: Sophie Turner would love to return to X-Men
9. The Wolverine
James Mangold’s first attempt at creating a Wolverine solo adventure was certainly a step up from the disaster of X-Men: Origins, even if it didn’t match up to what Mangold would do next. Logan’s claws were blunted for this eminently forgettable PG-13 adventure, which saw him travel to Japan and take on the Silver Samurai. Decent, but it’s what came next that really showed what Mangold and Jackman could do.
8. Deadpool 2
The decision to effectively hand control of the Deadpool character to Ryan Reynolds is one of the best calls Fox ever made when it came to marshalling the X-Men. This sequel was bigger, bolder and bloatier than its predecessor. As a result, it didn’t feel quite as scalpel-sharp and refined. The additions of Zazie Beetz and Josh Brolin as Domino and Cable were very welcome and the scenes involving the X-Force were terrific in their splattery, slapstick audacity.
7. The New Mutants
Unjustly maligned in some quarters, The New Mutants was actually worth the wait. Its young cast delivered solid turns as characters we’ve never seen before and, notably, they were teenagers who actually act like teenagers. Some of the spectacle of the finale may have fallen flat with certain audiences, but The Fault in Our Stars director Josh Boone did a great job of making a superhero movie merged with the enjoyable 80s horror silliness of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
That brings us to where it all began. 20 years ago, superhero movies were not the open goal that they are today. So it was something of a risk when Bryan Singer assembled a cast mixing established names with future stars — it was Hugh Jackman’s big screen debut — in a tale of mutants fighting mutants. Two decades later, it stands up remarkably well.
5. X-Men: First Class
After the critical battering meted out to The Last Stand and X-Men: Origins, Fox opted to do something of a reboot. Brit filmmaker Matthew Vaughn, who was once in the frame for The Last Stand, was drafted in to produce a movie based around younger incarnations of the characters who were established in the previous films. Professor X wasn’t in a wheelchair and had hair, for starters.
The change of scenery presented by shunting these characters back into the Cold War era was very interesting and the whole thing presented a much-needed refresh for the franchise. It also featured a brilliant Hugh Jackman cameo — perhaps the best ever F-bomb in a PG-13 movie.
In 2016, the character of Deadpool was finally allowed to break free of the four-quadrant blockbuster world and become a sweary, silly, violent antidote to everything that was becoming stale about comic book films. Ryan Reynolds threw himself into it with tremendous gusto in a film that was broad enough to win new fans, but also packed with self-referential gags and nerdy in-jokes to please those who were, by this point, 15 years deep in the world of mutants.
3. X-Men: Days of Future Past
After the success of First Class, Fox got ambitious in a big way. Taking its inspiration from the well-liked 1980s comic arc of the same name, Days of Future Past knitted together the two X-Men ensemble casts and sent Wolverine back in time to avert a catastrophe. Simon Kinberg delivered his best script of the franchise, marshalling complex storytelling with delightful skill for a crowd-pleasing adventure that took the opportunity to right some of the wrongs of previous films.
The risk of X-Men paid off. The film earned $296m (£222m) worldwide, setting the table for an expanded canvas sequel. X2 saw Professor X’s team join forces with Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants in order to avert an existential threat to mutantkind. It was big, noisy and a tonne of fun, finessing the franchise formula into something very special indeed.
The Avengers movies are bigger and the Deadpool series pushes more boundaries of taste, but Logan might just be the best film of the superhero boom. Hugh Jackman made the most of the opportunity to turn Wolverine into a bruised, decaying gunslinger whose life is catching up with him after years of carnage.
Mangold took advantage of the chance to tell an unchained Wolverine story, with claws bared and blood flowing in a Western-inspired adventure that also made a star of Dafne Keen as X-23. The X-Men might well be brilliant in the MCU when they get there, but it’s tough to imagine they’ll be able to match up to Logan — almost 20 years of character distilled into something epic and powerful.
Watch: Hugh Jackman reacts to Wolverine audition video