ByStuart John Alun McNabb, writer at Creators.co

Believe it or not, superhero films used to look like this:

Cerpterrrn Amurrricurrr.
Cerpterrrn Amurrricurrr.

Go on, drink it in.

There are debates about exactly where the current superhero trend started, but one series bears the brunt of the blame: X-Men.

Fox took a gamble, the X-Men suited up in black leather and people realised that you can make a comic book movie without turning it into a mockumentary/comedy. And it could actually be good.

That said, the X-Men film franchise has had a bumpy ride over its seven films thus far. Before they release about a bajillion spinoffs and this list just gets way too long, here’s the best and worst of each film.

X-Men (2000)

"A superhero flick? Good luck with that."
"A superhero flick? Good luck with that."

Why It’s The Best:

This is the one that started it all, and not just for the X-Men. The comic book movie trend of tossing out codenames and colourful costumes all started here, as yellow spandex was reduced to a gag line.

That’s not to say that it was Nolan-gritty; instead, we got a film with some great special effects, good plotting and a brilliant cast. The action sequences were well-done, the Xavier Institute was brought to life like we’d never seen it before and it’s hard to argue with turning Ian McKellan into a supervillain. Even one who has to be in his…what…nineties?

Best of all, this was a film with serious budget that took itself seriously. It showed the world that comics were brimming with ideas that were ripe for the picking. And the picking, for better or worse, hasn’t stopped since.

Why It’s the Worst:

Did somebody say ‘more Wolverine’? Hopefully, because he’s most of what you’ll be seeing.

This was in the aftermath of the 90s, where gritty characters were rammed down our throats near constantly. So really, instead of a true ensemble, we got Wolverine and Friends. Hopefully Cyclops wasn’t your favourite character.

The X-Men aren’t quite the team of powerhouses we’ve grown to love in the comics, either. There are a grand total of three team members at the start of the movie, two-and-a-half if you count the neutered, ‘I can just about lift a person if I really, really try’ version of Jean Grey.

We should all be glad they didn’t replace Wolverine’s claws with machine guns or something. Y’know, for added grit.

X2 (2003)

Thus began the noble tradition of the power walk.
Thus began the noble tradition of the power walk.

Why it’s the Best:

You saw that opening scene, right?

It was like, the first thing you saw. With all the flipping and the teleporting and the dramatic score.

Yeah, pretty much just that.

Why it’s the Worst:

I really hope Cyclops isn’t your favourite character, because once again, the leader of the team is going to be side-lined for a massive chunk of the film while Edward Knifehands takes centre stage.

That aside, the only problems to be found with X2 are mostly a result of nitpicking, unless you cringed at the stabbity-stabfest between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike. It was tough to stomach.

X-Men: The Last Stand

Definitive proof that movie posters lie.
Definitive proof that movie posters lie.

Why it’s the Best:

Okay, yeah, but…shut up. Just shut up for a moment.

X3 is no one’s favourite. Or rather, if this is your favourite, you are bad at cinema, and probably other things. Still, there’s plenty of goodness to be found in the third film if you’re able to switch off your inner critic.

Loads of characters from the comics? Check. Big team brawl, like the franchise had never seen before? Check. Sensitive treatment of the cure, a serious issue? Uh…check, probably?

All-in-all, it was a fun superpower brawl, with a great addition of Kelsey Grammar as Beast and a magnificent score to boot.

Why it’s the Worst:

Hoo, boy.

There are very good reasons this film has been obliterated from continuity with the fury of a thousand phoenixes. Beloved and integral characters are removed, killed or cure-neutered left right and centre. Jean’s Phoenix flames were extinguished and replaced with black eyes and inexplicably visible veins. The scads of new characters were poorly represented cameos.

And on top of that, star power meant that Storm and Wolverine pretty much eclipsed the rest of the team, leaving poor Colossus with a single spoken line. Although, uh...what a great line it was.*

Comparing it to the rest of the series, the best thing that could be said about The Last Stand is that it wasn’t the worst. That honour goes to…

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Note their expressions. That would be shame.
Note their expressions. That would be shame.

Why It’s the Best:

Sorry, what?

Why it’s the Worst:

Because it’s the worst.

If you don’t know that from watching it, I can’t really help you. Maybe just re-watch that scene where Logan tries out his new claws in front of the mirror. I’m pretty sure Barney and Friends had better CG.

The Wolverine (2013)

Enjoy your movie, ladies.
Enjoy your movie, ladies.

Why it’s the Best:

Hugh Jackman returns, in his ongoing effort to prove to the world that cheese can indeed be grated on his abs.

Serving as one huge apology letter for the last Wolverine film, adding ‘the’ to the title apparently worked a bit of cinematic magic. This installment sees Logan travelling to Japan for some ridiculous adventures with an Uma-Thurman-as-Poison-Ivy wannabe and a big metal robot suit with a laser sword.

It’s a lot of silly fun, yet manages a fair few poignant moments and a genuinely likable supporting cast (of strong females, no less).

Why it’s the Worst:

See ‘Uma-Thurman-as-Poison-Ivy wannabe’ above.

For a film that tried to send a sombre message of mortality, it suffered greatly from the campy Viper hamming up every scene. Yes, she pulls her skin off. It’s as disgusting as it sounds.

Even without the character of Dr Green (no, really), the film constantly bounces back and forth between cartoonish and gritty with jarring speed.

Also, the Silver Samurai is now a mecha-suit. Japan, everybody!

X-Men: First Class (2011)

The power walk returns, stronger than ever.
The power walk returns, stronger than ever.

Why it’s the Best:

First Class had a whole lot to love. With its transportation back to the swinging sixties came a revival of the old X-Men charm that began in the same era. First Class told a solid origin story, but had a constant aura of fun that was seemingly borrowed from the Avengers films. Y'know, as much as it could be when they hadn't even been released yet.

Everything felt fresh and new, particularly important in the wake of that Wolverine film I’m trying not to mention for the rest of this article.

Why it’s the Worst:

Apart from Michael Fassbender as a strangely Irish Magneto, there wasn't much to dislike, although the cast of cosmopolitan mutants from the comics being whitewashed into Americans (Moira McTaggert, Emma Frost etc.) didn't do wonders for the theme of unity.

The villains of the piece are fairly underdeveloped, with two (Riptide and Azazel) portrayed as little more than silent henchmen and the charismatic Emma Frost reduced to an ineffectual pin-up. Shaw might be the resident hate sink, but it’s only because there’s no one else.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Colours! Claws! Robo-wheelchairs!
Colours! Claws! Robo-wheelchairs!

Why it’s the Best:

Critically speaking, it is the best, and it’s easy to see why.

DOFP saw Brian Singer return to the helm, uniting the old cast with the new in a time travel romp that unapologetically stomps every film besides First Class out of continuity with the aforementioned fury. The future sentinels were terrifying, the stakes had never been higher and the ending treats us to a fully-united team of X-Men, all back from the dead/re-powered. As they should be.

And then there’s Quicksilver, who went from loathed to beloved in the space of a literal second.

Why it’s the Worst:

Nah, it’s the best.

Okay, fine. I’ll be objective.

Time travel is inevitably a story-breaker, and the watered down ‘mind-jumping’ version in DOFP is no exception. We’re apparently meant to believe that even after sentinels attempted to murder the president on live television, they’d still get mass-produced if Mystique makes the wrong moral choice. Well, okay then.

The sheer mass of characters clashes with the narrow gaze of the spotlight, meaning that the future mutants get very little to do besides suffer dramatic deaths (some of them more than once). Rogue was slashed almost entirely from the final product, and a lot of the First Class characters are either killed off-screen or reduced to cameos. Mostly the former.

Let us all spare a moment to remember Riptide, who didn’t even warrant a mention.

Goodnight, sweet vortex-generating prince.
Goodnight, sweet vortex-generating prince.

If you'd like to make the bold step of declaring one particular installment to be neither the best nor worst (so...'meh'), let me know in the comments.

*"Yeah, she took off." Classic!

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