Total Recall

X-Men Movies Ranked Worst to Best by Tomatometer

In this week's Total Recall, we look at all eight films in the popular Marvel franchise leading up to the release of X-Men: Apocalypse.

by | May 25, 2016 | Comments

It isn’t the first superhero sequel of the summer, but with its massive ensemble cast and high-stakes battle for the fate of mutantkind, X-Men: Apocalypse might be the most epic. In honor of the franchise’s ninth installment, we decided to dedicate this week’s list to a look back at where it’s been, from the hit 2000 original through subsequent sequels and standalone features. Get ready to get your snikt on, bub — it’s time for Total Recall!

X-Men Origins - Wolverine (2009) 38%


After the disappointment of X-Men: The Last Stand, a solo movie for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine seemed like a smart and relatively foolproof way of getting the X-Men franchise back on track. Unfortunately, 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine failed to capitalize on its immense potential; rated PG-13 and clocking in at 107 minutes, director Gavin Hood’s take on the character’s backstory could deliver neither the hard-hitting violence nor the epic sweep it deserved, and it didn’t help that David Benioff and Skip Woods’ script saddled Jackman with an ensemble cast that included a widely maligned version of the comics fan favorite Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds). Still, for critics who entered the theater with sufficiently low expectations, it proved a reasonably entertaining diversion; as Laremy Legel wrote for, “You won’t be upset you saw it, you’ll have some fun, you’ll see Wolvie beat the living hell out of a helicopter.”

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X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) 48%

Like a Phoenix Force-powered mutant rising from the ashes, the X-Men franchise rebounded from the much-maligned X-Men: The Last Stand by rebooting the series timeline — but nothing lasts forever, and the critical momentum generated by the First Class and Days of Future Past installments came to a grinding halt with X-Men: Apocalypse. It wasn’t supposed to be this way: the titular villain of this trilogy-concluding chapter is not only one of the biggest bad guys in the X-Men comics, he’s played here by Oscar Isaac, adding yet another talented thespian to a cast already overloaded with superstar wattage. Unfortunately, all that talent and all those decades of source material couldn’t help Apocalypse, which took the compelling-on-paper story of a powerful mutant out to cleanse the Earth with his Four Horseman and turned it into a muddled mush of set pieces and CGI. Still, it had its fans — including MTV’s Amy Nicholson, who wrote, “I found myself loving this strange, straight-faced operetta that embraces everything from Gregorian chanting to East German punk to Flock of Seagulls.”

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X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) 58%


After two top-grossing, well-reviewed installments, the X-Men film franchise was due for a fall — and with 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, it arrived in the form of a second sequel whose $400 million-plus grosses were overshadowed by poor word of mouth and a rash of negative reviews. Though 56 percent isn’t a terrible Tomatometer score — and some critics enjoyed the movie, such as the New York Observer’s Andrew Sarris, who wrote that he was “strangely moved” by it — the lukewarm response was a significant comedown for the franchise, particularly after Bryan Singer, who directed the first two installments, left the project to take on Superman Returns, taking the previous installment’s screenwriters with him. New director Brett Ratner took his fair share of critical lumps (the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday accused him of “[making] hash of the story and characters”), but there was plenty of blame to go around; in the words of the Chicago Reader’s J.R. Jones, “despite all the grand gestures of climax and resolution, there’s a pronounced sense of autopilot.”

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The Wolverine (2013) 69%


Fox execs were no doubt hoping that by the time they got around to giving Wolverine his second standalone feature, they’d have a solo franchise to build on — but instead, 2013’s The Wolverine needed to advance the character’s story while repairing the fan goodwill they’d lost the first time around. The homicidal streak that makes Wolverine such a fascinating character in the comics is also what’s made him relatively problematic on the big screen, and its PG-13 neutering is part of what rendered Hugh Jackman’s debut solo outing as the clawed superhero, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, such a disappointment for longtime fans. Director James Mangold had the benefit of lowered expectations when it came time to helm the follow-up, The Wolverine, but the end result — which drew inspiration from a beloved 1980s comics story that sent the character to Japan — earned more than a slow clap from critics; as Mick LaSalle enthused for the San Francisco Chronicle, “Somewhere along the line somebody must have had a crazy idea, that The Wolverine required a decent script, and shouldn’t rely only on action, audience goodwill and the sight of Hugh Jackman with his shirt off. The team delivers with this one.”

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X-Men (2000) 81%


Years before Joss Whedon corralled a big ensemble cast for The Avengers, Bryan Singer pulled it off with X-Men — and what’s more, he managed to do it without the benefit of the major characters getting exposition-clearing standalone features first. In spite of all that — and in spite of the inherent obstacles facing a film that wants to make audiences believe in a team of crimefighting superpowered mutants whose ranks include a telepath nicknamed Professor X (Patrick Stewart), an angry little man with retractable claws (Hugh Jackman), a woman who can control the weather with her mind (Halle Berry), and a guy with laser beams shooting out of his eyes (James Marsden) — the summer of 2000 brought the classic band of Marvel heroes to the big screen in style, racking up almost $300 million in worldwide grosses and a healthy stack of positive reviews from critics like New York Magazine’s Peter Rainer, who deemed it “A rarity: a comic-book movie with a satisfying cinematic design and protagonists you want to watch.”

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Deadpool (2016) 84%


The term “fanboy” is often used derisively, but every once in awhile, a group of diehards comes together to do a little good for pop culture — and Deadpool is a case in point. A longtime fan favorite in the Marvel comics universe, the “merc with a mouth” (played by Ryan Reynolds) was decidedly ill-served during his appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and for years afterwards, fans clamored for a standalone Deadpool movie. It really shouldn’t have worked, and not just because Origins tanked; more importantly, the character’s enthusiastically R-rated adventures would need to be edited beyond reason in order to make him fit the family-friendly superhero blockbuster mold. Yet after yielding to fans’ constant cries for a Deadpool feature — partly thanks to the release of some test footage that may or may not have been leaked by Reynolds — Fox resisted the temptation to go after those sweet PG-13 dollars. Instead, to their credit, the studio embraced Deadpool’s comics roots by using him as the centerpiece of an R-rated mutant action thriller that leaned on the superhero genre’s tropes while knowingly subverting them — and, of course, setting up a sequel. It is, as Todd McCarthy wrote for the Hollywood Reporter, “A really raunchy, very dirty and pretty funny goof on the entire superhero ethos, as well as the first Marvel film to irreverently trash the brand.”

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X2: X-Men United (2003) 86%


Given the long odds it faced just getting to the screen, let alone pulling off the transition so successfully, it seemed altogether unlikely that X-Men’s inevitable sequel would be able to achieve the same standard, let alone exceed it — but that’s exactly what 2003’s X2: X-Men United did, both at the box office, where it grossed over $400 million, and among critics, who praised it even more highly than its predecessor. This was, appropriately, accomplished two ways: One, the screenplay satisfied critics and longtime fans by tackling the comic’s long-running sociological themes, most explicitly the fear of “outside” elements (in this case, sexy super-powered mutants) and how that fear is channeled by xenophobic authority figures; two, the sequel ramped up the original’s gee-whiz factor by introducing characters like the teleporting, prehensile-tailed Nightcrawler — and daring to tease at the Marvel title’s Phoenix storyline, one of the most beloved, brain-bending plots in the publisher’s history. The result was a film that remains both a fan favorite and a critical benchmark for writers like Moira MacDonald of the Seattle Times, who lauded X2 as “A wonderfully populated adventure, with the franchise even more compelling the second time out because of our familiarity with the characters.”

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X-Men: First Class (2011) 86%


After the disappointments of The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the X-Men franchise was in desperate need of a creative rebirth. It arrived in the form of 2011’s X-Men: First Class, which rebooted the moribund mutant saga by taking the characters back to their beginnings as a freshly assembled team of superheroes. The reason for their coming together? The threat posed by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), an energy-absorbing sociopath (and former Nazi to boot) who plans on taking over the world — and instead ends up bringing together Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). A major box-office hit and a solid first step toward righting the wrongs of The Last Stand, it also resonated with critics like the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern, who wrote, “Preaching mutant pride with endearing fervor, X-Men: First Class proves to be a mutant in its own right — a zestfully radical departure from the latter spawn of a sputtering franchise.”

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X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) 91%


After restoring the franchise to firm footing with X-Men: First Class, director Matthew Vaughn handed the reins back to Bryan Singer, who returned to the series he’d started with such acclaim — and took things a step further, drawing on one of the comics’ most acclaimed storylines to deliver the X-Men movies’ most epic entry while partially restoring some of what many fans felt had been lost or damaged during The Last Stand. Using an ambitious time travel plot to unite the First Class cast with their predecessors, Singer risked overstuffing X-Men: Days of Future Past, but he achieved the opposite effect; although most critics readily admitted that Singer’s efforts required a level of filmgoer sophistication not often demanded by your average blockbuster, they were just as quick to argue that the results included some of the most purely entertaining stuff the franchise had to offer. Calling it “maximalist Hollywood filmmaking at its best,” Slate’s Dana Stevens enthused that Days of Future Past is “the kind of extravagant production that, like a Wagner opera, can sweep you up in a sense of mythic grandeur even as you struggle to follow what’s going on.”

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