X-Men: Apocalypse opens May 27th and marks the ninth outing of everyone’s favorite mutants, counting the spinoff movies dedicated to Wolverine and Deadpool. The latter has already cleaned up at the box office this year with a sleeper hit action-comedy, while Apocalypse has X-fans waiting with baited breath, as the film will close out the character arc that began with First Class. The film will also introduce younger versions of beloved characters with the hope that the series will continue. Fox Studios have already announced another film starring Wolverine, and a sequel to Deadpool with a New Mutants spin-off to follow. Die-hard Marvel fans might scowl that the X-Men don’t get to interact with the rest of the MCU, but judging by box-office hauls and story potential, the X-Men are doing just fine on their own.
That’s not to say the series is perfect…far from it. Longtime viewers will still recoil at the unevenness of the X-Men film series, and even remember a time when the franchise landed in intensive care. It remains one of the most loved and reviled film sagas of recent memory, often lauded and loathed by the very same fans. With Apocalypse coming, here’s a look back at The 10 Best and 10 Worst Moments from the X-Men Movies.
The Best #10: Wolverine’s Berserk Rage in X2
Wolverine became the signature character of the X-Men series, owing to the already-rabid cult of the character, and to an awesome debut performance by Hugh Jackman. The character has become a bit too popular for some fans, who feel he upstages the rest of the characters, but even his harshest critics acknowledge Wolverine has some great moments.
Chief among them: his berserk rage during the Mansion invasion in X2: X-Men United. Jackman shines in both his dramatics and physicality as he takes down one soldier after another while protecting the rest of the mutant students. It remains a high point for the character that the series has rarely reached.
The Best #9: Nightcrawler’s White House Stunt in X2
X-Men fans have a frustrated relationship with the original 2000 film. While a great initial start for the series and teeming with great moments and performances, a damper was put on their excitement by the bad dialogue, the miscasting of at least one major role, and some shoddy special effects.
The opening of X2 plays like a warning and a promise: this movie is not the budget-restricted first outing for the X-Men. Rather, it raises the bar on the action, special effects and drama of the series, assuring a broader scope and greater depth of character. Said promise is embodied by the character of Nightcrawler, the teleporting demon mutant played by Alan Cumming. Cumming delivers a nuanced and thoughtful performance, while his acrobatics make for one of the highs of the series.
The Best #8: Quicksilver’s Run in Days of Future Past
Much like Nightcrawler’s entrance in X2, a new character steals his scenes in the past and future team up movie, Days of Future Past. The distinction belongs to Quicksilver, played with humor and enthusiasm by Evan Peters. Prior to the film’s release, the ever-negative echo chamber of the Internet condemned Peters’ casting and the design of the character. Those critics fell silent as Peters raced around a kitchen set at super speed.
Director Bryan Singer used the scene as an opportunity to explore a new high-rate filmmaking technique, which resulted in new levels of depth and fluid movement. That Quicksilver will return in Apocalypse with yet another super-speed action ballet testifies to the popularity of the first.
The Best #7: Emma Joins Magneto in First Class
As much as the action and special effects sequences add to the rousing gusto of the X-Men films, the characters have always been the greatest draw. At their best, the X-Men movies explore relationships, social stigma and offer wonderful character moments.
Case in point: the final moments of X-Men: First Class. As no-name bureaucrats argue with one-liners about the future of mutant kind, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) literally shatters the earth. Psychic mutant Emma Frost (January Jones) toils in CIA custody, and Magneto and his Brotherhood offer her a chance to join up and rule the world. In just a few lines of dialogue, the characterizations of both roles become absolutely clear: both are ruthless, powerful and dangerously ambitious.
When Fassbender appears dressed in a variation of his mauve comic costume, complete with a helmet with antlers, the effect isn’t comical. Instead, as he utters the words “I prefer Magneto,” his cold veneer curdles the blood.
The Best #6: Deadpool’s Sarcasm in Deadpool
What to do with Deadpool, the bisexual, ultra-violent non-member of the X-Men? In the case of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the answer is cast Ryan Reynolds, and do nothing.
Wiser heads have since prevailed.
Reynolds and Deadpool made something of a comeback in early 2016 in the character’s self-titled spinoff, a film which relishes the humor of its lead, right down to his penchant for breaking the fourth wall. From the opening credits on—which, for the record, offer some of the biggest laughs in the movie—Reynolds and Deadpool fire off one quick, self-conscious quip after another, making the plot little more than an excuse for Reynolds to show off his comic gifts and revel in Deadpool’s irreverence. Fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Best #5: The Future, Restored in Days of Future Past
Days of Future Past remains one of the signature X-Men comic storylines. Naturally then, when Fox announced Bryan Singer would return to the series to direct a film adaptation which would combine both the original and First Class casts, audience expectations soared.
Singer didn’t disappoint, either, confronting the disappointments and inconsistencies of the series head-on. His boldness resulted in the most epic X-Men movie to date, a marvelous balance of character, action and social metaphors. The film also represented something of an apology from Singer, who left the X-Men films to pursue other projects. X-Men: The Last Stand remains the nadir of the series, full of arbitrary deaths, character assassinations and de-powerings.
The final moments of Days of Future Past restore hope for the series, and provide a warm, proper send-off for the original cast, complete with the return of several beloved characters. It’s as if Singer tried to say “It’s OK. The X-Men are back, and the future looks bright.”
The Best #4: Wolverine’s Train Fight in The Wolverine
Wolverine enjoyed another show-stopping action sequence in The Wolverine, an adaptation of the revered “Japan storyline” that further plumbs the depths of its title character. Hugh Jackman again delivers, in particular during a scene aboard a speeding bullet train.
As Wolverine and a gang of thugs fight it out aboard and on top of said speeding rail, dodging a series of overhanging billboards, the direction and choreography make the audience forget they’re watching, in essence, an invulnerable character. It remains a masterful action sequence, one of the best for the character.
The Best #3: The Chess Game in X-Men
The Bryan Singer-directed X-Men movies have always brought a thoughtful balance to the stories, mixing action with social consciousness. In particular, the X-Men represent persecuted minorities, and their leaders, Xavier and Magneto, two opposing viewpoints — pacifism vs. militant — action, as to how to combat oppression. Nowhere in the series do the films confront the issue better than in the final chess game between the two friend-rivals.
It helps, of course, to have two splendid actors playing the parts: real-life bromantics Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. Watching the two argue over chess symbolizes the crux of the series—their scheming, their camaraderie, their ongoing duel. That the film made Stewart and McKellan into two of the most respected actors alive should come as no surprise.
The Best #2: Jean Saves the X-men/The Phoenix Rises in X2
X2 is a film quite sure that its characters will return for future adventures. Nowhere does the movie make this quality more evident than in the character of Jean Grey. Marvelously played by Famke Janssen, Jean stands on the edge of transcendence, motivated by her love for her husband and friends. Her sacrifice to save the rest of the X-Men at the expense of her own life makes her a true hero, and also hints at what’s to come.
Fans of the X-Men comics recognize the signs: Jean’s emotional angst, her ever-increasing powers, and the aura of flame glowing around her all allude to The Phoenix Saga, perhaps the greatest X-Men story ever told. The final image of the movie, complete with ominous narration from Janssen, still makes hearts palpitate: the image of a firebird rising from watery depths. It realizes a new level of potential from the X-Men films, and promises even more to come.
The Best #1: The Final Sentinel Battle in Days of Future Past
One of the great joys of reading an X-Men comic book comes from the outrageous imagery when the titular characters do battle. Because of the exorbitant expense in producing a film, however, fans had to wait more than a decade to see their favorite mutants in a battle royale. It finally arrived in Days of Future Past, as the original cast gets its due fighting for their lives against an army of Sentinels.
Despite the presence of a miscast Halle Berry, Storm appears the closest to her comic iconography yet, and fan favorites Bishop, Colossus and Blink perform some incredible feats. Each of the actors bite into their roles, conveying dread and desperation, even as the series hits a new action high.
now that we’ve taken a look at the best parts of the series, let’s turn our eye toward the less savory aspects of the franchise. Here are The 10 Worst Moments of the X-Men Series.
The Worst #10: Gambit at Any Given Moment in X-Men Origins: Wolverine
From the first moment he appears on screen onward and without interruption, X-Men Origins: Wolverine gets the character of Gambit, so totally, offensively wrong it’s a wonder that X-Men fans didn’t storm the gates of Fox Studios. The dreadful miscasting of the charisma-challenged Taylor Kitsch doesn’t help matters.
Kitsch, an actor with one of the worst film track records in recent memory (Battleship, John Carter) butchers Gambit’s signature Cajun accent and plays the role as an arrogant cad. Gone are the suave charm and tenacity that make Gambit a fan favorite. It also doesn’t help matters that the movie strings Gambit up on wires, making him look more like a second-rate Hong Kong martial artist than a streetwise brawler. Lucky for us, Days of Future Past erased him from continuity, soon to be replaced by the more ideal casting of Channing Tatum.
The Worst #9: The Phoenix Looks Like that Thing from the Grudge in The Last Stand
We were tempted to title this item “Every Goddamn Cursed Offensive Frame of X-Men: The Last Stand,” but instead we’ll focus on the worst element of the film: the Phoenix. Anyone familiar with the X-Men comics (as director Brett Ratner and producer Lauren Schuler Donner purport to be) knows that The Phoenix Saga might just be the definitive story arc for the X-Men. Naturally, then, the movie screws up the story at every opportunity.
The Phoenix of The Last Stand resembles nothing of the fabled character from the comics, animated series, or even X2. Instead of a glowing firebird of energy, the movie provides a squid-like zombie effect to Famke Janssen, making her look more like a demon from The Grudge or some other Japanese-inspired horror film. None of the emotional hallmarks of the saga make it into the film either, reducing Jean Grey into nothing more than the objectified woman of Wolverine’s dreams. Pray we may one day get a faithful and thoughtful retelling of the story.
The Worst #8: Toad Struck by Lightning in X-Men
The first X-Men film has a share of bad moments, owing mostly to a restricted budget, rushed schedule and endless script rewrites. Fox had wanted more of a Men In Black-style comedy, while Bryan Singer wanted to treat the material with more sanctity. One of the writers hired to inject more comedy into the proceedings: Joss Whedon, who would later acquit himself well with The Avengers.
Whedon, however, commits the greatest sin of X-Men, owing to a single line of dialogue which plays like a bad parody: “Do you know what happens when a Toad is struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else!”
The Worst #7: Storm’s Ever Changing Accent in The Last Stand
When fans rejoiced at the announcement of a live-action X-Men movie, one casting choice seemed to follow discussion for the character Storm: Angela Bassett. Tough, leggy and regal, she embodied everything fans loved about the character. Naturally then, eyebrows raised at the casting of Halle Berry.
Berry won the role, in part, because of her younger age. An actress of considerable talent, her tone deaf performance as Storm has cast a pall on the series as a whole. Nowhere is the more evident than in her ever-changing accent. In X-Men, she sounds alternatively South African and English, in X2, she sounds decidedly American, and by The Last Stand, she just sounds kind of sassy. The shifting accent made Berry’s miscasting even more apparent, as did it illustrate the series’ indecisiveness about how to best use the character of Storm.
The Worst #6: Psylocke, Angel, Callisto, And the Like in The Whole Damn Series
The X-Men have one of the most diverse and sprawling galleries of heroes and villains in all comic book lore. It should come as no surprise, then, that not every character gets his or her due in the movie adaptations. Characters like Lady Deathstrike or Sabertooth, both of whom have rich backstories, get reduced to roles as heavies out of necessity.
That does not, however, excuse the wasting of major, iconic characters throughout the series. Gambit becomes an annoying sidekick in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The Last Stand plays even more fast and loose with characters: Psylocke becomes a random background character that can become invisible. Callisto, a deformed character in the comics, morphs into a gorgeous street fighter…mostly to give Storm someone to do battle with. Angel, embodied by popular actor Ben Foster, gets only a few scenes and serves no function in the plot!
The Worst #5: Mystique Loses Her Powers in The Last Stand
Mystique became the breakout female of the X-Men films owing to an intriguing performance by Rebecca Romijn. The character gained a large following her debut in the first movie, despite having only one line. She damn near stole the movie X2 thanks to some wonderful action scenes and Romijn’s charisma.
In The Last Stand, things got ugly. The rushed production schedule of the film resulted in a number of scheduling conflicts for the actors (more on that in a moment), and Romijn’s new sitcom Pepper Dennis made her one of them. So what did Fox do? They got rid of her!
Mystique gets depowered during a rescue scene with Magneto and Pyro, sacrificing herself to save the leader of the Brotherhood. To make matters worse, the movie even does wrong by Magneto when he refuses to aid her, and later, Mystique herself by having her betray mutantkind.
The Worst #4: Cyclops Dies in The Last Stand
Aaaaaand like Mystique’s unceremonious exit from The Last Stand, another character gets dropped like a hot rock: Cyclops. Like Storm, the movies never quite knew what to do with the character despite his being the leader of the team, and despite being played by a fine and appealing actor, James Marsden. Marsden’s role suffered in X2 when most of his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. In The Last Stand, things get even worse.
Marsden had just secured a role in Superman Returns (a film in which he was so good he didn’t just upstage the title character; he made audiences wonder why he didn’t get the part of Superman), which would shoot at the same time as The Last Stand. Fox, according to reports, wanted to just drop the character without explanation, though somewhat wiser heads prevailed. Instead, Cyclops appears in two scenes only to get killed off by the resurrected Jean Grey. Not only does it insult Marsden and fans of the character, it stops the movie cold.
The Worst #3: Deadpool in Any Given Moment in X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Including Deadpool in the X-Men film universe seemed like a good idea. Casting Ryan Reynolds felt like a masterstroke; he seemed born to play the part. What could possibly go wrong?
Anyone who has seen X-Men Origins: Wolverine knows the answer to that question: a lot. Deadpool gets sidetracked in the already-muddled main action, amounting to little more than a heavy. Worse, the character gets robbed of his most distinctive quality: his ability to break the 4th wall, and of his wisecracks when his mouth gets sewn up. Most dismal of all, Deadpool becomes one of the film’s villains, wasting the actor hired to play him, and nearly damning any future for Deadpool on screen.
The Worst #2: Magneto Gets Depowered in The Last Stand
More complaints about X-Men: The Last Stand? Sit still, we’re not done yet…
Prior to the first movie, Ian McKellen didn’t fit anyone’s idea of Magneto, who, despite his age, had typically been drawn as a muscular, middle-aged man. McKellen, however, shined in the role, making Magneto both intimidating and relatable, as well as one of cinema’s great villains. The Last Stand manages to get the character almost totally wrong, and through no fault of McKellen. Magneto becomes something of a hypocrite (even if he is also the only rational character in the whole dang film), and the movie culminated in Magneto’s depowering at the hands of the X-Men. As if the X-Men robbing a mutant of his powers isn’t hypocritical and disgusting enough, the movie also robs the series of its antagonist.
The reason is a stupid one: with the Star Wars prequel, Lord of the Rings and Matrix trilogies all having just wrapped, Fox became convinced that fans only wanted three X-Men films, and that the movies—which had never been planned as a trilogy—should come to the end with part 3. Talk about killing off a cash cow, not to mention pissing off legions of ticket buyers!
The Worst #1: Rogue Takes the Cure-The Last Stand
Speaking of character assassination, The Last Stand goes out of its way to make Rogue into a reprehensible mutant. Granted, the films, even at their best, never quite captured Rogue’s spitfire attitude or gumption, but The Last Stand doesn’t even try! Rogue instead becomes the weak female, resentful of her powers and scared of losing her boyfriend Bobby Drake. Rogue opts to take the mutant “cure” which will forever rob her of her powers, and allow her to have sex with her mutant beau. The inner conflict of Rogue losing her powers at the expense of touching others could have made for a compelling story, but The Last Stand introduces the idea and does nothing with it, nor does it do much with the character of Rogue. Rogue remains absent during the film’s climax, all but forgotten by the movie. She show’s up at the film’s end to announce she’s cured, and none of her mutant comrades even bother to react. No doubt the X-Men would have had a deep and heated discussion about one of their own surrendering her gift, much as the audience who paid to see the film continue to rant to this day.