With the release of Dark Phoenix, the movie-going public is finally free from the baffling timelines and generally bad quality of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men movies. The studio has been sold off in parts to Disney, so the rights to the X-Men characters are back in the hands of Marvel Studios and, eventually, they’ll be introduced into the MCU.
That could be a few years away, but one thing is for sure: the X-Men franchise we’ve been following for the past two decades is well and truly over. Let's take a look back at some of its biggest negatives and positives.
10 Did wrong: Confusing the timelines
One of the main reasons why a huge audience has kept up with the MCU, despite the immense commitment required, is that it’s easy to follow. The narratives are complex and the movies jump back and forth across the overall timeline, but it’s not difficult to see where each one is placed. The problem with Fox’s X-Men movies is that they confused the timelines.
They had two separate casts of actors playing the same characters and started setting the movies in random years that meant nothing to movie-goers. For example, Dark Phoenix is set in 1992 – so what? Fans lost the plot and eventually started to hate the movies, because the story had devolved into a complete mess.
9 Did right: Setting the template for superhero team movies
Given how drastically downhill the quality of the X-Men films has gone in the past few years, it’s easy to forget how incredible and ground-breaking X2: X-Men United was. It set the template for a superhero team movie like The Avengers or Justice League.
The plot begins by establishing the team’s status quo, then it breaks them all apart with an inciting incident and they split into carefully selected smaller groups, before they all come back together for a final battle sequence. The MCU would be nowhere if Fox hadn’t laid out this road map for ensemble superhero team-up movies.
8 Did wrong: Rebooting itself on the go
The producers of the X-Men movies have been referring to Dark Phoenix as the culmination of two decades of movie-going, but it’s not, really. After the disappointment of The Last Stand, Fox hired Matthew Vaughn to direct First Class as a prequel, but it was also meant as a reboot, because it replaced all the actors and changed the tone of the franchise.
It was only when audiences rejected the new cast even more than they’d rejected The Last Stand that they tried to cram them all together in one big franchise. That was when the X-Men movies became a travesty.
7 Did right: Logan
James Mangold’s Logan isn’t just one of the best superhero movies of all time; it’s also one of the greatest movies in recent memory. There’s a reason its screenplay was unexpectedly nominated for an Oscar – it’s because, despite being in the overlooked comic book genre, it was one of the best scripts of the year.
So, for all the wrong that Fox did, they did give us a movie that was as masterfully crafted as The Dark Knight and even more emotionally resonant. It was a fitting send-off for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, who has always been one of the best parts of this franchise.
6 Did wrong: Too many sub-plots
The best X-Men movies – X-Men, X2: X-Men United, Days of Future Past – were focused on one plot, with maybe a couple of sub-plots along the way that converged with the main one at the end. The worst ones – Apocalypse, The Last Stand, Dark Phoenix – were drowning in sub-plots.
This made them almost impossible to follow, or at the very least meandering and boring. The Last Stand was the first X-Men movie to make this mistake and Fox learned all the wrong lessons from it, repeating that mistake in virtually every movie since. If the movie isn’t focused, how can you expect the audience to focus?
5 Did right: The original casting
The casting in the newer movies has left a lot to be desired, but this is not because the actors who have been chosen are bad actors. James McAvoy, Sophie Turner, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence – these are some of the finest actors working today. The problem is that they already nailed it the first time.
Patrick Stewart was the perfect choice to play Professor X, Ian McKellen was the perfect choice to play Magneto, Halle Berry was the perfect choice to play Storm – you can see where this is going. The original X-Men movie cast might be the greatest superhero cast ever assembled (although the cast led by three Chrises is a strong contender).
4 Did wrong: Villains
Fans criticize the MCU for having a “villain problem,” but not a lot is said about the villains of the X-Men franchise, who have also been very underwhelming. The first few movies had some exciting and fearsome villains, like Sabretooth and Toad and, of course, Ian McKellen’s Magneto.
But the villains since then have been pretty meh. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto was supposed to be a mysterious villain with torn allegiances, but instead, he was just a boring character who never seemed like much of a threat. The X-Men movies have also screwed up Phoenix twice and made the iconic Apocalypse instantly forgettable.
3 Did right: Proving that superhero movies could be blockbusters
In 2018, six of the ten highest grossing movies were superhero movies. In 2017, it was four of them. Point is, superhero movies are now the dominant genre in Hollywood, and the one that’s most guaranteed to succeed at the box office. But back when 20th Century Fox made their first X-Men movie, superhero movies outside the Superman and Batman franchises hitting at the box office was unheard of.
In that sense, X-Men is one of the most important movies of the 21st century, because it paved the way for the current Hollywood landscape. The sequels are where it started to go wrong.
2 Did wrong: Deadpool (the first time)
On the whole, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a terrible movie. But perhaps its most heinous crime was sewing Deadpool’s mouth shut. This character is nicknamed “the Merc with a Mouth” for a reason. His greatest asset is his mouth: cracking jokes and insulting his fellow heroes and talking to the camera.
If there’s one character who can’t have his violence and language toned down for a PG-13 rating, it’s Deadpool, but that didn’t stop 20th Century Fox executives from unleashing this monstrosity upon the world. Comic book movies often depart from the source material to suit them to the new medium, but it should never be done this much.
1 Did right: Deadpool (the second time)
After an aggressive fan campaign in response to the disappointment of X-Men Origins: Wolverine to get a faithful adaptation of the Deadpool character, Fox took a chance on Ryan Reynolds and he delivered the R-rated goods. It’s been reported that the only part of Fox’s X-Men franchise that Disney is happy not to reboot is Deadpool.
What began as yet another thing that Fox’s X-Men movies got wrong grew into the thing they did the best, simply because they listened to the fans and portrayed the character as he is in the comics and not how studio suits would water him down.