15 Greatest Performances In The Wolverine Trilogy

Logan Final Trailer - Wolverine with X-Men comic

The time has come to consider the legacy of the Wolverine. Fox’s Hugh Jackman-centric trilogy has had its highs (Logan) and its lows (Origins), but over three films and eight years we have met a colourful cast of mutants and morons, humans and heroes. Picking up the remains of Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, James Mangold steered the franchise on a gradual path to greatness. Several stellar actors who have crossed paths and blades with Jackman’s Wolverine, with some even threatening to outshine the lead actor himself!

2017 has brought us Logan, already heralded as one of the greatest superhero films of all time thanks to its gritty tone and emotional backdrop. There is one thing that we'll grant to all of the Wolverine movies: there is an adamantium-coated heart beating at the centre. As Hugh Jackman lays down his courageous claws forever, it is time to look back at the 15 Greatest Performances From The Wolverine Trilogy.

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Ian McKellan as Magneto The Wolverine
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15 Sir Ian McKellen

Ian McKellan as Magneto The Wolverine

Character: Magneto

Appears in: The Wolverine

While Logan skipped the post-credits scene, 2013’s The Wolverine gave us one hell of a talking point. Sir Ian McKellen ruled the roost as the main franchise’s big bad and constant stumbling block for Wolverine, so to see him pop up at the airport with Patrick Stewart was a jaw-dropping moment. It confused us more than the already-convoluted timeline but seeing Magneto and Xavier together again set the ball rolling for Singer’s Days of Future Past.

When the words “Two Years Later” popped up, it is unlikely that anyone expected to see McKellen back in his swishing cape and tipped fedora, rivaling the first Iron Man in terms of Easter egg excitement. There was the slow tension build of rattling coins (similar to Jurassic Park’s water rumble), followed by the low grumble of “there are dark forces, Wolverine” and the delight of the audience.

McKellen was back demonstrating his theatrical prowess as a repowered Magneto, delivering a pure Shakespearean villain's rant. With Logan missing a post-credit, and the less said about Origins’ the better, The Wolverine wins this round, thanks in no small part to McKellen.

14 Richard E. Grant

Character: Dr. Zander Rice

Appeared in: Logan

There was actually something kind of likable about Richard E. Grant’s performance as the trenchcoated Dr. Zander Rice. It was probably his quintessential British charm. He saw Boyd Holbrook’s Donald Pierce for the uncouth thug that he was and tried to win over Caliban and Logan with words rather than violence - though admittedly his motives were incredibly sinister. Rice is sadly not a particularly memorable villain, but Grant worked with what he had.

In a world where you have metal-throwing mutants and a big purple god wreaking havoc, playing your standard human foe is a pretty tough gig. As the man whose father was killed at Alkali Lake by Logan, Grant's little quip of “yes, I expect you did [kill him]” wouldn’t have worked with many other actors. Emulating his stiff days from Withnail and I, Grant's mesmerizing stare in Logan was one that you can’t help but look at. He wasn’t quite the mad scientist we had hoped for, but would that kind of performance really have worked in the hyper-realistic landscape of Logan?

13 Eriq La Salle

Eriq La Salle Logan

Character: Will Munson

Appeared in: Logan

Every good film needs some collateral damage, and Logan had oodles of it - from the X-Men, to Caliban, to innocent bystanders. The Munson family were doomed from the moment they came across the dysfunctional trio of Wolverine, Xavier, and Laura. As the head of the family, Eriq La Salle’s Will Munson was the protective all-around good guy who put his family first. The Munson Family dinner was a stressful experience, as we knew that the next part of the film would effectively be the emotional torture of seeing the family die in some horrific way.

La Salle had that right balance of confused human and ally to Logan. Watching Will crumple as he found the bodies of his deceased family, then seemingly perish at the claws of X-24 made it seem like his horror was over. Thankfully, Will returned for a miraculous resurrection, giving the film a much-needed fist-bump moment as he drove his truck into Jackman’s X-24.

While Will first seemed accepting of Logan (possibly because he didn’t know he was a mutant), when all was revealed, even in his last moments he remained defiant. As a mirroring to Jackman's father status, Will was ready to gun down Logan for bringing this madness into his home. Kudos for La Salle for not just becoming another nameless human.

12 Hiroyuki Sanada

Hiroyuki Sanada The Wolverine

Character: Lord Shingen

Appeared in: The Wolverine

Tipped early on as the film’s big bad, Lord Shingen actually turned out to just be the disappointing son trying to impress his ailing father, making him (slightly) more sympathetic than first thought. Hiroyuki Sanada played the middle member of the Yashida family with sinister prowess, putting his extensive history of action films into action with swordplay. Shingen was effectively The Wolverine’s very own Senator Kelly - someone unwilling to understand mutants. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance to “live with” the fact he tried to kill his daughter when his final assault on Wolverine proved fatal... to him.

This is reasonably faithful to the comic books, where Shingen was the head of the family, forcing his daughter into marriage for all the wrong reasons. While most would’ve liked to have seen more of Shingen living up to his badass Yakuza leader credentials, Sanada’s portrayal contained more of refined businessman edge than disgraced mobster.

After being poisoned and then clawed, Shingen may not have been part of Logan’s final battle, but Sanada and Jackman’s sparring match was a worthy addition to the film.

11 Will Yun Lee

Harada The Wolverine

Character: Kenuichio Harada

Appeared in: The Wolverine

The arrival of legendary Kenuichio Harada was actually foreshadowed in X2 when his name appeared on Stryker’s computer, and The Wolverine gave him some screen time courtesy of Will Yun Lee. The decision to separate Harada from his known alias as the Silver Samurai was a brave one, but thankfully, Lee helped Harada stand in the film on his own. He may not quite have lived up to his mantle as one of Wolverine’s greatest enemies, however, Will Yun Lee’s mellowed version of the sharpshooter was much more complex.

Essentially Harada was just another misguided guy trying to impress Ichirō Yashida. Lee parkoured his way into action protecting Mariko at her grandfather’s funeral, and the reveal that he was working for Viper put him back in touch with his comic book routes. Removing the dynamic of Harada as Shingen’s illegitimate son, gave him and Mariko a backstory and love interest that actually wasn’t too unbelievable.

It may have been better to see more of Lee stepping into the role as the leader of the Black Clan, however, that's a small complaint. Bringing Harada and Mariko together also gave us a superb final act redemption, so at least Lee's character got the hero’s death he deserved. Waving goodbye from the end of a blazing adamantium sword is not only the most honorable, but one of the best deaths in the trilogy.

10 Haruhiko Yamanouchi

Yashida The Wolverine

Character: Ichirō Yashida

Appeared in: The Wolverine

Rounding off The Wolverine’s trilogy of maniac men was Haruhiko Yamanouchi's part as the aged Ichirō Yashida. Even from “beyond the grave,” Yashida could command an entire company, a yakuza mob, and the Black Clan. While the character seems like a role uniquely created for James Mangold’s film, Yashida appears in part to be based off Ogun, a man who wanted Logan for his healing power in the Death of Wolverine storyline.  Yamanouchi may not have had as large a role as Ken Yamamura’s young portrayal of Yashida, however, he did get that big Silver Samurai finale and his big villain death thanks to that tumble off the cliffside.

While the Silver Samurai was drastically altered from a comic book character to a suit of armour, it was essentially Yashida who took on that part from inside the suit. Yamanouchi played the frail old man with ease, hiding all signs of an ulterior motive by posing only as Logan’s long-time ally. On first watch, no one would've clocked that his gentle grandpa would end up being the film’s big bad. We should have seen it coming really; he even had the usual villain signifier of a scarred face. More importantly, Yashida represents only the second non-mutant antagonist of the X-Men films, after Stryker.

9 Danny Huston

Danny Huston William Stryker

Character: William Stryker

Appeared in: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Any X-Men origin story, particularly one about the clawed Canadian, has to involve William Stryker moving up the military ladder. While no one could possibly top Brian Cox’s portrayal of the formidable Stryker in X2, Huston gave it a damn good try.

Given Stryker’s comic book history, it was blatantly obvious that Huston’s version wasn’t about to turn over a new leaf to be pals and sip brews with Logan. Smirking his way through X-Men Origins: Wolverine with a raised eyebrow and mug demeanour, Huston’s Stryker is even slimier than the mutant Toad. Huston is the son of acclaimed director John Huston and half-brother of Angelia Huston, so it is no surprise that acting runs in the family.

The story of the Strykers, including his son Jason, had been told to near-perfection in X2, but one of the Wolverine-centric movie’s better elements was fleshing out Stryker and Wolverine's early days at Alkali Lake (well, you would hope so in a film called Origins). Like a cross between Ray Wise from Twin Peaks and Jack Nicholson, Huston has the perfect villainous look, which may explain his part as General Erich Ludendorff in the upcoming Wonder Woman.

8 Tao Okamoto

Mariko The Wolverine

Character: Mariko Yashida

Appeared in: The Wolverine

Tao Okamoto played Mariko Yashida, the knife-throwing heroine who proves you don’t need claws to stand out in a Wolverine movie. Mariko was caught between the warring factions of her family, but Okamoto stood her ground. Faring much better than most former catwalk models would off the runway, it is a credit to Okamoto that her first acting role was in The Wolverine.

Mariko’s skill was that she was constantly underestimated by the men around her, even Logan, at first. As the film grew, so did Yashida, ending proceedings as the new head of her grandfather’s company, while trying to forget the past two hours of samurais and sliced-up body parts. It wasn’t hard to top Silver Fox from Origins as the female lead, but Wolverine’s love interest in the second adventure was less of a stereotypical damsel in distress, and more Logan’s equal.

Undoubtedly thanks to her part in The Wolverine, Okamoto went on to play Chiyoh in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal and Mercy Graves in Batman v Superman. People have since said she would've been perfect replacement for Scarlett Johansson’s controversial casting in the Ghost in the Shell live-action.

7 Famke Janssen

Jean Grey The Wolverine

Character: Jean Grey

Appeared in: The Wolverine

As the ultimate love interest for Logan, Janssen blows the likes of Lynn Collins as Silver Fox and even the blade-wielding Tao Okamoto out of the water. Dream sequences may seem like a lazy plot point, but seven years after Jean Grey perished (again), The Wolverine pulled it off by bringing her back. The whole "luring Logan into the white light" may have grown old quickly, but Jean tied The Wolverine into the rest of the Loganverse with ease.  Janssen always rules in her female powerhouse roles, so bringing her back for The Wolverine made her into a grim reminder of what Logan had done and lost.

The sad part is that Jean never got to come back in full force, relegated to a lackluster ghost role. You can interpret whether Jean is just a figment of Logan’s imagination for yourself, but us happy thinkers like to imagine she lived on somehow after The Last Stand - we've seen her resurrection once before.

Playing part angel, part devil, Janssen was definitely still harboring her more interesting Dark Phoenix persona, showing the actress at her very best. While she wasn’t a necessary part of the film and divided fans, it was fandom payoff to see the original Jean Grey as Logan’s true love.

6 Liev Schreiber

Liev Schreiber Sabretooth X-Men

Character: Victor Creed

Appeared in: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

In his pre-Ray Donovan days, Liev Schreiber popped out some “bag lady” nails and clawed his way into the maligned Origins film. Taking a decidedly more chatty approach than Tyler Mane did in 2000’s X-Men, Schreiber was the brother-in-arms to Jackman's James Howlett, charting a long life and many wars together. The sideburns may not have been to everyone’s liking, but Schreiber’s performance as Sabretooth was a lot less feral than his comic book counterpart, arguably giving us someone we could relate to without the fear that he would soon be gnawing on our insides.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine went back to the start, teaming up Schreiber’s Victor Creed and Jackman’s Howlett as half-brothers who were eventually pulled apart by Stryker. Although Schreiber never shed Victor’s villain status, he did become slightly more helpful toward the end of the film by ultimately putting his brother first. Well, when it is either Wolverine or a laser-shooting, claw-popping, Deadpool with his mouth sewn shut, who would you pick?

Early drafts of Logan would've seen Sabretooth return in some form - sadly, it never came to pass. The role of Sabretooth clearly meant a lot to Schreiber, who tweeted a love letter of sorts to Jackman after Logan, thanking him for his guidance on the set of Origins and welcoming him into Wolverine’s furry bosom.

5 Rila Fukushima

Rila Fukushima The Wolverine

Character: Yukio

Appeared in: The Wolverine

Rila Fukushima gave The Wolverine the heart and comedy that it lacked in places. The doe-eyed katana-swinger was simply a joy to watch. Behind her innocence and bright red hair was a formidable warrior. More so, Yukio was one of the few characters who actually cared about Logan, seemingly visibly upset when she foreshadowed his death with his heart in his hands. Giving her the power to foresee only deaths was a clever twist on her comic book counterpart.

Fukushima’s role was a lot like deadly little Miho from Sin City, and the only gripe is that she was sidelined for the majority of the film in favour of Mariko. Sure, Yukio may need some work on her mutant abilities, but the on-screen chemistry between Jackman and Fukushima shone through the darkness of nighttime Japan and the Black Clan.

Yukio and Wolverine’s pairing was easily a highlight of the film, and dare we say it, even worthy of a spin-off with the duo. It was a father figure role that would later be adopted by Jackman for his performance in Logan. As Wolverine’s self-appointed bodyguard, Yukio could’ve been the perfect cameo or tragic loss for Logan, so it is sad that we just left Fukushima “up in the air” on the seats of Yashida’s jet, never to be seen again.

4 Boyd Holbrook

Logan Final Trailer - Donald Pierce with FBI

Character: Donald Pierce

Appeared in: Logan

Boyd Holbrook’s recent turn in Logan turned what could have been a generic villain into an oddly likeable Southern rascal. Sporting his John Lennon sunglasses, smooth-talking Reaver Donald Pierce proved more of an annoyance than a genuine threat. That isn’t to say he is all sunshine and smiles; his treatment of Caliban shows that Pierce would stop at nothing to get what he wants. Due to a lack of mutant powers or hammy villain speeches, Holbrook soars up the list from sheer entertainment value. 

Pierce may not have been the man pulling the strings, but Holbrook worked with what he had. In terms of forced performances, the swagger of Donald Pierce seems to come naturally to Holbrook. Adding a light humor to his limited role, the robo-handed henchman elevated himself from Oddjob and Karl Vreski territory to become Logan’s main villain (if only briefly).

With an uncompromising mission to capture rather than kill X-23, it is a shame we don’t get to see the two go head to head. However, Pierce’s demise is made haunting by the group of mutant kids surrounding him as he is slowly frozen, zapped, and absorbed into the earth. The rest of the Reavers fade into the background, whereas Pierce is established as a standout performance thanks to Holbrook.

3 Patrick Stewart

Logan Final Trailer - Xavier in car

Character: Charles Xavier

Appeared in: X-Men Origins/The Wolverine/Logan

Where many will remember Logan as the end of the line for Jackman's Wolverine, it looks increasingly likely that Patrick Stewart's Xavier will follow suit. For 17 years, the chrome-domed thespian ruled the roost as Charles Xavier. James McAvoy may be a willing successor, but Stewart will always be in our hearts.

Logan represents the jewel in Stewart’s seven-film crown as Professor X. Rattling around in his upturned silo, Stewart relished the madness of Charles. Thankfully, elements of the Charles we have grown up with were still blinking through, in particular, his role of carer for outcast young kids like Laura.

One thing that is never fully explored, is that Charles was the one responsible for what happened in Westchester. The Old Man Logan storyline saw a hypnotized Logan hack up the students of Xavier’s school, so it was a brave move to give the destruction of the X-Men to someone else. We were used to having a benevolent Charles, so knowing that the headmaster was also the tool of his student’s demise was among the most heartbreaking elements of Logan, delivered beautifully by Stewart.

Along with Ian McKellen, Stewart has arguably carried the entire X-Men franchise. McKellen may feel a little left out that he didn’t make the Logan cut, but Jackman’s swan song was a beautiful father and son adventure with Charles and Wolverine, and we wouldn't want it any other way.

2 Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman in Logan

Character: James Howlett/Logan/Wolverine

Appeared in: X-Men Origins/The Wolverine/Logan

Where do you even start with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine - how about perfection?  It almost makes us hope that Fox leaves the character in his grave, because it is near-impossible to imagine anyone else matching Jackman's portrayal.

As far back as X-Men in 2000, we saw Logan as the gruff loner who would eventually be won over by the a more heroic counterpart. Logan loved, lost, and languished. If the audience felt that, then we can only imagine what Jackman himself felt.

The crowning achievement of the Wolverine trilogy is that we effectively had three different genres that were still tied together with a coherent story. From your standard superhero film in Origins, to the Japanese revenge story in The Wolverine, and finally a spaghetti Western for Logan - Jackman’s performance was consistently superb.

The almost lazy decision to have Jackman as the dual roles of Logan and X-24 may divide critics, but Jackman still wowed in both parts. Acting as the hulking, feral, X-24 showed exactly what Wolverine was supposed to become all those years ago in Stryker’s plan. Logan shocked and wowed by giving us a wholly new side to Wolverine, moving away from what we had spent 17 years thinking we knew; the beaten and bruised alcoholic was ready to die, but that doesn’t mean we were ready for him to slip away in that finale. 

1 Dafne Keen

Logan Final Trailer - Dafne Keen as X-23

Character: Laura Kinney/X-23

Appeared in: Logan

While some may be outraged that Jackman just misses out on the No. 1 spot, when you look at Dafne Keen’s performance in Logan, you will see it makes sense. From the get-go, the 12-year old’s screen presence was intense. The late decision to give her a voice also added humor, but the stoic stowaway gave us heart without needing Logan’s superb dialogue.

While Xavier and Wolverine were on a Thelma and Louise trip to nowhere, Keen’s addition gave them a reason to live again, recapturing the childhood essence of young mutants. Where Keen really upped her game though was by not just being another character who needed protecting. With knuckle and foot claws out, she spun her way into action alongside her father as one of the best additions to an X-Men film ever.

So, how can Keen beat Jackman to the gold medal? Well, If you look outside the Loganverse, Jackman’s first appearance of the clawed Canadian wasn’t a fully-formed character. Without gushing, Keen was near-perfect in her first time.

Keen has to top the list as the greatest performer in the Wolverine films, simply due to the possibilities she presents. X-23 will almost certainly return in some form of an X-Men future, while the chances of a solo spin-off are increasing by the day. Just as long as Laura gets to keep her pink sunglasses, let’s get it financed.


Who do you think was the best performer in the Wolverine trilogy? Sound off in the comments below!

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