Since that iconic big bumper issue that catapulted the X-Men into comic book stardom, we’ve seen an absolute ton of different versions through pretty much every form of media (except radio…that we know of).
With decades of famous storylines, a fantastically-diverse cast of characters old and new plus some of the best villains Marvel comics have to offer, it’s no wonder that we’ve had so many versions of the X-Men over the years. Basically, every new adaptation is like creating your own X-Men dream team, with the single, constant caveat that Wolverine has to be in there somewhere.
They kicked off the big-budget superhero movie trend back in 2000, the X-Men animated series is an iconic mainstay of the nineties and a few of their video games really aren’t too shabby. But how do the adaptations stack up? With the release of Logan adding another chapter to the tangled film franchise, let’s take a look at Every Adaptation Of The X-Men, Ranked From Worst To Best.
14 The Marvel Super Heroes
It’s not that we have anything against the older adaptations…but you have to admit, as cheesy as comic books are now, they were infinitely more so a few decades ago. The very first appearance of the X-Men in the realm of animation was in The Marvel Super Heroes, a TV show from 1966.
Given that it’s been half a century since the show aired, episodes are pretty hard to come by, but we do know that the X-Men only appeared in four episodes with their classic line-up of Cyclops, Jean Grey (as Marvel Girl), Angel, Beast and Iceman, led by Professor X. This was before the big relaunch of the X-Men ten years later, meaning that we get the old style uniforms with the yellow and blue (with Iceman looking like he’d had an accident in a whipped cream factory).
The X-Men actually took over a story from the Fantastic Four due to rights issues, pitting them against Namor the Sub-Mariner in a match-up that absolutely no comic book fans will recognize. Even worse, they were renamed The Allies for Peace, a title that succeeds in being at least a bit more gender-neutral, but that’s the only merit it has going.
13 Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
Jumping forward to the eighties, we have Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. Again, this one ranks pretty low since the X-Men only made a few episodic appearances as part of the ensemble. However, Bobby Drake/Iceman was a main character alongside original character ‘Firestar’, since the Human Torch was unavailable, everyone forgot about Sunfire and apparently there were literally no other existing fire-based characters.
The series had Iceman and Firestar teaming up with Spider-Man to create ‘The Spider-Friends’, because comic books are endearingly stupid and their animated adaptations aren’t far behind. The X-Men appeared a few times, both in flashbacks (showing the classic, original lineup) and in the current time, at which point we got to see newer recruits such as Storm and Wolverine.
The show is notable for featuring the first animated versions of Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde/Sprite, Colossus and even Sunfire, who finally got to exist after he’d been shafted by an upstart female clone. It’s not one of the X-Men’s finest outings; every male character is voiced by the same guy who does Fred Jones in Scooby Doo and the whole episode is devoted to the team chasing a gimmicky one-off villain around the halls of the mansion (so...kind of like Scooby Doo). Still, that's 70s animation for you: overdone voice acting and background music so loud you can barely hear anyone talking.
12 The Super Hero Squad Show
Ever since Fox snatched up the X-Men film rights (that is, they probably bought them for an absolute steal when Marvel was floundering and everyone was still reeling from Batman and Robin), Marvel and the X-Men have had a rocky relationship. One minute, everyone’s favorite team of misunderstood mutants are being shafted from the pages of comic books, having their merchandise erased from existence and being steadily replaced by the Inhumans as the next big metaphor for racism, or whatever’s the big issue. The next, they’re getting their own major print runs and they seem to be right back in Marvel’s good books.
The Super Hero Squad Show began its run in that dark time, meaning that the X-Men are relegated to a single episode that seems to have been inserted at gunpoint. Wolverine is a series regular, since he’s one cash cow Marvel will never stop milking, but otherwise, X-Men and related concepts are used sparingly. Of course, the episode featured a sparse X-team (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Shadowcat and Iceman, plus Lockheed) and had the entire team put out of commission so that Wolverine could go on to save the day.
So basically, nothing really new in that scenario. It’s what adaptations have been doing for decades.
11 Pryde of the X-Men
Before X-Men: The Animated Series came along and introduced an entire generation of nineties kids to the team, there was Pryde of the X-Men.
Not such a bad idea in theory, though we’d question naming the entire show after Kitty Pryde; popular though she may be, the erstwhile Sprite doesn’t quite have the show-carrying potential of, say…Wolverine.
The show only ever made it as far as the pilot stage, and would’ve featured Kitty Pryde as a POV character as she joined the X-Men and had various comic-inspired adventures. The pilot itself is up and down, with some decent animation for the time but a few issues that raised the ire of fans who’d been waiting for years to see the X-Men headlining their own series. Notably, the action was toned right down for the impressionable kids, creating a camp atmosphere too reminiscent of the comic books of old, where Spider-Man was banned from punching bad guys and Captain America had to pause every twelve panels to give a speech about the dangers of doing drugs.
You can check out the pilot and see what you think, but even though it was terminated before going further than a single episode, it’s pretty clear that the later animated series learned a few lessons from Pryde’s failure.
Also, Dazzler was a main character, which… probably explains a lot.
10 X-Men (arcade game)
The X-Men are pretty popular when it comes to gaming, probably because they come pre-equipped with a diverse cast of interesting characters, each with different powers and specialties. A few games stand out, however, and the X-Men arcade side-scroller is one of them.
That’s right, kids: young folk used to go to special places called arcades, where they paid to play games in gigantic plastic boxes. It makes sense in context, but the game itself- based on the failed Pryde of the X-Men pilot- came out in 1992, a few months before the animated series. It featured five iconic playable X-Men (Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler and Wolverine) and one utterly non-iconic playable X-Man (Dazzler, for reasons unknown). Players used their character’s unique abilities to smash their way through various stages in a bid to stop Magneto from doing a vaguely dastardly thing, because this was a 1992 arcade game and this was a time when plot definitely came second.
It barely scrapes by as a mobile game in the techno world of 2017, but the game itself still hold up as a nice representation of the X-Men, and lets you smash your way through almost every major villain in the series. And let’s be clear: the gameplay is no masterpiece, but it’s still a bit of simple fun, with some really shoddy dialogue tossed in to keep you amused.
“X-Men! Welcome…to DIE!”
9 Wolverine and the X-Men
Jumping forward a few years, we come to Wolverine and the X-Men, a third major animated appearance that only managed to scrape a single season before being axed.
And look, it’s not bad. The series takes a few more recent concepts (Emma Frost being a member of the X-Men, for example) and mashes them all together in a series with a few standout characters. Notably, the story starts with the X-Men disbanded, with part of the focus being getting the old gang back together. The other part? Professor X is stuck in a Days of Future Past-style future where mutants are being hunted down and murdered, civilization has gone down the drain and we get double to normal amount of Wolverine, since he’s knocking about with X-23.
Gambit makes a couple of appearances, not as a member of the X-Men, but as a freelance thief-for-hire and general all-round badass who tends to work alone. The X-Men ensemble is pretty well-rounded, featuring both classics and favorites such as Rogue and Nightcrawler, plus a few who appear in a post-apocalyptic future where Professor X spends most of his time.
Still, the series didn’t manage to last beyond its first season, with an Age of Apocalypse storyline left hanging and a few more famous X-Men never having been glimpsed. Blame whatever you like- the blatant Wolverine pandering, the departure from tradition- but the interest just wasn’t enough to continue the story.
8 Ultimate X-Men
Despite the Ultimatum story that nearly single-handedly tanked the entire universe, the Ultimate comics are still ongoing. Starting as an experiment to see what would happen if you tossed out all those decades of continuity and started afresh, Ultimate X-Men was one of the first titles, and it re-imagined the origin of the X-Men in true gritty, realistic fashion.
Well, as realistic as you can get when people are firing lasers from their eyes, midriff-baring tops are mandatory for all female characters and everyone spits out one-liners as if they’re reading from a teleprompter. The new start allowed for different interpretations and spins, such as turning Jean Grey into a sassy, fun-loving flirt and Magneto into an affable-yet-horrifically-genocidal maniac. The series had some great moments, even though a few story decisions didn’t go over very well: mutants are revealed to be the result of a failed experiment, and yep, Wolverine is still right at the forefront of everything ever, despite being portrayed as a lecherous psychopath. Also, he tried to kill Cyclops that one time because he wanted to get with Jean without any competition. Somehow, they swept that one under the rug.
Ultimatum killed off most of the X-Men roster, with the remainder splitting up and going into hiding. More recently, a new team has been formed under Kitty Pride, though the series remains as dark and gritty as ever with the X-Men basically fighting to stay alive under a Sentinel regime. Because in the Ultimate universe, the fun never ends!
Call this a gag entry if you want, but we do kind of get the X-Men showing up in Deadpool. It’s just that there’s only two: Colossus (now Russian and not quite as shiny) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (absolutely nothing like comics counterpart, who was a telepath and a villain).
From what we see in the movie, this seems to be set in some vague future after the events of The Last Stand, which now no longer exist but might sort of exist in a different way, but can’t because Jean Grey is still alive which might mean it’s around the same time period but none of these movies make chronological sense.
Which is probably why Deadpool avoids the issue entirely, besides a wisecrack about which version of Professor X he’s being taken to see. Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead are just a couple of X-Men who happen to be along for the ride, and really, it kind of works. The portrayal of Colossus as both Russian and looking more like he does in the comics was praised, while NTW was basically a free agent, plucked from a few comic panels with a sort-of heroic makeover and a flashier powers.
We definitely wouldn’t mind seeing more X-Men in future Deadpool movies, and with Cable all-but-confirmed to be appearing next time, it’s a possibility. Don’t expect that to be moving the story along, though…it’s still Deadpool’s show.
6 X-Men Film Trilogy
Yes, there was a third one of these. But we don’t talk about that one.
The X-Men made their big-screen debut in the year 2000 and broke ground by not being absolutely awful. Good comic book movies had been made in the past, but they were few and far between, always plagued with an air of camp and…well, mostly just Batman movies.
X-Men showed us something new and sparked off a series that’s currently approaching its second decade with no signs of slowing, and has grossed over $4.3 billion worldwide. Just gonna make an assumption here: that’s probably more than Fox paid for the film rights, and Marvel aren’t going to forget it in a hurry.
As for the team, we saw a more grounded, stripped back version clad in black leather yet still fighting the good fight against a world that hates and fears them. The main gripe of many a filmgoer was the amount of focus given to Wolverine, which is a combination of both star power and…well, star power. This saw a few other iconic roles (*cough* Cyclops) being shoved into the background. Still, there’s no denying Hugh Jackman’s fit for the role; toss in a stellar Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan as Professor X and Magneto and it’s enough to make you forget that a third film ever existed.
…alright, it happened. It wasn’t quite as bad as everyone seems to think. We’re still okay with it being erased from time, however.
5 First Class Trilogy
It might be the same film series, but it’s still a reboot-ish prequel with a radically different team…so it gets its own entry. Feel free to place these two in whichever order in the list that you'd prefer.
An example of how to make a fresh start and do it right, First Class kicked off a new trilogy that did its best to avoid stepping on the toes of the originals. And then Days of Future Past came around and it decided ‘screw this, prepare for all of the toe-stepping’. We begin with Xavier forming his first team in a self-contained mission to stop the Hellfire Club from starting a war. Days of Future Past was less of a team effort and more of an apocalyptic action-character-drama piece, while Age of Apocalypse returned the series to its roots by forming a team of iconic X-Men and siccing them on a big baddie.
This time, the black hole of star power instead revolves around Mystique, who is elevated from her villainous comic book role by virtue of being played by Jennifer Lawrence. Still, the trilogy manages to do a whole lot with the X-Men mythos in a short space of time, showing their origins, uniting the old and new crowds via time travel and finally bringing back a few classics (Cyclops, Jean, Nightcrawler, Storm) and setting them up for further film adventures.
Not every movie in the trilogy is equal in quality…but as adaptations go, it’s about as good as the X-Men get in live action.
4 X-Men Legends
There’s one more video game that deserves some recognition, and that’s X-men Legends. It makes up for really awful graphics by being huge mounds of fun to play, capturing the spirit of the X-Men and letting you form a team of four from fifteen playable characters. Naturally, they all have their skills and strengths, plus the system encourages teamwork; attacking an enemy with mutant abilities at the same time can create some pretty devastating combos.
This time the plucky teenage POV character is Magma (though not the same one as in the comics), who’s rescued by the X-Men and eventually becomes a member herself. Missions range from beating up Morlocks in the sewers to beating up navy officers on board a sinking ship, all the way to beating up acolytes on Asteroid M. All of this is ostensibly done non-lethally, even though one of Wolverine’s moves is called ‘Eviscerate’. We’re sure that’s the gentle version that just leaves a person slightly mauled.
Overall, X-Men Legends was just fun, letting you build (and command) your own dream team and fighting your way through a host of nefarious villains with a massive variety of powers. In between missions you can explore the X-Mansion, chatting to its residents and trying your hand at X-Men comics trivia. Sure, there are a few duds who don’t seem like they were worth the effort of inserting into the game- looking at you, Jubilee- and the game itself is really quite ugly, for its time.
But when you can bulldoze your way through a Sentinel factory with a team of Wolverine, Gambit, Storm and Colossus, that’s really all you need.
3 X-Men Anime
At some point, Marvel Entertainment got it into their heads that they should collaborate with Japanese animation studio Madhouse. Not sure how that happened, but be glad it did: we got four anime series out of the deal that were designed to introduce Japanese audiences to Marvel characters: Wolverine (of course), Iron Man, Blade and X-Men. And actually, they’re really good.
The X-Men anime is partially based off the then-current version of the team: Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast, Storm and Emma Frost, with the plot revolving around them travelling to Japan to rescue Hisako Ichiki (later known as Armor). If anyone is familiar with Madhouse, you’ll probably know that they make some good stuff. With Marvel’s budget behind the animation, the series ended up with some extremely slick visuals and some stellar voice talent, making it a shame that it only ran for twelve episodes (also pretty much an anime staple).
Notably, and perhaps because he got his own series, Wolverine is very much a supporting character with Cyclops finally getting a bit of focus. And yeah, there are a few of the more cheesy anime tropes creeping in- the power of friendship, original villains with a focus on bizarre anatomy- but it’s still a very solid adaptation that deserves a watch. It won’t even take you that long, what with it being so short and all.
2 X-Men: Evolution
What is it with the X-Men and animation? Who knows, but coming in at second place is X-Men Evolution, an animated series that wasn’t THE animated series, but was still pretty great.
This one swings the focus around to the X-Men as teenagers, trying to live normal lives in a world where the existence of mutants isn’t public. They may still be a team living at the X-Mansion, complete with Danger Room and costumes, but at least for the first couple of series, there’s a balance between mutant lives and teen lives.
Wolverine and Storm are portrayed as older and mostly stay out of focus while the youngsters grow up, learn life lessons and generally try to keep their powers under wraps at school. And for those who weren’t enjoying the shift in focus from the comics, the series doesn’t flounder in this stage forever; once the proverbial cat escapes the bag and the whole ‘world that hates and fears us’ finally kicks in, the series matured along with its protagonists, dealing with far more serious and far-reaching issues.
Evolution managed to run for four seasons, despite plans for more, though it went out on a high note with a massive finale featuring Apocalypse and a whole lot of foreshadowing that which was never to be.
If all of that doesn’t convince you…there’s the badass intro.
1 X-Men: the Animated Series
Did somebody say ‘badass intro’? IN STEREO??
Yep, for many a '90s child, this was a good chunk of the reason you were up so early in the morning, and possibly the greatest adaptation of the X-Men ever. Featuring the line-up of Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Rogue, Beast, and Gambit, this time the plucky newcomer was Jubilee, who the showrunners seemed to wisely shove to the sidelines whenever they wanted to adapt an important comics storyline.
And there were quite a few of them; the series pretty closely adapted The Dark Phoenix Saga and made its own versions of Age of Apocalypse, Days of Future Past, and many other classic tales. Other adaptations have their iconic moments, but this series was practically made of them, from the X-Men leaving on a suicide mission to rescue Senator Kelly from a den of Sentinels all the way to the team battling the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard to save Jean’s life.
The series wasn’t perfect, with a few bizarre story decisions (and terrible animation) polluting the later episodes, which are pretty much devoid of any overarching plot and continuity. And then there are the accents, with anything other than American being utterly butchered (special apologies to all the genuine Scottish people who had to sit through the X-Men’s visits to Muir Island).
Still, the series remains popular all these years later, and helped introduce an entire generation to the X-Men in the best possible way. And if nothing else, you have to admit it has the one of the best opening theme of anything, ever.
It’s almost as good as the absolutely insane Japanese opening that somehow makes the show look a million times better than it actually was.