Last week on Twitter, we asked our listeners to send us their personal ranking of the X-Men movies and I had some fun looking through the various responses. Instead of simply writing up my own ranking of the films, however, I decided to take this nonsense to another level. I watched all of the X-Men movies over the last week. I examined each movie in great detail, made copious notes, used dry erase markers on the windows of a conference room, etc. and I came up with a conclusive, definitive ranking of every X-Man within the XMCU (X-Men Cinematic Universe, obviously). Why did I do this, you ask? The obvious answer is I am insane. I accept this.
The secondary answer is, I love the X-Men. If you ask me who my favorite superhero is, I’ll answer (truthfully) with Batman, almost as involuntary reflex. But if you ask me which superhero(es) I care about or who I want to see more of, it’s X-Men by a mile. I would gladly give up future Batman movies if it meant I could get a good run of X-Men properties. The X-Men animated series was hugely influential on me as a youth, I collected all the action figures I could get my hands on, and to this day, the only actual comic books I’ve ever read belong in the X-Men universe. So, while the XMCU (X-Men Cinematic Universe, duh) has been a massive roller coaster for 15+ years, I’ll always line up for the next one, attempting to somehow navigate all the various timelines and hoping I’ll get to see my beloved X-Men do something uncanny, as it were.
A few notes on this list.
1.) I have not seen Logan at the time of this writing so that film does not factor into the decisions herein.
2.) I excluded Deadpool entirely. I consider Deadpool to be its own universe; “X-Men Adjacent” if you will.
3.) This list concerns ONLY the films, not the comics, animated series, etc.
4.) Most importantly, this is not a ranking of every character in the XMCU; rather, it is a ranking of the X-Men within the XMCU. As such, villains are not part of the equation, nor are some of the students who appear in the movies who we may know turn out to be so-and-so somewhere down the line but are not actually so-and-so when we see them.
This process got very, very complicated both in terms of who qualified for consideration and how to quantify their virtues. Ultimately, I decided that to be considered for this list, a character must have at some point suited up as an X-Man and/or been enrolled in or taught at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. I made exceptions for characters who never EXACTLY suited up or enrolled but who we know later did based on the various timelines (see: numbers 19 and 22, respectively). From there, I attempted to judge each character’s contribution to the X-Men team(s) they worked with, the powers they bring to the table, and the performances of the actors in these roles. This got tricky in a few spots (see: Young Magneto) but this is why I get paid the big bucks (read: “Nothing. I get paid nothing.”) I also made one big exception to all of these rules just because I wanted to and I’m not even sorry about it. All of this left me with 33 X-Men under consideration and they are ranked thusly.
(NOTE: There are myriad spoilers contained within this post as I assume if you’re reading 3,000 words on the XMCU you have, in fact, seen all of the movies in the XMCU or you don’t care about spoilers.)
33. Young Jubilee (Apocalypse)
I always enjoyed Jubilee in the animated series but the character’s presence in the XMCU is limited and she’s left behind by her young compatriots without even being given the chance to show off her powers. (Though to be fair her powers mostly center on creating confetti out of thin air.)
32. Darwin (FC)
Look, Darwin, this ranking is not an indictment of your powers and it’s certainly not an indictment of your courage. But let’s be real, you were in the X-Men for like two hours, you never got a costume, and then you died in a heroic-but-kinda-stupid fashion.
31. Angel (Last Stand)
Of Last Stand’s MANY sins, near the top of the list is Brett Ratner’s casting of Ben Foster, one of the most intense, versatile actors of his generation and turning him into a whiney emo kid whose contribution to the X-Men is negligible at best.
30. Rogue (X1-Last Stand)
When I started this list, I had Rogue much higher up. I loved her in the animated series and her powers are substantial. But you know what I discovered while rewatching these movies? Rogue in the XMCU sucks. She whines constantly, she contributes almost nothing to the team, and she bails on her mutant powers at a time when the X-Men could really use someone with her exact mutant powers. She’s kind of a beating to be honest with you.
29. Colossus (X2 sort of, Last Stand, DOFP)
Deadpool proved that you can, in fact, create a vision of Colossus that works on screen. This should be obvious because Colossus is dope in pretty much every form…except for these movies, wherein he is a meathead with the depth of a dollar bill. He gets a very brief moment in the sun in Days of Future Past but it’s not nearly enough.
28. Angel (FC)
(She is BARELY part of the X-Men precursor but I think she still counts.) Angel turns out to be a decent enough villain as a member of Sebastian Shaw’s crew. But as an X-Man, her contribution to the team is basically her work as an accomplice in the murder of Darwin. That’s not really the sort of character we’re looking for at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
27-25. Warpath, Bishop, Sunspot (DOFP)
I quite like Days of Future Past and I’ll not hear your complaints about the film, thank you very much. But if I did want to pick nits, I would start with the inclusion-but-subsequent-sterilization of some of my favorite mutants from the source material. All of these characters, Bishop in particular, bring outstanding power and presence to the table and each of them gets about 10 seconds on screen in the entirety of the film. Quite the bummer.
24. Banshee (FC)
As a member of a team, Banshee is just fine, I guess. His powers are a bit underwhelming but hey, you need some glue guys to make a team really click. But he is kind of annoying on screen and you can definitely see why he was an easy kill for Trask Industries between First Class and Days of Future Past.
23. Old Beast (Last Stand)
Kelsey Grammar as Beast/Hank McCoy is perfect casting. PERFECT. I’m still shocked that the Rat Man and his crew got this one right. He is horribly underutilized, however, and most of his action sequences are cringeworthy. Beast is the rare X-Man who is more interesting on screen as a mutant human than he is when in action as an X-Man.
22. Angel (Apocalypse)
I know all the “Angel” listings are getting confusing, I’m sorry, it’s not my fault. This version of Angel is solid on screen as one of Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen. I like the interpretation, though at some point I’d like to see him in an X-Men movie as Archangel instead of just Angel so as to further confuse me. He makes for a cool villain but his contribution to the downfall of Apocalypse is small.
21. Blink (DOFP)
I could’ve added Blink to the previous collection of woefully underutilized mutants from Days of Future Past but I think, unlike her compatriots, you do get a decent look at her powers and her importance to the team. Bingbing Fan is very good in this role, too, despite the inherent limitations of never once uttering a line of dialogue on screen.
20. Old Magneto (DOFP)
Let me be clear: Old Magneto is awesome and Ian McKellan is remarkable in the role. The scene in X2 when he realizes his guard has been laced with iron is one of the best pieces of acting I’ve ever seen in a comic book movie. But he’s only an X-Man in Days of Future Past and in the film, he gets only one outstanding-but-limited opportunity to show off his immense power. The rest of the time he’s mostly just being sad.
19. Young Storm (Apocalypse)
This one is similar to Angel (Apocalypse Angel, not First Class or Last Stand Angel and oh my goodness, this is getting confusing) in that the Storm character is pretty great but she’s only an X-Man for a tiny slice of time.
18. Kitty Pryde (Last Stand, DOFP)
Kitty Pryde is one of the very few mutants to come out of Last Stand with even a modicum of dignity leftover. A year before her big break out in Juno, Ellen Page brought some power to a character that very easily could’ve been swallowed up in the mutant overload that is Last Stand. And while her screen presence is relatively trivial in Days of Future Past, her powers are vital to the survival of mutant kind.
17. Ice Man (X2 sort of, Last Stand, DOFP)
Ice Man was a highly sought after action figure when I was a kid and I’ve had an affinity for the character ever since. I’ve always appreciated his introduction in X2 and I think we get a much better second look at him if only a competent director had helmed Last Stand. Days of Future Past gave us our first real glimpse at his power and I love his scenes. I only wish he didn’t spend the bulk of his screen time pining for either Rogue or Kitty Pryde.
16. Havok (FC, DOFP, Apocalypse)
Havok is sort of the median X-Man in my view. His powers are cool and he’s trying to be cocky (always something I’m looking for in my young movie superheroes) but his screen presence just isn’t strong enough to give him a real and lasting impact. He’s solid in First Class but his appearance in Days of Future Past is a glorified cameo and he looks ridiculous in Apocalypse. It’s an admirable showing but nothing special. Basically, his wins-above-replacement is like 1.3.
15. Gambit (Origins: Wolverine)
Okay so here’s where I cheated. Origins isn’t really an X-Men movie, Gambit never technically suits up as an X-Man, and also this movie is very bad. It’s entirely possible that Gambit shouldn’t rank this high even if these other qualifiers weren’t issues. But this is my list and Gambit is my favorite X-Man of all-time and my son is named after another Taylor Kitsch character (Battleship, obviously) and I’ll do what I want, thank you very much.
14-12. Young Cyclops (Apocalypse), Young Jean Gray (Apocalypse), and Young Nightcrawler (Apocalypse)
One of the few aspects of Apocalypse that actually works is the introduction of the youngsters to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. You get a taste of what could be for a stronger, less lovesick Cyclops could be like (big fan of Ty Sheridan; that kid is going places), a glimpse into the struggle for control that haunts Jean perpetually, and the sublime weirdness of Nightcrawler. They’re not perfect to be sure but they give me some hope for the future of the franchise that would otherwise be missing after Apocalypse.
11. Cyclops (X1-Last Stand)
This was one of the hardest choices I had to make when putting this list together. I love Cyclops outside of the movies and I think James Marsden was an awesome choice to play him on screen. When Cyclops is engaged, when he’s using his powers and running the show, he can be a force to behold. Unfortunately, most of his screen time is spent brooding over Jean and quarreling with Logan in what is decidedly a one-sided fight. And then he goes out LIKE A CHUMP in Last Stand. I’m actually still a little embarrassed for Cyclops; he deserved a warrior’s death and instead he got…that.
10. Jean Gray (X1, X2, not really an X-Man in Last Stand but Phoenix sort of goes good at the end so I don’t know)
Jean is very similar to Cyclops in these films in that her source material is greater than the sum of what she does on screen. To be fair, her work in X1 and X2 is more impressive than Cyclops as is her contribution to the team. But the Phoenix stuff is…misguided, let’s say. As great as X2 is (gets my vote for the best X-Men movie), in hindsight, Bryan Singer used the Phoenix bullet too early in the series and handing that plan over to Ratner obviously crippled the franchise for a time. Personally, I enjoy Jean Gray as an X-Man but I’ve never been overly impressed with Famke Janssen’s performance out of costume.
9. Nightcrawler (X2)
It is a crying shame that Nightcrawler only got one movie in which to shine. Alan Cumming’s portrayal is awesome and whereas I think Singer missed a bit on the character elements of some of his X-Men, he nailed it on this one. His best scene (the opener of X2 which is fantastic) happens before he joins the team but his contribution to the X-Men is undeniable.
8. Storm (X1-Last Stand, DOFP)
Storm’s role in the XMCU has been up-and-down to say the least. Her powers come and go at times and her presence on screen ranges from, “Best X-Man, Hands Down” to “Relegated to Cheesy One-Liners and Being Insecure.” As a character, she’s a bit lacking most of the time. But as an X-Man, she delivers some of the best moments in the franchise. Her work in DOFP is the cherry on the sundae.
7. Young Beast (FC, DOFP, Apocalypse)
One of the reasons I love Young Beast (and Nicholas Hoult’s performance) is his groundedness. That is to say, I think maybe more so than any other X-Man, Beast/Hank McCoy seems to be the most in touch with reality. For a lot of the X-Men, their out-of-costume issues come across as sulky and moody. Beast, though, handles his emotions in an appropriate way most of the time. “This is a scientific problem so I will address it in a scientific way.” (Apocalypse leads him down a Cyclops-y direction but hopefully we’ve put an end to that.) And when he does unleash the beast (sorry, sorry), it is a sight to behold.
6. Young Magneto (FC, DOFP, Apocalypse)
If this list is “Best Characters in the X-Men Movies”, Fassbender’s Magneto finishes no lower than third. He’s awesome because Fassbender is awesome and he embodies that character so perfectly. But what does he do as an actual member of the X-Men? Mostly he just betrays them over and over again. Strangely, this is not a quality we’re looking for in a superhero troupe if we’re being quite honest. I probably have him too high based on the qualifications but he’s so stinking good on screen, so compelling, that I just couldn’t drop him any further.
5. Young Mystique (FC, DOFP, Apocalypse)
This is likely to be an unpopular choice with some of my compatriots but I think it’s near impossible to argue against Mystique’s importance to the X-Men in her three XMCU appearances. You could make the case that the movies focus TOO much on her because Jennifer Lawrence is a big draw and I might agree with you. This doesn’t diminish her impact, however. She also straddles the line between X-Man and NOT X-Man much better than, say, Magneto.
4. Quicksilver (DOFP, Apocalypse)
I straight up LOVE Quicksilver’s appearances in these movies, limited as they are. He is such a refreshing breath of air and Singer uses him perfectly. Any more and you get tired of his obnoxious energy, any less and you wonder why he’s even in the movies. His importance to the team, too, is invaluable as he pretty much saves every character from death at one point or another.
3. Young Professor Xavier (FC, DOFP, Apocalypse)
I don’t know what it is about James McAvoy but he always has to talk me into his performances. I think maybe I’m still holding on to Wanted and blaming him for how freaking awful that movie is. But you know what? James McAvoy is pretty dope. You can’t replace Patrick Stewart in the chair; you just can’t. So if you’re going to do a take on Professor X, you have to do a completely different interpretation. I think Matthew Vaughn got that when he cast McAvoy to play Young Xavier and McAvoy understands that perfectly. It’s fun to see a brash Xavier in First Class and watch his development into an all-knowing sage through the rest of this run. (But Wanted still sucks and someone needs to be held responsible for this, James.)
2. Professor Xavier (X1-Last Stand, Origins: Wolverine, DOFP)
As good as McAvoy is, though, he can’t touch the O.G. Professor Xavier is one of the most ingenious characters ever created in comic form and Stewart brings him to life brilliantly. The wisdom, the wit, the charm, the PRESENCE… Stewart’s Professor X is perfect on screen. The only problem with his “Greatest X-Men” candidacy is he is perpetually getting knocked out of commission. Poisoned in X1, mentally and physically hijacked in X2, killed dead in Last Stand, etc. I get it, you kinda have to keep taking X out of the equation because he’s too powerful in a battle but it definitely keeps him out of the top spot for me. Stop getting waylaid, Professor!
1. Wolverine (X1-Last Stand, DOFP, Cameos in FC and Apocalypse)
To be frank, this list could’ve been more fun and maybe generate a few more hits if I would’ve gone against the grain and put Wolverine somewhere else in the top 10. But what are you gonna do? Wolverine is the goat. At times the XMCU caters to him too much but it’s because he’s such a compelling character and Hugh Jackman morphs into him so seamlessly. There’s a nuance to the character that is only hinted at with most of the other members of the team (this is aided by the fact that Jackman plays the character in every movie and the writing pushes him to the forefront). Wolverine is cool to be sure but he’s also a tragic figure and you always, ALWAYS, want to know more about him. That’s why we’ve had now three standalone movies centering around him. His brute physicality, his harsh sarcasm, and his cigars are awesome but it’s his history that brings us back time and time again.