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For more than a decade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Fox’s X-Men universe existed at the same time, but separately. Because two different studios—at first Paramount and eventually Disney for the MCU and Fox for X-Men—controlled the different franchises, no one ever really had any expectations that they would crossover. The X-Men would do their thing in one world, and most of the other Marvel superheroes would do their thing in another.
That all changed, though, when Disney made a 71 billion dollar purchase of 21st Century Fox’s film and television assets in 2019, coincidentally right around the same time when Dark Phoenix, which would prove to be Fox’s final X-Men movie, debuted and was basically dead on arrival. With Disney taking ownership of Fox—and all the intellectual property that Fox owned—suddenly the X-Men were fair game for the MCU. Fans suddenly realized that eventually we could see a Wolverine (but maybe one not played by Hugh Jackman?) meet Spider-Man (almost definitely played by Tom Holland). We could see Deadpool—certainly played by Ryan Reynolds—talking all sorts of shit, and Doctor Strange completely rolling his eyes right next to him.
Speaking of Doctor Strange, he might be the reason you’re here. In the trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, we get a pretty major tease that a Fox X-Men character will make his debut in the MCU—and this time it probably won’t be another Quicksilver/Ralph Bohner fake-out. You only see the side of his profile and hear his voice, but Patrick Stewart’s Professor Charles Xavier is absolutely in the mix.
Does this mean more X-Men are coming? Maybe! But we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the movie first. It’s certainly possible that we’ll see more returning cast members from the Fox X-Men series—Hugh Jackman, James Marsden, Anna Paquin, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy could all make cameos—but as we go forward it makes more sense to expect a new MCU cast of mutants for the short term.
But still—you may want to brush up on the history of all that. Especially as it seems like this might all be connected. So while we’re waiting for any casting news and hints on where that all goes, it might be of interest to fans of the superhero genre to re-watch the entire X-Men cinematic world to see how it plays out. Fans who haven’t seen the movies in a while might want an excuse to rewatch and refresh their memory, and those who haven’t seen the movies might want a frame of reference or something to compare to for when the MCU does eventually take its own stab at the legendary group of mutants.
Luckily, all of these movies are available to stream in one place or another online. Many of the X-Men movies are available to stream on Disney+, and the rest are available for rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Just like with Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the DC Extended Universe, we’d suggest anyone looking for the full and proper X-Men experience to watch the movies the way the truest of fans (a.k.a. the people who showed up on opening night) saw them: in chronological order of their release. Watching that way allows for certain easter eggs, reveals, cameos, and more to be perceived how they are meant to be perceived; watching in any other order (for the first time at least) could detract from this. In particular, this affects movies that take place i the rebooted timeline, like X-Men: First Class and the time-travel filled X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Some may want to watch the X-Men Movies in timeline order
That being said, if you want to watch the movies in timeline order (though, again, we wouldn’t advocate doing so!), here’s the order. Keep in mind, too, that while the Star Wars universe and the MCU are occasionally shown out of order and with a nonlinear timeline, the X-Men one is far more confusing, given that the newer movies are mostly prequels, but that there are also alternate and often intersecting timelines. Still, for whatever reason, some of you want this. So here it is in timeline order:
X-Men: First Class
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
X-Men: Days of Future Past
X-Men: Dark Phoenix
X-Men: The Last Stand
? X-Men: Days of Future Past ? (I’m telling you‚ these timelines, man)
The New Mutants
We’re going to consider both Deadpool and Deadpool 2 movies in the X-Men canon as well, but given how extremely in their own vacuum those seem to exist, you can really watch them whenever (but probably best after you’ve seen Origins: Wolverine,so you can get all the jokes where Ryan Reynolds makes fun of himself). But we’d recommend watching those two back to back.
But again, the way we suggest watching the X-Men movies, if you want to knock them all out, is in the chronological release order—see them for the first time, or upon a full rewatch, how fans saw them in theaters. We should also clarify: not all of these movies are winners. While a few X-Men movies are really great standouts of the genre, a few of them, especially in the last five years are so, are…not that. But they’re part of the franchise, and part of the story, so we’ve got to include them here. So, without further ado:
How you should watch the X-Men movies—in release order:
The first X-Men movie needs to be seen in a certain lens: at the time this movie was released, the only superhero movies that had really ever been released were the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, and the Keaton/Kilmer/Clooney Batman movies. For its time and what it was, X-Men is kind of a marvel. Sure, some of the effects and choices were a little dated, but this movie kick-started a 20-year franchise (and Hugh Jackman’s career as an A-list leading man) and did so with a pretty damn exciting story—and one that holds up, especially given the Martin/Malcolm relationship that’s present between Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen).
X2: X-Men United (2003)
X2 is a superhero sequel that’s actually a step up from the original. The Magneto-Xavier relationship continues to develop on screen in a way that these movies don’t usually allow for: with nuance. The cast continues to grow into their characters (particularly Jackman as Wolverine and Anna Paquin as Rogue), and Succession legend Brian Cox plays a key role as classic X-Men foe William Stryker. And that’s not even mentioning the first appearance of Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler, one of the cooler characters in the entire franchise.
X:Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Last Stand isn’t great, but it does put a little bit of a wrap on what the studio probably thought was originally just going to be the “X-Men Trilogy.” So at least it’s got that. This is the first go at the ‘Dark Phoenix’ storyline, surrounding Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). It’s not bad, but it’s a little sloppy; main characters get killed offscreen. Mostly, it just feels rushed—you can understand why there was a desire to reboot and try things over a few years later.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Another one that’s not great! This story aims, as the title tells you, to tell the story of how Wolverine became Wolverine (because when we meet him in the first X-Men he’s just got a nasty bout of amnesia). A pretty bad movie with a pretty stacked cast, Origins also includes the first appearance of Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson—but it’s one everyone involved probably regrets, as he never donned the classic costume, and an outrageous twist put the character in a position he never should be in.
X-Men: First Class (2011)
After a cold streak with Last Stand and Origins, the X-Men franchise brought in director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Layer Cake) to reinvigorate the franchise—and he did just that. The original X-Men does a great job in setting up the past of Magneto and Professor X, and First Class does a great job in showing us how their younger selves (perfectly cast as Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, respectively) met and became friends (and, eventually, frenemies). As if that wasn’t enough, Jennifer Lawrence is in the mix as young Mystique, and Kevin Bacon plays the wonderfully hammy villain. This movie, too, is where your knowledge of the franchise’s history will start to come in handy. One mid-flick cameo might be the funniest moment in the entire X-Men franchise.
The Wolverine (2013)
Fun fact: the second Wolverine solo film, The Wolverine, was originally going to be directed by Darren Aronofsky, one of Hollywood’s most distinctive auteur filmmakers (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream, mother!). We can only imagine what that would’ve been like. James Mangold, a pretty great director in his own right, ended up taking the film on, and it’s pretty solid. The Wolverine finds the titular grumpy hero on a solo mission to find himself (and kick some ass) in Japan, and it’s a fun outing for sure. Written by a dream team of Queen’s Gambit scribe Scott Frank and Mission Impossible master Christopher McQuarrie!
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Days of Future Past is one of the very best movies in the entire X-Men canon, and also the entire reason why the timelines are so screwy; in fact, we should probably call them alternate timelines, because the way Days of Future Past works is to pretty much explicitly muddy the waters. Filled with apocalyptic doom and time-travel, Days of Future Past brings the young cast and the old cast together to stop devastating events from occurring. Peter Dinklage plays the villain, and some old favorites like Shawn Ashmore (as Iceman) return.
The most fun, most funny, and by far most self-aware movie in the X-Men world is Deadpool, which also helped completely revive Ryan Reynolds’ career. Reynolds is perfect as the character—all they needed to do was make the movie super violent, and let him curse and be lewd. And it all worked out. Deadpool basically works in a vacuum, but we’d suggest watching it here so you understand some of the minor jokes/references to past X-Men movies (and Reynolds’ own ill-advised appearance as the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine).
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Days of Future Past set the X-Men franchise up for a very interesting next entry with Apocalypse, but it was a mostly disappointing entry. One main reason? The film managed to land Oscar Isaac as its titular villain, but inexplicably covered him in purple make-up and made him do a voice for the entire movie, to the point of his being utterly unrecognizable. Why do this? Why even cast him? This movie also marked the first appearance of a new batch of X-Men, including Sophie Turner as a young Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan as a Young Cyclops, and Olivia Munn as Psylocke.
James Mangold returned to the X-Men franchise for Logan, which would be Hugh Jackman’s swan song after 17 years and 8 films playing Wolverine. And he went out with a great one; Logan is not only the best X-Men movie, and not only one of the best superhero movies ever, but it was one of the best movies overall in 2017. Basically a western set in the far future, Logan finds an aged, weakened Wolverine traveling with an even more aged, even weaker Professor X. It’s a stunning and unique entry in a genre that by 2017 had started to become a little bit generic, if not always enjoyable.
Deadpool 2 (2018)
Who says sequels can’t be good? While Deadpool was a blast, there’s a legitimate case to be made that Deadpool 2 is even better than the first. Just as self-referential and funny, but with a bigger budget and more star-studded cast (Josh Brolin enters as Cable and Zazie Beetz is here as Domino), Deadpool 2 instills confidence that this character will continue being a winner for years to come.
Dark Phoenix (2019)
Dark Phoenix takes another shot at the storyline first attempted in The Last Stand, and…the results are not better. Dark Phoenix is a weak movie and a weak X-Men movie, which is a shame—because it marked the end of a once proud and mighty franchise. Still, it’s X-Men, and there are a lot of good actors in. If you’ve made it this far and/or you’re invested, it’s worth watching to get into your system.
The New Mutants (2020)
The New Mutants was originally conceived as yet another kind of reboot on the X-Men universe, and with a cast that includes Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams, Stranger Things star Charlie Heaton, and Queen’s Gambit phenom Anya Taylor-Joy, it could have really done it. But the movie was delayed for literal years—years!—which usually tells the whole story when it comes to a movie. It’s not going to be good. And with The New Mutants, the tea leaves proved correct. We’re not going to say not to watch it, because, again, it’s still X-Men. But don’t feel like you have to because you’ll be missing out on the next Citizen Kane or anything.
TV Bonus: Legion (2017-2019)
OK, we didn’t want to end on such a bummer note, so we’re going to include this TV bonus. Legion, which aired for three seasons on FX between 2017 and 2019, is awesome. It’s a bit of a spoiler to say exactly how it ties into the X-Men world, but know that the main character, David Haller (played by Dan Stevens) has some wild telekinetic abilities. The show comes from Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley, and is far weirder and more fun to watch than just about any other superhero show you can imagine, including The Boys and The Umbrella Academy. The cast—which includes Aubrey Plaza, Jean Smart, and Jemaine Clement—is also fantastic.
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