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How to watch the X-Men movies in order

A guide to watching all the X-Men movies in order

(Image: © 20th Century Fox)

You know how Kevin Feige makes every superhero movie feel like it's part of a grand plan? The X-Men saga isn’t quite like that.

Since the first X-Men film brought Marvel’s mutants to the big screen in 2000, there have been sequels, prequels, reinventions and spin-offs. And yet there’s never really been a road map to bring them together into one coherent story – indeed, there are numerous contradictions and plot holes that not even a rebooted timeline can explain away.

But with two incarnations of the main X-Men franchise, and several spin-offs – the Wolverine movies, Deadpool and the upcoming The New Mutants – nobody could accuse the franchise of a lack of variety. And there are plenty of things that unite the various instalments, notably: heroes and villains with mutant powers; Professor Xavier and Magneto’s ideological battle for the souls of mutant-kind; and Hugh Jackman who, since the first X-Men made him a Hollywood star, has appeared in nine of the 12 movies to date.

So with The New Mutants primed to bring the saga to a close, join us on an adventure through the twisty-turny maze that is the X-Men movie franchise…

X-Men movies in release date order

(Image credit: Disney/20th Century Fox)

With movies based on Marvel Comics properties now the biggest cash cow in Hollywood, it’s almost unbelievable that they were considered a risky proposition at the turn of the 21st century. But along with Blade (released in 1998), the first X-Men film was at the vanguard of the comic publisher's successful assault on the big screen – if it hadn't been a hit, it's unlikely the MCU would exist in its current form.

In the two decades since there have been a further 11 movies released in the X-Men universe. Another, The New Mutants, is currently in limbo after its planned April 2020 release date was delayed by the coronavirus.

The upcoming film is set to be the final release in the current incarnation of the X-franchise, as Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox (holders of the mutants’ screen rights since 1993) brings them back into the Disney-owned fold. That means that next time you see Professor Xavier, Magneto and the rest, they may well be fighting alongside Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Here are all the X-Men releases so far, in release order:

  • X-Men (2000)
  • X-Men 2/X2: X-Men United (2003)
  • X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
  • X-Men: First Class (2011)
  • The Wolverine (2013)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
  • Deadpool (2016)
  • X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
  • Logan (2017)
  • Deadpool 2 (2018)
  • X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
  • The New Mutants (2020, TBC)        

In recent years there have also been a pair of TV shows based on X-Men comics:

  • Legion (2017-2019)
  • The Gifted (2017-2019)

X-Men movies by series

The X-Men movies don’t exist as one continuous saga. Instead, there have been several mini-franchises within Fox’s larger X-franchise. For that reason, it's easier to think of them in granular terms, rather than getting hung up on how they fit together as one big entity.

Things were nice and simple back in the early days, as X-Men, X-Men 2 and X-Men: The Last Stand formed the beginning, middle and end of a standalone trilogy. Fox were never going to let a lucrative franchise die after just three movies, however, so three years after The Last Stand, Hugh Jackman returned in an origin story for the series’ most popular character, Wolverine.

Although plans to make another X-Men Origins movie focused on Magneto were ultimately shelved, Wolverine returned to headline two more standalone films. The Wolverine picked up after The Last Stand, and riffed on Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s classic Japan-set comic book arc from the 1980s. The more thoughtful Logan, meanwhile, showed an older Wolverine living in a post-X-Men world, struggling to come to terms with the fact his healing powers have deserted him. It became the first superhero movie to receive an Oscar nomination for its screenplay.

Alongside the Wolverine movies and as previously discussed, Fox made a quasi-reboot of the main franchise. X-Men: First Class introduced a new cast in familiar roles, as the ’60s-set movie explained how the young Charles Xavier and Magneto (then allies) created the X-Men. First Class spawned another three sequels (Days of Future Past, Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix), while the time-travelling shenanigans of Days of Future Past (where the consciousness of 2023 Wolverine is sent back to 1973) brought the stars of the original movies along for the ride too. It’s a sequel and a prequel in one.

Then things got really weird, as the X-Men series went more leftfield than any superhero franchise in history. Wade Wilson/Deadpool had been a supporting player in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but the much-loved character was so unrecognizable that the fans revolted. Star Ryan Reynolds subsequently launched a lengthy campaign to get the so-called ‘Merc with a Mouth’ his own movie, and his wish was granted with the subversive, potty-mouthed, fourth-wall breaking Deadpool in 2016.

After that broke records for an R-rated movie, the inevitable sequel arrived in 2018. There’s likely to be a third, as well, seeing as Deadpool could be one of the only members of Fox’s X-universe to survive into the MCU. “Marvel has promised to continue to let us play in the R-rated Deadpool universe,” Deadpool co-writer Paul Wernick told Entertainment Weekly. “The hope is that they will also let us veer into the MCU a little bit as well and play in that sandbox. 

As yet it’s unclear how The New Mutants fits with the existing sub-franchises – though we do know it’s a haunted house-type movie featuring teens with mutant abilities.

Original X-Men trilogy

  • X-Men
  • X-Men 2/X2: X-Men United
  • X-Men: The Last Stand

Prequel series

  • X-Men: First Class
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • X-Men: Apocalypse
  • X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Wolverine series

  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  • The Wolverine 
  • Logan 

Deadpool series

  • Deadpool
  • Deadpool 2

The New Mutants

  • The New Mutants

X-Men movies in chronological order

This is where things get super complex. Even supercomputer Cerebro would struggle to get its circuits around the intricacies of the X-Men timeline.

On the face of it, the chronology is fairly straightforward. Ignoring the numerous flashbacks to the 19th century (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and World War II (X-Men, X-Men: First Class, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine), the mutants’ screen story begins in the 1962-set X-Men: First Class, continuing into the 1973-set X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Then, while some key scenes in X-Men Origins: Wolverine take place in 1973, the majority of the movie – notably the scenes where Logan gets his adamantium skeleton – is set in 1979. In fact, an augmented Wolvie with anger management issues then crops up in the 1983-set X-Men: Apocalypse. The prequel saga concludes in the 1992-set X-Men: Dark Phoenix.

Then the chronology moves onto the original X-Men, which was set in an undefined “near future” when the film was released in 2000. Unsurprisingly, X-Men 2 and X-Men: The Last Stand continue from there in linear fashion.

We also know that The Wolverine takes place after X-Men: The Last Stand, as Logan is dealing with the aftermath of killing the love of his life, Jean Grey. The Wolverine’s end-credits sequence then takes place two years after the other events in the movie, as Professor Xavier and Magneto return to warn Logan about “dark forces building a weapon that could bring about the end of our kind”. 

Given the heavy references to Trask Industries, the company behind the mutant-hunting Sentinels, this is clearly setting up the apocalyptic future we see in the 2023-set sequences of X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Logan takes place in 2029, a time period when the X-Men are a thing of the past. TV series The Gifted is also set in a post-X-Men world, though it’s never confirmed exactly when that is – and it's clearly not the future we see in Logan. Legion, meanwhile, is impossible to pin down, thanks to its retro stylings and intentionally unreliable narrator – a psychic by the name of David Haller who just happens to be Professor Xavier’s son.

Thanks to his self-awareness and unconventional approach to narrative, Deadpool can fit into the timeline wherever he wants. We don't yet know the chronology of The New Mutants.

Here, then, is how the X-Men movies fit together in strict chronological order:

  • X-Men: First Class (set in 1962)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (past sequences set in 1973)
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine (set in 1979)
  • X-Men: Apocalypse (set in 1983)
  • X-Men: Dark Phoenix (set in 1992)
  • X-Men (set in near future from 2000)
  • X-Men 2/X2: X-Men United (set after X-Men)
  • X-Men: The Last Stand (set after X-Men 2)
  • The Wolverine (set after X-Men: The Last Stand)
  • X-Men: Days Of Future Past (future sequences set in 2023)
  • Logan (set in 2029)

But it's not that simple, because while the dates (mostly) fit together, there are numerous contradictions in this timeline. 

In the original X-Men movie, Xavier reveals that he met Magneto when they were 17 years old, yet in Days of Future Past we learn that their first meeting took place when both were adults. A hairless Xavier is seen walking and using his psychic abilities in the 1979 of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, yet we see him paralyzed in the 1962 of X-Men: First Class, and losing his hair in the 1983 of X-Men: Apocalypse. (While he’s able to walk in the 1973 of Days of Future Past, that’s thanks to an experimental drug that suppresses his psychic abilities.)

The end-credits scene in The Wolverine is particularly confusing. The old Xavier was last seen being vaporized in X-Men: The Last Stand, yet he’s back in one piece here, while the older Magneto has regained the mutant abilities he lost in the same movie. Both mysteries remain unexplained. The scene also shows Wolverine wielding bone claws, having lost his adamantium adornments earlier in the movie – yet by the time Days of Future Past rolls around, he’s back to adamantium. Again, nobody explains why.

And then there’s the fact that Jean Grey experiences the Dark Phoenix saga twice

Some of these contradictions can be explained away as continuity errors (there are plenty of them in the franchise), but others start to make sense when you look at the X-Men universe as distinct timelines. Think of it like J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movies, where the arrival of a Romulan ship from the future created a whole new timeline for Kirk, Spock and the rest of Enterprise crew – here's an explanation of how the Star Trek movies fit together. The X-Men version is less elegant, but (just about) makes sense.

In the X-Men movies, ground zero is the 1973 segment of X-Men: Days of Future Past. As soon as the ’70s X-Men prevent the creation of the Sentinels, they prevent the future that led to mutant armageddon in the Prime timeline, creating an alternative sequence of events that continues into X-Men: Apocalypse and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. We’re already seeing evidence of the “repaired” timeline by the end of Days of Future Past, where Logan returns to an unfamiliar future in which Cyclops and Jean Grey (played by original actors James Marsden and Famke Janssen) are still alive. We also see Kelsey Grammer’s version of Beast, last seen in The Last Stand, whose eventual death Logan mentions in Days of Future Past.  

The new timelines look something like this. 

Prime X-Men timeline 

  • X-Men: First Class
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  • X-Men
  • X-Men 2/X2: X-Men United
  • X-Men: The Last Stand
  • The Wolverine
  • X-Men: Days Of Future Past (post-apocalyptic 2023 sequences)

Post-Days of Future Past timeline

  • X-Men: First Class
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (1973 sequences)
  • X-Men: Apocalypse
  • X-Men: Dark Phoenix
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (“repaired” future sequences, featuring resurrected Cyclops and Jean Grey)

It’s not clear which branch of the X-Men timeline leads into the post-X-Men 2029 of Logan. A (non-canon) deleted scene does refer to Jean Grey’s death, suggesting that the original plan was for it to be a continuation of the Prime X-Men timeline. That said, Xavier refers to Logan and Jean being married before he “killed her” – seeing as they were never officially a couple in the movies, Logan possibly exists in its own distinct timeline.

It’s best to look at Deadpool, The New Mutants, Legion and The Gifted as their own separate entities, completely separate from the other timelines.

X-Men movies, ranked

Looking at the user ratings on IMDb, it’s no surprise to see Logan topping the chart. Driven by phenomenal performances from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, James Mangold’s film pushed the boundaries of what a superhero movie could be – how the characters deal with the ageing process is just as important as the mutant action. There’s similarly high scores for Days of Future Past – arguably the most ambitious of the X-movies – and the first Deadpool, undoubtedly the funniest.

It’s similarly predictable that X-Men: Dark Phoenix should be the film propping up the list. A critical and box office flop, it effectively sealed the fate of the X-franchise in its pre-Disney form. After The Last Stand, it also marked the second time a movie had messed up the beloved Dark Phoenix storyline from the comics. Chances are they won’t be trying that again…