Take a look at the list of highest grossing movies this century and you may notice a trend. Today the “superhero film” stands as the modern Hollywood standard for go-to blockbuster. It can be argued that the modern superhero film era began with the release of 2000’s X-Men, an adaptation of the seminal Marvel Comics series about humans gifted with special abilities due to their mutated DNA. Throughout ten movies, the X-Men film series has tackled themes of minority rights, government conspiracies, terrorism, and familial bonds. In anticipation of 2018’s release of a staggering three new X-Men films (New Mutants, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and Deadpool 2), I’m taking a look at the best scene in each X-Men film so far. Let’s dive in.
Professor Xavier and Magneto debate
The fraught relationship between Professor X and Magneto is one of the most iconic storylines in comic book history. Both are mutants seeking to improve the standard of living for their kind in the world, but while Professor X seeks a peaceful co-existence between humans and mutants, Magneto sees mutants as destined to rule over their human counterparts. Magneto and Professor X are at times friends, allies, enemies, brothers, rivals. All of that subtext is expressed in this scene, one of the best of the entire series. After leaving a government hearing on a potential “mutant registration act”, Professor X confronts Magneto as he leaves. Notice how the scene is shot: Professor X seated in the light, Magneto’s face silhouetted in darkness until the end. Their eternal struggle of how to best lead their people plays out in this short clip, and sets the stage for the rest of the movie and the remainder of the series.
Nightcrawler invades the White House
An all time great sequel, X2 begins with the best superhero movie opening sequence ever. Nightcrawler is one of the coolest mutants: the German accent, the dichotomy of his devilish appearance with his strict Roman Catholic faith, his circus background. But it’s his mutant ability of teleportation that lends itself towards visually stunning special effects. Under mind control of the film’s main villain, Nightcrawler storms through the White House in search of the president, leaving dozens of secret service agents in his wake. This is one of the best action sequences in any superhero movie.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Danger Room training session
Here’s the thing about the X-Men film series: they can’t all be winners. Picking the best scene from The Last Stand is like picking your favorite Soulja Boy album–at a certain point you concede the fact that it’s mostly trash. I’ll give the nod to the opening sequence from this movie, an homage to the “Danger Room” simulations made famous in the comics for training the X-Men at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. When I first saw this scene in the theater I was encouraged by the portrayal of Wolverine (“That was my last cigar!”) and the more prominent role of Halle Berry’s Storm. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there.
X:Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool
Seeing the many mistakes made in The Last Stand, the producers of Origins doubled down on making sure they had a good script, charismatic actors, and great special effects for their follow-up effort. I’m lying–none of those things happened and Origins is somehow even worse than The Last Stand. The only decent scenes in this movie are when Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson (later known as Deadpool) speaks. And then, as if this movie couldn’t self-sabotage any more, they completely screw up the introduction of Deadpool during the film’s climatic fight scene (Deadpool’s nickname is “the merc with the mouth”, so naturally they sow his mouth shut). Reynolds would eventually get his revenge in 2016, but it still doesn’t make up for the fact that this movie exists. If you haven’t seen it, you have my greatest respect. Also will.i.am. is in this movie.
X-Men: First Class (2011)
Magneto hunts Nazis in Argentina
It was 2011, the world hadn’t seen a good X-Men film in nearly a decade, and people were beginning to lose hope in the franchise. Enter director Matthew Vaughn and his wonderful cast. First Class breathed new life into the series, going back in time to the 1960s and focusing on a younger Charles Xavier and how he came to become the great mutant leader of the first films. But it was Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of a young Erik Lensherr (Magneto) that carried the film. Magneto’s past as a child at a Nazi internment camp had been hinted at previously in X-Men, but First Class fleshes that story out more fully and his quest for revenge becomes a main story arc (quick plot note: Magneto does not claim in this movie that “both sides” were at fault after his mother is killed by Nazis). Switching between Spanish, German, and English like a mutant James Bond, Fassbender provides the most ruthlessly cool scene in the series.
The Wolverine (2013)
Wolverine reunites with Magneto and Professor X
The Wolverine is a great movie that almost completely washes the taste of Origins out of your mouth (almost). Basically X-Men’s version of The Outlaw Josey Wales, Wolverine takes on a Western “lone wolf reluctantly claims a sidekick” tone and follows the classic 1980’s story-line of Logan traveling to Japan and clashing with ninjas and Japanese gangsters. This film is a meditation on the nature of Logan’s healing ability and how it ultimately leads to everyone he loves dying while he lives on. Despite all this, it’s the mid-credits scene at the end of the movie that’s the best. Logan has completed his journey and is reunited with Magneto, who seemingly lost his powers during the finale of The Last Stand only for the movie to suggest that he regains them before the credits rolled, and a resurrected Charles Xavier, thought to be killed by Phoenix-crazy Jean Gray in the middle of the same movie. Hugh Jackman was always brilliant at playing Wolverine’s moments of anguish (and there were many), but his disbelief of seeing Professor X alive again brings even more emotion. This is also one of the most important scenes in the franchise, as it directly sets up the next movie.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Quicksilver’s speed saves Professor X, Magneto, and Wolverine
2014’s Days of Future Past was somewhat of a double-whammy for the franchise: not only was it based on one of the most iconic series in Marvel Comics history (seriously, nearly every time-travel movie or TV show post-1981 has been influence by DOFP), it also marked the return of X-Men and X2 director Bryan Singer. A set piece like the Quicksilver scene shows the technological advances from 2003 to 2014; while the opening Nightcrawler scene in X2 is phenomenal, its one blemish is that his tail looks like poorly developed CGI now. It would have been impossible back then to make Quicksilver’s mutant super speed look this cool, and choosing to slow down time around him is a brilliant touch. This scene was hailed as an instant classic upon the movie’s release, and the movie itself showed that after the consecutive good entries, the series had officially corrected course after two clunkers.
Wade Wilson confronts a stalker
A Deadpool movie had been gestating for years post-Origins, and when it was released in 2016 it changed the superhero film genre. A smash financial success ($783 million box office against a $58 million budget), Deadpool gave a fresh start to Ryan Reynolds’ Wade Wilson character, and essentially pretends that Origins doesn’t exist (although there are a few sly nods to that movie throughout) while delivering hard R rated language, jokes, and violence. In the year and a half since the film’s release, numerous movies with intended R ratings have been green-lit by studios in hopes of duplicating Deadpool’s success (including the latest film in the series). This is the only X-Men film that’s a comedy, and this scene with Reynolds sneaking into an apartment to rough up a pizza delivery guy who’s also a stalker shows the quit wit and unexpected turns Deadpool takes. It also establishes Deadpool’s character as a ruthless assassin who deep down is driven by a strict moral code. Sort of.
X:Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Jean Grey unleashes the Phoenix force
Just three months after Deadpool came Apocalypse. This movie is similar to DOFP in that it tackles another iconic storyline (“Age of Apocalypse” is one of the most famous X-Men comic runs) and similar to Deadpool in that it retcons a bad X-Men movie (The Last Stand’s handling of the Phoenix saga). A direct sequel to DOFP, we begin to see additional younger versions of the original X-Men cast, as Sophie Turner’s young Jean Grey (a role made famous by Famke Janssen earlier in the series) takes center stage at the climax of the film. Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse is a seemingly unbeatable villain, and appears to have Professor X on the ropes, until he calls in reinforcements in the form of Jean. It’s a recurring theme in the series that Jean is the most powerful mutant, and she shows it here as she unleashes her full power to help defeat Apocalypse. Overall, Apocalypse was a bit of a let-down after DOFP, but Jean Grey walking on air to enter into battle against Apocalypse both mentally and physically is still a goosebumps-worthy moment.
Laura fights the Reavers
The latest entry into the series came earlier this year, and is the best reviewed film in the franchise. Taking The Wolverine’s theme of the mortality (or lack thereof) of Logan to its extreme, Logan sees the titular hero coming face to face with a miniature version of himself in Laura Kinney (knows as X-23). A clone of Logan’s DNA, we see her in this scene taking on a band of bad guys almost single-handedly. I was aware of this character’s comic book history and what she could do prior to seeing the movie, but was still taken aback by the ferocity and charisma of Laura (played brilliantly by newcomer Daphne Keen). Logan essentially reacts as the audience does once he sees her in action, staring in disbelief as this 11-year-old mows down the mutant-hunting Reavers with an intensity that matches Wolverine himself. It’s unclear if Laura will be in any more X-Men films, but for our sake let’s hope we get to see X-23 in action again sometime in the future.