Dark Phoenix comes to streaming today via HBO. Considering how poorly the film performed at the box office, it's safe to assume there's a large potential audience that could see this as an opportunity to check the film out for the first time, especially with so many people self-quarantining in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dark Phoenix is the final installment of the X-Men movies franchise that began in 2000 with X-Men. The series lasted for 20 years and produced 12 films (with the release of spinoff The New Mutants still pending) and had huge swings in quality throughout those years.
With Dark Phoenix now hitting streaming, this seems like the perfect time to revisit the X-Men movies franchise, or at least the installments that are worth revisiting. But which are those? And where do you find them? The Walt Disney Company purchased 20th Century Studios in 2019 but hasn't added the X-Men film series to the Disney+ or Hulu streaming services since then. You'll have to search in some off-the-beaten-path areas of the streaming landscape to find the X-Men movies, and a few aren't available to stream at all. Keep reading and we'll walk you through the order they came out, where to find them online, and whether they're worth watching.
Director: Bryan Singers
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ray Park, Anna Paquin
Streaming Service: DirecTV
The first X-Men movie broke new ground for superhero movies and introduced fans to some of the genre's most iconic casting, including Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, and Ian McKellen as Magneto. While some argue that it doesn't hold up compared to modern superhero flicks, if you're going to binge, you should start at the beginning.
X2: X-Men United
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Bruce Davison, Anna Paquin
Streaming Service: DirecTV, fuboTV
The cast from the original film returned in this sequel, inspired by the classic X-Men graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills. It sees the X-Men and the Brotherhood teaming up against a common threat. Its widely considered the best of the original X-Men trilogy movies.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Director: Brett Ratner
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, and Patrick Stewart
Streaming service: DirectTV
The third X-Men movie brought on Brett Ratner as a director. The film tries to combine two unrelated X-Men stories -- "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and "Gifted" -- with mixed results. The film has some of the best action of the franchise, but the story leaves something to be desire. While it is referenced in The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past retcons the film out of existence, making it skippable.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
With the original trilogy complete, the X-Men movies embarked on what was to be the first in a series of solo X-Men movies. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was so poorly received that those plans were scrapped. The film is notorious for its mistreatment of Deadpool and actively convolutes the already loose continuity of these films. It's only ever referenced again as a joke in the Deadpool movies, so you're safe skipping this entry in the franchise.
X-Men: First Class
X-Men: First Class isn't currently a part of any streaming service's library, but it's well worth spending a few dollars to rent on demand. When the solo movies approach turned out to be a misfire, the X-Men movies double back with a prequel set in the 1960s. They recast key roles with younger actors -- James McAvoy as Professor X, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, and Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique -- and hired director. Matthew Vaughn to create something that blends super-heroics with the spy genre. While it was hardly the franchise's biggest box office success, this film breathed new life into the flagging franchise.
The second Wolverine solo movie is much closer to what fans were hoping for from the first. Inspired by the original Wolverine miniseries, this tale sees Wolverine heading to Japan. It stumbles a bit in its final act, but it's still a stellar entry in the franchise.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart
Streaming Service: FXNOW
Inspired by "Days of Future Past," one of the all-time great X-Men stories, this film brings together the cast of the original X-Men trilogy with their counterparts from X-Men: First Class. This film serves as a worthy climax to the X-Men movies, on that neither of its direct sequel tops. You should stop here if you want to end on a high note (or maybe watch Logan as a standalone "epilogue").
The film that almost didn't see the light of day proved the R-rated superhero comedies can be a thing. Ryan Reynolds got to come back and do justice to the character he first played in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The Deadpool movies share no real connections with the other X-Men movies but serve as great comedic asides.
There were high hopes for the future of the X-Men movies after the successes of X-Men: Day of Future Past and Deadpool. X-Men: Apocalypse put an end to that. Opting for scale and spectacle over strong storytelling, the film feels big and hollow. If you're a longtime X-Men comics fan, there's stuff to enjoy here. We finally get to see Psylocke and Archangel, and the way the film fails is, in its own way, comics accurate: overwrought dialogue, overly complex villain plans, too much focus on Professor X and Magneto at the expense of other characters, and a forced Wolverine-centric subplot. That said, it isn't available on any streaming services library, so know before you pay for a rental that your mileage may vary.
The Wolverine director James Mangold returned for the sequel, which earned an Oscar nomination for adapted screenplay. Inspired by the comic book story "Old Man Logan," this film stands on its own well enough that you can watch it alone or as an epilogue to the other X-Men movies. Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and newcomer Dafne Keen each give powerful performances in one of most moving superhero movies of all time.
Ryan Reynolds and most of the original Deadpool cast return for this sequel, which brings in one of the directors of John Wick, David Leitch. The film introduces two more major characters from the extreme end of the X-Men's library, Josh Brolin as Cable and Zazie Beetz as Domino, for a film that leans even more on humor and spectacle than the first. If you enjoyed the first, you'll probably enjoy the sequel too.
Director: Simon Kinberg
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain.
Streaming service: HBO
The X-Men movies took a second shot at adapting "The Dark Phoenix Saga" in its final installment. Taking a drastically different approach from X-Men: The Last Stand, Dark Phoenix opted for a more grounded approach to the source material. The results didn't fare much better with fans or critics and bombed at the box. The film isn't the high note that fans hoped the series wouldn't go out on, but despite the hyperbolic negative reviews, it has its moments. But now it's on HBO and you can judge for yourself.