What is the Best Order to Watch the X-Men Films in?

One of my absolute favorite parts of being a fan of movie franchises is the ability to shape the series like clay; pulling it apart and restructuring it to make something completely different. Granted, this cannot be done with most franchises but with the rise of the Cinematic Universe taking ahold of modern production companies, films are being made to tie together films that would otherwise only be loosely connected. Specifically, the X-Men franchise now has prequel films, sequel films, and spinoffs galore but creates the issue of “how do I go about watching all of these?”

That’s where I come in.

Before I get into the nitty gritty plots and spoilers (there will be a warning before this happens), I’ll offer up a few ways to watch the films, for those of you who are new to this franchise.

The Release Order

  1. X-Men
  2. X2
  3. X-Men: The Last Stand
  4. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  5. X-Men First Class
  6. The Wolverine
  7. X-Men: Days of Future Past
  8. Deadpool
  9. X-Men: Apocalypse
  10. Logan
  11. Deadpool 2

The Continuity Order

  1. X-Men: First Class
  2. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  3. X-Men
  4. X2
  5. X-Men: The Last Stand
  6. The Wolverine
  7. X-Men: Days of Future Past
  8. X-Men: Apocalypse
  9. Deadpool
  10. Deadpool 2
  11. Logan

The Elite Order

  1. X-Men
  2. X2
  3. X-Men: The Last Stand
  4. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  5. The Wolverine
  6. Logan
  7. X-Men: First Class
  8. X-Men: Days of Future Past
  9. X-Men: Apocalypse
  10. Deadpool
  11. Deadpool 2

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork for what the rest of this essay will explore, we can get into SPOILER talk! (hint hint wink wink, that’s your queue to leave if you are not interested in reading about SPOILERS for the X-Men films. Pick an order from above, watch them all, and come back to see if you made the right decision 😉 ).

Let’s start with the Release Order, which is the order that the entire world experienced these films in. It’s fine, but it’s not without its flaws. For one, continuity is a disaster. As John Campea always says about this franchise: “Continuity Shmontinuity!” And he’s right. In X-Men, we learn that Charles and Erik built Cerebro together but in First Class, it’s Hank McCoy that built it. In The Last Stand, we learn that Charles and Erik walk to recruit Jean Grey in the 1980’s but in First Class, Charles loses his legs before going bald, and he and Erik become enemies. The list goes on, but the main problem that I find with this order is that there is no connective tissue between the films; it’s simply a bunch of oddball stories featuring Wolverine, and then turning on a dime to focus on other characters. Back and forth and then Wolverine dies. There’s no reason to watch the films in this order because it’s sloppy and occasionally incoherent.

The Continuity Order is most assuredly a misnomer. Even though the films are in the chronological order, the continuity problems are even more glaring. Starting with First Class allows one to see that this franchise doesn’t actually focus on Wolverine but instead Charles and Erik as it should be. However, there are so many Wolverine spinoffs in the saga that it’s hard to know what to focus on: the only connective tissue is the passage of time. On top of that, Deadpool and it’s sequel are so meta-referential that watching DP2 before Logan spoils the ending of arguably the most emotionally impactful comic book film ever written. So, this order has even more problems than the release order.

Which is why I’ve spent the last four years trying to find a better way to watch these films…

The Elite Order is my epiphanic pride and joy. By taking these films and grouping them into their own trilogies, we’re able to not only view them in perfect continuity but also we’re given isolated arcs in neat three-film structures. Furthermore, thinking of each trilogy as a season of television allows the viewer to reflect on a more contained plot as it unravels during a beginning, middle, and end.

  • Season One: The X-Men
    • Introduction (X-Men)
    • Expansion (X2)
    • Conclusion (X-Men: The Last Stand)
  • Season Two: The Wolverine
    • Past (X-Men Origins: Wolverine)
    • Present (The Wolverine)
    • Future (Logan)
  • Season Three: The Beginnings
    • 1960’s (X-Men First Class)
    • 1970’s (X-Men Days of Future Past)
    • 1980’s (X-Men Apocalypse)

(And then Season Four would be the Deadpool trilogy, followed by another blog post about an updated Elite Order but that’s for another time.)

As you can see, the first Season (trilogy) is in release order because it’s a tight-knit trilogy that has it’s own progression and arc. What the studio did by shuffling up the Wolverine films and Beginnings films is ultimately what caused so many continuity errors. That being said, the Elite Order most certainly has it’s naysayers (that’s you, Brenton), who claim “the Wolverine films are the furthest thing from being a trilogy.” To that I say HA, good sir! And here’s why:

We’ve seen the X-Men films, and what this Wolverine trilogy offers is a beginning, middle, and end to the character in an isolated fashion. In Origins, we see how James Howlett became the Wolverine. In The Wolverine, we see how his greatest strength and his greatest weakness are connected as well as proving why he’s worthy of the title “Wolverine.” In Logan, we see how he sheds the title of “Wolverine” in (reluctant) exchange for a normal life; ultimately, a life that he cannot have.

Logan loses his ability to heal in The Wolverine due to the antagonistic Viper, who poisons him. Watching Logan right after that movie makes the audience think that his sickness may be a remnant of Viper’s work. Also, this misleading plot point sets us up for the twist that we learn at the end of Logan: it’s the adamantium that is most likely poisoning him. This ties back to the first film in this trilogy and shows us that what we assumed was his ultimate weapon is actually killing him.

Cool right?

Let’s quickly discuss the Beginnings Trilogy (Season Three). Do you remember the continuity errors that I presented earlier when comparing X-Men and First Class? Well, they’re still present, of course, but having so many films separating these two allows the audience member time to forget some of these details. Additionally, First Class is really the film that has so many continuity issues but Days of Future Past corrects them by restarting the timeline. So, even if you notice and remember each and every continuity error that comes up in First Class, the very next movie in this order fixes them all. I’d consider that a fair trade.

Another reason why I love this order is how the trilogies are presented: the first film always introduces you to new characters, and the second film is about how the past comes back to haunt them. The third film is a fitting conclusion to the rest of the trilogy (aside from the Beginnings trilogy which has a fourth film coming out but still, it works very well as a trilogy).

The X-Men trilogy is about Charles and Erik, and the political and moral debates of mutants in the homo sapiens society. It ends with the death of Charles and Erik (at least as how we knew them at the beginning), even though we view them through the eyes of Logan for the most part.

The Wolverine trilogy is about Logan, and his path to earning, keeping, and shedding his identity as the Wolverine. The very first scene shows us his first time using his claws, and the very last scene is his daughter burying him after he dies to protect her.

The Beginnings trilogy is about Erik and Charles again, but as they become their superhero identities and fight for the survival of their species. It ends with the birth of the X-Men as we know them from the film X-Men. That would be a fitting end to this 9-film series but of course, spinoffs and sequels are a-coming.

Earlier I alluded to reshaping franchises like clay, and one of the reasons I made that analogy is because watching the films in this order really does (significantly) change the plot lines of a few movies. For example, watching Logan directly after The Wolverine but before Days of Future Past makes it so that Logan takes place in Timeline A (before DoFP restarts the timeline). Now, instead of mutants dying off for an unspecified reason, it’s assumed that Trask was the reason it all happened. At the end of The Wolverine, there is a post credit scene featuring Charles and Erik hinting at a catastrophic war on mutants from Trask Industries’ new weapon. Next thing we see, Logan‘s post-apocalyptic-style landscape. Thus, when we watch Days of Future Past later, the stakes to change the future seem much higher since we just saw how devastating Logan‘s ending was. Since in X-Men: Days of Future Past we never see what would happen if Logan had failed in his 1973 mission, we can only assume that “Logan” shows us the aftermath: a desert-type world with only three surviving mutants from Trask’s sentinels.

Another way this order changes the story is that it offers up some meditative, philosophical questions such as “is the past destined to repeat itself?” Since (in this order) ALL films aside from Apocalypse take place before Days of Future Past, we don’t see anything from Timeline B aside from Apocalypse which features Erik and Charles having bad blood, Logan being experimented on, and Jean Grey hinting at a Dark Phoenix transformation- all of which took place in Timeline A as well. Watching Logan after Days of Future Past would indicate that most things happened the same way and therefore, making any films watched after DoFP sort of pointless; watching Logan before-hand, however, increases the narrative quality of everything that precedes and succeeds that film.

Lastly, another way that this order increases the narratives of the films is that the grouping into trilogies isolates the arcs and allows us to notice similar themes between certain characters. For example, Logan and Erik who consider themselves monsters (“Frankenstein’s monster” to be exact) and both hunt down the man who created them in order to try to rebuild their destiny. Both fail, but Charles as a foil to Erik is able to offer Logan help where Erik wanted no help. Here, Logan is gifted by his lost memory and had the events of Origins not taken place, he would have most likely turned down Xavier’s help in X-Men. 

Is the past destined to repeat itself, though?

Epilogue: There is only one real “problem” with this order is that watching Logan before Days of Future Past might not make a lot of sense because, well, Logan and Charles die in both of them. That being said, I have a solution. So, in Logan the only two X-Men left are Logan and Charles which means that all of the others died before the beginning of Logan. If the desert-world that Logan offers us is post-Days of Future Past, then there has to be a reason why Logan and Charles would still be alive….

Well, since this is a story about changing the future: in Timeline A, Mystique kills Trask and his Sentinels are funded tenfold to take out the mutants. But also in Timeline A, the climax at the White House doesn’t actually take place; the future is still full of Sentinels up until Mystique drops the gun but the amount of Sentinels differs. Up until Magneto’s attack on the White House, the Sentinel program is fully funded as we see in the future but as soon as Magneto turns the Sentinels on the public, the fear of Sentinels grows which means it would take more time for the program to get the support it needs to go further. i.e. the future would have less Sentinels. During the film, the climax cuts back and forth between 1973 and 20-whatever (the future) and these points overlap. Instead of the future changing as soon as Mystique drops the gun, it would make sense for the future to have less Sentinels as soon as Magneto forces them to target humans…this happens just before the final wave of Sentinels attacks the room housing Charles and Logan.

To answer the question of why Charles and Logan would be the last people alive, though, we have to look at the mutants left during the finale: Charles, Erik, Storm, Logan, Kitty, Rogue, Sunspot, Colossus, Bishop, and Blink. Storm, Sunspot, Colossus, Bishop, and Blink all die with Magneto and Kitty bleeding out, later most likely dying (Timeline A minus the final wave of Sentinels). Charles, Logan, and Rogue would most assuredly survive but Rogue would probably want to live a normal life, with Charles and Logan doing the same (New Mexico). Basically, the future changes throughout the last half of Days of Future Past and Logan happens in Timeline A. Tada!

All in all, though, that’s been the heart and soul of my mindset regarding the Elite Order of these films, and I hope you gained some insight or inspiration into watching this order yourself!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to let me know. As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!

Published by Blake Carson Schwarz

Indiana University graduate in Media and Creative Writing. I love to write my own stories as well as experience the work of others. On this site, I post reviews, essays, and other fun posts that I hope you have as much fun reading and I have writing. Please share any comments you have, I'd be happy to hear what you think! *Never a critic, always a fan*

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