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Exploring the wild timeline of the X-Men movies and asking: how did we get here?


With the penchant for sequels and prequels in movies these days timelines can get a bit confusing, and they don't come more head-scratching than that of the X-Men franchise.

Next on the ever-expanding roster of X-Men movies is first-time director Simon Kinberg's Dark Phoenix, due for release this summer. In an attempt to unpick the timeline prior to its release, we've decided to recap the X-Men series so far...

X-Men (2000)

Arguably the beginning of the current onslaught of superhero movies, the first X-Men film (directed by Bryan Singer) is a surprisingly subdued affair when compared to the more explosive movies elsewhere in the genre.

Introducing the moviegoing world to mutants and bringing together a spectacular cast, the movie is a powerful allegory for discrimination while also featuring more than enough super-powered action.

Pitting Charles Xavier's (Patrick Stewart) X-Men against the villainous Magneto (Ian McKellen), and bringing the world the marvel that is Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, X-Men involves no shared universe, no time travel and no prequel baiting whatsoever. So far, so simple.

X2: X-Men United (2003)

Once again directed by Bryan Singer, X2 is the perfect sequel, upping the stakes, delving deeper into the characters, and making sure that you come away even more entertained than you were the first time.

This time the X-Men must form a tenuous alliance with Magneto to thwart murderous army Colonel Stryker (Brian Cox), who has a critical link to the amnesiac Wolverine's past.

Full to the brim with exciting action set pieces, intimate moments of characterisation and a gripping story, X2 is arguably the best movie in the series so far.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Here's where things start to get a tad confusing. The third film in the franchise, The Last Stand features X-Men staple Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) as she returns from unavoidable death in X2 as The Phoenix – an evil manifestation of her psychic powers. She's then used as a pawn in a struggle for mutant dominance by the scheming Magneto.

This same storyline is being retold in the upcoming Dark Phoenix, largely because fans were unhappy about The Last Stand's somewhat messy treatment of the popular Chris Claremont/John Byrne comic book arc. We'll return to this momentarily...

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

We're in prequel territory now, and pardon the pun, but this is just the beginning. Going all the way back to 1845 we meet Wolverine as a small posh child named James Howlett, who, after witnessing the murder of his father, pops bone claws and murders the killer before finding out that Victor Creed, aka Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber), is his brother. And that's all within the first 10 minutes.

We then witness ol' Wolvey become the hero with the adamantium skeleton we all know and love, take revenge on everyone he possibly can and finally lose his memory thanks to an adamantium bullet to the head. Though the film does not overly connect to the rest of the series, it certainly creates confusion as far as character relationships are concerned.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Another prequel, another handful of confusing timeline conundrums. Something of a reboot of the X-Men series, First Class takes us to the 1960s and acts as an origin story for Xavier, Magneto and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).

Putting our mutants right in the middle of the Cold War, First Class details the initial friendship of both Xavier and Magneto, now played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, as they and Mystique must tackle their inner demons while ensuring that villain Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his Hellfire Club of mutants don't bring about World War III.

Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn's take on the mutant super team proved so popular that the same cast went on to appear in the later X-Men: Days of Future Past, and will also feature in this year's Dark Phoenix.

The Wolverine (2013)

The Wolverine sees Logan buy a plane ticket to Japan, fight ninjas, lose his powers and then get them back again, all while Hugh Jackman once again nails the role. Directed by James Mangold, who would go on to make the vastly superior Logan, it doesn't particularly link to the rest of the series apart from visions of Famke Janssen's Jean Grey and the end credits scene, which alludes to the next movie released in the franchise...

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Take a deep breath because this where it all gets seriously complicated. Days of Future Past acts as a prequel and a sequel simultaneously as we are shown a post-apocalyptic world, where mutants have been nearly wiped out by robots known as the Sentinels.

Fighting the good fight are the familiar faces from the initial X-Men films, including Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Xavier and Ian McKellen as Magneto (the latter two now experiencing an uneasy truce).

Together they send Wolverine back to the 1970s, where he must convince the younger X-Men (played by the actors from the aforementioned First Class) to join forces and change the future.

This merging of the original three X-Men films with the 2011 prequel creates a multitude of questions and consistency problems, but it somehow comes away as one of the best so far. And its revisionist ending has wide-reaching implications for the movies coming up later on...

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Continuing the new timeline laid down by the climax of Days of Future Past, Apocalypse picks up with the younger X-Men contingent from First Class and Days of Future Past now in the 1980s.

The emergence of the Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the legendary 'first mutant' who has been in hibernation since ancient Egyptian times, brings Magneto out of hiding to once again clash with Xavier and his X-Men. At one point, our mutant heroes cross paths with Jackman's Wolverine after he's just had his adamantium skeleton applied. We told you this was confusing.

With the end of the world imminent, Xavier's young team of inexperienced heroes must fight to save the day once again. Jean Grey's unimaginable power of The Phoenix is hinted at here, and Apocalypse will certainly lead us straight into Dark Phoenix.

Logan (2017)

Much like the other solo Wolverine films, Logan does not make obvious links to the wider franchise, other than the cast and a brief mention of a handful of past events.

In the engrossingly bleak landscape of Logan, more a post-apocalyptic Western than a conventional superhero movie, it's implied the majority of mutants have been wiped out, with Logan and the ailing Charles Xavier plunged into a desperate battle to save young mutant girl Laura (Dafne Keen) from an evil corporation.

The exact nature of how the disaster happened remains unclear, but at one point Logan glances at some comics and disparages its depiction of how mutants became extinct. Maybe it's best to view Logan as taking place in another dimension… or something.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Thanks to X-Men: Days of Future Past reworking the timeline, the Dark Phoenix arc as seen in the controversial X-Men: The Last Stand was effectively wiped out. This allows the franchise to reboot the Dark Phoenix saga with the current crop of younger generation X-Men, including Tye Sheridan's Cyclops and Kodi Smit-McPhee's Nightcrawler.

Due for release this summer, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is set in the 1990s and re-fashions the story arc around Sophie Turner's younger Jean Grey as she struggles with her powers. She's joined once again by the younger Xavier, Magneto, Mystique and Beast (Nicholas Hoult).

Written and directed by X-Men franchise veteran Simon Kinberg, and starring Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain in an undisclosed villainous role, this is the next step in an ever-changing franchise.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is released on 7th June.

Jon Fuge is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.