The late '90s to early '00s were an interesting period for superhero films. The Joel Schumacher Batman films still left a bad taste in viewers mouths, but the first Blade movie had brought hope for the future of the genre. Then, at the turn of the millennium, X-Men debuted in theaters and the industry changed almost immediately. For the first time in decades, superheroes were cool again, due in no small part to some of the best casting choices in cinema. Ian McKellen was sinister and sympathetic as Magneto, Patrick Stewart as Professor X made viewers look forward to exposition dumps, and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine remains one of the most inspired acting finds in the history of the industry.
But the unfortunate truth is that, as the franchise has grown, there are more bad X-Men films than good ones and for every actor giving a perfect performance, there’s a handful of parts so unlikable that it’s a genuine wonder how these films didn’t ruin their roles in the comics. And in some cases, they did. While the X-Men’s legacy is more or less cemented in stone thanks to the vast cultural influences and impacts it’s had, it’s important that it’s dynasty include the truth, namely these poor performances.
15 TAYLOR KITSCH AS GAMBIT
It is completely irrelevant how good Taylor Kitsch was on Friday Night Lights. He still made John Carter, he still made Battleship, he still made Lone Survivor, and, before all that, he messed up Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine so badly that Channing Tatum, an actual good actor, has been fighting and failing to initiate a solo movie reboot of the character ever since.
In his very limited defense, nobody walked out of that movie looking good, but Kitsch looked worst of all.
Gambit’s involvement in the movie was nonsensical to begin with, but Kitsch’s giddily wooden performance not only failed to integrate him into the larger narrative, but visibly distanced Gambit from the film’s central core and themes, what little there were. Thankfully, there’s no chance this performance will ever burden screens again. Unfortunately, it’s doubtful Gambit will ever be included in the X-Men universe again.
14 OSCAR ISAAC AS APOCALYPSE
Oscar Isaac is one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood right now and for good reason. His classic movie star good looks pair handsomely with his subtle charm and checked confidence to make him the type of heroic actor not seen since the likes of Errol Flynn. But even Errol Flynn had a few missteps and Oscar Isaac is no exception.
His performance as the villainous deity Apocalypse was both over the top and subdued, in that he spoke with large, Wagnerian gestures and speeches, but his facial expressions and the dulled look in his eyes doesn’t change throughout the entire film. At this point in his career, he’s still got Star Wars to fall back on, but this is destined to be an embarrassing footnote in his sure-to-be legendary career.
13 OLIVIA MUNN AS PSYLOCKE
To be fair, Psylocke was always going to be a difficult character to transition to screen. In the comics, she’s an English psychic trapped in the body of a Japanese woman who knows martial arts, wields a katana and a mentally projected blade, is the sister of Captain Britain of all people, is highly sexualized, and has a bizarre history of moral ambiguity. Putting aside the racist aspects of the character, which even Scarlett Johansson could overcome when confronting a similar situation in 2017’s Ghost in the Shell, Olivia Munn is primarily a comic actress known for her quick wit and timing.
Psylocke’s character twists in the comics could have made Munn a good pick for the role, but instead the Psylocke presented in Apocalypse was very flat and one-note, making Munn’s performance, though energized, pretty empty and meaningless. Pretty unfortunate for the character’s debut to the mainstream.
12 KEVIN BACON AS SEBASTIAN SHAW
Kevin Bacon is such a legendarily prolific actor that actors are now compared to his work rate by how many movies they’re separated from him. Logically, it makes sense that he’d wind up in the X-Men franchise eventually, just by law of averages. But one of the reasons Bacon is such a sought-after talent is his ability to emote at high intensity. His over-the-top hammy zest is what brought him fame in the first place.
However, in X-Men: First Class he played central antagonist Sebastian Shaw who, despite being almost cartoonishly evil, was clearly meant to be played as more of a subdued mastermind rather than a mustache-twirling villain. Bacon instead went into the role with his usual acting style and, while it certainly didn’t ruin the movie, it made each of his scenes slightly awkward to watch as he failed to find a balance between subtle and outrageous.
11 HALLE BERRY AS STORM
Halle Berry is a fantastic actress and probably the ideal casting choice for Storm in 2000’s X-Men and its subsequent sequels. That being said, she slowly made the character unbearable. In her first appearance in the role, she played her as a soft-spoken but fierce and loyal member of Professor X’s team with a notable but subdued African accent.
Later on, the accent disappeared and, despite having more lines and a bigger role, she was still very quiet and bizarrely meek.
Then everything changed in the despised X-Men: The Last Stand where Berry decided she’d had enough of this ‘subtlety’ nonsense and Storm suddenly became a brash and bold fighter unafraid to speak her mind. It had become completely impossible to keep track of Storm’s character progression as there was no discernible arc and viewers only had Berry’s inconsistent acting to keep them grounded.
10 JAMES MARSDEN AS CYCLOPS
In a strange way, James Marsden was the perfect choice to play Cyclops. Though he’s a gifted comic actor, Marsden has struggled in dramatic roles, relying mostly on his charming smile and natural charisma. But Cyclops isn’t a character known for smiling a lot. In the role, Marsden was visibly wooden and uncomfortable, struggling to keep up with his screen partners. This isn’t necessarily his fault as Cyclops isn’t an intrinsically interesting character.
He’s always been the ‘good jock’ archetype paired with Jean Grey’s ‘good girl’ archetype, and in both cases they haven’t been or done anything notable apart from their interactions with other characters. Marsden, with his boring, uninspired performance, was, in a way, the perfect Cyclops. The worst thing about it was that it made viewers realize how incompatible the character was with a medium transfer.
9 JENNIFER LAWRENCE AS MYSTIQUE
Jennifer Lawrence was a logical choice to play the young Mystique in X-Men: First Class. Her rising star was still climbing, she was one of the hottest young talents in Hollywood, and was expressive enough to act through thick makeup. And it was that Makeup that ultimately led to her performance slowly deadening. Though her performance in First Class was, well, first class, her follow ups in the role in Days of Future Past and Apocalypse were exponentially worse.
Apparently, her interest in the part had waned considerably between movies, due in no small part to the long sessions in a makeup chair that the role required. As a result, her acting became very monotonous and boring, the exact opposite of what is becoming of a literal shapeshifter.
8 RYAN REYNOLDS AS DEADPOOL (THE FIRST TIME)
Yes, yes, Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool was an absolute comic revelation in the eponymous 2016 film and his accolades are well deserved because of it. But in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, he was less revelatory and more repulsive. In his first attempt at the "Merc with a Mouth, Reynolds played him as less goofy and more aggressively sarcastic.
This was partially because Reynolds was a die-hard fan of the character and had been looking forwards to playing the part, but was very disappointed by the script he’d been given and Deadpool’s role in the story. In retaliation, he played the character as unlikable as he could and still get paid. Unfortunately, that vindictive performance is likely what prevented Deadpool from getting his own movie for another seven years. Fortunately, it was well worth the wait.
7 SOPHIE TURNER AS JEAN GREY
As anyone who watches Game of Thrones knows, Sophie Turner is a gifted actress who excels at playing a sympathetic character through a transformative arc and is used to rocking read hair. This made her an ideal candidate to play a young Jean Grey in X-Men: Apocalypse, a character whose sole interesting trait is her evolutionary narrative.
Unfortunately, Turner had significant problems playing the character.
She struggled to contain her British accent, failed to emote in most scenes, and relied heavily on her CGI powers to convey her strength and turmoil, a huge change from the actress who brought Sansa Stark’s tragedy to life with zero aid from the special effects department. There was very little she brought to the role that any other actress have brought as well.
6 TYLER MANE AS SABERTOOTH
The transition from professional wrestler to actor is a process with varying degrees of success. Dwayne Johnson, John Cena, and Dave Bautista have found a place in the Hollywood machine, but Hulk Hogan, Triple H, and Bill Goldberg have all failed to connect with audiences outside the squared circle. Unfortunately, former WCW star Tyler “Big Sky” Mane falls into the latter category. X-Men was his first major film role and, as Sabertooth, all he really had to do was growl, look intimidating, and throw Hugh Jackman around a bit.
The problem was that his character stood out visually. While everyone else was in black leather and latex, Mane came dressed in bright furs. Since he stood out, it was easier to see his stiffness and blatant acting inexperience. Though he only had two lines in the whole movie, it was a poor first showing for Wolverine’s nemesis.
5 BEN FOSTER AS ANGEL
In recent years, Ben Foster has emerged as a capable character actor who primarily plays stoic or scarred military men, a brilliant reflection of his disciplined acting style. In 2006, however, he was still seeking his niche as an actor and decided to try his hand at the burgeoning superhero genre by playing the classic X-Man character Angel. The problem was, for as little screen time he got in X-Men: The Last Stand, he was actually the emotional core of the movie.
Angel’s subplot was about his rejection of his capitalist father and supposed mutant ‘cure,’ despite a childhood spent resenting his mutations and what they meant, ultimately accepting both elements as aspects of his identity. It was a role that required a deft hand practiced in juggling emotions. But instead it got Ben Foster, who’s slow and subdued style made it hard to care about the character.
4 WILL.I.AM AS WRAITH
As a general rule, celebrities shouldn’t cross media unless they have some merit in the field they are going into. For example, a musician like Will.I.Am should never, ever have been allowed on the set of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. To be fair, the movie probably would have been terrible without his input, but he certainly didn’t help proceedings with his stiff and wooden acting.
Playing the deconstructive, teleporting Wraith should have at least allowed him to generate some awesome action sequences, but perhaps because of his completely uninspired performance, he instead gets one fight scene where he gets killed almost immediately. His most telling scene in the movie is when he reconnects with Wolverine and simultaneously admonishes him for leaving their death squad and is intimidated by Wolverine’s new metal claws. Will’s tone doesn’t change through the whole thing.
3 ANNA PAQUIN AS ROGUE
It’s difficult to put a pin on Anna Paquin’s performance as Rogue in the X-Men movies. In the first film, she seemed to be perfect for the role. She captured emotions of a confused teen coming to terms with how her life had changed, had enough confidence in her agency that it mattered when it was taken away, and her southern drawl hadn’t crossed the line into annoying and was still adorable. It was only in the follow up films that her performance dipped visibly.
The accent disappeared, and her accurate depiction of real adolescent emotions vanished in favor of soap drama-level acting.
Any sense of Paquin’s self-dependency vanished to the point where her story arc in the third film was about giving up her powers so she could have a normal relationship with her boyfriend.
2 KEVIN DURAND AS BLOB
X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a bad movie. The casting was bad, the effects were bad, the story was bad, the acting was bad, the cinematography was standard, and the action was pretty good but still couldn’t save the movie from being bad. And there’s no bigger signifier of how bad it was than Kevin Durand’s performance as the classic X-Men villain the Blob. Initially shown as a fit soldier, he adopted his obese form from the comics for only a single, pointless seen where Hugh Jackman beats him in a boxing match.
It’s very clear upon viewing that Durand struggled to be physically animated in the fat suit and even outside of it he had to fight through a very nasal voice affectation. His face doesn’t change throughout any of his scenes and his presence in the film is an albatross that is thankfully cut short.
1 SHAWN ASHMORE AS ICEMAN
The most important scene in the entire X-Men franchise takes place in X2: X-Men United. On the run from government black-ops, Wolverine, Rogue, Pyro, and Iceman take refuge with Iceman’s family and he’s forced to reveal his mutant abilities to them for the first time, causing visible terror and turmoil. The scene is meant to highlight the themes of gay rights that had been the subtext of the films up to that point and the expressions on Iceman’s family as they react to his ‘coming out’ are indicative of how homosexuality was perceived by stereotypical middle-class suburbanites in the early '00s.
It’s also important because it’s the sole scene in the series where Shawn Ashmore’s perpetual feebly submissive expression works for his character instead of against it. His face never changes from this singular look through five movies. That would be impressive if it wasn’t so disappointing.