With countless alternate realities and over a dozen dystopian futures in their canon, Marvel's X-Men line definitely has one of the most confusing continuities in all of comics. While the comics themselves have never done a hard reboot, plenty of X-Men characters have, resulting in a continuity knot that not even well-cited Wiki pages can untangle. For a prime example of this, just read up on characters like Jean Grey, Cable, Psylocke or any of the current time-displaced teenage original X-Men.
With all that in mind, it's actually kind of appropriate that the X-Men feature film franchise has become just as convoluted as the source material. Continuity conundrums are the X-Men franchise's primary mutation, and the films adapted that aspect of the source material faithfully.
Since its launch in 2000, the X-Men franchise has released 10 feature films (including the soon-to-be-released "Logan"). The franchise covers three distinct trilogies, two different leading men, two different sets of X-Men and two -- although kinda just one? -- realties. Figuring out how to rewatch the X-Men franchise in chronological order is a daunting task -- but it's one that we're up to meeting.
There are at least three different ways you can come at the "X-Men" film franchise, two of which are based on the two distinct realities featured in the films. The first, X-REALITY 1, covers the initial trilogy of "X-Men" films released between 2000 and 2006. Of course this being the "X-Men" franchise, this viewing order includes a whole bunch of movies that weren't even released in that stretch of time!
- "X-Men: First Class" (2011): After taking a five-year breather following the team's supposed "Last Stand," Fox decided to reboot the X-Men franchise with a 1960s set super-spy movie directed by Matthew Vaughn. It's possible that that film, "First Class," was intended to be a hard reboot of the franchise with no ties to the previous trilogy. There are a couple of major discrepancies between "First Class" and 2000's "X-Men," the main one being Mystique and Xavier's retroactively inserted brother/sister relationship. Whatever the original intention, subsequent films confirmed that "First Class" was indeed in the same universe as those original X-movies, thus making this film (set predominantly in 1962) the starting point.
- "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009): Next up is the first solo Wolverine film, which begins with Logan's childhood in the mid-19th century before jumping to 1979, where most of the film plays out. "Origins" lives up to its name by running through Wolverine's origin. This won't be the first time you see Wolverine in this viewing order, though; he pops up for a cameo in "First Class." You may be wary of watching this one considering it's notorious status as the X-line's worst film. Fans didn't take too kindly to how this movie adapted Deadpool, twisting Ryan Reynolds' long held desire to play the Merc with a Mouth by making him play the Merc Without a Mouth. This film also presents another continuity quirk: Emma Frost, played as an adult by January Jones in "First Class," appears as a teenager in this film.
- "X-Men" (2000): The third film in this viewing order is the first "X-Men" film ever made. Released in 2000 and set in near future, X-Men sets the contemporary iteration of the team seen in "First Class" on a collision course with the clawed Canadian that starred in "Origins." Wolverine finally joins the X-Men in this film and helps them fight Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants. Since you've already seen "First Class" and learned how Xavier and Magneto's friendship formed and fell apart, the strong performances of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in the roles may resonate even more.
- "X2: X-Men United" (2003): In a straightforward fashion, the next X-Film to be released is the next one you watch in the X-REALITY 1 viewing order. There aren't many time tricks with this one; it's set a little while after "X-Men," also in the near future, and shows the team going up against the threat of Colonel William Stryker and his mutant-killing anti-Cerebro unit. At this point in the viewing order, though, you will have already met a younger version of Stryker in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." "X2" was the first film that really dug into Wolverine's Weapon X origins, as Logan confronted his cloudy memories by returning to the government base that created him. In this viewing order, you'll know more about Logan's origin than the character does.
- "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006): Aside from a few trips to Jean Grey's past, "The Last Stand" is also set in the near future following the events of "X2." This film, which also earned mixed reviews from fans, serves as the concluding chapter for the original "X-Men" trilogy. Characters died, the status quo was altered, the book was closed -- or so that's what we all thought. As it stands in this viewing order, the original X-trilogy is now bookended by two films set before and after this initial trio.
- "The Wolverine" (2013): Released seven years after "The Last Stand," the second solo Wolverine film picks up roughly the same amount of years later. Logan is living alone in the wilderness, haunted by visions of Jean Grey and the actions he took at the end of "The Last Stand." This film, the first team-up between Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold, follows Wolverine as he reenters society and becomes entangled in the plans of a Japanese crime lord. The film doesn't address what's happened to the X-Men in the last seven years, although the post-credits scene sets up the next -- and last -- film in this viewing order. Two years after the events of "The Wolverine," the post-credits scene sees Wolverine return to the X-Men after getting recruited by Professor X and Magneto
- "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014): This film is a time travel movie that bounces back and forth between the years 2023 and 1973. The film actually starts in 2023 with the X-Men we've seen throughout this viewing order (Jackman's Wolverine, Halle Berry's Storm, Ellen Page's Kitty Pryde, Shawn Ashmore's Iceman, Stewart's Xavier and McKellen's Magneto). This film is set roughly a decade after the previous one, "The Wolverine," so a lot's happened to our heroes that we just never find out about. Still, this viewing order is a bit poetic as it begins and ends with films also featuring the younger versions of the characters. We pick up with James McAvoy's young Xavier and Michael Fassbender's young Magneto in this film, as well as Jennifer Lawrence's young Mystique. Of course watching this film in this context will most likely put more emphasis on the future-set sections of this film, since that's the timeline we're following. That might make the final scene of the film, one showing the entire X-Men team alive, reunited and working out of the X-Mansion in the year 2023, warm your heart even more. Of course that ending also sets up X-REALITY 2.
"X-Men: Days of Future Past" changed a lot about this franchise. Not only did it bring back the entire original X-Men trilogy cast to the franchise after eight years away, it also reset the franchise's timeline and wiped nearly every film in X-REALITY 1 from existence. We know that things more or less transpired in a similar fashion; all of the X-Men in the original timeline were also shown as alive and present in the post-credits scene of "Days of Future Past." That means that even with all the major changes to the timeline, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Rogue and the rest all still made their way to the X-Mansion -- even if the specifics of their journey changed.
Here's the most important thing to know about the X-Franchise: this reality is the one the franchise exists in now. "Days of Future Past" concluded that original timeline, the one that ended with the tragedy of "The Last Stand" and the mutant slaughter shown in the year 2023. Here's a rundown of the films released in this new reality.
- "X-Men: First Class" (2011): Just like the other viewing order, this one also starts with "First Class." Since "First Class" was set in 1962 and featured no time travel elements, it escaped the "DOFP" reset unscathed and still serves as the first chronological film in the franchise.
- "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014): The following film jumps 11 years into the future to 1973, picking up with the McAvoy/Fassbender/Lawrence cast during a dark period in their lives. Xavier's school has closed, putting him in a deep depression while Beast cares for him. Mystique has become a solo agent following Magneto's imprisonment and the deaths of her Brotherhood teammates. "Days of Future Past" spends more time in 1973 than it does in 2023, so this film does feel more at home in this viewing order than the previous one. While "First Class" is where the franchise begins chronologically, "Days of Future Past" is the real starting point for this new reality that the franchise currently exists in.
- "X-Men: Apocalypse" (2016): In the tradition of "First Class" and "Days of Future Past," "X-Men: Apocalypse" is set a decade after the events of the previous film. "Apocalypse" takes place in the new timeline's 1983, and it includes one major difference: Wolverine's creation. In the original timeline, Wolverine's bones were coated in indestructible adamantium by the Weapon X program in 1979 (as seen in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"). This film shows that the Weapon X program got to him four years later. That might have something to do with the fact that "Days of Future Past" concludes with Mystique (impersonating Stryker) capturing 1973's Wolverine and, theoretically, running off with him. We don't know what Mystique did with him; we only know that by 1983 and "Apocalypse," Mystique was on her own again and Wolverine was in Weapon X custody. This film also shows Jean Grey, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Storm, Quicksilver and Jubilee active at the Xavier School years before they were in the other timeline; in this new timeline, Nightcrawler joins the team 20 years before he originally met them.
- "Deadpool" (2016): Appropriately considering Wade Wilson's chaotic, wildcard nature, it's almost impossible to really place "Deadpool" in the larger X-mythos. The creators themselves have said that the film doesn't really take place in one X-Men reality or another; it's possible it takes place in a third X-Reality! Then again, that's also what people thought about "First Class" when it was released, and then it was confirmed to be a part of the larger X-Men canon. For all we know, Deadpool could eventually show up in a film alongside new Cyclops and Jean Grey Tye Sheridan and Sophie Turner. "Deadpool" does fit in with this reality, though, since we already saw what happened to the Wade Wilson of the other X-Reality. Alternate-timeline Wade got his mouth sewn shut and turned into a katana-armed weapon, and current-timeline Wade is the Deadpool fans know and love. Colossus is also drastically different from the version we saw in the other timeline, thus making it more likely that this is where "Deadpool" belongs.
- "Logan" (2017): Honestly, you could watch the post-credits scene from "Days of Future Past" before "Logan," since it's set in 2023 and "Logan" is set in 2029. But this viewing order is arranged so you watch whole movies at a time, and don't jump back and forth from scene to scene. "Logan" is, to date, the X-Men film set furthest in the future. The X-Men are done, mutant kind is nearly extinct, and all that's left is a down and out Wolverine taking care of an elderly Professor X. This reality's happy ending, seen in that "DOFP" post-credits scene, is totally undone in the six years that follow it leading up to "Logan." Where "Logan," Hugh Jackman's last ride as the hero, ends is anyone's guess. Could it lead to more films set even further in the future? Or will the franchise continue to play within the new timeline's unexplored decades?
There's one more viewing order that more completist X-Men fans could take on -- if they have the time and Wolverine-esque stamina. These two distinct viewing orders easily merge into one, if you're fine with a movie marathon that calls for a do over at the halfway through point. You can merge these two viewing lists by starting out in X-REALITY 1 and then, with "X-Men: Days of Future Past," switching over to X-REALITY 2. That kinda mirrors the order the films were released in, except it gets 2013's "The Wolverine" out of the way of the new reality and drops it back in the original one where it belongs.
Even after "Logan" hits theaters, there are still plenty of "X-Men" movies on the way -- ones that will no doubt further complicate this timeline. Will the follow-up to "X-Men: Apocalypse" follow the trend and take place in the '90s? Will "New Mutants" live up to its "Stranger Things" vibes and take place in the '80s? If Channing Tatum's "Gambit" gets made, will it ignore the fact that the original timeline's Gambit (seen in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine") was born in the '50s? Will "Deadpool 2" flat out establish that there's a separate Ryan Reynolds-verse within the new X-Universe? Just remember: the more confusing this timeline gets, the more true it is to the comics.