The X-Men film franchise is a fascinating one from an acting perspective. The way the franchise has been set up -- with three films set in the present followed by a series of prequels -- has allowed most of the major characters in the series to be portrayed by two actors. In fact, pretty much every character in the series outside of Wolverine has been played by more than one actor. This has given audiences a lot of variety in the performances of their favorite characters.
In this list, we will be ranking the actors in the X-Men films, based just on how well they did in the X-Men films alone. We're only looking at the 19 actors who starred in more than one film in the franchise, so great one-off actors like Brian Cox, Liev Schreiber and Kelsey Grammar will not be listed in the countdown (Grammar's appearance in X-Men: Days of Future Past was a brief cameo). In addition, we have decided to not count Ryan Reynolds' X-Men Origins: Wolverine appearance as being Deadpool for the purposes of this list as the character was so different from Reynolds' appearance in the Deadpool film that it would be pointless to judge them together.
19 AARON STANFORD AS PYRO
Pyro was one of the very first X-Men roles to be recast. He briefly appeared in the first X-Men film, where he was played by Alexander Burton, but when his role was beefed up in X2: X-Men United, they recast the character with actor Aaron Stanford. Stanford is currently excelling on the 12 Monkeys TV series, but his performance as Pyro was a bit of an odd one.
They really leaned into the "emo" nature of the character in X2 and then abruptly had him defect to Magneto's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants at the end of the film without a whole lot of reason behind it. In X-Men: The Last Stand, Pyro was now a major player in the Brotherhood and Stanford did not really sell "leader" very well.
18 BRUCE DAVISON AS SENATOR ROBERT KELLY
Longtime character actor, Bruce Davison portrayed Senator Robert Kelly in the first two X-Men films. Davison, of course, won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1990 for his performance as a man whose lover is suffering from AIDS in Longtime Companion. He made a rousing acceptance speech asking for the government to spend as much money on the war against AIDS as they spent on their other wars.
Davison is an excellent actor, but Kelly was a weak role. He was essentially just a talking head for most of the films, besides one impressive sequence where he dealt with being mutated by Magneto. In X-Men: Days of Future Past, the time change (with the film taking place in 1973) led to a change in the target that the X-Men had to save in the past from Senator Kelly to Bolivar Trask.
17 HALLE BERRY AS STORM
Halle Berry won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her wrenching performance in Monster's Ball. She has also had a strong career working in action films (she was one of the better "Bond Girls") and comedies. However, for whatever reason, she did not seem to connect with the role of Storm at all. She was not even consistent with her accent from film to film!
Joss Whedon tells a story about the infamous "Do you know what happens to toads when they're struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else" line in X-Men. Apparently, it all came down to how Berry decided to, in effect, butcher the line by delivering it dramatically when it was meant to be read like a tossed away, matter of fact, line.
16 REBECCA ROMIJN AS MYSTIQUE
A common refrain that you will see a lot on the bottom of this list is the notion of whether the actor was really given a chance to do more with their character. For instance, Rebecca Romijn might have been able to do a lot with her role of Mystique in the first three X-Men films, but we never really get a chance to find out.
This is essentially because she is almost always just either doing action scenes or just sitting silently while Ian McKellen's Magneto chews the scenery in front of her. Whether fair or not, though, that leads to Romijn's Mystique falling low on the list. They just really don't give her all that much to do, from an acting perspective. She certainly looked the part, though!
15 LUCAS TILL AS HAVOK
Lucas Till is currently taking the TV world by storm with his starring role in the hit CBS remake of MacGuyver. Before he gained success on television, however, Till was one of the original members of the X-Men in X-Men: First Class. He was also one of the few members of the team to show up in each of the sequels before finally being killed off in X-Men: Apocalypse (where he should be, like, 40 years old but still looks 25).
Till is a big comic book fan and brought a lot of energy to his role of Havok, but we really never got a chance to see him show any range with the character. He was mostly all surface in the first film and spent the next two films basically just delivering exposition (and tragically dying).
14 ROSE BYRNE AS MOIRA MACTAGGERT
Rose Byrne was the second actress to play Moira MacTaggert, but while Olivia Williams played MacTaggert roughly as how MacTaggert appears in the comic books (a geneticist from the British Isles), Byrne instead portrayed MacTaggert as an American CIA agent sent to take down the Hellfire Club. She enlists the help of Charles Xavier and unwittingly helps Xavier found the X-Men in X-Men: First Class.
Byrne is certainly game in the role, but MacTaggert is not a particularly well-developed character and she literally gets her memory wiped at the end of the film. When she returns in X-Men: Apocalypse, Byrne is somehow given even less to do in the movie. She seems to basically sleep walk her way through her X-Men: Apocalypse scenes, as her material was particularly weak.
13 JAMES MARSDEN AS CYCLOPS
Last year, Vulture ran an article titled "James Marsden Is One of the Best Actors of His Generation. Why Hasn’t Hollywood Noticed?" about Marsden's relative lack of stardom and one of the major movies that they cite is X-Men, where Marsden certainly got a boost in his recognizability. However, at the same time, he took a hit to his star power, since his performance as Cyclops generally wasted most of Marsden's considerable charms.
Marsden's Cyclops was mostly there as a straight man to Wolverine, the straight and narrow superhero that the "cool" superhero repeatedly insults. It was a thankless role for Marsden. As a result, though, it is hard to rank Marsden too high on the list because, like other actors in this section of the countdown, he didn't get a whole lot to do in the films.
12 ELLEN PAGE AS KITTY PRYDE
Kitty Pryde appeared as a character in the first two X-Men films, albeit in small, practically cameo roles (Sumela Kay played her in the first film and Katie Stuart played her in the second film). In the third film, X-Men: The Last Stand, the role was beefed up considerably and Ellen Page was cast hot off of her acclaimed performance in the film, Hard Candy.
While mostly part of a subdued love triangle with Rogue and Iceman, Page perfectly captured the pluck and can-do attitude of Kitty Pryde in the film. The big problem is that she doesn't get a whole lot of screen time, just basically one memorable sequence where she single handedly defeated the Juggernaut. It's still a very impressive sequence. She returned for what amounted to basically just a cameo in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
11 NICHOLAS HOULT AS BEAST
One of the hardest things to pull off as an actor in a film is playing a character who just aggravates the heck out of you, but you still ultimately care about what happens to them. That's the task that Nicholas Hoult has had to deal with during his stint as Hank McCoy, the Beast, in the three X-Men prequel films (Kelsey Grammar played the older Beast to great acclaim in X3: The Last Stand, even if the film itself wasn't as lauded).
Hank seems to constantly be either sulking or pining over Mystique (or both) and his repeated acts of indecision can be grating, but Hoult gives him enough gravitas that he is still a compelling character worth rooting for in the films. Hoult's performance is extra impressive considering that he was a late addition to X-Men: First Class after Benjamin Walked backed out at the last minute.
10 FAMKE JANSSEN AS JEAN GREY
One of the hardest roles to cast in the first X-Men films was Jean Grey, and when the film was released, the reasons seemed evident. The character was Professor X's second-in-command and the team doctor (the latter being a role that the character likely took over from the Beast, who was not a character in the first film), while also being the middle of a love triangle between Wolverine and Cyclops. So she had to be sort of a mother figure for the team while also being in a love triangle. That's a hard overlap for any actor.
Famke Janssen did a strong job trying to pull it off, and she certainly succeeded in showing Jean's slow descent into becoming Phoenix in the third X-Men film, but at the same time, the disconnect between her two roles also seemed to strip a lot of the emotion out of her characterization.
9 EVAN PETERS AS QUICKSILVER
Few actors in film ever seemed to have as much fun with their role as Evan Peters had with his role of Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past. The film set the standard for the depiction of super speed, with Peters zooming around the room while blasting his music and sampling food at times. Quicksilver's scenes in the film were arguably the highlight of the movie.
He returned for X-Men: Apocalypse, where he was developed a bit further as a character, as the film examined the fact that Quicksilver knows that Magneto is his father, so he wants to work with Xavier to stop his father (who had teamed up with Apocalypse) while also hopefully forming a relationship with the man who did not know that he had a living son out there.
8 SHAWN ASHMORE AS ICEMAN
One of the best developed characters in the original X-Men trilogy was Shawn Ashmore's Bobby Drake, who we saw as a young man flirting with Rogue in the first film before he got a meatier storyline in X2: X-Men United. In that film, his relationship with Rogue continued, but he also had an interesting relationship with his best friend (who turned evil at the end of the movie), Pyro, and an even more interesting relationship with his own family.
The "coming out" scene in the movie was heartbreaking and beautifully acted by Ashmore. He had less of a role in X-Men: The Last Stand (mostly reacting to things Rogue did) and had essentially a cameo in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but his work in X2: X-Men United stood out a lot.
7 ANNA PAQUIN AS ROGUE
For years, Wolverine has been used best when he has been played off of a young female hero, as the whole mentor/pupil thing works really well. It softens the character of Wolverine in just the right sort of way to make him even more appealing to the audience. He's a guy who will stab you to death, but he also likes to protect vulnerable young women.
Anna Paquin's Rogue took on the role of Wolverine's pupil in the first film and their relationship helped give X-Men a strong relationship at its core. Rogue later became the center of two love triangles in the next two movies and wrestled with taking a mutant cure in the third film, but her prominence in the film franchise never got as notable as it was in the first X-Men movie.
6 JENNIFER LAWRENCE AS MYSTIQUE
Jennifer Lawrence is clearly one of the best actresses of her generation, earning a stunning three Best Actress Oscar Nominations by the age of 25 (winning one of them for Silver Linings Playbook when she was only 22) plus a fourth nomination for Best Supporting Actress. So her acting chops are not really up for debate. That said, in her film career so far, her role as Mystique so far pales compared to the roles she had in her Oscar-nominated films.
Lawrence is such a great actress that she gives Mystique as much characterization as she can (particularly in the first prequel film, X-Men: First Class, where we see her transform from the sweet Raven into Mystique), but for the most part she has been used as a general action hero. The last two X-Men films, in particular, have vastly underused Lawrence's talents.
5 JAMES MCAVOY AS CHARLES XAVIER
James McAvoy had big shoes to fill when he took on the role of Charles Xavier from Patrick Stewart, as Stewart had become deeply identified by fans in the role. However, McAvoy was so charming as the character that he easily won over fans as the lead hero in the new prequel films. He beautifully balances the dueling impulses in Xavier -- brash arrogance versus optimistic altruism.
The only real knock on McAvoy in the films has been the fact that he mostly just reacts to what Michael Fassbender's Erik Lensherr does (something that we noted in our look at Professor X vs. Magneto memes). Xavier's most common line of dialogue in the films is, "Erik, no!" Generally speaking, the guy who is doing the things that causes his friend to constantly chastise him is going to be the more interesting character than the one constantly chastising him.
4 IAN MCKELLEN AS MAGNETO
One of the things that appeals most to actors about superhero (and fantasy) films is the same sort of thing that appeals to actors about performing Shakespeare. The most famous roles call for the actors to play their parts really over-the-top and they get to give lots of big, dramatic speeches. Those sorts of things are like some sort of super-drug to actors and in the case of Ian McKellen, we saw him excel in all three categories (Shakespeare, superhero films and fantasy films).
While his role as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings film franchise is probably what he is better known for, McKellen was still electric in his performances as Magneto in the X-Men series of movies. He would transfix your attention every time he was on the screen.
3 PATRICK STEWART AS PROFESSOR X
Through the first few X-Men films, Ian McKellen probably had the lead over Patrick Stewart. That isn't to say that Patrick Stewart wasn't excellent as Professor X, as he was. He fulfilled all of the promise that fans have had about him playing the role ever since he burst on the mainstream with his lead role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
However, in the first few films, McKellen got to go broader and more dramatic than Stewart did. However, Stewart got to make up for that in spades with his stunning performance in his (apparently) final film as Xavier, last year's hit, Logan. That film allowed Stewart to take the character of Xavier to some dark places and Stewart put on a masterclass in acting with his depiction of Xavier's slowly unraveling lucidity.
2 MICHAEL FASSBENDER AS ERIK LENSHERR
As noted earlier, the more interesting character in films is often going to be the one who gets into the most trouble, since those are the most interesting characters to follow. With that in mind, Michael Fassbender's turn as Erik Lensherr in the X-Men prequel films has been filled to the brim with troublemaking.
We have gotten to see Fassbender take Erik from a revenge-seeking man who still thinks that there might be hope for peace in the world to a wanted terrorist to a broken-down man stripped of a (seemingly) last chance for happiness and thus transformed into an acolyte of the evil Apocalypse. Erik seems to make an awful lot of bad decisions, but boy, does Fassbender act the heck out of these poor decisions. He has such gravitas that it is almost like he is using his magnetic powers to pull you to him on the screen.
1 HUGH JACKMAN AS WOLVERINE
Dougray Scott is legitimately a fine actor and there is little doubt that he would have acquitted himself well had he been able to play Wolverine in the original X-Men film, as originally planned. However, it is hard to see anyone, Scott included, being able to hold up as well as Hugh Jackman has, playing the role of Wolverine for an astonishing, uncanny seventeen years.
Not only has Jackman played the character for nearly two decades, but his performances have remarkably even gotten better with age! His stints in The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Logan are far stronger than his earliest efforts in the original X-Men trilogy and those were already very good. You might look at Professor X and say, "Jean-Luc!" You might look at Magneto and say, "Gandalf!" You look at Hugh Jackman and you say, "Wolverine!"