In anticipation (or maybe dread, who knows anymore) of Dark Phoenix opening in theaters, I rewatched almost the entire X-Men franchise over the last several weeks. I had seen all 11 previous X-films in theaters, so I thought rather than revisiting them in the order of release, I’d see what it’s like to watch them in chronological order — starting with 2011’s X-Men: First Class and then continuing with the rest of the movies featuring the young X-Men cast, before transitioning to the original entries with the “adult“ X-Men.

That turned out to be a terrible idea.

The next X-Men movie after First Class, 2014’s Days of Future Past, is a team up between the young and old casts, and that really works better after you’ve met both groups. The film after that, 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, just plain stinks. So watching them in chronological order dooms you to sit through a movie you can’t fully appreciate, then endure a movie no one could appreciate. It’s not ideal.

That revelation got me thinking about the “correct” viewing order for the X-Men franchise. If someone had missed the entire series over the last 20 years and decided that Dark Phoenix looked incredible (just go with it), and wanted to catch themselves up in the most efficient and entertaining way possible, how should they approach it? After my extensive rewatch, a good deal of soul searching, and in direct consultation with my spiritual adviser, I settled on the following list:

Suggested X-Men Movie Viewing Order:

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

You will note that in addition to X-Men: ApocalypseX-Men Origins: Wolverine, the first solo film for Hugh Jackman’s extremely pointy mutant hero, does not appear on this list. That is because that movie sucks. More importantly, though, it add nothing to the overall X-Men saga. The gaps it fills in Wolverine’s backstory don’t impact any of the other movies. Unless you were always dying to know how Wolverine got that leather jacket he wears in a bunch of the other movies, you can safely skip it.

So this is the way I would do it: Start with X-Men: First Class, which is a solid introduction to this universe and to the ideological frenemy relationship between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender). Then bypass the rest of the prequel series and go straight into the original X-Men trilogy back to back to back. See Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan at the top of their games in X-Men. Watch Hugh Jackman become a movie star in X2. You won’t regret it.

Granted, X-Men: The Last Stand isn’t fantastic, but it’s better than its reputation. Plus, its ending directly affects several movies that follow, particularly The Wolverine, so avoiding it entirely leaves you somewhat perplexed by some of the better installments that followed it. Then close things out with X-Men: Days of Future Past, which ties a bow on the whole saga, and Logan, a sad epilogue that plays even better after the more hopeful conclusion in DoFP. 

Watching those movies in that order gives you everything you need and nothing you don’t. It lets you appreciate the evolution of the characters without getting too bogged in the weaker entries. And it ends things on a real high note — at least until you go see Dark Phoenix.

Gallery — The Worst X-Men Movie Plot Holes:

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