The first X-Men film in the now long-running franchise has a reputation for being considered the turning point for Hollywood superhero films. Sure, Batman and Superman had major studio releases with big box-office success, but it wasn’t until the success of Bryan Singer’s X-Men film in the year 2000 that studios started the mass acquisition of the intellectual property of popular superheroes. In the years following X-Men, Spider-Man and The Hulk were turned into big-budget Hollywood Blockbusters, paving the way for the eventual rise of the Hollywood superhero era we live in today.
There have been six X-Men films now that X-Men: Apocalypse has been released, and that’s not including the two spin-off Wolverine films and the recent Deadpool movie – which does technically belong to Fox’s X-Men Cinematic Universe. Some have been really great adaptations of the characters and stories from the comics while others have been less successful both critically and financially, but every film has within it a scene or a moment that exemplifies why fans keep coming back for more X-Men, sixteen years after the original film was released. Here are 12 of the best moments that do just that.
12. Birth of The Brotherhood (X-Men: First Class)
In the previous X-Men films, the infamous Brotherhood of Mutants, led by Magneto, are already established as a mutant threat to mankind. X-Men: First Class presents the origin stories of key characters such as Magneto, Professor X, and Mystique, but the end of the film shows us just how the Brotherhood was formed. Moments after defeating Sebastian Shaw, the film’s big-bad, Magneto turns on Xavier, and their friendship quickly becomes the fierce and complicated rivalry fans have come to expect from the franchise. It’s a devastating scene that ends with a bullet being redirected by Magneto and accidentally hitting Professor X, lodging itself in his back and leaving him paralyzed.
11. Wolverine’s Claws (X-Men)
It’s not really controversial to say that Wolverine is the most iconic X-Men character of all time. At one point, the character was so popular, comic creators would pull him out of the X-Men comic and drop him in other books – basically guaranteeing sales for whatever issue he’d appear in. Stripped of his iconic yellow costume, however, fans weren’t sure what to expect from the live-action adaptation of the character. But when fans heard that first big-screen “snikt” – the sound that has been synonymous with Wolverine’s retractable claws for years – their concerns were wiped away and Hugh Jackman basically became Wolverine in the hearts and minds of audiences from that moment on.
10. The Golden Gate Bridge (X-Men: The Last Stand)
X-Men: The Last Stand is a flawed film, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of great individual moments. There are a few gems scattered throughout an overwhelmingly muddled third film in the franchise, and Magneto using his abilities to break off a chunk of the Golden Gate Bridge is the cream of the crop. The destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge has become a trope in genre films, but this scene is so original in execution and visually grand as a cinematic set-piece, it’s easy to overlook the fact that fans have no doubt seen something very similar before.
9. Sentinels Kill The X-Men (X-Men: Days Of Future Past)
The opening of X-Men: Days Of Future Past is devastating. One by one, our heroes are violently killed by an adaptive breed of Sentinels which can replicate mutant abilities. We soon learn that Kitty Pride was able to go back in time before the Sentinel attack, reversing the deaths of the X-Men who had just faced brutal on-screen deaths. Right from the get-go, Days Of Future Past raise the stakes and keep them elevated throughout the film, but that opening scene was a brilliant way of setting up the time travel elements that are such a big part of the story.
8. Berserker Wolverine (X2: X-Men United)
The scene that nearly bumped X2 to an R rating rather than the PG13 rating it finally received, Wolverine unleashes his abilities in a blind and violent rage directed at the men invading the mansion. Wolverine wasn’t given much to do in the first X-Men film, likely because a character with claws sticking out of his knuckles may be hard to depict in an action sequence without raising the eyebrows of censors. Lucky for us, Wolverine was set free in the sequel, ripping through bad-guys like a knife through butter.
7. Magneto Escapes (X2: X-Men United)
Magneto is locked in a plastic prison, kept away from any metal that he would be able to manipulate and use for his escape. However, with the help of Mystique, Magneto is able to pull out the iron that she had injected into the bloodstream of one of the guards, allowing him to use the iron as small bullet-like balls to burst out of captivity and rejoin his allies. Impossible? Sure. Bad-ass? Absolutely. This is a superhero movie after all, so there is bound to be some suspension of disbelief necessary from the audience. It’s easy to forgive these kinds of things in movies about mutants, especially when the movie is this good.
6. Magneto v. The Police (X-Men)
Magneto finds himself cornered by the police. With a subtle raise of his hands, Magneto lifts a bunch of police cars up in the air, only to send them crashing down moments later. In this scene, Magneto’s ability to manipulate metal is on full display, as he moves cars, guns, and bullets around at will, seemingly without much effort. When Professor X takes control of Sabretooth’s mind, communicating with Magneto through him, we see that this conflict runs deep in both of them, as they both believe that are doing what needs to be done for the safety of mutant kind. It’s both a visual marvel and a high-point in the narrative that shows the audience what they can expect from this complicated villain and his relationship with Xavier.
5. Assault On The White House (X2: X-Men United)
This scene can often be found on “Best Superhero Action Scenes” lists all over the internet, and for good reason. Night Crawler breaches The White House in an attempt to assassinate the president over some unfavorable new laws against mutant kind. What makes this scene so special is Night Crawler’s teleportation ability and the breathtaking visual effects that made them possible. At this point, the blue mist that is left behind each time he teleports has become an iconic aspect of both the character and the cinematic version of the franchise. These were ground-breaking effects at the time and completely thrilled audiences, both unfamiliar with the character and those who had long been waiting for Night Crawler to hit the big-screen.
4. Becoming Beast (X-Men: First Class)
While fans generally have mixed feelings about the overall look of Beast in X-Men: First Class, the scene in which Hank McCoy tries to cure himself of his mutant gene, inadvertently transforming himself into the iconic character is well executed and kind of brilliant. It certainly makes up for his cat-like appearance later on in the film. Kelsey Grammar’s version of Beast from the original X-Men films was definitely closer to the source material in terms of the look of the character, but Nicholas Hoult’s version makes Hank a sympathetic character before he ever becomes blue. When this scene finally happens, the audience knows and cares about Hank, making for a dramatic and visually stunning scene.
3. Danger Room Training (X-Men: The Last Stand)
The Danger Room has long been a big part of the X-Men mythology in the comics. Xavier’s is a school, after all, so having a training simulation room where mutants can learn to hone their powers for use in the field makes perfect sense. In X-Men: The Last Stand, the Danger Room finally received the introduction to the film franchise it deserved. In one of the film’s opening scenes, we see the X-Men take on a group of “deadly” (holographic) Sentinels in what holds up as one of the best action set-pieces in any of the original three X-Men films.
2. Quicksilver! (X-Men: Days of Future Past)
When fans got their first look at Evan Peters as Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past, they were mortified. That silver jacket, while in keeping with the 70s period-piece aesthetic of the film, looked really, really silly. However, when Quicksilver displays his powers, running through a room of gunfire and guards so fast he seemingly stops time as he rearranges people and objects to clear a path for an escaping Magneto, fans instantly forgave the ridiculous look of the character and embraced him because of the clever cinematic use of his abilities. It’s simply a great scene: it’s funny, original, and tells us everything we need to know about the character.
1. The Chess Game (X-Men)
At the end of the fist X-Men film, Magneto has been defeated and placed in a glass prison where his abilities can’t help him escape. We see Charles Xavier sitting across from him in his cell, as the two discuss the future of mutant kind over a game of chess. This scene perfectly demonstrates what make X-Men such an original and captivating franchise: Magneto isn’t a two-dimensional mustache-twirling villain, and Professor X isn’t a generic embodiment of truth, justice, and the American way. Their relationship, their motivations, and their actions are complex, and it’s sometimes difficult to see who’s right and who’s wrong. This scene demonstrates that complexity and sets the thematic tone of the franchise that holds it together, even in its most recent iterations.