An Exhaustive Explainer of X-Men's Deeply Confusing Timeline
The X-Men movie franchise is really something. Frequently cited as the first big superhero movie series, 2000's X-Men was a game changer. The ensemble mutant team-up film, led by Hugh Jackman, helped usher in the comic book takeover of Hollywood, and kicked off a franchise of 13 films and counting. And its sequel, X2, is still remembered as one of the best superhero movies of all time. For good reason, too—it fucking rules.
Although the franchise has given us a handful of fantastic films and some incredibly iconic roles like Patrick Stewart's Professor X and Ian McKellen's Magneto, the series has no shortage of plot holes and timeline inconsistencies. In fact, the overall narrative of these films is pretty much incoherent. Comic books are known to jump around dimensions and continually reboot themselves year after year, but there's just no excusing the bonkers recklessness of the X-Men film franchise. Densely overpopulated by actors playing the same roles at different eras, and scattered across so many intersecting timelines that it's quite literally impossible to navigate, the Children of the Atom have never been so confusing.
Dark Phoenix is in theaters, and many fans think it might be the last of the current X-Men era as we know it. So, we break down the entire X-Men timeline from the original film through X-Men: Apocalypse and Deadpool.
X-Men, X2, and X-Men: The Last Stand
The first three films in the X-Men franchise are the easiest to decipher, temporally-speaking. Set in the near future, the series kicks off with Hugh Jackman's Logan stumbling onto Professor X's Mutant Academy. The first film sees the X-Men save humanity from the merciless bad guy Magneto and his high-tech device that turns normies into mutants (or, in some cases, a sweaty pool of water).
X2 gets deeper into the lore of the comics by introducing Colonel Stryker, a dude who wants to eradicate all mutants because he himself has a sociopathic mutant son. The original trilogy ties off in the horrendously cringeworthy The Last Stand, wherein a mutant cure is developed, causing an all-out war. In this film, Famke Janssen's Jean Grey is unleashed as The Phoenix, a storyline that the series would revisit almost 15 years later in the new Dark Phoenix film. It's important to note that, in this film, she explodes Professor X. Like, literally, blows him the hell up. Also, Wolverine kills Jean Grey.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and The Wolverine
It's feels insane to recognize that Hugh Jackman's Wolverine character got a trilogy of his own. With 2017's Logan rounding out these three tonally all-over-the-place movies, the feral Canadian superhero has really gone through a lot. Origins took us back to the 1800s, with its opening section showing Wolvie fighting in nearly all the major wars from that period to the modern day. Apparently, Logan and Sabretooth are half-brothers, and fought in these conflicts together–even though they seem to not even know each other in the first X-Men film, where Sabretooth is played by a completely different actor.
The majority of Origins: Wolverine takes place in 1973, and then in 1979, showing Logan's escape from the lab where he was implanted with an indestructible metal skeleton, and his heroic rise as he meets other mutants and decides to be a good guy. In this film, we see a bunch of young versions of the characters we have come to know and love from the series, such as Cyclops, Deadpool, Emma Frost, and a terrifyingly de-aged Professor X. It's important to note that, here, Cyclops and Emma Frost look like a pre-teens, and Professor X can walk, and Deadpool is killed.
The Wolverine continues after the events of The Last Stand, set sometime around the year 2013. It charts Logan's journey to Japan and his search for peace after killing Jean Grey. In the end of the film, he runs into Professor X and Magneto, who seem to be working together for some reason, looking to recruit him again (this never really gets explained). Somehow, Professor X is back to life after being exploded by Jean Grey in the last film (also not explained).
X-Men: First Class
This one was a big departure from the main storyline of the series. Keep in mind, we're still existing in the same, singular, non-multi-dimensional timeline at this point. First Class took us back to the 1960s heyday of Professor X, now played by James McAvoy, and Magneto, now played by Michael Fassbender, as the two of them learn their powers and get to know each other. The first film that doesn't have Hugh Jackman in a lead role, First Class shows us the events that lead to the formation of Professor X's Academy for Gifted Youngsters, and also the point wherein Charles Xavier loses mobility of his legs. This is where our first big inconsistencies come in. Emma Frost is in this film, this time played January Jones, and she's an adult woman. In Origins: Wolverine, this character was a pre-teen, and that took place around 25 years later in 1979. Also, Charles Xavier loses his ability to walk in this film. At the end of Origins: Wolverine, he is walking around with no problem!
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Okay, this is where things really become insane. Days of Future Past takes us to the distant future of this timeline so far. It's the year 2023 in this film, and mutants are being scraped off the face of the Earth, with robotic Sentinels creating a nightmarish dystopian hellscape of humanity. The film marries together the franchise's two star-studded casts, showing us Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen's gang in the future, with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender's crew in the year 1973, continuing directly from the events of First Class. Hugh Jackman returns to the franchise as Wolverine, and is sent back to the '70s into his former body to stop the events that would create for this hellish future.
This movie turned the franchise into a sort of incoherent wormhole. Effectively ignoring everything that happened in Origins: Wolverine, Days of Future Past sees Logan meeting many of these mutants for the very first time. When the mutants succeed in stopping the Sentinels from taking over the Earth, the franchise shat out a completely new timeline, with the events of the '70s to the modern day now completely up in the air. The film, frustratingly enough, ends with a young William Stryker discovering Wolverine for the first time, taking him in for his Weapon X experimentation. Hasn't this fucking happened already?
Logan, Deadpool, and Deadpool 2
We don't even know what's going on anymore. These films seem to take place in a future where the Sentinels haven't risen to power. But really, it's anyone's guess. Logan sees Wolverine as an old man in the near future, and though it's dystopian, it's not as dystopian as Days of Future Past, so who the fuck knows.
The Deadpool movies seem to be their own thing, somehow existing in the X-Men world yet also on the periphery of the timeline–lest we forget, the Deadpool we knew from the series was killed by Wolverine in 1979. But who cares! Nothing matters! Also, we meet Colossus again, who we came to know as a young white guy who could turn into metal in X2 and The Last Stand, and has since somehow become a gigantic Russian dude who is just always metal.
X-Men: Apocalypse, and the new movie, Dark Phoenix
Apocalypse picks up in the '80s following the events of Days of Future Past's 70s. It stars the young version of the X cast, with James McAvoy leading the fray in the fight against the all-powerful Apocalypse, the first known mutant. It's here that we meet Nightcrawler for the "first" time, a character we've already met before in X2.Also, the character known as Angel meets the mutants in this film–even though he is introduced for the "first" time, again, in The Last Stand. Also, for some reason, Magneto destroys the remains of Auschwitz.
And that brings us to Dark Phoenix. The new movie takes place in the 90s, following the events of the previous film. Michael Fassbender appears in this film once again looking very much Michael Fassbender age, even though, given what we know about this series the character should be somewhere in his 70s. Everything is so all-over-the-place at this point, there's no telling what may happen here. Keep in mind, we've already seen Jean Grey go full Phoenix in The Last Stand. Is it happening here for the first time? Or is The Last Stand obliterated by the timeline shift in Days of Future Past? Honestly, who cares anymore. Marvel is going to reboot the whole thing in a few years anyway.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.