We have had almost 51 years of the X-Men mutants in the Marvel comic book universe, 25 years of X-Men in TV animations, the same 25 years of X-Men in video games and 14 years of X-Men in live-action Hollywood blockbusters that have generated $2.3 billion in worldwide box office.
The X-Men, originally created by Marvel legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as a fantastical, fictional and sympathetic response to the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, refuse to fade away. These super-heroes and super-villains with mutant EX-tra powers are still relevant as socio-political metaphors. In part, their enduring popularity is linked to their status as the most politically, socially, religiously, racially and nationally diverse group of superheroes/villains ever created.
Hence the next stage. X-Men: Days of Future Past, the seventh film in the series, debuts Friday. Its sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse, is set for May 27, 2016. On the eve of Days of Future Past, we offer a primer on the past six films:
• X-Men (2000):
Directed by Bryan Singer (who is currently embroiled in lawsuits regarding allegations of sexual impropriety): Mostly filmed in Toronto, the first film explores the conflict between the mutants led by Professor Charles Francis Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the Brotherhood of Mutants led by Magneto (Ian McKellen). Although Magneto was a Jewish victim of the Holocaust, he reacts to oppression by becoming oppressive. Seeing a possible/probable war breaking out with “normal” humans who are afraid of the mutants, Magneto plans to fight back. Xavier is more conciliatory. Mutants such as adamantium enhanced Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) are caught up in the conflict. In a powerful symbolic gesture, a chess match between Xavier and Magneto suggests the intellectual depths of the struggle to come. The movie cost $75 million and generated $296 million worldwide.
• X2: X-Men United (2003):
Directed by Bryan Singer. Inspired by the 1982 graphic novel, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, this sequel obliges Xavier and Magneto to fight against a common foe. Their enemy is the hellacious Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox), who is bent on mutant genocide. Mostly filmed in Vancouver, the movie cost $110 million and generated $408 million worldwide.
• X-Men: The Last Stand (2006):
Directed by Brett Ratner (after Singer left to pursue Superman Returns). When a “cure” for mutants is announced, Magneto fears the inoculation will become mandatory. Meanwhile, the evil side of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) becomes Phoenix, leaving Wolverine in a moral bind when he confronts her in the climactic battle scenes. Filmed in British Columbia and California, the film cost $210 and generated $459 million worldwide despite mixed/negative reviews.
• X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009):
Directed by Gavin Hood. Shot in New Zealand, Australia and Canada, the movie is set before the first trilogy. The plot focuses on the relationships among Wolverine, his half-brother Victor Creed/ Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) and William Stryker (this time played by Danny Huston). The movie cost $150 million and generated $373 worldwide despite terrible reviews (even Jackman damned it).
• X-Men: First Class (2011):
Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Set in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, with a flashback to the Nazi death camps, this prequel sets up how Xavier (James McAvoy) becomes Professor X and how Erik Lehnsherr (Bill Milner as an anguished child, and Michael Fassbender as an adult) becomes Magneto. Shot in England, the U.S., Canada and Argentina, the movie cost up to $160 million and generated $354 million worldwide.
• The Wolverine (2013):
Directed by James Mangold. This spinoff picks up after the events of the original trilogy, focusing on Wolverine and his death-defying adventures in Japan. Jackman was much happier this time and so were fans. Shot in Australia and Japan, the film cost $120 million and generated $415 million worldwide.