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Wolverine's claws versus many poor bastards' torsos. Deadpool's swords and guns versus, well, everyone. Storm and the X-Jet versus tornadoes and F-15s. Before Marvel Studios' crop of blockbusters had the market cornered on comic book movie spectacle, the original run of X-Men films satisfied fandom's kick-punching needs for almost 20 years.
Starting with 2000's X-Men and ending with the long-delayed The New Mutants, 20th Century Fox’s take on Marvel's mutants was one that changed the genre. Especially with the inspired R-rated additions of Deadpool and the Oscar-nominated Logan, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this week. While the franchise's legacy was hit and miss in terms of quality (we're looking at you, X3), it rarely disappointed on the set-piece front.
In honor of Logan turning five, and also because we're always feeling nostalgic for our first live-action intro to Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, here are 15 of the X-Men series' greatest action scenes.
15. Wolverine and Sabretooth's snow fight in X-Men (2000)
It’s the moment fans of both the X-Men comics and the '90s animated series were waiting for — two of their favorite characters finally duking it out in live-action.
The first film’s infamous penny-pinching budget truncates the scope and runtime of this fight, but the snowy setting gives it a refreshing visual touch and scale that helps set the tone for more action to come.
14. Wolverine vs. Sabretooth atop the Statue of Liberty in X-Men (2000)
While "wire-fu" was relatively in its infancy during the production of the first X-Men movie, director Bryan Singer and his impressive stunt team found a way to work around the limitations and arguably deliver the film's best setpiece. Logan does all the things fans want him to do in a fight against his biggest rival: pop claws, say "bub," repeat.
It all culminates with Logan making one hell of a sacrifice play to save Rogue (Anna Paquin) and thwart Magneto's (Ian McKellen) evil weapon of spaghetti-like energy from turning New York City into a Petri dish. Nice work, bub.
13. Logan's last berserker rage in Logan (2017)
Canada’s most lethal export unleashed his signature move — the berserker rage — with the help of a serum used by his younger, murder-fueled clone. Prior to director James Mangold’s R-rated Logan, Wolverine’s epic finishing move was confined to very PG-13 standards. Thankfully, Hugh Jackman’s last Wolverine movie celebrated being free of all that by going full “snikt!” and finally giving fans the slash fest they waited 17 years to see.
12. Wolverine vs. Lady Deathstrike in X2 (2003)
This bloody, climactic fight between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu) is like a splash page panel come to life. Adamantium stabs and slashes on both sides as X2’s “boss battle” keeps Wolverine away from his true target, General Stryker (the always-excellent Brian Cox). In doing so, the action scene culminates in a level of tragedy as Wolverine uses the very metal that created him and his attacker to kill the latter by injecting her with a molten form of it.
The pained “look at what they make you give?” eye contact the two combatants share, Bourne Identity-style, speaks volumes about how this sequel — one of the best ever — uses its action scenes in service of the story’s emotional stakes and not just as eye candy.
11. Deadpool and Cable's truck fight in Deadpool 2 (2018)
"Bigger and louder" seemed to be this sequel’s mandate, and no action sequence further proves that than Deadpool 2’s inventive AF truck fight between our titular hero and his time-traveling rival, Cable (Josh Brolin). Here, guns, John Wick-level fight choreography (thanks to Wick and Deadpool 2 director David Leitch), crashing cars, flipping trucks, and the Juggernaut all mix together to form a balls-to-the-wall set piece full of fist-pumping moments.
While the CG elements aren’t quite photo-real or seamless, the ideas being executed here more than make up for it.
10. Deadpool's carpool massacre in Deadpool (2016)
I mean, what’s not to love about this fourth-wall-breaking, violent and hilarious setpiece? This set piece is largely made up of that sizzle reel that leaked prior to the movie being greenlit, just with more polished VFX and fight choreography. Which just makes it that much more rewatchable.
09. Storm and Nightcrawler on the X-Jet in X2 (2003)
Great action scenes are often made up of a rapid series of "good news, bad news" moments. Your hero or heroes are caught in a cycle of mini-victories followed by increasingly complicated setbacks that culminate in one big (usually explosion-y) finish.
This iconic set-piece is the textbook example of that as Storm, Jean Grey, and Nightcrawler’s powersets are employed at 30,000 feet, at Mach 3, aboard and outside the X-Jet.
From the moment Storm summons tornadoes to dispatch the fighter jets chasing their stealth plane, to when Nightcrawler teleports to save Rogue in mid-air, this sequence is non-stop, white-knuckle tension.
08. Logan vs. car thieves in Logan (2017)
The Oscar-nominated screenplay for Logan, co-written by Scott Frank (Out of Sight), takes a beat before its opening scene to set the table for how different this film will be from previous comic book adventures. No, as the script puts it, "CG f***-a-thon" theatrics or people getting hit or stabbed and reacting as if they are suffering from a hangnail.
No, in Logan, when the drunk and broken former X-Man wakes up in the back of his rented limo to thieves trying to strip it, his slowly-deploying claws unleash a bloody spectacle for the 17-and-up crowd. The first scene in this modern classic finally delivers the Wolverine comic book fans have waited nearly two decades for — with the realism and resonance both they and the character deserve.
07. Magneto hunts down Nazis in X-Men: First Class (2011)
Director Matthew Vaughn’s first (and only) X-Men movie had the unenviable task of revitalizing the franchise after the creative disappointment that was X3. He and the prequel's co-writer, Jane Goldman, succeeded with a grounded, 1960s-set storyline that centered on Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and his search for the Nazis that used him as a lab rat and murdered his mother.
His search culminates in one of the most satisfying moments in the film, in which Erik hunts his targets down to a South American bar and ends them with his powers in a manner that’s more Sean Connery-era Bond movie than summer blockbuster.
06. Magneto's finishing move in X-Men: First Class (2011)
In a fitting bookend to the Nazi coin Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw used on a young Magneto back in their concentration camp days, the iconic X-Men villain uses it to bookend his rivalry with the murderous leader of the Hellfire Club. How? By counting to three before slowly and methodically pushing it through and out of Shaw’s skull.
This confrontation succeeds by not being a traditional fistfight. Instead, it’s a showdown decades in the making, a vendetta finally satisfied that changes the course of the franchise forever and turns a Holocaust survivor into a tragic archvillain.
05. Nightcrawler BAMFs the White House in X2 (2003)
A mix of bullet time-esque photography and impressive CGI, the opening action teaser from X2 is a dream come true for Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) fans. The production perfectly captured the classic BAMF-ing effect in one of the franchise’s and genre’s most iconic scenes.
04. That bullet train fight in The Wolverine (2013)
Director James Mangold and his production team reach near-perfection with this inspired action sequence, which pits Wolverine against one very brave/stupid band of Yakuza thugs atop a Japanese bullet train.
Rocketing down the rails at 300 miles-per-hour, scored to nothing but roaring winds and the snikt of adamantium, this action scene features a broken Wolverine slashing his way into an all-timer of a fight scene.
Moreover, the scene gives Hugh Jackman’s hero a chance to show off his wits as well as his fists, as he uses his surroundings against his attackers when claws aren’t enough. It's Wolverine's best mano-a-mano brawl since fighting Lady Deathstrike in X2.
03. X-23's intro in Logan (2017)
X-23 — and her R-rated skills — made Daphne Keen a young star with this “holy sh**!” set-piece that lets the young girl decapitate and impale a tac team in ways that make Wolverine’s exploits look like a square dance.
Equally brutal and impressive.
02. Quicksilver's prison break in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
I saw this movie three times in theaters. And every time, the crowd laughed and applauded Quicksilver's scene-stealing antics in Magneto’s underground prison.
This sequence, and Nightcrawler’s BAMF!-fueled assault on the White House, are two of the best things Singer’s X-Men films have ever done.
01. Wolverine defends the X-Mansion in X2 (2003)
As Wolverine growls to one of General Stryker’s guys invading the X-Mansion: "You picked the wrong house, bub."
The crime of breaking and entering in Wolverine's world is punishable by claws through the chest — and face — as Weapon X unleashes on Stryker's goons, painting the walls of Xavier's home with PG-13 carnage.