Hugh Jackman is riding a wave of praise and adoration for his final performance as Wolverine in Logan, the culmination of playing the character for nearly 20 years over nine films. Wolverine has always been the most popular X-Men character in the Marvel Comics, so Jackman had some big expectations to meet, as far as comic book fans were concerned. But he exceeded those expectations, creating one of the most memorable movie superheroes of the past two decades.
Now that Jackman is finished playing Wolverine, those nine performances as the character can be framed with some perspective. Not all of those movies were good. At least one of them was very bad, and Jackman suffered with it. But as a whole, it’s an impressive body of work. (Perhaps almost as impressive as the physique Jackman chiseled out to look like a superhero come to life. Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness were guaranteed a cover story every couple of years as Jackman detailed his regimen and diet. Never has a man been more happy to eat a heaping bowl of pasta.)
Through ensemble superhero spectacles and darker, standalone character studies, Jackman has played Wolverine in almost every story possible. He even took a comedic turn in a memorable cameo appearance. So now that his appearances as Wolverine can be shelved into a complete set, we rank each of Jackman’s performances as Logan and the films in which they took place. Here they are, from No. 9 to the very best.
9. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
X-Men fans and filmmakers live in denial about this film, pretending it never happened. I apologize for bringing it up here. But it shouldn’t be any surprise that the first standalone Wolverine film (and worst in the X-Men movie series) is last on this list.
Wolverine’s backstory had to be told, without carrying the rest of the X-Men ensemble with it. Unfortunately, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was an abysmal attempt to depict how Logan became Wolverine, due largely to a cliché-riddled script, a backstory that made a ruthless badass into a lovelorn sap, shoehorning too many other mutants into the story (including a terribly misguided introduction to Deadpool), and a ridiculous attempt to explain why Logan has no memory of his past. This is not the Wolverine fans wanted to see.
8. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
As the X-Men series went through a reboot, producers had to decide where Wolverine fit in with younger versions of Charles Xavier, Magneto, Cyclops and Jean Grey. Without recasting Jackman, that made for an awkward transition. But apparently, there was also fear of having a X-Men film without the most popular mutant, so this scene was shoehorned into X-Men: Apocalypse. It doesn’t necessarily fit with the rest of the movie, other than as fan service to the hardcore Wolverine geeks and help extend the X-Men movie mythology.
Longtime fans likely enjoyed the shoutout to the 1991 Marvel Comics “Weapon X” storyline, in which the military attempts to create a mutant weapon that eventually escapes its control. The comics are referenced by the mechanical gear Jackman is wearing when he escapes from his cell. While it’s a fun nod, it’s a clumsy fit. And if you consider the previous movies portraying Wolverine being in love with Jean Grey, it’s a bit creepy to have an older character intrigued by a teenager (Sophie Turner).
7. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
The third X-Men film was a troubled production from the start. Director Bryan Singer left to make Superman Returns, and producers hired Brett Ratner to take his place. Jackman is suitably badass, especially in an opening scene when he’s training the younger X-Men in a fight simulation, smoking a cigar while everything is blowing up around them.
Meanwhile, writers were fighting the studio on which story to emphasize: An adaptation of the famous X-Men comic book story arc, “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” or a version of “Gifted” (written by Joss Whedon), in which a “cure” for mutants is created. But “Dark Phoenix,” with Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) overwhelmed by her power and turning evil, fueled the climax of the film. That led to a confrontation between Jean and Wolverine, in which Logan ultimately has to kill the woman he loves in order to save everyone. It added a layer of tragedy to the character, who was probably always destined to be alone. If only the movie had been better. (Fortunately, this entire story was wiped from X-Men movie continuity by 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.)
6. The Wolverine (2013)
Wolverine in Japan has always been a big deal to comic book fans, alluding to the 1982 limited series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. James Mangold’s first turn at directing a Wolverine movie is a loose adaptation of the comics storyline, as Logan is summoned to Japan by a man he saved during the World War II atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Living in self-exile after killing Jean Grey, he’s haunted by what he’s done and wants no more part of the X-Men’s adventures. We learn that Logan has a death wish. His mutant healing ability has made him virtually immortal, and he’s weary of losing the people close to him over the years. (This theme is continued in Logan.)
The first two-thirds of this movie looked like the best Wolverine film ever made, with the surly loner wanting to be left alone, but can’t avoid helping someone in need. Logan fights the Yakuza and a band of ninjas in arguably the best action sequences involving the character (including the centerpiece fight on a bullet train). Unfortunately, what begins as a darker character study, almost a samurai tale, devolves into a typical superhero movie by the end with Wolverine fighting a giant robot. Such a wasted opportunity. This film should have been higher on the list.
5. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Days of Future Past gives Jackman a different challenge, requiring him to play the future and past versions of Wolverine. Based on a 1981 comic book story, part of the narrative takes place in a dystopian future where mutants have been largely wiped out by killer robots, and what’s left of the X-Men is hiding in China. Wolverine is sent to the 1970s (able to withstand the rigors of time travel because of his healing power) to prevent the assassination which triggers the government initiative to capture and exterminate mutants.
Jackman is as ripped as he’s ever been playing Wolverine, who serves as the bridge between the future and past in the film, but also the link between the previous X-Men films and the rebooted series of movies. Intriguingly, Wolverine is sent to a time before adamantium metal was bonded to his skeleton and claws, so he’s not quite as lethal as in other stories. But he’s still a guy with bone spears coming out of his hands and being in the 1970s gives him sort of a Steve McQueen-Clint Eastwood toughness. Not only did Wolverine help save the future, but the time travel storyline allowed producers to reset the X-Men movie continuity (which also helped Logan become an even better movie).
4. X-Men: First Class (2011)
OK, Wolverine’s appearance in this film is less than 30 seconds long and only three words of dialogue. But it still might have to be considered, “pound-for-pound,” the character’s best scene in the X-Men films. X-Men: First Class was a reboot of the franchise, casting younger actors in what’s essentially the origin story of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) putting the X-Men together. The two go throughout the country recruiting mutants, discovered by Xavier’s mutant-tracking device Cerebro. The jet-setting montage brings them to a bar in an undisclosed location where a certain surly, mutton-chopped, wild-maned mutant is enjoying a whiskey. And he doesn’t want to be disturbed. It’s pretty much perfect.
Given the reboot, producers had to figure out a way to make a X-Men film without Wolverine. But the cameo was a fun gag for fans and perhaps something of a tribute to the X-Men’s most popular character. Maybe Logan thought those two were trying to pick him up for a three-way? If more serious fans wanted to pick it apart, it’s unlikely that Xavier and Magneto would have left that bar without bringing Wolverine with them. Yet that would’ve taken away from the fun of this scene and the overall objective of the “First Class” movie.
3. X2: X-Men United (2003)
The second movie in the X-Men series, X2: X-Men United largely follows Logan as he attempts to piece together the past he can’t remember, which includes bonding his skeleton to indestructible metal to make him a lethal weapon. Some of those memories come back to him as the X-Men investigate the Alkali Lake facility where Weapon X was created and the man who headed the program, William Styrker (Brian Cox). It was just a hint of the origin story that would be told (very badly) years later. Wolverine also has a great fight scene with a different version of the Weapon X program, Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Yu), whose claws are also laced with adamantium.
Most importantly, the movie brings the berserker rage associated with Wolverine to life on film. Seeking to protect the kids at Xavier’s School from the operatives who intend to kidnap them for study and experimentation, Logan turns into the fierce mother bear, unleashing a whole lot of hurt and carnage with his claws. This was the Wolverine whom fans enjoyed so much in the X-Men comic books, and Jackman once again embodied the character wonderfully.
2. Logan (2017)
Our review of Logan really says it all: This is the best Wolverine film ever made, the definitive take on the character and probably Jackman’s finest performance as an actor. Logan is a broken-down man who’s lost everything and just wants his suffering to end. Yet he still feels indebted to the man who took him in decades earlier and provided him a better life. This is a far more violent Logan than we’ve ever seen on film, showing what would really happen if a guy with six blades coming out of his hands decided to use them to lethal effect. He also can’t heal like he did before, making him far more vulnerable than the guy who was nearly invulnerable in eight previous movies.
The movie and performance undoubtedly benefit from all that came before it. Through nine films over a 17-year span, Jackman had a chance to build a character that few other actors receive, also giving fans a chance to invest themselves emotionally in one of the best translations of a comic book property to film. It truly is the final word on Wolverine (and the X-Men, really) and hopefully, Fox takes a long while before deciding to recast and reboot the character.
1. X-Men (2000)
So if Logan is the best Wolverine film and best Jackman performance ever, why isn’t it No. 1? Well, all of this had to start somewhere and there would be no Logan without the first X-Men movie. The entire superhero movie wave that has overtaken pop culture with comic books come to life and serialized comic book universes connecting multiple movies essentially began when Bryan Singer adapted Marvel Comics’ most popular property to the big screen.
Jackman wasn’t even the first choice to play Wolverine, as Dougray Scott was originally cast in the role. But when filming on Mission: Impossible II had to be extended, Scott had to bow out and the virtually unknown Jackman was cast. What little was known about him is that he played Curly McLain in a London production of the musical Oklahoma!. A song-and-dance man playing Wolverine? Comic book fans were freaking out. Thankfully, there was no social media back then.
But when Wolverine first appears on screen in X-Men, beating the crap out of a guy in a cage fight, all skeptics were silenced. That was the fearsome badass who comic book fans loved. Jackman brought his brooding, angry personality to life, while make-up and special effects gave him the right hair and those signature claws. Logan is the audience’s entry into the world of mutants, the school that helps them develop their superhuman abilities for their own good, and the group of operatives which both brings mutants to sanctuary and confronts any threat to them. And he’s just as skeptical about the whole thing as most people were.
Jackman absolutely nailed the character (he gave Cyclops the finger and called him a dick!) and X-Men was a faithful comic book adaptation (though shows its age a bit 17 years later), providing great relief to comic book fans and 20th Century Fox. The foundation was laid for nearly 20 years of Wolverine on the big screen. It’s been a bumpy run at times, but a pleasure to watch overall.