It’s hard to imagine another franchise whose filmography is as intimidating to newcomers as Star Wars. So, in 2011, blogger Rod Hilton devised a viewing order for the first six Star Wars movies that he thought highlighted the series’ strengths while minimizing its weaknesses. He dubbed this bold experiment the Machete Order. He recommended it for Star Wars tenderfoots.
Hilton’s Machete Order reduces six films to five, but that’s still a lot of movies to watch, not including Disney’s recent contributions. Ultimately, what he presented was a less convoluted, crisp viewing experience for human beings who hadn’t been indoctrinated into canonical geekdom during their entire childhoods.
He displayed an editor’s savvy, a pragmatic urge to defend the core of a story while stripping away nonessential elements.
It’s an amazing perspective.
Warning: Spoilers ahead
Before I proceed with my Machete Order for the X-Men series, readers should understand that this article is spoiler-heavy. If you haven’t seen all the Star Wars movies or Logan, the latest in X-Men installment, I will definitely ruin things if you continue to read further.
Seriously: Don’t read this if you want to see Logan but have not already, as it’s a gem of a film.
(If you leave this post as a result of these disclaimers, may I suggest perusing many of the other fine commentaries on NonDoc?)
X-Men has had its ups and downs
If ever there’s a series that could match Star Wars’ level of high and low points while maintaining a rabid fan base willing to tough out those low points, it would be 20th Century Fox’s X-Men series.
X-Men has its fair share of problems. First, there are 10 (10!) X-Men films. The entire series is filled with continuity errors from one entry to the next. There are too many characters, and two of the nine movies could be described as franchise-killers. Regardless, the franchise has persisted long enough to give fans its best entry yet: the recently released Logan.
This isn’t a review, so I’ll keep this short: I think Logan is amazing, a work that transcends its genre and manages to be emotionally engaging for a wide range of audiences.
In honor of such a feat, I wanted to take a crack at fixing some of the overall franchise’s wrongs while trying to streamline its narrative. Here’s my last warning for spoilers, because they’re coming.
The Machete Order for X-Men
Hilton’s Machete Order for Star Wars actually had fans start with the A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back to preserve the surprise of Darth Vader being Luke’s father. Since there are no such surprises in the X-Men franchise, the first film you should watch is the 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class.
Watching this movie first introduces a likable young Professor X to viewers as well as most of the characters that will become major players later in the timeline. It’s also one of the strongest entries in the series, making it a good place to start. The movie’s ending leaves its characters in a place to logically become who they are later in the timeline.
Skip X-Men: Origins, watch the original X-Men
Skip X-Men Origins: Wolverine for multiple reasons. It presents a lot of continuity issues. It also adds little to Wolverine’s mythos that viewers can’t already infer from other entries in the series. Last, as far as movies go, it’s boring garbage (although pretty at times).
As a result, the second movie to watch is the original X-Men. It’s not a great movie, and it has aged poorly, but it’s essential to move our X-Men Machete Order. In this film, we’re introduced to Wolverine. He also appeared in X-Men: First Class briefly, but in this viewing order, that makes his jokey cameo more of a foreshadowing tease. (Wolverine doesn’t remember his past. He’s a mysterious character.) If this movie does anything well, it successfully introduces audiences to a group of likable characters.
Watch X-2, skip X-Men 3
The third movie to watch is X-2. It’s like the first movie in this Order but better and actually does a lot to advance the narrative of the prequel. Mutants are still oppressed. Wolverine does a lot to unravel his past. The film ends with Wolverine’s love interest dying as he’s forced to share his pain with her boyfriend. There are stakes in this movie. Things happen, and, for the most part, everything is done well.
James Nghiem’s Machete Order for Fox’s X-Men
- X-Men: First Class
- Days of Future Past
Skip X-Men 3, because it’s terrible. It strips away all the emotional impact of its previous entry by resurrecting popular characters for no reason. Not only that, but Professor X dies at the end. For some reason in later entries, starting with a brief appearance in 2013’s The Wolverine, he’s alive again without much explanation. By skipping this movie, this Machete Order preserves the emotional stakes felt in X-2 while saving viewers the headache of trying to justify screenwriters’ lazy explanations for character resurrections.
Skip The Wolverine
Skip also The Wolverine. Again, this film doesn’t add any necessary information to Wolverine’s mythos. This movie does have some fun parts, but it’s largely a waste of time. Nothing about the character really changes from a growth standpoint. Wolverine does lose his adamantium claws at the end, however. This would be a big deal, except he inexplicably has them again at the start of the next movie. To preserve the clarity of the narrative and eliminate inconsistencies, trash this movie.
Watch Days of Future Past, skip Apocalypse
The next movie to watch is X-Men: Days of Future Past. From a story standpoint, you could probably skip this one, too, but it’s one of the strongest entries in the series. It’s also where Hugh Jackman looks the most Wolverine-y, and where the good guys have happy-ish endings, which is nice to see in this sometimes grim universe. A lot of character arcs, mainly the relationship between Charles Xavier and Erick Lehnsherr — as well as Raven’s redemption story — culminate toward more optimistic resolutions than in the past. Raven’s arc, especially if you watch her descent into villainy in this Machete Order, feels very satisfying.
Definitely skip X-Men: Apocalypse. Like X-3, it undoes all of the emotional catharsis from the previous movie for no reason. It also takes away from the mutant-human tension in favor of a greater evil, which convolutes this cinematic universe. At its core, this franchise is about the tension between humans and mutants. The ending has a very return-to-status-quo feeling, too. It’s simply bad.
Deadpool: Good on its own, but skippable
Skip Deadpool, too. I have no gripes with this one other than it doesn’t add to what’s already been established. It’s really fun otherwise. There is the problem of Colossus being Russian despite being very American in earlier films, however. It’s a painful cut, but I’m leaving it out of this Order. (As a standalone film, however, it’ s definitely worth a watch.)
And finally, watch Logan
Which brings us, finally, to Logan.
After successfully saving the future in X-Men: Days of Future Past, we see our heroes Wolverine and Professor X worn by time. I don’t want to go too far into this movie, but I will say it’s beautifully tragic and inspiring to watch two characters that audiences have grown to love over the years fight one last good fight with some refreshingly new faces.
If Logan were the last film in the franchise, which it’s unlikely to be, it would be the perfect ending.