Understanding the X-Men Timeline
By Mateen Sharifi
With the X-Men movie franchise spanning 20 years, the series has reached its final installment with the release of The New Mutants. To commemorate this roller coaster of releases, let’s take a look back at the series’ timeline as a whole, which is so complicated that it deserves an entire movie dedicated to understanding it. Before we delve into the sheer madness that is the X-Men timeline, let’s begin by laying out the chronological release order of the films.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
X-Men: First Class (2011)
The Wolverine (2013)
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Deadpool 2 (2018)
Dark Phoenix (2019)
The New Mutants (2020)
Now that we know the order the films were released in, we can move onto the chronological order of the events of the franchise. However, during X-Men: Days of Future Past, Wolverine successfully travels back to 1973 and is able to change the Sentinel future, leading to a new X-Men timeline…as if the original wasn’t confusing enough by itself. Before we try to break down this new timeline, let’s take a look at the original X-Men timeline.
The Original X-Men Timeline
3500 B.C.: X-Men Apocalypse
In the prologue of X-Men Apocalypse, we learn about the world's first mutant: Apocalypse.
1845: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
X-Men Origins: Wolverine begins in 1845 by introducing us to a young Wolverine (known as James Howlett). The movie starts with the murder of the man who raised James, resulting in James growing bone claws and running off with his half-brother Victor Creed, who audiences may recognize as Sabretooth, Wolverine’s arch-nemesis.
1861-1865: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Logan and Victor fight in the American Civil War.
1917-1918: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Logan and Victor fight in World War I (another one?).
1944: X-Men: First Class
Charles Xavier offers a young Raven a new home, leading to them becoming close childhood friends. Meanwhile, in a German concentration camp, Erik Lehnsherr develops his magnetic powers under the abusive Klaus Schmidt.
1944: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Logan and Victor fight in World War II and are present at the D-Day invasion of Normandy (I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to notice a trend).
1945: The Wolverine
As a war prisoner in a Japanese internment camp, Logan witnesses the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and heroically saves an officer named Yashida from the blast.
1962: X-Men: First Class
Charles and Erik meet while they are both hunting Klaus Schmidt, and decide to work together to build a team of mutants for the CIA. By the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the two friends cut ties, partially as a result of Erik accidentally deflecting a bullet into Charles’ spine, paralyzing him.
1973: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Logan and Victor fight in the Vietnamese War, where Victor commits various war crimes. In a desperate attempt to protect his half-brother, Wolverine defends Victor, resulting in the two being sentenced to death (well, there goes the trend). After surviving their sentence due to their mutant powers, Logan and Victor are recruited to Team X by William Stryker.
1979: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Stryker approaches a retired Logan and informs him that Victor has gone rogue. After Victor attacks Logan’s girlfriend, Stryker convinces Logan to coat his claws in the iconic adamantium in an attempt to rival the rogue Sabretooth. By the end of the movie, Wolverine receives an adamantium bullet to the head, resulting in him awakening with severe amnesia. Additionally, an ambulatory Professor X rescues numerous mutant children from Stryker’s experimentation facility, including a young Scott Summers and Emma Frost.
1986: X-Men: The Last Stand
In a brief flashback, Charles and Erik try to recruit a young Jean Grey.
An amnesiac Logan meets Rogue and is drawn to Professor X’s school of mutants. Magneto attempts to use Rogue to turn the world’s leaders into mutants but is stopped by the X-Men.
All mutants, good and evil, must unite together against a common threat, with an ending that involves Jean Grey sacrificing her own life to save the other mutants.
2005: X-Men: The Last Stand
Being a terrible movie from pretty much the start, let’s just focus on the main points: Jean Grey is somehow resurrected and decides to go on a bit of a killing spree, highlighted by her murder of Scott Lang and Charles Xavier. In the end, Jean ends up dying (again?) at the hands of Logan. Oh, I almost forgot there’s an additional completely separate plot that revolves around a new “mutant cure”, which results in Erik (Magneto) losing his powers.
2013: The Wolverine
Logan is invited to Japan by Yashida (that guy he saved from the atomic bomb in 1945), who now owns his own technological empire. Yashida is dying, but Logan refuses to give up his powers to save Yashida’s life. Immediately after, Yashida dies (but not really)...
2015: The Wolverine
Logan is approached by Erik (who somehow has his powers again) and Charles (who I guess isn’t dead anymore?).
2023: X-Men: Days of Future Past
The future is overrun by mutant-hunting Sentinels, so Charles and Erik send Logan back to 1973 to fix everything, creating the new X-Men timeline. While overall being one of the better X-Men movies, there is one glaring continuity error that is never explained in Days of Future Past. By the end of The Wolverine, Logan has bone claws, but in Days of Future Past, he now has metallic claws again…
Finally, we’re done with that mess…
Well yes, but actually no.
Logan’s actions in X-Men: Days of Future Past resulted in a new timeline being created. In this new timeline, everything is the same until 1973…
The New X-Men Timeline
1973: X-Men: Days of Future Past
Magento tries to assassinate President Nixon (yup, you read that right).
1983: X-Men: Apocalypse
Apocalypse (that one mutant from 3500 B.C.) finally wakes up and decides to destroy the world (I wonder if he realized that he too, lived on that very world which he attempted to destroy). Meanwhile, Professor X’s school is thriving with pretty much every previously dead character having been resurrected. Quite honestly, the funniest part about this absolutely horrendous film is the fact that Apocalypse convinces not one, not even two, but four mutants to join him by simply giving their costumes a makeover.
1992: Dark Phoneix
9 years after the events of Apocalypse, everything is going fine until Jean Grey gets hit by a cosmic force in outer space. I should probably say more about this movie, but to be completely honest, I couldn’t focus on the plot at all due to the fact that every 5 seconds I was reminded that literally no one has aged since First Class, which took place nearly 50 years prior.
This movie introduces a new (and much improved) version of Deadpool, thankfully ignoring his X-Men Origins: Wolverine persona. Due to this, we may assume that this movie takes place in the new X-Men timeline, but based on the fact that Deadpool is fully aware that he is in a movie, we truly cannot be sure about anything timeline-wise in this film.
Bonus points to Deadpool for constantly bashing the problematic timeline.
2023: X-Men: Days of Future Past
Logan returns to a new future absent of Sentinels where everyone lives happily ever after… until Logan.
Although being one of the greatest comic book movies of all time, Logan does have one glaring continuity problem: it doesn’t really fit into either timeline. The main reason I say this is because, in the movie, Logan and Charles discuss an event at the Statue of Liberty, hinting at the events of the first X-Men movie. Logan also talks to Dr. Rice about killing his father, which takes place in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which took place in the original X-Men timeline. However, Logan cannot take place in the original timeline, as the events of the Sentinel future are avoided. Additionally, in Apocalypse (which takes place in the new timeline), a mysterious Essex Corporation figure is seen taking Logan’s blood, which is presumably used to create X-23, a prominent character in Logan. However, once again, Logan cannot take place in the new timeline, not only because of how it repeatedly references the original timeline, but also because there is no mention of the ideal future from the Days of Future Past epilogue. Furthermore, in Logan, it is stated that no new mutants have been born for 20 years, which also doesn’t line up with the Days of Future Past epilogue.
As you can see, attempting to watch the X-Men franchise in any chronological order is virtually impossible (unless you want to end up simultaneously watching multiple segments from separate movies), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Truth be told, the direction taken with the X-Men films not only mirrors the comics quite accurately, but it also allows for each individual movie to make its own bold choices, with Logan being a prime example of this advantage.