Who are the best X-Men characters? Sure, their cinematic timeline might be messier than Doctor Strange’s multiverse. Still, Stan Lee’s multifaceted family of mutants across comic books, the small screen, and the big screen has broken countless barriers since they exploded onto the superhero movie scene in 1963.
As well as improving LGBTQ+, Jewish, and Black representation through some of their characters, the X-Men mutants’ core struggle of discrimination, otherness, and acceptance added a dimension to comics that we didn’t until that moment really see much of across Marvel and DC. While the Avengers, Justice League and Fantastic Four are (mostly) revered for their abilities and labelled as heroes, the mutant X-Men are shunned by society and have to overcome the usual bad guys and a lot of societal stigma, self-hate and mysterious backstories.
The complexity of mutants and what that means makes them the perfect protagonists for not just action movies, science fiction movies, and thriller movies but also gritty dramas, horrors, fantasies, animations and TV series. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, the individuality of each character is what makes them special, so here we break down the best X-Men characters out there from best to worst.
What are the best X-Men characters?
- Kitty Pryde
- Charles Xavier
- Scarlet Witch
When you think of X-Men, you think of Wolverine (even before the guy whose surname is literally ‘X’). That’s how iconic he is both in the comics and in Hugh Jackman’s various big-screen portrayals of him, from the wobbly X Men: Origins to the heart-breaking Logan. From his healing powers to his iconic claws, people never get tired of watching Wolverine — and why should they?
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We’ve got endless action sequences, a chequered past to unravel, unrivalled depth, and unwavering heroism. He also grows actual claws like a cat, which is obviously really cool. He’s everything a comic fan could want from a superhero and more — we just hope that Logan doesn’t mark his end on the big screen the way that ‘The Death of Wolverine’ did in the comics.
I’ll never forgive X-Men: Apocalypse for how they did Storm dirty in that film. As one of the most loyal, longstanding and powerful mutants, she deserved a lot more than her flimsy villain arc and subsequent side-switch with barely a line of dialogue uttered.
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Her abilities — which centre around controlling the weather — are not only the coolest out of the whole group, but among the most powerful: she is one of the few Omega mutants and, as well as leading the X-Men on several occasions, has also been part of teams like the Avengers and Fantastic Four.
Clearly, Storm has been gaslighting, gatekeeping, and girl bossing as part of the X-Men since the beginning and made history as one of the first Black superheroes in a major comic.
Listen, puberty is tough. The plethora of coming-of-age movies, books and TV shows demonstrate that being a teenager and the struggles that come with it are hard for any young person to navigate. But what if, on top of that, you also, for some inexplicable reason, could phase through walls and any other solid matter? Kitty Pryde might be all grown up now, but she holds a place in every X-Men comic reader’s heart for being the Daria of the mutants.
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We’ve seen her grow from a 13 and a half-year-old ‘kid sister’ figure to a formidable hero in her own right. Her powers, which make her intangible to the elements and able to walk on air and water, make her one of the few Omega-level mutants who has even faced down demigods like Wonder Woman in the past. She was also confirmed to be canonically bisexual in November 2020. In turn, she became an incredibly powerful figure of LGBTQ+ representation and will likely continue to be so in many years to come.
When I say Deadpool, I don’t mean whatever on earth was going on in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I mean the Merc’ with a Mouth as we know him, where his lack of filter and foul mouth regardless of what’s going on around him helps to give us a bit of a reality check.
Let’s face it. Superhero movies are high camp, super dramatic, riddled with cliches and sometimes, if we’re being really honest, a little bit ridiculous. Big bloody battles are cool and all, but it’s hard not to be cynical to see the same tropes and formulas play out again and again.
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Equally, however, as a fan of this stuff, it’s hard to admit that there’s sometimes a line or a scene that makes you want to roll your eyes or cringe a little: you feel almost disloyal to admit that.
This is why Deadpool is so engaging: he works with our inner cynic rather than against it and brings a level of authenticity to X-Men that isn’t replicated in any other superhero franchise.
Even among the X-Men, Nightcrawler is still a bit of an outsider. His pointed tail, indigo fur, yellow eyes and other lizard-like features mean he can’t pass as a human or have any sort of ‘normal’ life in the same way other mutants might be able to.
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Before joining the X-Men, he spent his life reviled as a circus freak and was often at the mercy of violent mobs, but despite being a literal half-demon, he couldn’t be more of an angel. Knowing what it’s like to be an outsider, he’s always the first to welcome new people into the team and put people at ease with his remarkably happy-go-lucky nature.
His penchant for swashbuckling adventures and enduring optimism shows that he’s just an innocent, young-at-heart kid who wants all his fellow mutants and friends to be happy.
While Magneto is often pitted against Xavier as the villain of the X-Men comics, he’s far from an out-and-out bad guy and miles away from your regular, two-dimensional antagonist. It’s evident that Magneto has done a lot of evil things in his time — that’s a fact nobody can really deny — but he’s not an evil person.
When you strip away the layers of tin, him and Xavier aren’t all that different. Both of them want society to come to a point where mutants can live in peace alongside humans without the threat of discrimination or cruelty; they just have different routes of getting there.
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Although Xavier’s pacifist approach to achieving these ends is often touted as the ideal way to go, it’s more idealistic than anything else. Magneto, on the other hand, is a bit more pragmatic. Despite Xavier’s intellect, he seems to have a pretty limited perspective on how the world actually works in practice. He also seems to have this level of moral perfectionism that makes him hard to relate to. Meanwhile, Magneto is more relatable, pragmatic, and easier to root for as the flawed underdog, even if we don’t always want to admit it.
The thing about Cyclops is that there isn’t really a bad word you can say about him. As an OG member of the X-Men, he has shown himself time and time again to be a steadfast, reliable and committed leader that the other, younger mutants can learn a lot from.
If we’re being honest, the poor guy has probably experienced more trauma than many people on this list combined (least of all, seeing his girlfriend and various clones of her dying in front of his eyes numerous times).
But while a lot of mutants and Marvel heroes in general (looking at you, Hawkeye), have ended up using their trauma as an excuse to turn to the “dark” side and do a lot of unnecessary damage, Cyclops has (most of the time) dusted himself off from even the most extreme and unbelievable adversity to be a leader the other X-Men can rely on. Even if he can be a little bit boring, he’s definitely the most dependable one of the bunch.
Of course, as the architect of the School for Gifted Youngsters and leader of hero troupe the X-Men, Xavier is undoubtedly one of the best mutants out there.
While he’s definitely powerful (among one of the most powerful out there), what makes him a good leader is his empathy, sense of justice and commitment to making life better and more equal for mutants: providing them with a safe haven away from the discriminatory world as well as giving them the tools and skills they need to make life with their powers bearable and something to be proud of, rather than ashamed of.
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Xavier isn’t higher on this list because of his inability to see nuance. He justifies everything he does as being for the ‘ greater good’, and often he may well be right. Still, he also frequently endangers his students in the “save haven” he was meant to create for them and has demonstrated numerous times that he isn’t above using telepathy for his own ends. The comics also suggest that he creeped on Jean Grey when she was a student, which is just a bit dodgy.
The Scarlet Witch
As an established figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I know this may well be a controversial choice, but hear me out. Wanda Maximoff is not only the strongest Avenger — with a Comparative Mutagenic Power of 9, according to SHIELD — but she’s also considered a Class 5 mutant.
While she is more aligned with the Avengers than the X-Men, it’s important to remember that the essence of X-Men isn’t just about tribalism and what team you belong to: it’s about that sense of feeling different, being unable to control your powers, the loneliness, the isolation and constantly being kept at arm’s length by the rest of the world when all you desire is acceptance.
That is the essence of X-Men and is the very thing that gives the saga heart, and nobody can deny Maximoff’s status as a mutant; her struggles with that and its consequences are at the heart of her story arc throughout Phase 2 and 3 of the MCU. She’s the most X-Men non-X-Man there’s ever been.
Like his twin sister, Pietro/Peter Maximoff has flirted with the MCU — but only had about half an hour of screen time before being unceremoniously killed off.
On the surface, the power of super-speed doesn’t seem particularly exciting or impactful compared to some of the other mutants. Many people forget that coupled with his super-speed, he can defy gravity, is highly durable, and generate so much force from his speed that items that seem heavy and unmovable are light as a feather to him.
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One of his most intriguing powers, as shown in X-Men movies Apocalypse and Days of Future Past, is his accelerated perception, which allows him to experience the world in slow motion while running to amplify his already-enhanced reflexes further.
There is a lot wrong with the “new wave” of X-Men movies. Still, I don’t think anyone will dispute that the sequences of Quicksilver (Evan Peters) using his enhanced perception to effortlessly save the lives of hundreds of mutants (including Wolverine, Professor X and Magneto) are the highlights of these films. He’s hugely underestimated and never (in my opinion) gets the thanks he deserves for saving the team so many times, but he never loses his cool, humour or style. A true Gen Z hero.