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How many timelines are there in the X-Men film universe?

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‘Mankind has always feared what it can’t understand.’

I watched ‘Dark Phoenix’ with my family over the weekend, which was an enjoyable film experience, and as we left the screen my Dad turned to me and said ‘So how does that all fit in with ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’?’

What followed was a rather long discussion with my family about where in the series of films ‘Dark Phoenix’ is placed, and how it is supposed to interact with the other films that have been published in the past decade of cinema.

This conversation made me realise that there needs to be a simple film timeline that explains what exactly links all the films that we see in the X-Men franchise.

And that is what I hope to set out here; the universal X-Men universe theory!

There will be spoilers for every film in the X-Men franchise ahead, but I will list the films I am about to talk about in each section, so you can avoid the spoilers before you see them.

There are 10 films in the X-Men movie universe (12 if you include Deadpool, which has its own little timeline) and everything was fine with the continuity (again I will address this at the end of the article) until Days of Future Past decided to add a little time travel into the mix.

Oh dear.

Retconning the ‘less good’ films out of the series must have seemed like a smart idea at the time, but then it means that people who have been following the franchise for the past 19 years get a little bit confused about what is and is not canon, particularly given the somewhat slap-dash approach to continuity that the X-Men films have had since ‘Days of Future Past’.

But never fear!

That is what this article is all about, and hopefully by the end of it you will have a better understanding of what exactly is going on with these timelines!

Timeline 1: The Original Timeline

This timeline contains the following films:

  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
  • X-Men: First Class (2011)
  • X-Men (2000)
  • X2 (2003)
  • X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
  • The Wolverine (2013)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

The original timeline contains all the events that lead up to the beginning of ‘Days of Future Past’. Wolverine has his origin story, Magneto and Xavier have their first class, Magneto attacks Liberty Island, and the mansion is attacked by William Striker. After this Jean Grey is killed by Wolverine, who, mourning over the loss of the woman he loved, goes to Japan, before the sentinels begin to kill everyone, resulting in Wolverine being sent back in time to prevent this.

The events of ‘Days of Future Past’ result in this timeline being deleted or maybe just ignored as the audience never find out what happens there.

We know this because when Wolverine returns to the ‘present’ both Professor Xavier and Jean Grey are back in the mansion, alive and well, suggesting that the films ‘X2’ and ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ never took place in this new timeline, as Jean Grey dies in both of those films and Professor Xavier dies in the later.

But not all is well that ends well…

Timeline 2: The Logan Timeline

This timeline has removed ‘X2’ and ‘X-men the Last Stand,’ and the sentinels from ‘Days of Future Past’ are never created, but it looks like nothing can truly stop the doomed fate of the mutants…

This timeline contains the following films:

  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
  • X-Men: First Class (2011)
  • X-Men (2000)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
  • Logan (2017)

This is the timeline that Wolverine ‘returns’ to at the end of ‘Days of Future Past’. Wolverine prevented the creation of the sentinels, but mutants are dangerous and a conspiracy of mega corporations find a new, biological way to wipe out mutants. Professor Xavier in this timeline, not being killed by Jean Grey, lives into a ripe old age, and gets to experience the horrors of dementia and psychic seizures, as told in the film ‘Logan’.

‘Logan’ is one of the best films in the franchise and those of you that have seen the film know what happens here, it needs no further explanation. Those of you that haven’t seen it; I think you should watch it. Patrick Stuart and Hugh Jackman give their finest performances for characters they have played for the past 10 years, and it should not be missed.

So this is the timeline Wolverine returns to, but what about the timeline that Wolverine left when he ‘came back’ to the present?

Timeline 3: The Re-Boot Timeline

The films in this timeline are:

  • X-Men: First Class (2011)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
  • X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
  • Dark Phoenix (2019)

This is the timeline that Wolverine leaves at the end of ‘Days of Future Past’, and some things are different in this timeline.

We know that Wolverine exists in this timeline and for some reason behind the scenes Mystique takes over the Weapon X Project in place of William Striker, at the end of ‘Days of Future Past’. Odd but hey she does stop and join the good guys again once she is done with her mutant experimentation. This means that the events of ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ probably happened in similar way to the other timelines with some minor variations to account for that particular body swap, but they are not portrayed by the films in this timeline. In fact you get a little hint of this side of things in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ when the re-boot X-Men have to find their way out of the Alkali Lake facility portrayed in both ‘X2’ and ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’.

Following the events of ‘Days of Future Past’  the events of ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ happen and they are followed by the currently in cinema film ‘Dark Phoenix’. With this in mind all you would therefore need to see to be fully up to date with the story for ‘Dark Phoenix’ are the three re-boot films.

Look at that! A nice neat package!

It’s not like there are any films that throw a spanner in this perfectly working machine…

Deadpool

Well, I suppose I need to account for it somehow…

Timeline 4: The Deadpool Timeline

There are two confirmed films in this franchise are:

  • Deadpool (2016)
  • Deadpool 2 (2018)

So Deadpool definitely takes place in the same universe as the other X-Men films. How do we know? Well in Deadpool 2 we see Quicksilver, Cyclops, Beast, Storm, Nightcrawler AND Professor Xavier all exist in their ‘reboot’ forms in this timeline. They are in his timeline, whether we like it or not. Although it is very fun to see.

We also know that Hugh Jackman, Ryan Reynolds and the DC film Green Lantern all exist as their own entities in the Deadpool universe. Yeah those fourth wall breaks care not one jot for continuity…

So how can we make heads or tails of this in a timeline perspective?

Here is my theory: The X-Men and Wolverine all exist in Deadpool’s universe. A universe where Deadpool clearly has a relationship with Wolverine. But in the Deadpool universe there are also films based on the X-Men’s stories. These films are similar or identical to the films we see in our real world – which is why Deadpool can reference ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ and ‘Logan’ in his films. He has seen the films, he has the action figures, and in his universe those are works of fiction portrayed by actors like Hugh Jackman, who is probably a lot better looking than the Wolverine he actually knows in world, that we never see on screen. It just so happens that in his reality the X-Men look startlingly like their movie actors…

…That works right?

So the continuity works?

No.

The X-Men films have always been shocking when it comes to the finer details of timelines. The films cross over each others ‘timeframes’ haphazardly and without a care in the world. The X-Men never seem to age in the timeframe between 1960 and 1995, and this is just glossed over. To enjoy these films you just need to accept that this kind of thing happens.

But we can still laugh about them!

Some of my favourite continuity issues include:

  • Professor Xavier is standing and bald when he rescues the children in ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’, but loses the use of his legs whilst he still has hair in ‘X-Men First Class’.
  • Sabertooth goes from being able to speak perfectly in ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ to becoming a mute, who seems to not know who Wolverine is in the original ‘X-Men’.
  • Professor Xavier transfers his consciousness into a coma patient in ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ but has managed to transform back into his Patrick Stewart form, complete with non-working legs in ‘The Wolverine’ and ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’.
  • William Striker says ‘I used to think you were one of a kind,’ to Wolverine in ‘X2’ despite having performed an identical and very successful procedure on Wade Wilson in ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ which would in no way suggest Wolverine was one of a kind.

These are just a few of these broken continuity details I particularly enjoy with the X-Men films.

If you have made it this far, Hi! Why don’t you share some of your favourite issues with the continuity of the X-Men franchise below, or pull at some of the plot holes that inevitably exist in my universal X-Men universe theory, I am curious to see what they are and see if we can fix them!

Until next time true believers!

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