Explaining the X-Men Movie Timelines

Let's talk about the X-Men film franchise's continuity, um, issues. Which X-Men movie timeline does Dark Phoenix fit into?

James McAvoy Mcihael Fassbender and X-Men First Class Cast
Photo: 20th Century Studios

These days, the only superpower that might top Professor X’s vast telepathic abilities or Magento’s magnetic powers would be the ability to understand the X-Men movie timeline(s). Because we’re gluttons for punishment, we’re going to take a crack at explaining how the movies in the X-Men film and TV universe relate to one another, including the latest X-Men movie: the Sophie Turner-led Dark Phoenix.

As a general rule to remember: Everything that happens in 1960s-set First Class exists in both timelines. It’s 1973 (which is to say the events of Days Of Future Past) where the major timeline schism occurs. With that in mind, let’s break down both main timelines.

Buckle in, X-Men fans! This is going to be a bumpy ride…

1. The Original X-Men Timeline

To create these timelines, we’re using only what has been shown on-screen. This means no viral marketing information (no matter how cool it was). We’ve also refrained from giving off-screen events their own spot on the timeline. If it didn’t happen in flashback, we’re not going to try to fit it in here. Creating these timelines was already hard enough. (I kind of blame you, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But maybe only because that is habit?)

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Note: Many of the X-Men films have flashbacks and/or introductory scenes that take place earlier than the bulk of the film or have epilogues that take place later than the bulk of the film. This will result in them being in two or more places on some of the timeline lists.

3500 B.C.: X-Men: Apocalypse

In both the post-credits scene from Days of Future Pastand the prologue of Apocalypse,we learn about the world’s first mutant: Apocalypse. Basically, En Sabah Nur was the worst.

1845: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

X-Men Origins: Wolverineattempts to explain Wolverine’s backstory. Starting in 1845 when a young James Howlett grows bone claws after witnessing the murder of the man who raised him. He runs off with half-brother/future Sabretooth Victor Creed.

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1861-1865: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Logan and half-brother Victor Creed fight in the American Civil War.

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1917-1918: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Logan and half-brother Victor Creed fight in World War I. (They really seem to like wars.)

1944: X-Men: First Class

In First Class,Charles Xavier/Professor X meets a young Raven/Mystique as children in Westchester. He offers her a home. Meanwhile, in a German concentration camp, Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto develops his powers under the abusive tutelage of Nazi Kevin Bacon. (His actual name is Klaus Schmidt.)

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1944: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Logan and half-brother Victor Creed fight in World War II and are at the D-Day invasion of Normandy. (They love being soldiers so much.)

1945: The Wolverine

Logan jumps theaters of war and is now a POW in a Japanese internment camp when the atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki. He saves an officer named Yashida from the blast. This act of heroism will end up backfiring…

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1962: X-Men: First Class

Charles and Erik meet while they are both going after Nazi Kevin Bacon (aka Klaus Schmidt). After working together to build a team of mutants to fight for the CIA, they part ways at the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in part because Erik accidentally deflects a bullet into Charles’ spine, paralyzing him. It’s a messy divorce, and each has their own, conflicting view of the best way forward for mutant-kind.

Unexplained continuity error: In 2000 X-Men,Charles claims he met Erik at the age of 17. There is also no mention of Charles and Mystique being “brother and sister.”

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1973: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Logan and half-brother Victor Creed/Sabretooth fight in the Vietnam War. When Victor tries to rape a Vietnamese woman and kills the officer who tries to stop him, Logan defends him. The two are sentenced to death by firing squad and end up being recruited into Team X by William Stryker.

1979: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Logan is approached by Stryker, who tells him that Victor has gone rogue. After Victor fake-kills Logan’s girlfriend (it’s a long story), Stryker convinces Logan to coat his bones with adamantium. (Because why not?) At the end of the film, an adamantium bullet to the head results in Wolverine’s amnesia.

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It’s worth noting that the movie also has a brief Professor X cameo when a (somehow ambulatory) Charles shows up to rescue the group of mutant kids — including Scott — from Stryker’s super evil experimentation facility.

Unexplained continuity error: Though it makes sense that Logan wouldn’t remember the X-Kids he rescued from Stryker when he meets them again in X-Men,it’s kind of weird that somehow Scott wouldn’t remember him. Wolverine is a memorable guy.

Unexplained continuity error 2: Emma Frost is a child in X-Men Origins, even though she was an adult in First Class.

read more: Why You Should Be Thankful For X-Men Origins: Wolverine

1986: X-Men: The Last Stand

In a The Last Stand flashback, Charles and Erik try to recruit a young Jean Grey.

Unexplained continuity error: Charles and Erik are friends; Charles can both walk and use his powers. (Maybe there was a period including 1979 and 1986 when Charles inexplicably gained use of his legs?) It’s also kind of weird that Erik and Charles are working together.

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2000: X-Men

An amnesiac Logan is drawn into the plight of Professor X and his school of mutants when he meets Rogue. Magneto tries to use Rogue, the Statue of Liberty, and a homemade machine to turn the world’s leaders into mutants. (Oh, Erik.) He is thwarted by the X-Men and thrown into a plastic prison.

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Unexplained continuity error: Professor X tells Wolverine it’s been 15 years since he lost his memory, which took place duing the Three Mile Island incident in X-Men Origins. This would suggest that the events of X-Menwould take place in 1994. But who knows?

Unexplained continuity error 2: Charles can’t figure out how Erik can hide himself from Cerebro, but he first sees the telepathy-blocking helmet in First Class

Unexplained continuity error 3: Speaking of Cerebro: Xavier says Erik helped him build Cerebro, yet we see that the CIA built it in First Class. And even if he meant move it, we don’t see Erik help rebuild Cerebro until the events of Apocalypse, which take place in the New X-Men Timeline. (Courtesy of David Crow)

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2003: X2: X-Men United

Though released in 2003, X2: Unitedtakes place shortly after the events in X-Men. In it, both Professor X’s X-Men and Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants must band together to save all of mutant-kind when Stryker develops a machine to kill all mutants. Jean Grey seemingly sacrifices herself to help the X-jet escape from Stryker’s base at Alkali Lake.

2005: X-Men: The Last Stand

Worthington Labs develops a “cure” for the mutant gene. Mystique takes a shot of the cure meant to hit Magneto, turning her human. Magneto abandons her, which is a very harsh choice.

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Meanwhile, Jean Grey resurfaces as Phoenix, killing Scott/Cyclops, knocking out Logan, and escaping to her childhood home. There, she is confronted by Erik and Charles who try to reach Jean through her Phoenix alternate personality. She disintegrates Charles. (So… #fail.)

Magneto and his Brotherhood attack Worthington Labs and are stopped by the X-Men, who manage to inject Erik with the cure. Logan kills Jean. Rogue chooses to take the cure. Charles kind of reveals himself to be alive to Olivia Williams’ Moira MacTaggert.

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Unexplained continuity error: In The Last Stand, Moira MacTaggert is a Scottish doctor working at Muir Island’s genetic facility played by Olivia Williams. In First Class, which takes place forty years prior, she is an American agent working for the CIA played by Rose Byrne. Maybe there are two Moira MacTaggerts who are friends with the X-Men?

2013: The Wolverine

Logan isn’t doing so well after Jean’s death. He is invited to Japan by a super-rich Yashida (the dude he saved from the atomic bomb back in 1945). Yashida offers to take Logan’s healing powers from him so that Yashida can live and Logan can die. Logan says no thanks, but Yashida does not take no thanks for an answer…

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After a lot of fighting involving yakuza, Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko, a robot parasite that Logan has to tear off of his own heart, and an only-pretending-to-be-dead Yashida, Logan leaves Japan having mostly gotten over Jean’s death.

2015: The Wolverine

In a post-credits sequence, Erik (complete with powers!) and Charles (yay, he is totally alive!) approach Logan in an airport. They tell him of an oncoming Sentinel threat, setting up the events of Days of Future Past

Kind of explained continuity error: Um, I guess the cure wore off of Erik? Also, Charles is alive? There is some alluding to his having transferred his consciousness into another body, but, unless that body was his twin, it doesn’t make sense that he would still be Patrick Stewart-shaped.

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2023: X-Men: Days of Future Past

The future is terrible. Mutant-kind and human-kind are screwed. Sentinels, a bunch of super powerful robots with the best of mutant abilities, are hunting down the last of the remaining mutants and their human friends.

Erik and Charles use Kitty Pryde’s power to send Logan’s consciousness back into his 1973 body to keep Mystique from killing Dr. Trask, therefore changing history forever and starting a New X-Men Timeline.

Unexplained continuity error: Logan has bone claws again at the end of The Wolverine in 2015, yet by Days of Future Past, they’re metallic again without explanation. (Courtesy of David Crow)

2. New X-Men Timeline

Now, let’s look at the X-Men timeline that resulted when Wolverine went back to 1973 in Days of Future Pastto change the Sentinel future. Before you get too mad at Days of Future Pastfor mucking up the X-Men timeline, remember that this is totally in keeping with X-Men comic book canon.

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As David Crow points out in his Den of Geek article “X-Men Timeline Confusion Makes For a Perfectly Faithful Adaptation,” this is how the X-Men universe has always worked. Days of Future Pastis based on the “Days of Future Past” comic book story from The Uncanny X-Men#141 and #142, published in 1981. In other words, continuity confusion has always been an X-Men thing.

Everything is the same as the original timeline until 1973…

1973: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Wolverine and young Professor X prevent Mystique’s assassination of Trask, but they can’t stop Magento from going all “mutant-kind first” on them and trying to assassinate President Richard Nixon. (Oh, Erik.) Magneto throws Logan into the Potomac where his is fished out by Mystique.

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Unexplained continuity error: No one has really aged from the events of First Class, even though Days of Future Pastis meant to take place a decade later.

Unexplained continuity error 2: Bolivar Trask looks a whole lot like Peter Dinklage in 1973, yet in 2006, he more closely resembles Bill Duke. (Courtesy of David Crow) Also, I am no convinced Bolivar is a real first name.

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1983: X-Men: Apocalypse

Apocalypse/En Sabah Nur wakes up and sets off on a world domination plot with his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Magneto, Psylocke, Angel, and Storm. He convinces them to join his plot to destroy the world by giving them really cool makeovers.

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Meanwhile, Charles’ mutant school is thriving, and includes teen students: Scott Summers, Jean Grey, and Jubilee. When Apocalypse and his horsemen begin to destroy the world, Charles, Mystique, Beast, and the kids (including Quicksilver and Nightcrawler) stop them.

In a random aside, Wolverine (now with an adamantium upgrade) is freed from his Weapon X imprisonment by Scott and Jean. At the end of the film, a man in a suit collects samples of Wolverine’s blood. (This will become very relevant in Logan.)

Unexplained continuity error: No one has aged. Again. It’s starting to get really distracting.

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Unexplained continuity error 2: Angel is a teenager in 1983, so at youngest, he was probably seven to nine-years-old during the events of Days of Future Past in ’73. So time traveling should not have affected his age, yet he is also in his late 20s in 2006 and looks more like a Ben Foster type. (Courtesy of David Crow)

1992: Dark Phoenix

We catch back up with the X crew in 1992, nine years after the events of Apocalypse. Charles Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters seems to be going strong, as do the X-Men who also call the school home. Things hit a snag when Jean Grey (who has aged very little since 1983), is hit by a cosmic force during an X-Men mission into space. 

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Unexplained continuity error: No one has visibly aged. At this point, we’ve actively stopped caring.

2016: Deadpool

Former Special Forces operative Wade Wilson undergoes an experiment that leaves him with powers. He adopts the Deadpool persona and hunts down Ajax, the man who destroyed his life.

Because Deadpool ignores the Wade Wilson character of X-Men Origins: Wolverine,it seemingly takes place in the New X-Men TimelineThat being said, Wilson’s meta commentary about the multiple X-Men timelines implies its own meta-universe. But who has time for that?

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Anyway, Deadpool has always known he’s in a comic book, so it makes perfect sense he’d just embrace the absurdity of knowing he’s in a movie too.

2023: X-Men: Days of Future Past

At the end Days of Future Past,we see Logan return to a 2023 where there is no Sentinel threat and Xavier’s school is thriving with both Jean and Scott alive and well. Everyone lives happily ever after.

3. X-Men Timeline Outliers

2029: Logan

No one really seems to want to come out and explicitly say in which timeline the Loganmovie takes place, and I can understand why. Because it doesn’t really fit in either. From what I can tell, Loganhas to take place in a third X-Men timeline, as it recognizes events from both the Original X-Men Timeline and the New X-Men Timeline as canon. 

What does it count as canon from the Original X-Men Timeline? As we mention in our Logan Easter Eggs article, Logan and Charles discuss a long ago incident at the Statue of Liberty, hinting at the events of the very first X-Menfilm. Logan also talks to Dr. Rice about killing his father, Dr. Cornelius — something that happened at the end of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, aka the Original X-Men Timeline. However, Logancan’t take place in the Original X-Men Timeline because the events of the Sentinel future are avoided.

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What does it count from the New X-Men Timeline? In Apocalypse, we see an Essex Corporation suit taking Logan’s blood for use in the experimentation that presumably leads to X-23’s existence. However, Logancan’t take place in the New X-Men Timeline not only because of the ways in which is recognized the Original X-Men Timeline, but because there is no mention of the happy future from the Days of Future Pastepilogue.

Some might argue that the epilogue takes place before the psychic event that has Charles unwittingly killing some of his X-Men family (something hinted at in Logan), but, in Logan, it is stated that no new mutants have been born for 20 years, which doesn’t seem to match up with that we see in the Days of Future Pastepilogue.

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Furthermore, we see different versions of Caliban in Apocalypseand Logan.

What does Logandirector James Mangold have to say about all of this? Um, he doesn’t really seem to have a clear answer either, saying at a pre-release screening of Logan‘s first 40 minutes:

So the idea for us was this idea that they live in a world in which the legend of them exists, but it’s not really what happened, completely. Or is it? And I think that the movie goes deeper and deeper into these characters wrestling with their own legacy.  And how much of it is true.  And how much of it even they believe anymore, and is that a function of what is true or not?  Or is that a function of whether they have lost belief in themselves?

Do you get it now?

In an interview with Digital Spy, Hugh Jackman seemed more willing to take a clear stance on the subject, saying: “Not only is it different in terms of timeline and tone, it’s a slightly different universe. It’s actually a different paradigm and that will become clear [when you see the movie].”

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2017: Marvel’s The Gifted

So far, The Gifted seems to take place roughly in contemporary times, though in an alternate timeline from both our own and the two recognized timelines of the X-Men universe. Here’s how showrunner Matt Nix explained it (via io9):

The idea is that this is definitely its own universe. We’re not in the same exact timeline as any particular movie or comic, but that said we do share some characters with the movies and comics. The idea is we’re doing our own thing. As they say, there are many streams.

Given that the X-Men and Brotherhood are mentioned as having disappeared in The Gifted pilot, it’s unclear, at this point, if the show might try to tie into a larger recognized timeline (or at least show similarities to existing ones) at this point.

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Is the X-Men franchise’s casual relationship with continuity a problem? 

With the planned debut of several more movies and TV shows, the X-Men franchise’s continuity issues are likely only going to get more numerous. But is that a problem? It probably depends what your ability to suspend disbelief is like and how much you care about continuity issues.

Den of Geek‘s Gabriel Bergmoser argues that X-Men’s continuity issues are actually a tremendous strength, freeing up the franchise’s individual films and TV shows to make bold choices in a way that the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t allow. Loganis the perfect example. It is being hailed as one of the strongest superhero movies ever, and it makes the least sense within the established X-Men timelines. 

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When it comes down to it, the X-Men movie franchise has been doing this longer than most onscreen shared fictional universes, and has done a pretty good job considering. If it makes it easier, maybe you should just start to think of X-Men movie installments as all taking place within their own timeline, drawing on context from other X-Men movies, but only to the extent that it makes emotional and/or narrative sense. (Hey, it worked for Logan.) Besides, as we established earlier, playing fast and loose with continuity is a very comic book thing to do.

In the end, it might not matter at all. Now that Disney, which owns Marvel, has finished merging with Fox, which owns X-Men, the future of the X-Men movie franchise is up in the air. Disney could decide to bring the X-Men characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or perhaps to relaunch the franchise in some other way. But we will always have these, frankly, ridiculous “original” X-Men franchise timelines.

Do you have any continuity issues and/or timeline theories to add to our list? Sound off in the comments below…