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With Logan, Hugh Jackman officially says goodbye to the character he’s been playing for the last 17 years. The Wolverine was the role that launched Jackman into superstardom, and rightfully so. His turn as everyone’s favorite cigar-chomping, wise-cracking, adamantium claw-wielding mutant is held in high regard by both critics and fans alike, even if some of the movies ol’ Wolvie’s been in haven’t been that great.
It’s only fitting that we take a look back at Hugh Jackman’s long and storied history with the role by ranking his Wolverine performances from worst to best. Just to be clear, this is not a ranking of the X-Men movies overall. The focus is Wolverine, from a character and performance perspective.
7. X-Men (2000)
Hugh Jackman’s first appearance as The Wolverine was also his worst. Not because it was necessarily bad – in fact, he was actually pretty good in the role – but because retrospectively it’s very much a diamond in the rough. Jackman’s understanding of the character’s mannerisms and physicality would improve greatly in subsequent performances, plus character-wise he’d have more to work with. As ostensibly the point-of-view character for the audience, Wolverine’s role in the first movie was mainly to listen to exposition about the world and the characters, make snarky remarks and get thrown around like a rag-doll in action scenes. Sure, he’d have a moment with Anna Paquin’s Rogue here and there, and you have the groundwork for his love triangle with Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Cyclops (James Marsden), but the real meaty character stuff was yet to come.
6. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
While this is not meant as a ranking of the X-Men movies, there’s no denying that Origins: Wolverine’s poor quality is enough to drag down Jackman’s performance with it. He’s still great in the role, there’s no doubt about that, but the story and writing give him very little to work with. It’s a lame and unnecessary retelling of Wolverine’s origin story that saddles the character with a generic love interest. By the time this movie came along, Jackman had long since settled into the role, but his performance was a safe and familiar kind of good because that’s really all he could do with the material he was given.
5. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
While not as bad as many fans make it out to be, The Last Stand is still a mess in nearly every respect and like Origins: Wolverine, it’s a mess that makes it difficult to turn in a really good performance. Like the movie itself, Wolverine had a lot on his plate – from becoming a sort of mentor/leader figure to the young and inexperienced X-Men, to dealing with the death of Professor Xavier, the return of Jean Grey, Jean Grey becoming the Dark Phoenix and having to kill Jean Grey, all the while being the star attraction of the film, which entails making corny one-liners whenever possible, the crowning achievement of Jackman’s performance in The Last Stand is that it doesn’t collapse onto itself. While Origins: Wolverine gave the character too little to do that was new and exciting, The Last Stand buried him under so many disparate plot threads that it really is amazing that Hugh Jackman was still able to give a solid and enjoyable performance.
4. The Wolverine (2013)
While Wolverine’s second solo outing fared a lot better than the first and explored a very interesting creative direction for the character by sending him to Japan, it had its fair share of problems. A PG-13 rating and a ridiculous, CGI-heavy third act neutered what was clearly meant to be a much more grounded, adult story with a noir feel to it, but in retrospect, The Wolverine’s biggest problem now is that it’s just an inferior version of Logan. Everything The Wolverine does for the character, Logan does too, but way bigger, way better and with a much grittier edge.
3. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Wolverine’s role in Days of Future Past had more to do with plot than character development, but it was still an interesting direction for the character. With his mind transferred into his younger body, Wolverine is tasked with convincing a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) of the dark future that awaits the whole world and to try and prevent it with his help. With Wolverine now, the one giving exposition instead of receiving it, Days of Future Past ended up with the most level-headed interpretation of the character to date. Jackman’s more seasoned, restrained take showed us a new side to the character – he was now the one that had to help a deeply troubled Professor X find his way, instead of it being the other way around.
2. X2: X-Men United (2003)
X2 was the movie that cemented Hugh Jackman as the definitive Wolverine for more than a decade to come. It tackled the iconic Weapon X storyline that the original movie only teased, exploring the violent origin of the character and putting him on a head-on collision with his tragic past. It gave him memorable action scenes that made him look badass and menacing, expanded his role as a protector of the younger X-Men and continued to build his relationship with Jean Grey. Jackman rose to the challenge and fully embraced the character, giving audiences his best Wolverine performance – that is, until 14 years later, when he managed to outdo himself.
1. Logan (2017)
It’s extremely fitting that Hugh Jackman’s final turn as the character is also his best. Logan goes for broke and so does Jackman with his performance. Not a single line of dialogue or physical movement feels complacent – both the movie and the actor are constantly striving to push the envelope while building on everything that’s come before. The result is a raw, brutal, uncompromising take on the beloved character. There could not be a better way for Hugh Jackman to depart from the role that has defined his career.
And there you have it – all of Hugh Jackman’s performances as Wolverine, ranked from worst to best. Jackman’s Wolverine has been such a staple of superhero movies that replacing him would not only be extremely difficult, but downright impossible. He has set the bar so high for the role, that it genuinely would be for the best if we don’t get another Wolverine for the next 10-15 years.