A Complete, Unhinged Guide to the X-Men Movie Timeline Before Deadpool & Wolverine

A Complete, Unhinged Guide to the X-Men Movie Timeline Before Deadpool & Wolverine

The chronology of any comic book storyline or character—woven throughout decades of creative teams, retcons, and realignments to the narrative—is always a complicated affair. But there are few mainstream adaptations with a more convoluted mess of timelines and canons than Fox’s X-Men movies. Now, nearly two and a half decades after it began, as we begin to bid farewell to it via the New Management in Deadpool & Wolverine, we look back at the utterly insane throughline of the X-Men cinematic universe.

A Note About Timelines

Screenshot: Marvel

Before we even get started, we have to make a few things clear. The first is that, for simplicity’s sake, we will be referring to the multiple chains of events that take place across the X-Men films as different “timelines.” Now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken a dab hand to talking about the concept of the multiverse—and the myriad ever-evolving realities of the Fox X-Men films are now a distinct reality within themselves, as we got to see in The Marvels’ post-credits scene—what is an actual chronological timeline, and what is a divergent reality of its own, have become blurred.

There is a real possibility that, given the tweaks and changes between them, the MCU might reveal that the events of the X-Men films’ soft reboot starting in First Class occupy a distinct reality different to the one introduced in 2000’s X-Men. But given the interplay between those films, and then the addition of stories like Logan and the Deadpool films, it’s just easier to talk about them with a persistent chronological through line as if they are just branching timelines for a singular reality. We might find out in Deadpool & Wolverine! But that also brings us back to how we’ll be referring to these timelines. From what we can gather, we’re going to be playing with at least five distinct timelines of continuity we’ll detail as follows:

  • Timeline A: The continuity established in the first three X-Men movies (X-Men, X2, and The Last Stand), as well as X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine, and seen in Days of Future Past as well as at the post-credits sequence of The Marvels.
  • Timeline B: The continuity of the X-Men “prequel” films First Class, Days of Future Past, Apocalypse, and Dark Phoenix. We’re going to make the assumption that a good chunk of the history of timelines A and B are the same until a moment in Days of Future Past—Mystique choosing whether or not to assassinate Bolivar Trask, the designer of the Sentinel Program—creates a split between them.
  • Timeline C: This is the near-future dystopian continuity that serves as the backdrop for Logan. Although the film stars Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as Professor X, enough here is different that it’s easier to contain it as its own timeline. Deadpool & Wolverine’s director, Shawn Levy, has said the events of Loganare very important to the new movie, to boot. Just as a completely random aside, we’re going to slot The New Mutants into this timeline, for reasons we’ll get into later—there’s enough connections, but the movie is standalone enough it could potentially be linked to other continuities or exist as its own separate thing.
  • Timeline D: This is the continuity of Deadpool, Deadpool 2, and parts of Deadpool & Wolverine. Although the Deadpool films have links to both Timelines A and B, they are mostly through metatextual nods rather than explicit story elements, so once again, it’s easier to contain these films in their own timeline.
  • Timeline E: This is the “Sacred Timeline” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s prime reality, Earth-616. The awakening of mutantkind is largely a mystery in this timeline, but it becomes important here as it’s where firstly the events of The Marvels takes place, and secondly it’s where, presumably, at least some elements of Deadpool & Wolverine will take place, connected by the extra-temporal-reality space occupied by the Time Variance Authority.

Don’t worry, we’ll label each event with what timeplace it occurs in, as well as what movie it is portrayed in. Without further ado, let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Timelines A, B: 8,000-3,600 BC

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

En Sabah Nur, also known as Apocalypse, the firstborn mutant, manifests his mutant ability and ascends as a dominant power in ancient Egypt. During a ritual in 3,600 BC to extend his life by transferring his consciousness into the body of a man with an advanced mutant healing factor, Apocalypse and his four chief lieutenants, his Horsemen, are betrayed. Apocalypse is entombed alive, and kept secret for millennia. (X-Men: Apocalypse)

Timelines A, B: 1845

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

After seeing the death of the man he believed to be his father, a young teen named James Howlett manifests his mutant abilities—an advanced healing factor, as well as bone claws emerging from between the bases of his fingers. Accidentally killing his actual father, Thomas Logan, James and his half-brother, Victor Creed, run off together and go into hiding, living a long life as mercenaries and soldiers due to the seeming immortality granted by their mutant healing abilities. (X-Men Origins: Wolverine)

Timelines A, B: 1944

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

In the final years of World War II, Erik Lehnsherr—a Jewish boy imprisoned at Auschwitz—manifests the mutant ability to manipulate magnetic forces. Experimented on for his abilities by Nazi officer Klaus Schmidt, Erik eventually escapes captivity and spends nearly 20 years traveling the world to hunt surviving Nazis for their part in the Holocaust.

Meanwhile in Westchester County, New York, a young boy named Charles Xavier, who has manifested telepathic abilities, invites Raven Darkhölme—whose shapeshifting mutation also gave her scaled, dark blue skin—to stay with him in his home. (X-Men: First Class)

Timelines A, B: 1962

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

The human CIA Officer Moira MacTaggert inadvertantly uncovers the existence of the Hellfire Club, a mysterious organization led by Schmidt, now operating under the identity Sebastian Shaw, and several other mutants. Moria seeks out the advice of Charles about mutation, which leads to him working with the CIA to form a taskforce to stop Shaw, including Raven, Erik, Dr. Hank McCoy, Angel Salvadore, Armando Muñoz, Alex Summers, and Sean Cassidy.

Armando perishes during an attack on the mutants by the Hellfire Club, and the battle becomes the hotbed of the Cuban Missile Crisis as Shaw manipulates forces in Moscow to install ICBMs in Cuba. In the ensuing battle, Shaw is killed by Erik, and Charles is paralyzed from the waist down by a bullet deflected by Erik’s magnetism powers. The ideological split between the two sees Erik, now going by the name Magneto, take Raven, the surviving members of the Hellfire Club, and Angel to form the Brotherhood of Mutants, while Charles decides to return to his Westchester estate to open a school for “Gifted” students. (X-Men: First Class)

Timelines A, B: 1963

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

Magneto is falsely accused of being responsible for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and jailed for his crimes. (X-Men: Days of Future Past)

Timelines A, B: 1970

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

The outbreak of the Vietnam War sees Charles’ school shut down as its students are signed up for military service, driving Xavier to alcoholism and abuse of a drug that lets him walk, in exchange for dampening his mutant powers. (X-Men: Days of Future Past)

Simultaneously, James Howlett and Victor Creed are serving in Vietnam, but are recruited by William Stryker alongside several other mutants to form a black ops squad called Team X. James adopts a new alias, Logan, after his real father, and earns the codename Wolverine in the service of Team X—but quits after several years, disagreeing with Stryker and the Team’s violent ethos. (X-Men Origins: Wolverine)

Timelines A, B: The 1973 Split

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

Bolivar Trask, the head of Trask Industries, develops the Sentinel Program—and offers it to the U.S. government as a way to find and subdue the mutant populace. Raven, now operating under the alias Mystique, assassinates Trask, branching the timelines into Timeline A, the continuity of the original X-Men movies, and Timeline B, the timeline of the prequel-era reboot. We’ll get back to Timeline B eventually. (X-Men: Days of Future Past)

Timeline A: 1979

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

When Victor starts hunting down former members of Team X, Logan finds himself inducted into the Weapon X program at Stryker’s offer, infusing his skeleton with the ultra-strong metal adamantium in order to make him strong enough to stop Victor. After Stryker attempts to brainwash Logan into becoming his own personal assassin, he escapes, and eventually learns that Victor was actually still working for Stryker, acquiring genetic material from mutants and prisoners for Stryker to experiment on at a facility on Three Mile Island.

After betraying Victor, Stryker activates Weapon XI, a genetically enhanced version of Logan and Victor’s former Team X ally Wade Wilson, a “Deadpool” amalgam of various mutant abilities. Logan kills Weapon XI, but is shot in the head by an adamantium bullet, causing him to lose his memory in the process. (X-Men Origins: Wolverine)

Timeline A: 2003, Part 1

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

An older Magneto’s latest generation of the Brotherhood of Mutants launches an attack on a political summit about mutants in New York, hoping to use the absorption powers of the young mutant Rogue, as well as advanced secret technology, to transform the gathered politicians into mutants themselves. Charles Xavier works together with Wolverine to reform the X-Men—including Scott Summers, Jean Grey, and Ororo Munroe—who stop Magneto’s plot. (X-Men).

Timeline A: 2003, Part 2

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

Shortly after, Rogue has joined the X-Men herself, but an attack by a returned William Stryker—using the mutant powers of his own son Jason to turn the mutant Nightcrawler into an attempted assassin at the White House—on the Xavier Institute sees several X-Men, including Charles, captured. The remaining X-Men team up with Magneto and Mystique to go rescue their friends, and stop Stryker from using Jason’s powers to brainwash Xavier into using his mutant-detecting supercomputer/psychic power amplifier Cerebro to kill every mutant on Earth.

Magneto causes problems on purpose, convincing Jason to try and brainwash Charles into using Cerebro to kill every human instead, fleeing in the chaos, but the X-Men free Charles and escape Stryker’s base during a flood. Stryker dies in the process, as does Jean Grey, who sacrifices herself to hold off the water long enough for her friends to make it out. (X2)

Timeline A: 2006

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

Jean gets “better,” by which we mean “is resurrected by the cosmic entity known as the Phoenix.” The X-Men and Magneto’s brotherhood, fighting over a purported cure for the X-Gene, decide to put aside their differences to stop Phoenix from destroying the entire world. Phoenix kills Xavier (who actually gets better shortly after), Wolverine kills Phoenix, and relative peace comes to mutantkind, granted recognition and rights for their acts saving the world. (X-Men: The Last Stand)

Timeline A: 2013

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

Still haunted by having to kill Jean to save the world, Logan leaves the X-Men behind and travels to Japan, where he crosses paths with the sinister Silver Samurai, defeating them. Returning to the U.S., Logan is stopped by Magneto, who reveals that Charles Xavier is alive, and that they need his help again to stop an increasingly dire future for mutantkind coming to pass. (The Wolverine)

Timeline A: 2023, Timeline B: 1973

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

A decade later, that future has come to pass: declining relationships between humanity and mutantkind see the resurgence of the assassinated Bolivar Trask’s Sentinel program. Sentinels go on to wipe out the vast majority of mutantkind, but not before a remaining handful of X-Men, alongside Charles and Magneto, use Kitty Pryde’s powers as a mutant circuit to send Logan’s consciousness back in time to his body in 1973, to try and convince Charles and Erik’s past selves to stop Mystique from assassinating Trask. Logan eventually succeeds, and Raven is convinced to not kill Trask, joining Charles as a senior leader in the X-Men.

Erik, who decided to try and get Raven to kill Richard Nixon instead, goes his separate way once more after Raven saves the president—and after the public sees a mutant saving the day, Nixon is convinced to not put the Sentinel program into effect. Timeline A Logan’s mind returns to his own continuity, learning that Raven’s act erased the original dark 2023 of Timeline A and replaced it with one where the X-Men and many fallen mutants are still alive. (X-Men: Days of Future Past).

Timeline B: 1983

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

Moira MacTaggert unwittingly awakens Apocalypse from his slumber after thousands of years. Forming a new quartet of Horsemen to be his agents—including a bitter Magneto, who went on to start a family only for them to be murdered, Angel, Storm, and Psylocke—Apocalypse plans to reforge his ancient empire anew. Charles and Raven, as well as the next generation of mutant students they’re training to be X-Men—Nightcrawler, Quicksilver, Cyclops, and a young Jean Grey—put a stop to Apocalypse’s plans, convincing Magneto and Storm to change sides in the process. Apocalypse is defeated, but only after Jean taps into a strange, fiery power she had no idea was at her disposal. (X-Men: Apocalypse)

Timeline B: 1992

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

Charles and Raven have led the X-Men to become the premiere superhero team of the world, and Xavier’s Institute a home to legions of mutant students. But after a mission to space to save the crew of the U.S. space shuttle Endeavour, Jean inadvertently fuses with the cosmic entity known as the Phoenix Force, granting her dangerous amounts of psychic power. Tracked by a race of shapeshifting aliens whose home planet was destroyed by the Phoenix, the D’Bari, Jean is rocked by both the revelation Charles had lied to her about her past as well as her increasingly uncontrollable powers, as well as the manipulations of the D’Bari.

After Jean accidentally kills Raven and flees the X-Men, Charles once again teams up with Magneto to try and save her. Jean is ultimately convinced to sacrifice herself to take out the D’Bari’s leader, Vuk, transcending her physical form to become one with the Phoenix. (X-Men: Dark Phoenix)

Timeline C: 2014

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

The mutant race begins a steady decline in numbers, after a plan to lace food supplies with X-Gene-suppressing chemicals stops mutants from being born. (Logan)

Timeline C: 2017-2020-ish

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

Five young mutants—Dani Moonstar, Rahne Sinclair, Illyana Rasputin, Sam Guthrie, and Bobby da Costa—are gathered at a mysterious medical facility operated by Dr. Cecilia Reyes, who is secretly working for the Essex Corporation to investigate their volatile powers. After Dani’s powers manifest as the ability to create powerful, tangible illusions out of people’s greatest fears, they summon a horrifying entity known as the Demon Bear, and the young mutants band together to survive and escape. (The New Mutants)

Side note: The New Mutants is standalone enough that it could exist in either Timeline A or C, as there are references made to the X-Men as an active team (as they would be at this point in either timeline) and Xavier’s school for gifted students. We’ve placed it in Timeline C as the movie uses archival footage from Logan to depict a vision of mutant children (specifically Laura Kinney, who we’ll get to shortly) being trained at other similar facilities, as well as the revelation that Reyes is backed by the Essex corporation, give it more connections to Logan’s continuity. Assuming it is set contemporary to its repeatedly delayed release, it would have to slot in at some time between the birth of the last mutant generations and the events that take place shortly before Logan. Speaking of…

Timeline C: 2028

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

A traumatized and aged Charles Xavier, suffering from debilitating seizures, accidently unleashes a massive psychic shock that kills hundreds of humans and most of the remaining X-Men. Logan returns to Charles’ side to take him to isolation in Mexico, so he can live out his last days without killing anyone else. (Logan)

Timeline C: 2029

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

A year later, Logan crosses paths with a group of young mutant children, who are actually clones created from mutant genetic material—including one made from his own: Laura Kinney—by the genetics corporation responsible for stopping mutant births decades prior, Transigen. Tasked with escorting them to refuge in Canada, both Xavier and Logan himself perish in the attempt, but Laura and the other mutant children successfully manage to escape. (Logan)

Timeline D: 2016

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

Battling cancer, Wade Wilson is unwittingly inducted into a secret reactivation of the Weapon X project by a former Weapon X member, Ajax. Experimented on and horribly disfigured until his extremely advanced mutant healing factor manifests, Wade escapes and teams up with X-Men members Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead to get vengeance on Ajax, before deciding to become the superpowered mercenary Deadpool. (Deadpool)

Timeline D: 2018, 2068

Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

A few years later, Wade’s girlfriend Vanessa is murdered by mobsters, forcing him into a suicidal depression. But an encounter with the time-traveling mutant Cable—who comes from 50 years in the future to prevent his dystopian reality from coming to pass, by murdering a young mutant named Russell Collins who would go on to become a dangerous supervillain, Firefist—draws Wade back to action. After stopping Cable from killing Russell, and setting Russell on a path to stop him from becoming a supervillain in Cable’s time, Wade uses some of Cable’s repaired time travel technology to save Vanessa, and also murder Ryan Reynolds before he can make the superhero movie Green Lantern. (Deadpool 2)

Timeline D: 2024

Screenshot: Marvel

After celebrating his birthday with Vanessa and his friends, Wade is detained and recruited by the Time Variance Authority, a cross-reality agency tasked with protecting the multiverse, to save his Earth and others from a mysterious threat. (Deadpool & Wolverine)

Timeline E, Timeline A: 2026

Screenshot: Marvel

After sealing a tear in the barriers between realities, SABER Agent Monica Rambeau finds herself in the reality of Timeline A, where she is recovered by the cosmic superhero Binary (the alter ego of her mother, Maria, who in this reality did not have a daughter) and the X-Men’s Hank McCoy. (The Marvels)

Side note, again: the vast majority of MCU projects post-Avengers: Endgame are no longer contemporary with our own time thanks to the five-year jump between it and Infinity War. Not accounting for any kind of time differential traveling between realities, we’re making the assumption that as The Marvels is set some time in 2026, Monica lands in the equivalent year in the reality of the first three Fox X-Men films.