As Marvel Studios continues to churn out massive hits at a steady pace, fans forget they weren't the first superhero game in town, and Marvel benefited a lot from what the X-Men movies got right. In 2000, X-Men premiered and set the standard for Spider-Man, Iron Man, and every other modern superhero movie to follow.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is absolutely A-okay, but there are still plenty of criticisms of Avengers: Infinity War. Not every comic book cinematic universe is created equal, and while the MCU is the most dominant franchise in Hollywood, plenty of fans feel the cinematic X-Men are better than the Avengers.
The X-Men Cinematic Universe (XMCU) showcases dynamic, distinct characters and takes ambitious swings that push comic book movies further. The X-Men movies are more insightful and inclusive, and they say more about the genre as a whole than any other superhero property. Not every film in the XMCU is perfect, but you can't create something unique without weathering a few mistakes along the way.
For most MCU villains, their motivations are often pretty simple, like "I want the vibranium" or "I want to destroy half of the universe." Those motivations are fine, but they don't speak to the inner nature of what the characters really want. Without giving Thanos a real, concrete reason to commit universal genocide, it's just a plot point. The villains in the XMCU aren't just superpowered jerks. They have reasons for their actions.
Magneto's backstory provides an insightful look at exactly why he wants mutants to dominate the human race. He lived through the Holocaust, and he never wants to see something so horrific happen again. Likewise, Senator Robert Kelly is afraid of what's going to happen to his idea of humanity if mutants become normalized. Bolivar Trask from Days of Future Past creates the Sentinels because he believes he's doing the right thing by keeping tabs on mutants.
Fear and hate may motivate them, but they're incredibly human reasons to lash out. The actions of the XMCU villains parallel real life, and that's why they're so impactful.
Marvel Studios is great at making movies that narratively and visually fit with the rest of the MCU, but some feel the Marvel production process results in movies that feel bland and interchangeable. While the movies purport to take place across the world and the universe, so many scenes feel like they were filmed in an office park outside Atlanta.
The XMCU takes risks, and those risks are what makes the X-Men movies better. They take on different genres, which offer different perspectives on superhero films as a whole. Logan is essentially a deconstructed Western, much like how the previous film, The Wolverine, explored Japanese cinema. Deadpool and its sequel provide meta takes on superhero movies in general, and X-Men: First Class borrows from the Bond franchise to tell a tale of spies in the swingin' '60s that feels like a true throwback instead of the same movie with different costumes.
Throughout the XMCU, characters struggle with their powers and what it means to be born different in a very raw way. The movies show the political ramifications of violent intervention, and they question whether or not it's right to use your gifts to improve your life if it's going to affect others negatively. The MCU rarely tries to touch those questions because they're messy, and leaves the audience wondering if anyone is truly good or bad.
The world of the X-Men doesn't just dive into the moral gray area of good and evil. It also makes more substantial arguments and parallels to the modern politics surrounding identity and sexuality. Characters in the XMCU are born with their powers, meaning they're different from the moment they're born and ostracized because of it.
Ian McKellen told BuzzFeed he took the role of Magneto because of the parallels between the mutants' fight and the gay rights movement:
I was sold it by Bryan [Singer] who said, "Mutants are like gays. They're cast out by society for no good reason." And, as in all civil rights movements, they have to decide: Are they going to take the Xavier line - which is to somehow assimilate and stand up for yourself and be proud of what you are, but get on with everybody - or are you going to take the alternative view - which is, if necessary, use violence to stand up for your own rights. And that's true. I've come across that division with the gay rights movement.
The X-Men movies paved the way and created a template for success the MCU followed. Marvel properties had little luck matching the cinematic success of the Superman and Batman series in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. When X-Men became a hit in 2000, it built the foundation of what modern superhero movies would become.
Instead of focusing on one character and introducing one or two new villains in ensuing sequels, X-Men and X2: X-Men United overflowed with different heroes and villains. They prepared audiences for movies like The Avengers packed with characters from different movies.