Patrick Stewart Vs. James McAvoy: Here’s Who Played The Best Professor X
Though the franchise is now effectively finished, at least for now, thanks to the purchase of Fox by Disney, the “X-Men” films were perhaps vital in launching the blockbuster comic book movies that fans are all too used to today. In fact, some have argued that the original “X-Men” from 2000 is the most important superhero film ever made (per Nerdist). Not only were they important for comic book films, but they also helped bring to life several fan-favorite comic book characters. While Hugh Jackman’s interpretation of Wolverine may have garnered the most popularity, with a trilogy of solo films dedicated to the character, it was also a net positive for others.
One of those characters was Charles Xavier, the de facto leader of the X-Men and a powerful mutant in his own right. Patrick Stewart portrayed the older, wiser version of the character through the first three “X-Men” films. In the 2010s, James McAvoy stepped into the role of a younger Xavier in the spin-off prequel “X-Men: First Class” and then again in subsequent installments, some of which blurred both the past and present timelines. Both actors brought their own unique twist on the character, but who best inhabited the traits that make Professor X such a legendary character? Well, it’s not exactly an easy answer, and it’ll largely depend on what one expects from their Professor X.
Patrick Stewart as older, comic accurate Professor X
There are specific roles that seem tailor-made for certain actors, especially when it comes to comic book adaptations. Over the on r/movies subreddit, u/jadamsmash created a post in 2016 stating that they believed Patrick Stewart was the quintessential Professor X. “Patrick Stewart IS professor X. He looks exactly like him,” they said. “He has that stoic look, the wisdom, the accent, the class, the commanding presence, and everything. I can’t think of a character/actor match as good in nearly any medium.”
The post has over 20 thousand upvotes on Reddit, so it’s clear that this isn’t an isolated opinion. Stewart played the role several times throughout Fox’s “X-Men” franchise, culminating in “Logan.” In fact, his portrayal of the character was so spot-on that, according to an interview that the actor did in 2020 with Digital Spy, Stewart had conversations with Disney Studios president Kevin Feige about potentially returning as the character. Of course, he also said it wouldn’t happen because he was happy with how “Logan” wrapped the story up, but even having discussions with Feige is a testament to how beloved Stewart’s Professor X is.
James McAvoy as a younger, more egocentric Professor X
James McAvoy brought an entirely different kind of performance to the role of Professor X during his time as the character, which started in “X-Men: First Class.” Over on the r/Marvel subreddit, u/Regime-leader asked users what their opinion was on McAvoy’s portrayal of Professor X. Mostly, the comments were positive, with the top comment being from u/DaveyBoyblue. “Think he played it very well,” they said. “Prof X is an extremely flawed character, his ego driving so many decisions and self-justification for his actions that lead to so much harm and that was captured well.”
So while McAvoy’s performance may not have been entirely comic accurate like Stewart’s, McAvoy brought a lot of the ego that comic fans would frequently see from the character in the source material. Professor X was also more of a central character during McAvoy’s tenure, which meant that it was something more of a meatier role for the actor. This certainly allowed him more time to develop a more three-dimensional character.
Stewart slightly edges McAvoy out as the better Professor X
It’s clear that both James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart brought a lot of their own considerable talent to the role of Professor X. It’s almost nearly impossible to decide with any level of certainty who did a better job. Still, there’s one film that could edge Stewart just slightly ahead. “Logan” saw Stewart step into the role of a much older Professor X, who’s dealing with dementia, which has made his telepathic powers dangerous and unstable. It’s an entirely new take on the character, and “Logan” was praised for Stewart’s performance and the film’s other leading performances. In fact, the film has one of the highest Rotten Tomatoes scores of the whole franchise, sitting at 94%.
It’s perhaps for this performance alone that Stewart narrowly edges out McAvoy’s, though that’s by no means a statement of fact. Still, there was even speculation that Stewart would receive a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars (per The Hollywood Reporter), though that ultimately did not happen. Awards or not, it’s a brilliant and heartbreaking interpretation of the character that, while not comic accurate, will likely stand as one of the best performances in a comic book film.