Wolverine V Jean Grey/Phoenix
This conflict is one that spanned a number of movies, and was developed gradually, leading to a devastating climax. It has all the features of great drama – romance, action, betrayal and intrigue – and set the stage for further instalments of the X-Men film franchise, which charts the endeavours of a group of super-powered mutants as they try to create a lasting peace between mutants and humans.
It all began in 2000’s X-Men, when Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin) were rescued from a dangerous situation by Cyclops (James Marsden) and Storm (Halle Berry). They were soon introduced to Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and the rest of the X-Men. As the X-Men face off against Magneto’s nefarious Brotherhood Of Mutants, Wolverine and Rogue are caught up in the final, epic battle, and Wolverine is saved by Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who is allied with Professor Xavier, and in a romantic relationship with Cyclops.
In 2003’s X2, as the X-Men find themselves having to team up with the Brotherhood Of Mutants against a powerful, common enemy, Jean Grey sacrifices herself in the final battle, and is presumed dead by drowning. She is mourned by her comrades, and in particular by her fiancée, Cyclops. She is also mourned by Wolverine – who verbally acknowledges that Jean Grey had chosen Cyclops over himself, thereby confirming his love for her.
In 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, Jean Grey is resurrected, but is changed by her return. Professor Xavier explains that in sacrificing herself, she unleashed a powerful alternate personality, known as the Phoenix and, unbeknownst to her teammates, she killed Cyclops as she reappeared.
The X-Men and the Brotherhood Of Mutants are once again locked in battle, as Magneto attempts to use the Phoenix as a weapon against the human race. During the final battle, Wolverine comes to realize that he is the only one capable of approaching Phoenix safely, due to his healing powers. As he does so, Phoenix briefly turns back into Jean Grey, before Wolverine is forced to fatally stab her in order to save humanity.
Moving forward in the franchise, the tragic action that Wolverine takes against the woman he loves is a significant motivation factor in his storyline – which would remain at the centre of the action throughout – including his own spinoff movies. The conflict is revisited repeatedly, as Wolverine processes his grief, and questions his situation.
It is an early example of superheroes in conflict, and beautifully demonstrates the complexity of these relationships, and the moral debates they inspire. Having spent significant amounts of time working physically in support of each other, an underlying emotional conflict between Wolverine and Jean Grey had always been present. In the end, that conflict manifested in a terrible choice for Wolverine that would haunt him forever.