What makes a movie bad is, of course, subjective. I have a few rough guidelines I’ve noticed about comic book movies over the years. So, before I actually get to my list of worst comic book movies, allow me to digress for a bit. If you don’t care about that, skip a few lines.
The 10 Worst Superhero Movies Ever
Ways to make a bad comic book movie:
1. Change the character(s) histories a lot for no real noticeable reason. The fans love that. Making the Joker the one who killed Batman’s parents in the Michael Keaton movie was a bit odd, but it lent some closure to the movie and simplified the plot. Was it necessary? No, I don’t think so. But it was still a good movie. Some of the others, however…. well you get the idea.
2. Make so many changes to the character they are barely recognizable. This happened several times in certainly the top (bottom) four I will get to later. If you really can’t seem to stick to the actual character, maybe you should be doing a different movie?
3. Cast someone in the lead who doesn’t really have anything in common with the character they are portraying. Granted, if you actually cast an actor, this can work, but if you just cast someone who’s currently popular… well, again, you’ll see a few of these on my list here.
OK, moving on to the list. After some sorting and pondering, I am doing this in order of “wasn’t as bad” up to “Oh Dear God, why? Why??!!!” As a note, I quote ratings from Rottentomatoes.com in this article. I didn’t base any of my ratings on this, but I did use it to back me up after I picked out my selections.
10. Daredevil (2003)
Ben Affleck stars as the blind crime fighter in a really not too good adaptation of the character. This was far from the worst comic book version I ever saw, but it had its issues. Affleck is not really the most talented of actors, which shows a lot here. They also decided to make some significant changes to the two villains they decided to use, Bullseye and the Kingpin. And, making it worthy of inclusion by this alone, this movie spawned a sequel that was much much worse, and its own place later in the list. Rotten Tomatoes gave this a 44%, which I guess I more or less agree with.
9. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
So much potential, so many bad choices. They changed Logan’s history, parts of which they didn’t even reveal until 2001. They changed Sabretooth, and for that matter, the whole team they both served on. The only character in the movie who didn’t seem to undergo radical change was John Wraith, and they decided to kill him off, maybe for being too close to the comics. Deadpool was altered horribly, and they even set up for some bad continuity within the movies it was supposed to be attached to. Scott Summers doesn’t recognize the very distinctive man with kind of unusual powers who saved his life as a teen? Rotten Tomatoes rated this at 36%, which in my view is a bit high.
8. Supergirl (1984)
There’s really nothing good to say about this movie. Helen Slater couldn’t carry off the title roll, they made up all sorts of stuff instead of using anything from the character’s history. In an attempt to tie in with Christopher Reeve’s much better and more successful movies, they had her meet Jimmy Olsen, portrayed by the same actor (I guess he was cheapest). They send her to some weird other dimension where she loses her powers and enacts this very strange swim through black muck as if the director couldn’t decide if he wanted to the traditional damsel in distress quicksand type scene, or maybe something more evocative of mud wrestling. Rotten Tomatoes went with a staggering 8% on this, which I’d roughly go with.
7. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987)
This is when good movie franchises not only go bad, but just plain spectacularly fail. What I hadn’t realized until I started researching this article was that Christopher Reeve helped write it. I have no idea what kind of writer he may have been, I”ve not read or seen anything else by him that I know of. But, sometimes, it’s a good idea to separate the cast from the writers and directors. Superman goes after the world’s nuclear weapons, and Lex Luthor (don’t know what to do for a Superman movie? Toss in Lex.) makes an android in part from Superman’s hair (say what?) to fight the Man of Steel. Rotten Tomatoes gave this an 11%, which strikes me about right.
6. Elektra (2005)
Remember when I said part of why Daredevil made the list was it spawned a sequel? This is it. They followed several steps of my guide to bad movies- Jennifer Garner looks nothing like black haired Elektra, nor does she wear the anything close to the character’s costume. They took a hard bitten assassin and decided to give her a soft spot for kids. Rotten tomatoes gives this a rousing 10% positive, so I’m clearly not alone here. I am grateful that at least I saw this on cable at home instead of paying for it in the theater.
5. Captain America (1990)
No, go back and look at the date, I’m not pre-judging the new movie coming out, I’m actually looking forward to that one. THIS one was released in theaters in Europe, but straight to video in America, ironically given the title. The one interesting point of this was the casting- the lead was Matt Salinger, son of the legendary reclusive author JD Salinger. While the father was an amazing talent, his son was a great deal less so, at least as far as acting goes. The whole thing was just badly done, they tried to do too much at once, combining his World War II history with the suspension animation, but without the key players of either his sidekick Bucky or the heroes who found Cap, the Avengers. Cap is at heart a simple character, and there would be many ways to do this story well, and they cleverly managed to avoid all of them. Rotten Tomatoes went a 20% on this, which was generous in my view.
4. The Punisher (1989)
The more recent movie of this title wasn’t bad. This one, not so much. This, too, was inflicted on the hapless European theatrical audience but went to video in America. I think I really could sum up the major flaw here with just the name of the star: Dolph Lungren. Punisher with a nearly unintelligible accent was bad, the Punisher claiming he never wears kevlar was inane. The producers refused to allow him to appear in costume, as it was “Too comic booky” (for a comic character? Really?), but they had him using knives with the Punisher’s trademark skull symbol on the hilt, which the character doesn’t use in the books. Rotten Tomatoes went 24% on this, which I think is VERY generous.
3. Catwoman (2004)
Let me get this out right up front: I like Catwoman, the character. She’s great, a compelling, interesting character. Perhaps it was a mercy that this horrid train wreck changed her name from Selina Kyle, as she has always been in the comics, to Patience Philips. She wore a costume that was never seen in the comics (thankfully), had her name and race changed, and even gained powers. I like Halle Berry and Benjamin Bratt both, and they couldn’t save this. I also must make a confession. At home, I saw the first twenty minutes of this… and stopped. I couldn’t take it anymore. Rotten Tomatoes gave this a 10%, which seemed about right from the bit I saw. Sorry, I’m not a martyr, I couldn’t watch all this, and I saw it long before I started writing for this site, let alone came up with this article. That, in fact, was inspired by….
2. The Spirit (2008)
I saw this the other day, and it inspired, if that’s the right word, this whole article. The Spirit is a great classic character, different from many comic characters in that he wore a regular suit and just a mask. Of course, his suit was blue with a white shirt, instead of the monochromatic black of the movie. Samuel L. Jackson tried to breathe life into this disaster as the villain, and there were a great many very lovely women in it, and none of that was enough to make it worthwhile. This, too, I fortunately saw at home. Sadly, I did not think to pour a drink or three to make it better. Rotten Tomatoes said this was a 14% positive movie, which I’ll go with.
1. Batman & Robin (1997)
If you’ve seen this, I don’t think I need to say why it’s on here, or even why it’s #1. This was without doubt the worst movie adaptation of some beloved comic book characters. I’m a fan of Batman and just about all the supporting characters, and this was just wretched. Bane, the man who beat Batman, was reduced to a brainless thug, Robin was wearing some weird Robin/Nightwing hybrid costume, Batgirl, played by Alicia Silverstone, is now blonde and Alfred’s niece, but still supposed to be Barbara Gordon… I enjoy Arnold Schwartzenagger’s action movies, and think George Clooney is amazingly talented, but really, there was no way to salvage this. I am a lifelong Batman fan, and owned stock in Warner Brothers when this was released… and I still advised people not to see it. Rotten Tomatoes gave this a 12%, which might be a bit high actually.
So, those are my picks. Maybe you agree, maybe not, but let me know what you think.
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