6 List: The Worst Comic Book Superhero Movies
Superheroes are ubiquitous with comic books. Since the medium took off, whole universes have been created around these incredible men and women. It’s only logical that the film industry would eventually follow suit and bring the four-color storyboards to the big screen.
Characters like Spider-Man, Batman and Superman have dominated the box office for years. Each new release is anticipated with the excitement of a toddler at Christmas. Many of them prove to be as great as anticipated. The ones that don’t live up to expectations are usually at least mediocre — not great films but good enough that comic book fans will still watch. Occasionally, though, a superhero film will come out that just hurts to sit through.
Words like “best” and “worst” are subjective. It’s impossible for everyone to agree on taste. This list is my opinion and has no reference point beyond my knowledge of the film and how I felt after watching it. Films I haven’t seen (Condorman and a handful of others) didn’t make the list because you can’t judge what you don’t know if you want to be taken seriously. That being said, here’s the six films I believe to be the absolute worst of the bunch.
6. Captain America (1979)
Reb Brown, Len Birman and Heather Menzies-Urich
One of the worst things that can happen to a fan is turning on a highly anticipated film, only to discover it has nothing to do with the source material. The 1979 Captain America television movie caused exactly that.
The Steve Rogers in this movie was never a polio-stricken child that wanted nothing more than to serve his country proudly. This Steve Rogers is a wannabe surfer/artist traveling the American coast in a van. His father was a famous scientist that discovered the super-soldier serum, called FLAG here because someone decided that familiarity was stupid, and now a group of bad guys want to get their hands on it.
If that weren’t enough, the film is just bad. There isn’t any supervillain, which is counter-intuitive for the genre. Throughout, the dialogue is absurd and the action is campy while trying to be serious. Many people cite Pyun’s 1990 Cap film as being the worst, but I have to disagree. How this pile of rubbish landed a sequel (which I still haven’t built the courage to watch) is anyone’s guess.
5. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Topher Grace
After two wildly successful films starring everybody’s favorite webslinger, fans were given this big-budget mess. Obvious problems plagued the film, like too many villains, too many subplots, too many shots of crowds looking stupefied, and too much sad emo Peter Parker.
Sam Raimi originally envisioned a completely different film. Vulture was set to be a major villain with New Goblin included to wrap up the Osborne story. Thanks to the wonderfully wise producers, Venom was forced into the script and the rest is history.
The film was a commercial success and received a surprising number of good reviews, but it stopped the franchise cold. Besides being a chaotic mess, moviegoers were forced to sit through what might be the most ridiculous dance number ever filmed. For that reason alone, Spider-Man 3 is one of the worst superhero films ever made.
4. Generation X (1996)
Matt Frewer, Finola Hughes and Jeremy Ratchford
Growing up is rough. Everybody goes through it and almost everybody has a great deal of angst because of it. That’s one of the reasons Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters was such a hit with the comic book community. Who wouldn’t want to go to a school where being different was perfectly acceptable, nurtured even?
When Generation X was announced, the excitement was palpable. Live action mutants weren’t yet common, so the next best thing to seeing the X-Men onscreen was to see their younger wards. Also, I had a crush on Jubilee thanks to her run in the Wolverine comics.
What appeared was a cross between Max Headroom and Nightmare on Elm Street. The mutant teens are forced to fight a manic Matt Frewer in the “Dream World,” which was as awful as it sounds. The excitement of seeing the mutants in the flesh was replaced by horror at what was done to them.
3. Batman Robin (1997)
Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell
Anyone that needs a crash course in how to destroy a superhero franchise needs to study Joel Schumacher’s final Batman film. Slam-packed full of completely ridiculous characters, a futuristic Gotham with way too much shiny, and a Batman suit sporting nipples, Batman Robin made grown men weep.
This film is the perfect example of what happens when a movie franchise is used as nothing more than a money-making machine. Where Burton’s Batman movies were dark and moody, Schumacher was brought on board by the studio to turn that around. Batman Returns was considered too dark to sell toys (McDonald’s dropped them from their Happy Meals) and Warner Brothers wasn’t having any of that.
Sell toys they did. Merchandising was a home run. Unfortunately, that meant there were tens of thousands of children all over the country forcing a smile on Christmas because their mom bought them that stupid Mr. Freeze figure.
2. The Fantastic Four (1994)
Alex Hyde-White, Jay Underwood and Rebecca Staab
Roger Corman is amazing. King of the b-movies, he’s worked on a pile of Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price, Rock Roll High School with The Ramones, and modern Syfy classics like Dinoshark and Sharktopus. He’s mentored some of the greatest directors in the film industry and helped launch the careers of the actors we all revere.
He also made the 1994 film that most hardcore comic fans have heard about but almost none have seen. When I finally got my hands on a pirated VHS copy, I was ecstatic. Ninety minutes later I was dumbfounded, disheartened and ready to cry. As much as I love Roger Corman, I loathed this movie.
Made on a budget of less than $2 million, this film was never intended for audiences. The special effects were hokey, even for the time. The script, although fairly faithful to the comics, was slapped together. The Thing was played by a different actor than Ben Grimm, and seemed smaller than his human counterpart. The Mole Man, FF’s first foe, was turned into The Jeweler for unknown reasons and felt like more like a b-movie staple than a Marvel supervillain.
The studio made the movie for the sole purpose of keeping the film rights to the characters. In the process, they lied to the fans, the cast and the crew. They also produced one of the worst comic book movies ever and let it leak to the public.
1. Superman Returns (2006)
Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth
When Superman first appeared in comics, he wasn’t the incredibly powerful character he is today. He had incredible strength and speed, but the other powers would develop as his popularity grew. As his powers multiplied, so did his inherent desire to do what was right.
Superman is the paragon of virtue. Batman’s ideology is based on vengeance. Spider-Man, responsibility. Daredevil, justice. Superman, the simple desire to do what is right.
Superman Returns threw all that out the window. Had it been any other superhero, the films many, many faults (plot holes, a Christ metaphor, logical inconsistencies, a regurgitated plot) could have been somewhat overlooked. But this is Superman we’re talking about, so making the hero a deadbeat dad stalker that wants to break up a married couple is just wrong. The Superman Singer created in this joke of a film is almost despicable. This guy might save lives and wear an “S” on his chest, but he’s anything but virtuous.
The Man of Steel is one of the most recognizable fictional characters in the world. He’s an ideal. He does what is right, even if he wants to do something else. But not here, not in Singer’s version of Metropolis.
Additionally, Singer deciding to make this movie directly caused Fox to hire Bret Ratner as the director on another film that nearly made this list.
For all these reasons, and many more there isn’t room for here, Superman Returns is the worst comic book movie of all time. At least in this fan’s opinion.
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