10 Worst Superhero Movies
I already listed my 10 Best Superhero Movies, so here are the 10 worst. These are movies that are universally panned by everyone. I am very forgiving when it comes to superhero movies, so I actually like some of these, even though I can totally see that they are just really bad. However, there are a few that even I find to be just unwatchable. The following movies fail on just about every level and have absolutely no redeeming values. The only reason I watch the ones that I do watch is because when it comes to superhero movies, my standards are really low. Superheroes and Star Trek, even the crappy ones become guilty pleasures for me. So here we go, and again, these are in no particular order.
Captain America (1990)
Tim Burton's Batman almost started a superhero renaissance like the one we saw in 2000 with X-Men, and which continues to flourish today. In 1989 Batman took the world by storm. That year saw a resurgence of the same Batmania that the Adam West television series kicked off over twenty years before. Batman was everywhere in 1989, and everyone else took notice of it. It was the success of Batman that gave us the Flash television series in 1990, which had a similar pseudo-1940s look to it and even had a theme composed by Danny Elfman who scored Batman. Unfortunately, it also gave us a slew of superhero movies that just weren't very good. Most of why the comic book renaissance didn't happen in the early 90s, at least not in films (superheroes thrived in animation at that time) is because the movie making technology just wasn't there to bring the spectacular things found in superhero comic books to life. Another reason was that filmmakers and producers of the time didn't really get the material. Not the way filmmakers and producers today do, because they had the great animated shows and they were teenagers during the 90s when comic books really started becoming a popular and even legitimate form of literature. The cards just weren't in place yet to capitalize on the superheroes that were becoming so popular, and so we got films like Captain America.
It is clear that no one involved in this movie had any idea what to do with it. It makes you wonder why they even chose Captain America, since you can tell that the filmmakers just saw it as silly. Captain America's costume was too similar to the costume in the comic books, and not every superhero costume translates directly to screen unaltered. It wasn't quite as bad as Cap's USO costume in Captain America: The First Avenger, but it was pretty close. He had the wings protruding from the sides of his mask, and even had rubber ears. RUBBER EARS! Captain America tries to tell the man out of time story well, but fails miserably. And the worst part is that Captain America is really just sort of a side character, done basically just because you have to. He is in costume once at the beginning in WWII, gets found frozen in the Arctic, and then he doesn't put the suit back on until the climax of the film. The villain is the Red Skull, who after WWII had plastic surgery (very bad plastic surgery), so he's only actually the Red Skull at the beginning for a few minutes. In the end, Captain America fails to tell an engaging story and it can't seem to take the material seriously, while trying to carry a serious tone. The movie was such a failure that while it was slated for a theatrical release in 1990, it ended up being shelved until 1993 when it finally received a direct-to-video release.
Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie
It might be a little unfair to include this, because it was a movie based on a Saturday morning children's television series and this movie definitely targeted that children under 12 audience. And if this was the only movie based on the Power Rangers, I might not have included it. However, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie was genuinely good. It wasn't just a two hour episode of the show on a movie theater screen, and Turbo absolutely was. MMPR: The Movie was cinematic, it had the budget to do things that could never have been done on the series, and it took itself seriously, while still playing in that world that was created by the series. Ivan Ooze was an interesting and relatively dark character. MMPR: The Movie was fun and exciting, even though it did have its flaws. Turbo, however, lost all of the charm and sophistication that made the previous film something entire families could enjoy.
Divatox was an extremely one-dimensional character, even more so than the big bads of previous Power Rangers television series. The Power Rangers are almost never in costume, at least not until the very end. And when they do suit up, they are just wearing the same Lycra spandex they wore in the series, whereas in the first movie the costume got an impressive upgrade making them more like armor than tights. Ultimately, there is nothing special about Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie and there are more than a few cringe-worthy scenes. I can sit with my kids and watch MMPR: The Movie, and I can even watch the show and enjoy it with them. Turbo just leaves a lot to be desired. It is incredibly boring and lacking in any sort of superhero action at all, at least until the climax. While the CGI was really bad in MMPR: The Movie, at least they made the attempt to do something different and more epic than in the show. In Turbo, you get the same miniatures and monsters in rubber suits stepping on model cities Godzilla style that you got in the television series. There are talks now about doing a big budget theatrical adaptation of the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. I am actually excited for that. In a post-Marvel world I would like to see how serious they take it, and how they modernize it. However, if it ends up being anything like this film, I think a lot of fans, who are now grown up and have children of their own, are going to be highly disappointed and it may spell the beginning of the end of the dynasty of children's programming that Power Rangers has become in the past 20 years.
Catwoman shouldn't exist. It just shouldn't. The reason it does exists, essentially, is because after Batman and Robin Warner Bros had a few false starts with the Batman character and just wanted to get something related to the character on the screen to amortize some of the costs they had sunk into developing films that didn't pan out. Anytime you make a movie on the fly, just to keep a character or world in the public consciousness or to reap back some funds you've wastefully spent elsewhere, it is never going to pan out in your favor. This wasn't the first movie that was made in this manner, and the other movies weren't any good either (in fact, one of them is further down on this list). Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I own Catwoman on DVD. I didn't buy it until years after its release. I found it at a secondhand movie store for $2, and my rationale in buying it was thusly, "I could take this $2 outside and throw it in the sewer and never miss it, so I'll buy this movie." My original plan was to maybe watch it once a year. I've watched it in its entirety once since I bought it around 2010. I put it in once and couldn't finish it and I haven't even touched it in at least 2, maybe even 3, years. It sits on my shelf for the sake of just being there next to my Batman movies. I was correct. I threw my $2 down the sewer and have never missed it.
The flaws with Catwoman are really too numerous to list. There is nothing good about this movie. The plot is stupid, the writing is bland and uninteresting, the overall direction is uninspired and Catwoman's costume is just ridiculous. I don't mind that they changed the Catwoman character from the traditional Selina Kyle character to an original creation for the film, but I would have liked to have seen something interesting done with that new character, and there just wasn't anything there. The overall animal rights plot, which had been done with the Selina Kyle character a bit in Batman: The Animated Series, and which had been done in a more interesting manner in that cartoon, here just seemed like a hollow contrivance used just to cause tension between Catwoman and the antagonist, played by Sharon Stone. Catwoman is literally a movie about two women fighting over make-up.
Batman and Robin (1997)
Tim Burton hit on something special when he made the first Batman film in 1989. He gave a very interesting and fresh take on the material in the sequel Batman Returns. Unfortunately, some people complained that the sequel had been too dark in tone, and that children had literally left the theater crying at the end. Personally, I don't get that. I was 11 when Batman Returns came out and I thought it was fantastic. I still do. I would have loved to see what Tim Burton and Michael Keaton could have brought to the character for a third outing. Unfortunately, however, we never got that chance. After Batman Returns, Warner Bros decided to make Tim Burton a producer and give directing duties to Joel Schumacher, who had actually been recommended by Burton because Burton felt he and Schumacher had similar directing styles. And when you think about it, Joel Schumacher was the man who gave us The Lost Boys, so I tend to believe Joel when he says that he was under tight constraints from the studio to make the movie lighter and to make it more palatable to the toy market.
While Schumacher's first outing, Batman Forever, was below par from Burton's two bat-flicks, it wasn't really that horrible of a film. It was decent, as a matter of fact. Batman and Robin, on the other hand, was little more than one big, two hour toy commercial. The plot was laughable, the characters were ridiculous, and it was clear that no one involved took the movie seriously. Michael Uslan, who was Executive Producer on every Batman film to date, tried to legitimize Batman and Robin by comparing it to the Adam West Batman tv series of the 1960s. The difference, though, is that Batman 66 was intentionally farcical and was a satirical take on what the comics had been prior to Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams redefining the character, satirizing mostly the Batman comics drawn by Dick Sprang. Batman 66 was fun and hip, and was very much a product of its time. Batman and Robin, on the other hand, was a product of not truly understanding what made the character good and trying to do nothing more than monetize franchise. The problem was that they ended up making far less money than they had on the movies people actually enjoyed and wanted to see. I am going to end this with a message to movie studios: any time you make a Batman movie, or a movie about any superhero, you're going to sell toys. You don't have to center the entire movie around the toys you want to sell, and not everything you want to make a toy of even has to be in the film. Kids aren't going to care if Batman had three different costumes in the movie if you want to put out three different costume variants on the action figures. Parents are only going to buy one anyway, because how many Batman figures does your kid really need? Don't ruin movies for the sake of selling toys.
Sigh. I love the Incredible Hulk. I was so looking forward to this film, and I left the theater just soul crushed. Hulk was a mess. I don't know if Ang Lee really knew what he was doing with this character. The story is a mess and full of holes. The CGI Hulk was laughable, and Eric Bana turned in a horrible performance, which I guess was par for the course because mostly everyone was horrible in this film, with the exception of maybe Sam Elliot, who I would have liked to have seen be able to reprise the roll of General Ross in The Incredible Hulk.
While on the surface, the idea of using split screens to mimic comic book panels seems like an interesting idea, but in practice it just turned out to be confusing and hard on the eyes. I didn't like that they made Hulk resemble Eric Bana, because Hulk ends up looking just too... pretty. He doesn't look like a monster, really. He certainly doesn't look scary or angry. He looks almost like a big, green baby. In the Avengers, Hulk resembled Mark Ruffalo quite a bit, but it worked better in that movie. I guess Ruffalo has a face that translates better to the Hulk. I don't know, but I do know that in this movie, it didn't work. And what the hell was up with the idea that Hulk gets bigger and bigger the angrier he gets? There were scenes in this film where Hulk was upwards of 30 feet tall, and that was just silly. The dialogue in Hulk was just atrocious, and I think they tried to infuse Hulk with too much substance, and they never really took the time to elaborate on any of it. They allude to Bruce and Betty having had a previous relationship that ended badly, but you never really find out what happened. They sew seeds of Bruce having repressed memories due to the childhood trauma of seeing his dad kill his mom, but they don't really develop that, and they don't really even present a clear motive for Bruce's dad wanting to kill Bruce, which ends up causing him to accidentally kill his wife when she tries to save their son. It just comes off like he was throwing a fit. He was pissed off that the Army shut down his project, so he's going to blow up Desert Base and kill his wife and child? Wait, what? The whole film is just a convoluted mess.
Like with Catwoman, Steel was basically an attempt to use a character related to a larger franchise to try to amortize wasteful costs in developing the other character for film, in this case Superman. After the failure that was Superman VI: The Quest for Peace (which we will get to in a moment), Warner Bros was still trying to get another Superman movie off the ground, presumably with Christopher Reeve still in the part, well into the 90s. Then, the unthinkable happened. Christopher Reeve was thrown from a horse and paralyzed, for what would turn out to be the rest of his life. With the tragic accident that confined Christopher Reeve to a wheelchair, it looked as if the idea of a new Superman film had died. Warner Bros was still talking to Tim Burton about Superman Lives, but that movie was ultimately destined to fall through. In an attempt to keep the character in the public eye (despite the fact that Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was still going strong), Warner Bros decided to give us Steel starring Shaquille O'Neil.
Steel was created by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove for the Reign of the Supermen storyline that saw Superman return from the dead after his epic fight with Doomsday. Simonson and Bogdanove were working on the title Superman: The Man of Steel and used the Man of Steel moniker as a basis for their replacement character, who was really DCs first attempt at a sort of Iron Man analog. I'm not really going to get down on this movie for the casting of Shaq in the title role because, honestly, if you look at the way Bogdanove drew the character, Shaq really did look like the character stepped out of the page. And this movie had so many things going against it besides Shaq's horrible acting. I don't think technology was at a place it really needed to be to do the tech based superhero that Steel really was. The suit of armor looked ridiculous, which is in keeping with the idea that it was created in a junkyard, but still. John Henry Irons was supposed to be a weapons designing prodigy (sound familiar?) and he couldn't make anything that looked any better than this? I also never understood the idea behind setting the film in Los Angeles, as opposed to Washington, DC, which was where the Steel comic was based once Superman returned and Steel moved on from Metropolis into his own title.
I did like the idea of Irons being a weapons designer for the Army who, after a tragedy, decided that making weapons wasn't what he really wanted to do anymore and then having to create the superhero persona to take out the weapons he himself had created for the military when they fell into the wrong hands (again, sound familiar?), unfortunately, I don't think the filmmakers took the time to really develop the idea or to deal with the internal struggle that Irons should have felt for being responsible for creating weapons that were now being misused. Iron Man definitely dealt with the same themes and the same sort of armored hero in a much better way, and they came out making essentially the same movie much, much better. I will say, in a world where Iron Man has already been done (5 times once we get to Avengers: Age of Ultron), I would like to see Warner Bros revisit this character and try to do him more justice. Steel is a great character and I would love to see him done right, and maybe even leaving his Superman connection intact, which was mostly excised in this film.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Superman IV was the final outing for Christopher Reeve as the Big Blue Boy Scout. While Superman III had been a disappointment, I think the idea of trying to stray from the formula established in the first two films. Where Superman III went wrong was in trying to craft a film that served Richard Pryor, instead of utilizing Richard Pryor in a way the served the film. But Superman was by no means irredeemable because of Superman III. Superman IV set out to bring the Superman films back to formula and try to recapture the magic of the first two films, and it might have been able to do that, except for the fact that Alexander Salkind had sold off the film rights of Superman to another studio, Cannon Films, which just didn't have the financial capabilities to do Superman justice.
A big part of the folly of Superman IV was the story, which was suggested by Christopher Reeve himself. The idea that Superman would forcibly disarm the nations of the world runs counter to the character of Superman. Liberals like Reeve think they are doing humanity a service by taking away their freedoms and running their lives, because they know better than you how you should behave. That idea is at the very center of this piece, and Superman doesn't believe that way. To Superman, the idea of forcing the nations of the world to disarm and to behave in a way that Superman thinks is in humanity's best interest, that would make him a tyrant. At that point, he may as well just declare himself emperor of the world, because that is how he is behaving. The missiles he captured weren't being fired at any other nation or enemy, they weren't being used in any sort of aggressive manner. They were being fired for test reasons, and Superman just intercepts them and throws them into the sun because, well, he's Superman, I guess. It is a good thing his adoptive parents were both dead by this point because they would have been extremely disappointed in him.
The story, however, could probably have been overlooked by most audiences, however, if the production values had been a little higher. While Cannon was attempting to get back to the glory of the first two Superman films, they just didn't have the budget to do it. What they ended up making, while still having the same sort of feel as the first two and certainly belonging in the same continuity, was more of a direct-to-video copy of the original films. Superman IV lacks any sort of scale or scope at all, sacrificing everything that made the original so epic. Superman IV seems much more at home on late night television than on a big screen in a movie theater. There were some plans for this film that would have been really cool, like for instance the original plan was for Christopher Reeve to play both Superman and Nuclear Man, but those ideas were ultimately thrown out to reduce costs. I think Superman IV could have had great potential if it had been produced by a larger studio, but all that potential is washed away in the poor execution.
The Fantastic Four (1994)
It may be a little unfair to include this film, as it has never been released to audiences, and it was never intended to see release. However, the film is widely available as a bootleg at comic book conventions, people have seen it, it exists, so it's on the list. The Fantastic Four was produced by Roger Corman, who produced a lot of B level horror movies in the 1960s, like the original 13 Ghosts and Dementia 13. Corman was brought in specifically because he was experienced in making movies for the price of a pack of gum. The production company, Constantin Film, who had produced The Neverending Story and would eventually produce the Fantastic Four film in 2005, was faced with the dilemma of putting an FF film into production or losing the rights. Their contractual obligations didn't say anything about releasing the film, however, so they set forth to produce a half-assed movie that they never intended to see the light of day. Probably the saddest part of this entire ordeal was that no one in the cast or crew knew they were making a BS movie. Only Corman and Constatin knew that secret. So the actors acted their hearts out (which in and of itself was kind of pathetic), and there were even some production stills published in Wizard Magazine at the time. Everyone was made to think that a Fantastic Four movie was on the horizon, but it never really was.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and Punisher: War Zone before it, are perfect examples of why movie studios should pay no attention to the fans. In both cases, they were sort-of sequels to two relatively good movies that were taking in completely different directions from the originals because of the complaining of fans. Fans complained that the first Ghost Rider wasn't rated R and it wasn't dark or scary enough. Ghost Rider did have flaws, most notably that the elemental villains were all defeated with relative ease and very little suspense or action, but the movie as a whole was pretty enjoyable. But since the fans complained that they wanted a rated R Ghost Rider movie, Sony decided to hire the guys who directed Crank to completely redevelop the property with the sole purpose of making it the anit-first movie. While the film retained Nicolas Cage in the lead role, everything else about the film was changed. It was set in Romania or some such place and was devoid of really any story at all. Nicolas Cage was cut completely loose, which is never a good idea as Cage is certifiably insane and needs to be reigned in to turn in a good performance. Otherwise you end up with a Russian mobster with a Jamaican accent (which I elaborate on in my 10 Best Superhero Movies hub). Spirit of Vengeance ended up being incoherent, silly, and mostly unwatchable. And it is really a shame because the first Ghost Rider is enjoyable, if only as a cheap popcorn movie, and I would have liked to have seen an actual sequel to that film.
Generation X (1996)
The majority of Americans are very confused about the intended purpose of this movie. A lot of people seem to think that it was a failed pilot for a television series. That is not true. While there was talk of possibly doing a series, the film was always intended to be a movie of the week event. In fact, the stated purpose of this made for TV movie was to assess whether or not there was an audience for a live action television series. During this time the X-Men animated series was a huge hit for Fox Kids and Fox was very interested in the possibility of making a live action, big budget X-Men film, and it was quite successful in that endeavor. Four years later, Fox released Bryan Singer's X-Men to successful box office sales worldwide. To call Generation X a failure is just not true. The ratings were amazing on this movie during its initial airing. Part of the reason it is considered to have been a failure in retrospect is because it really wasn't very good.
To be fair, Generation X is not without its redeeming qualities. It had great potential, telling the story of teenagers with superpowers in a private school setting, which, incidentally, was the original premise of the X-Men comic books. The characters were interesting, whenever they were allowed the privilege of being developed, however most of the character development was something that was mildly touched on but never fully explored. The overall casting was fairly decent (despite the fact that Jubilee was cast as a white girl instead of someone of Japanese descent), but it doesn't really matter how well you cast a picture if you don't do anything interesting with the characters. Another big fault that Generation X had was similar to one of Superman IV's biggest failures, it didn't have the financial means to really tackle the material in a way that does the material justice. The X-Men are very constrained in how and when they can use their abilities, with each character getting to use their powers maybe twice. The villain, played by Matt Frewer, was extremely over the top compared to the rest of the characters in the film and there really wasn't much of a climax at all. As a whole, Generation X could have been really great and I hope that Fox revisits this team now that they are trying to branch out their X-Men movie franchise away from the core team. On an interesting side note, the mansion used for Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters in this movie is the same mansion they used in the first three X-Men films (as well as the Luthor mansion on Smallville and the Queen mansion on Arrow).
Well, there you have it, my 10 worst superhero movies in no particular order. Agreements? Disagreements? Let me know in the comments.