Not so "super" superhero movies1 of 12
Director James Cameron has made no bones about his distaste for superhero movies, calling again for an onset of “superhero fatigue” to shake things up at the cinema.
But superhero movies aren’t universal successes. Lots of promising films have come and gone from the box office with vitriol (or perhaps worse with barely a whimper), so even in today’s Marvel-dominated climate, superhero movies are far from sure things.
In fact, we can think of one recent major superhero film release that warranted consideration for this list (hint hint).
Bear in mind, we’re not necessarily talking about the worst superhero films of all time (though many of these also fall into that category) but the ones that, either because of content, reception, or a combination of the two, disappointed fans and critics alike.
Punisher: War Zone2 of 12
After several failed attempts to capture what should be one of the easiest comic book characters to translate on film, director Lexi Alexander and Marvel Studios promised what was to be the adaptation we were all waiting for. Drawing major influence from Garth Ennis's fan-favorite run, Punisher: War Zone was billed as an all-out, gonzo action slugfest. Instead, we got a film that swung too far to other side of the pendulum from previous attempts. Dark for the sake of darkness, wild without boundary, and lacking any coherent plot, Punisher: War Zone was less a love letter to big-budget action blockbusters and more a suicide note for Frank Castle's chances on film. It's important to note that Punisher: War Zone is still the only film produced under the Marvel Knights film banner.
Spawn3 of 12
It's hard to think of a comic book more relevant to the mid-'90's zeitgeist than Spawn. Combining the tortured grit of the late-80's superhero revival with the flashy zeal of the subsequent speculation boom, Spawn existed at the epicenter of a generation of comic fans. When it came time to develop the property into a feature film, however, the studio opted to go a more teen-friendly route that didn't exactly work with Spawn's demonic origins and inherent, gruesome violence, resulting in a film that failed to capture the true essence of the comics, while also failing to find a strong enough voice to make up for the differences.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine4 of 12
The unsurprising breakout star of Fox's X-Men films, Hugh Jackman's Wolverine had fans clamoring for a solo film almost from the get-go. They should have been more careful with what they wished for, however, since Wolverine's first solo film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, is widely considered to have been an unmitigated disaster.
Origins featured nearly-unrecognizable versions of fan-favorite characters like Deadpool and Gambit, along with a plot that did everything it could to leave fans scratching their heads about just how the film even fit into the canon of previous X-Men films.
Spider-Man 35 of 12
Spider-Man 3 continued Sam Raimi's monumentally successful Spider-Man franchise, of which the second film, Spider-Man 2, is considered by many to be one of the best superhero films of all time. Unfortunately, lightning didn't strike thrice, and Spider-Man 3 was hamstrung by too many villains, including the baffling casting of Topher Grace as Eddie Brock. Spider-Man 3 also suffered from long stretches of Peter being possessed by the Venom symbiote, a condition whose effects veered more towards slapstick, failing to capture the inherent terror of the symbiote's comic origins. Coupled with a maddening heel-turn for James Franco's Harry Osborn and an attempt to shoehorn Sandman into Spider-Man's origin, all of these elements proved too much for the franchise to bear, leading to a reboot several years later (and then another one several years after that).
Hulk6 of 12
Hulk was yet another film riding the wave of the superhero film revival of the early 2000's, with Universal aiming to follow in Fox and Sony's footsteps. But it became an Ang Lee directed art mistake that reduced the not-so jolly green giant to a Shrek-like cartoon while somehow also making him the saddest, least exciting comic book character to hit the silver screen. Lee attempted to juxtapose campy elements influenced by the cult-classic Hulk TV show of the '70's with a plot that revolved around child abuse and domestic violence, resulting in a film which contained both scenes of a young Bruce Banner witnessing his mother's murder by his own father, and his alter-ego fighting a pack of mutant dogs.
Fantastic Four7 of 12
Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four had a lot riding on its shoulders as the third attempt (if you count Roger Corman’s abortive first try) at building a franchise around Marvel’s first family. As the second Marvel property in 20th Century Fox’s arsenal, along with the still kicking X-Men franchise, it represented Fox’s chances to begin building a superhero world that would rival that of Marvel studios.
But even after a surprisingly warm reception for the film’s first trailer, bad press, bad blood, and Trank’s disavowal of the film sent Fantastic Four into a critical and commercial nosedive that lead it to tank its opening weekend box office, likely crushing the hopes of FF fans and Fox alike at the future of the franchise.
That the film wasn’t any good – likely owing to studio interference, ill-advised reshoots, and a misunderstanding of the source material – doesn’t help Fantastic Four’s case.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice8 of 12
After his dour take on Superman in Man of Steel, many fans and critics held out hope that Zack Snyder could really show off his chops with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, bringing forth the kind of spectacle that made his name. Whether he succeeded or not is a split decision, with many, including Newsarama, finding much to praise in Batman v Superman’s scope, but critics as an overwhelming whole outright rejecting the film’s choppy editing, dark themes, and odd story beats.
Aside from the critical drubbing the film received, it also failed to make big enough waves at the box office. To say that a film that grossed $800 million was a failure seems outrageous, but given that Warner Bros. was projecting – and counting on – a $1 billion take, falling short of that mark by 20% constitutes an underwhelming performance, especially for a tentpole film meant to rival Avengers.
Bear in mind, calling Batman v Superman a disappointment isn’t necessarily a judgment on its quality – as we said, Newsarama’s review was one of the more positive takes on the film – but the fact that it underperformed, failing to connect with critics and a large portion of its potential audience and sparking a conversation about the merits of criticism in the world of comic book movies is enough to land it close to the top of this list.
Green Lantern9 of 12
It's hard to judge whether Green Lantern was more of a disappointment to fans, or to the studio. Wildly panned by fans and critics alike, the Ryan Reynolds starring vehicle was initially intended to kick-off a new shared DC film universe. However, the film was wrecked by edit after re-edit, with too many cooks adding to its recipe, leading to a final cut that resembled a disjointed toy commercial, full of more holes than Swiss cheese. Both fans and the studio rejected Green Lantern, leading to yet another scramble by DC to correct the course of its film vision.
Adding to the disappointment is the fact that instead of trying to adapt the concept to make it more ‘grounded’, it dove headfirst into the Lantern comic book mythos. Awesome for comic book fans, right?
Ummm, not so much. Maybe having Hal meeting thousands of fellow Lanterns on Oa at the start of the second act was actually too much too soon.
Green Lantern is the second most disappointing superhero movie of all time because it scuttled the first attempted launch of DC's Cinematic Universe - a Universe that's still sputtering to reach orbit (more on that in a bit).
Daredevil10 of 12
Mark Steven Johnson's Daredevil came on the heels of Fox's rampant success with the X-Men franchise. Featuring a cast of rising stars including Ben Affleck, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Garner, and Michael Clarke Duncan, Daredevil promised a "greatest hits" take on ol' hornhead. Too bad that vision was scuttled by a go-nowhere plot, downtrodden visuals, and uncharacteristically poor acting from all parties. Too many plot holes, and poor choices left Daredevil dead on the vine, and yet somehow the film still spawned an even more dismal spin-off featuring Garner's Elektra. Of course, by that time, audiences were far too disappointed to expect much.
Justice League11 of 12
Justice League should have been a moment of grandeur, a superheroic triumph to rival the Avengers, bringing DC's biggest heroes together onscreen as the super team that kickstarted the Silver Age of comic books - but instead it was more or less a flop both critically and commercially.
We won't be so crass as to suggest anyone involved in the production gave less than their best effort to make a stunning film, but production woes including a last minute director swap from Zack Snyder to Joss Whedon in the late days of filming led to extensive, tightly-timed reshoots and a film that doesn't particularly reflect either director's creative potential.
The worst thing about Justice League isn't that it's so terrible - it's more dull and lifeless, hamstrung by bad CGI sets and a case of bad timing so epic that Henry Cavill's face had to be digitally altered in every shot to remove a mustache he had grown for a different film that overlapped with reshoots.
And it's for that reason - that what should have been a superhero movie milestone instead came and went without much fanfare (aside from the usual debate between the perception of critics versus die-hard fans).
Here's hoping this time it's not bad enough to Green Lantern the whole operation...
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