Here are the Worst Superhero Films of the Last 15 Years.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are living in a veritable golden age of superhero cinema. We have been introduced to adaptations of some of the most fantastical characters ever put to film, and those characters have been plucked directly from our childhoods. This is an exciting time indeed.
But enough about that. Enough’s been written on the merits of those films already. We’re here to talk about the stinkers. The movies so egregiously horrible they taint the good names of the very characters they were based upon. Movies so awful they sucked the fun out of film mockery. Movies so terrible they can only be used as cautionary examples of how not to make a film.
Our staff has compiled a list of the 10 worst superhero films spanning the last 15 years. Yes, they’ve been forced to sit through them with clothespins on their noses, and write about them with vomit bags at the ready. Why? So you don’t have to. Or never have to again.
Without further ado, here are the Worst Superhero Films of the Last 15 Years.
Ben Affleck claims that the only movie he’s ever regretted making was the 2003 Fox adaptation of the long-running Marvel Comics series about a blind lawyer who moonlights as a sonically enhanced superhero. That’s a hard pill to swallow given the absolute dreck (Gigli, Jersey Girl) that he helped put out in the world before becoming an Oscar-winning director. That sort of public venting is typically reserved for the Schumachers and the Clooneys of the world regardless. But I’m sure writer/director Mark Steven Johnson wishes his final product was as interesting as that particular failure, given how absolutely mediocre and boring this movie truly is.
Daredevil, for better or worse, is a product of its era—the post-9/11 hellhole that produced so much bland and lifeless culture that we all decided Chicago was something worth praising. Watching this, almost fifteen years removed from it, feels like looking at your friend’s phone the morning after a legendary bender and discovering that, yes, you did dress like that, and yes, you ruined your friend’s shirt when you threw up all over it. From the leather-on-leather costume design to the bizarrely boring action sequences to its so-called sense of humor, it’s fascinating to think that this piece of shit was successful enough to justify producing a sequel about its assassin co-lead, Elektra, before Fox gave up and allowed the license and the rights to revert to Marvel. Any worth found in this movie is strictly due to its odd place in history—seeing Michael Clarke Duncan again, watching the future director of Iron Man banter with our current Batman, and the on-screen fights between a real-life divorcing couple make for an interesting watch, but at the end of the day, we all owe Fox and Netflix a big thank you. Fox for quitting, and Netflix for seeing the potential that the suits at Fox didn’t. – Nick Johnston
Unlike “Cat Woman,” who finds satisfaction in housecats and Scandal marathons, the character of Catwoman is pure sex. The alter ego of self-effacing Selina Kyle, she’s Batman’s feline loving anti-heroine. She also wears a skintight leather onesie, an item whose dry cleaning fees must cost a fortune. In Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992), she was played by the scintillating Michelle Pfeiffer. In 2004, the Gotham villainess returned in the unrelated standalone feature, Catwoman. Ashley Judd was initially cast for the role of Patience Phillips—a renamed Selina Kyle—but she was replaced by Oscar-winner Halle Berry a.k.a. one of People Magazine’s “Most Beautiful Women.” Notorious for burglary, gymnastics and razor-sharp claws, she wasn’t to be underestimated, and Warner Bros. spent a whopping 100 million dollars on the production.
Patience (Berry) is a shy office worker at a cosmetics company. When she overhears the CEO discussing a new product’s dangerous side effects, she’s dropped in a sewer and left for dead. An Egyptian Mau cat mysteriously appears and brings her back to life, a life which incidentally includes miraculous, catlike abilities. More stuff happens, but it’s too trite and lifeless to mention. Berry won the year’s Worst Actress Razzie award and she accepted it with her Best Actress Oscar in hand. “First of all,” Berry said, “I want to thank Warner Brothers. Thank you for putting me in a piece of shit, god-awful movie… It was just what my career needed.” Catwoman certainly sucked, but that speech is kind of amazing. – Erica Peplin
I’ll say this for the final installment of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy: The movie had a lot more heart than the soulless, cynical cash-grab of a reboot that followed it a mere five years later. If only heart were enough to save such a scattered mess of a motion picture. Along with Bryan Singer, Raimi was the director most responsible for ushering in the new age of superhero cinema, and it’s clear the director wanted to close his tenure with the character by hitting a homerun. The previous two films had been building toward a deadly conflict between Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker and the son of the deceased Green Goblin, James Franco’s Harry Osbourne. Unfortunately that all gets pushed to the side by the abrupt introduction of an alien costume, a misunderstood Sandman (retconned as the getaway driver for Uncle Ben’s murderer) and a hilariously miscast Topher Grace in the role of one of Spider-Man’s most iconic foes, Venom. If it wasn’t enough that Raimi wanted to cram 10 pounds of plot into a five-pound bag, the film also plays host to some of the most memorably head-scratching moments in all of superhero cinema. Long after the rest of the movie is forgotten, the internet will still remember Emo Peter Parker and his vengeful soft-shoe dance routine. – Joe Hemmerling
Alas, it’s not Ghostwriter, the beloved children’s mystery series, but the demonic motorcyclist, Ghost Rider, portrayed by Nicolas Cage in the 2007 film of the same name. Adding the film to this list was a tough call to make since Cage is one of my favorite actors, but in the aughts he was ripe for a superhero role, and here we are. Where the film should’ve been self-aware enough to know a flaming, leather-clad skeleton is comedy gold, it prided itself on solemn melodrama. Cage is Johnny Blaze, a stunt rider who sells his soul to the devil (Peter Fonda) in order to cure his father’s cancer. The next day, his father wakes up, fit as a fiddle, and then dies in a motorcycle accident. Mephisto, that cheeky bastard! Years later, Blaze’s new task is defeating Blackheart (Wes Bentley), the devil’s son. If he does that, he can have his soul back. Ugh, I got bored just writing that summary.
Director Mark Steven Johnson, whose three names are not enough to handle the action in his brain, also brought us such luminous superhero films as Elektra and Daredevil. The movie is loud and heavy-handed and I fast-forwarded through long chunks of it. In a glorious twist of marketing fate, Cage’s Ghost Rider was featured in a commercial for Jackson Hewitt Tax Services. I like the commercial because it lasts 30 seconds, unlike the film, which steals 123 minutes of your soul. – Erica Peplin
Some filmmakers approach a movie based on a comic book with a sense of carte blanche and forego the usual adherence to internal logic necessary in crafting a coherent cinematic experience. It’s almost as though slapping a mask on a protagonist or injecting even the merest hint of genre lets them off the hook from any of the criteria a good movie should aspire to possess. The fact that 2008’s The Spirit follows this line of thought is surprising, given it’s writer/director is legendary comic artist/crazy person Frank Miller, making his solo directorial debut adapting the iconic work of his idol, Will Eisner. The fact that a guy who’s made comics his entire adult life made a movie this tone deaf and this far from the spirit of the source material is as baffling as it is disturbing.
Miller’s decision to realize Eisner’s vision by couching it in the cloying aesthetic of he and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City would be a fine departure if it was in service of making a Not Shitty movie, but somehow, this comically noirish, black and red buffoonery makes Sin City feel like a Howard Hawks film by comparison. Actors as diverse as Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson are forced to spew some of the worst dialogue Miller’s ever written and the film’s irritating voiceover seems singularly focused on sexualizing the cityscape. Seriously, this is a movie that took one of the most daring and consistently innovative comic strips in history and made it a cartoon about wanting to fuck a building while dressed as Hipster Zorro. Everyone involved should remain ashamed for the rest of their days. – Dominic Griffin
It’s hard to think of another superhero movie, regardless of decade, that squanders its talent as badly as this one does. A fun cast (on paper, at least) headlined by one of the most charismatic leads in Hollywood, a new director fresh off an Oscar win for Best Foreign Language Film, and one of Marvel’s most compelling characters situated firmly at the head of his own movie for the first time. Then you remember the name “Tom Rothman” and realize that this is Fox in 2009, and it’s easy to see how the train went off the rails.
The plot’s terrible, featuring amnesia-causing bullets and out of character choices for all involved (Deadpool’s treatment being the cause of many a fanboy’s tears to this very day), and the action doesn’t fare any better either. Jackman tries his best, lifting the movie onto his shoulders for long segments, but even he’s not up to the Sisyphean task of keeping the movie rolling towards quality. Given all the bad luck that this movie had on its route to the theaters, with a workprint copy of the film leaking onto the internet and an outbreak of swine flu preventing its premieres in several parts of the world, it’s hard not to imagine a vengeful god behind the scenes doing his best to sabotage its release. (Question: Is the presence of this movie in our world proof of hell?) Ultimately, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is an inexplicable failure, and perhaps the origin of the phrase “not good enough to pirate.” – Nick Johnston
Like several films on this list, so many of the moving parts behind 2010’s Jonah Hex did promise a fruitful theater-going experience. Starring a post-W and Milk Josh Brolin as the titular character, a villainous John Malkovich, a sultry Megan Fox and Will Arnett for a touch of comic relief, the cast was certainly built for an early-summer blockbuster. And while interest in the Western genre has been waning for decades, writers/comic-book adaptors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, with the directorial support of Jimmy Hayward, packed enough Steampunk-esque firepower into the flick to supposedly sate audiences for the movie’s 81-minute runtime. Gunfights, illicit love affairs, vengeance, super-weapons, talking corpses—Jonah Hex was stuffed to the gills with excess to hopefully ensure blockbuster-level returns. Much to Legendary Pictures’ chagrin, the film only managed a meager 11 million dollars at the box office.
In hindsight, the film was doomed for the Buck Bin from the start. Debuting 11 years after the flop that was Will Smith’s Wild Wild West, Legendary Pictures was risking their investment on the prospect that new entrants into the movie-going populous were ready to rush to Western themes. No amount of guns and sex could make that happen. By amplifying those elements, the film strayed from the supernatural elements that defined Hex’s comic book roots. The loose adaptation of the character couldn’t even garner the positive word-of-mouth fanboy push that assists financial flops in gaining a cult-following.
There is no guarantee that a tighter adaptation would have led to more favorable results; however, it is interesting to ponder how a Jonah Hex film focused on the mythical wanderings and supernatural themes would have landed. We will likely never know as the film may have forever tainted the character of Jonah Hex in the eyes of the Hollywood elite and moviegoers alike. – Derek Staples
Warner Bros. gets criticized for not following Marvel’s successful blueprint in bringing the DC Comics universe to the big screen. Those same detractors seem to forget, however, that the one time they aped The House of Ideas, we got Ryan Reynolds forced to run around in a CGI outfit, trying to blink “SOS” at the audience in Morse code. 2011’s Green Lantern hewed rather closely to the Iron Man formula on paper, particularly in earlier drafts of the script. Cocky white dude who doesn’t seem to realize he’s an asshole? Check. Long suffering confidante/romantic interest who could really stand to do a lot better? Yup. A misguided focus on banter and dubious character development over effective theatrics and coherent action? Oh yeah.
While Tony Stark was compelling almost solely thanks to Robert Downey Jr’s addictive charm, Ryan Reynolds just didn’t possess the gravitas to help his interpretation of Hal Jordan transcend Top Gun posturing. There are little pockets where the mythology is presented well, especially any time Mark Strong’s Sinestro is on screen, but the computer generated landscapes give the world an elasticity, a kind of bubblegum otherness that holds the proceedings back from having any real weight. Also, the less said about Peter Sarsgaard’s Hector Hammond, the better. Green Lantern might not be quite as offensively terrible as others on this list, but that failure to stick the landing irks so much precisely because their intentions weren’t too far from the mark. – Dominic Griffin
The mighty Marvel movie machine has proven adept at turning out consistently watchable superhero features, and in doing so has forged a whole new paradigm of cinema (see: the “expanded universe”). The studio’s reliance on formula, however, has lent a generic quality to some of its less impressive releases. Thor: The Dark World is a hell of a lot more watchable than many of the entries on this list, but it stands out as one of the most negligible installments in its own cinematic constellation. With plot points lifted directly from The Animatrix, a no-show of a villain and some questionable sexual politics, not even the considerable charm and good looks of its star could save the film from mediocrity. Forget the Dark Elf Malekith and his world-destroying MacGuffin; the real drama is the interplay between Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and his wayward brother, Loki, played by the always watchable Tom Hiddleston. But this only further underscores the film’s weaknesses by revealing the terrible secret that lay at the heart of all contemporary franchise filmmaking: The point of the movie you’re watching is only to sell the next one in the series. Thor: The Dark World is a film full of carnage without consequence and action that finds no resolution within the 112 minutes you paid to see. The fact that the source material upon which it’s based is littered with hundreds of such stories doesn’t make the final product any easier to enjoy. – Joe Hemmerling
Despite everything the Fantastic Four have going for them—super-strength, flight, invisibility, family drama, romance, intellectual quandary—it seems Stan Lee’s First Family cannot effectively be translated onto a modern movie screen. With a Rotten Tomatoes rating of only 9%, Fox’s 2015 franchise reboot, Fantastic Four, is very well the most dysfunctional installment yet.
With America’s nerd-culture in full-swing, 2015 was seemingly a “safe” period to update a concept rife with space exploration and the scientific process. Too bad the team behind the reboot traded a near-future space quest for more theoretical inter-dimensional travel. Where films like Gravity and The Martian transfixed audiences with real fears of space travel, Fantastic Four’s fictionalized science left no indelible mark on the crowds or the characters’ widely-accepted backstories.
Watching a superhero flick, one can forgive faulty science to kickstart a storyline. It’s more difficult, however, to see through the stale on-screen relationships that exist throughout this film. Unlike The Avengers (2012) and the majority of the X-Men films, the Fantastic Four are not merely a team, they are a family. It’s 2015, and modern families are replete with members of all traits, and, like most families, their differences can give rise to profound and meaningful common bonds. Whether it was due to the soft script or the lackluster casting, the deep chemistry is never developed across the slowly-building 100 minutes.
For a creation story, the emotions run too close to the surface. The introduction of Dr. Doom is ridiculous even for comic book standards. And Ben Grimm’s conflicts over his militarization as The Thing are frustratingly muted given the current climate in the United States. Just about every thread in Fantastic Four is a definite missed opportunity at redemption for this floundering franchise. – Derek Staples