Hollywood has a special talent for taking beloved comic book properties, sometimes with decades of great source material, and throwing away everything that’s great about it, leaving both longtime fans and newcomers disappointed and baffled. Internet message boards light up with fans demanding to know how a studio can take such no-brainer successful books and turn them into the steaming piles of hot garbage that we end up getting on the screen.
Sometimes it comes down to the writers or directors. Sometimes the casting decisions are simply baffling. Sometimes the studio interferes with an easy win. Now that we’re in the golden age of superhero movies, CBR takes a look back at some of the most disappointing comic book movies that deserve a second chance with audiences.
Way back in the ’90s, Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn was just about the most popular comic book character on the scene. The character was the epitome of the “dark and gritty” trend that exemplified that era in comic books, with a generous helping of stylistic ultra-violence and a fascinating demonic mythos. When a feature film was announced for 1997, fans were understandably excited… until they actually watched the movie. The main character wasn’t likeable or heroic, or even anti-heroic. He was just kind of there to do “cool” stuff.
The film lacked all the philosophical depth of the comic, and worse, added in blatantly stupid subplots, like Martin Sheen having a bomb surgically implanted in his heart and Spawn’s child sidekick whose purpose in the film is to look for Spawn’s dog. “Spawn” is still a much-loved comic book to this day, even a quarter century after its creation, and with comic book movies more popular and more well-made than ever before, “Spawn” is well overdue for a comeback.
14. THE INCREDIBLE HULK
The Hulk already got one reboot after Ang Lee’s “Hulk” was a failure in nearly every sense of the word, and while 2005’s “The Incredible Hulk” was a massive improvement, it still suffers from being perhaps the least memorable film of the entire MCU. It doesn’t help that the lead actor was recast four years later for “The Avengers,” leading audiences to question whether or not “The Incredible Hulk” is even part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Most fans agree that Mark Ruffalo was a better fit for the role and he portrays far more likeable and interesting Bruce Banner, but he sadly hasn’t been given a chance at his own solo film yet. While “The Incredible Hulk” left some plotlines open and set up villains that haven’t been heard from since, it might be a better idea to just go the full reboot route with a new Hulk film, as audience amnesia of the first film would make a direct follow-up a bit confusing, especially as it’s been nearly a decade since its release.
Sometimes Hollywood writers and producers play fast and loose with the source material. Other times they just read the title of a comic book and decide to make everything else up on the spot. Something like that must have happened with 2004’s “Catwoman,” because it bears no resemblance to the comic book character in any way. The main character isn’t even named Selina Kyle. She’s renamed Patience Phillips because Googling your main character is too much of a bother.
Sadly, a lack of adherence to the source material is the least of this movie’s problems. The directing is bad, the writing is horrible and the acting, even from Oscar-winner Halle Berry, belongs in a high school play. All of this was heartbreaking to fans, because Catwoman is actually an interesting and complex character. She started out as an expert jewel thief and villain to Batman, but eventually developed into an antihero ally to Batman, even headlining her own comic book series since 1993.
1998’s “Blade” was actually one of the first financially and critically successful comic book films of the modern era, and Marvel’s first decent film ever, a full 10 years before starting their interconnected cinematic universe with “Iron Man.” While the first film of the series was not without its flaws, by the time the third and final installment, “Blade: Trinity,” was released, the films had dipped so far in quality that there was no hope of the franchise continuing.
Add to that reports of Wesley Snipes being a nightmare to work with, and we can understand why the iconic vampire killer hasn’t been on-screen in almost a decade. While Marvel Studios has stated they have no plans to start doing R-rated films anytime in the near future, a violent and bloody Blade adaptation could still find a home on Netflix and remain true to the source material. Don’t expect Wesley Snipes to be reprising his role, though.
11. COWBOYS AND ALIENS
Gunslinging cowboys vs space aliens in the old west. It sounds like something out of a teenage fan’s dreams and what should be one of the most spectacular movies ever. Add James Bond, Han Solo and the director behind “Iron Man” to the mix and you might say it’s impossible for that to turn out to be a bad movie… except it was. Not only that, but if you ask anyone who’s read the original graphic novel, they’ll most likely tell you that it’s, well… not much better.
The reason for this is because the graphic novel was only written because Platinum Studios wanted a property to option for film adaptation, which led to an uninspired story with flat, boring characters. The reason “Cowboys and Aliens” deserves a reboot is because it’s in the unusual position of having an amazing premise with source material that audiences would actually love for a screenwriter to butcher for the screen. Give the premise to any good sci-fi/action screenwriter and tell them to go nuts, and you might just get an entertaining blast of a movie.
10. GREEN LANTERN
For all the criticism that the DC cinematic universe receives, fans may not know that it arguably could have been much, much worse. 2011’s “Green Lantern” was initially intended to kick off DC’s interconnected cinematic universe, but when it was universally panned by critics and audiences alike, DC decided to start over from scratch with “Man of Steel” two years later. With the director of “Goldeneye” and “Casino Royale” at the helm, directing the fan-favorite retooled version of the character overseen by legendary Geoff Johns, and starring the always likeable Ryan Reynolds, the movie had all the right ingredients to succeed, and yet it didn’t.
DC hasn’t had the best luck with its cinematic universe so far, but Green Lantern is one of its most popular and interesting characters in its library, and fans are dying to see him done justice on film. One thing’s for sure, DC already has a good idea of what doesn’t work for a “Green Lantern” film, so they couldn’t do any worse than their first attempt… right?
9. HOWARD THE DUCK
“Howard the Duck” is tragically probably more well known as the terrible 1986 George Lucas movie than the genuinely funny, existential, surrealist comic book published by Marvel Comics. The character was recently brought back to the comics under writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Joe Quinones in which Howard has become a private investigator specializing in superhero-related cases, and he was even reintroduced to film in the post-credits scene of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” voiced by Seth Green.
With the Marvel Cinematic Universe growing bigger and bigger every year, Howard’s P.I. services could be utilized by literally dozens of familiar faces quite easily. Big name actors really only have to show up for a scene or two to send the private duck on a case, and Seth Green’s comedic genius could handle the rest. The humanoid duck wouldn’t even be the MCU’s weirdest character at this point, since he debuted in a movie that starred a talking raccoon and a walking tree.
8. NICK FURY
Did you forget that Nick Fury once had his own solo movie? Did you also forget that he used to look more like David Hasselhoff than Samuel L. Jackson? It’s okay. We all tried to forget. It came out in 1998, the same year as “Blade” and it was written by the same screenwriter, David S. Goyer, who would go on to pen “The Dark Knight.” And yet, it was generic and unmemorable, and couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a campy cheese-fest or a serious action drama.
Thankfully, the MCU has pretty much nailed down the tone and character of Nick Fury, and ever since 2012’s “The Avengers” and 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the character’s short but awesome action sequences have had fans actually wanting Nick Fury to get his own solo flick, as opposed to the Hasselhoff era when the name “Nick Fury” was generally met with a puzzled stare from non-comic readers. “Nick Fury” deserves a reboot, if for no other reason than it’s a travesty that David Hasselhoff’s version of the character got a solo movie and Samuel L. Jackson’s hasn’t.
7. LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN
“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” was the film that brought legendary actor Sean Connery out of semi-retirement, and then sent him back permanently. The comic series was created by writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill, but the film adaptation bore very little resemblance to the original, as is typical of Hollywood. If it wasn’t enough for the film to result in ending Sean Connery’s career and ruining a much-beloved comic book series, it also led to Alan Moore washing his hands of Hollywood until 2009’s adaptation of “Watchmen,” which he also wasn’t a fan of.
As with many comic book adaptations, a rebooted version of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” could be wildly successful if they just stuck closer to the source material. The original was intended to launch a franchise, but universal critical panning led to the idea of a sequel being dropped. However, the time may be better than ever for a reboot with Hollywood’s obsession with cinematic universes, as the series lends itself quite well to the concept.
Ryan Reynolds just couldn’t catch a break with comic book adaptations until 2016’s “Deadpool.” The concept of “R.I.P.D.” was simple. A recently murdered cop (Reynolds) and a former civil War soldier (Jeff Bridges) work for a police department of the afterlife, hunting down other dead people who come back to Earth to wreak havoc. The graphic novel by writer Peter Lenkov and penciler Lucas Marangon was never intended to be a deep thinker, but it told a fun, fast-paced story, blending hard-boiled police action with horror and humor.
The film pretty much failed on all counts. The humor was hokey and lame, the “action” was boring and the closest they got to horror was that it technically took place in the afterlife. The concept isn’t without its charms, though, and a reboot could be successful if it embraced what made the original graphic novel great instead of trying too hard to be a “Men in Black” rip-off.
2005’s “Constantine” isn’t the worst movie on this list. It’s fairly entertaining and creates a fantastic world of supernatural horror and action. The problem is that it bears almost no resemblance to the “Hellblazer” comic upon which the movie is based, nor does it respect the character of John Constantine, originally created by writer Alan Moore and artist Steve Bissette. Movie Constantine is on a quest for redemption and his goal is to get to Heaven while using anti-demon gadgets and guns to defeat the forces of evil, while comic book Constantine is a morally ambiguous con man who relies on his wits to outsmart his enemies.
The nationality of the character is changed from British to American (because no one wanted to hear Keanu Reeves attempt a British accent again) and even the pronunciation of the main character’s name is different (rhyming with “lean” instead of “line”). “Constantine” did get a more faithful adaptation in its brief 2014-2015 television run, but it only lasted 13 episodes and was confined to the censorship rules of network TV, meaning the horror and moral ambiguity had to be toned down significantly.
4. BATMAN & ROBIN
1997’s “Batman and Robin” might be the worst superhero movie ever made. Director Joel Schumacher and Bat-actor George Clooney have apologized for it, but for many fans of the Dark Knight, apologizing isn’t enough. The movie eliminated Batman from the big screen for almost a decade, and Robin still has yet to return in live-action form. It made a travesty of the source material, and it feels almost like Schumacher and company wanted to insult Batman and his longtime fans, and make them pay the ticket price for it. The tone is wrong, the character is wrong and let’s not even get started on the rubber bat-nipples.
The real travesty of the film is that Batman and Robin are possibly the most iconic duo of all time, and in a way, Bruce Wayne kind of needs his young ward, Dick Grayson, to keep him grounded. Without Robin, Batman is a lonely, melancholy, obsessive character, which is fascinating for audiences, but kind of tragic for Bruce Wayne. The DCEU’s version of Batman is clearly a grim and gritty take, but they might be able to make him a bit more relatable and likeable if they give him his Robin.
3. GHOST RIDER
A lot of the blame for how terrible 2007’s “Ghost Rider” was tends to fall at the feet of Nicolas Cage, and while he’s certainly a baffling choice for the part of Johnny Blaze, let’s not forget that the movie was written, developed and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, the writer/director behind 2003’s “Daredevil” starring Ben Affleck. That means someone actually watched “Daredevil” and decided to give this guy complete creative control over another comic book movie. Thankfully, he hasn’t written anything since.
While Daredevil would eventually get the redemption he deserved with the phenomenal Netflix series, the most we’ve seen from Johnny Blaze since the movie (other than the sequel “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”) was a two-second cameo on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” focusing more on the new Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes. Reyes was a fun take on the character, but after a short eight-episode run, there’s been no word on whether or not he’ll be coming back for his own series or big screen appearance.
2. JONAH HEX
“Jonah Hex” is another case where the source material has all the right ingredients for an instant success, but something gets lost in translation and it falls apart. The film stars fantastic actor, Josh Brolin, as the titular character, with John Malkovich as the villain and Michael Fassbender in a supporting role, but that’s about where the positive aspects end. Megan Fox is a charisma vacuum, the action scenes are badly shot and woefully toned down from the violence in the comics, and it feels endlessly choppy and weirdly paced, like most of the actual story was left on the cutting room floor.
The sad thing is that the comic book “Jonah Hex” is a gritty Western masterpiece with nary a bad volume in the series, and the “revenge Western” genre has a long successful history with American cinema that could have been played up and utilized to create something truly spectacular and revitalized Westerns for the modern era. Instead, the film only grossed $10 million against a $47 million budget, and it mostly lay forgotten. Maybe one day, a director with an eye for Western cinema can attempt to do the character justice.
1. FANTASTIC FOUR
Marvel’s first family has not been treated well on the big screen. The first attempt in 1994 was never even released and was only made to keep the license. The second attempt with 2005’s “Fantastic Four” and its sequel “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” were cheesy, irritating, repetitive and so bad that most people didn’t believe it was possible to make a worse Fantastic Four film. That was until 2015, when director Josh Trank and company released their unnecessarily dark and boring take on the characters that threw the source material to the wind and became the worst reviewed Marvel movie in decades.
Comic readers know that the Fantastic Four are an interesting group of characters, though. They basically launched Marvel’s success in 1961 and changed the way superheroes and comic books were written from then on. With over 50 years of success in the comics, Fox can’t seem to figure out how to make the characters work on screen, leading most moviegoers to wait in hope that Fox will give up and hand the rights back over to Marvel Studios.
Which other ill-fated superhero movies do you think deserve a reboot? Let us know in the comments!