For the most part, moviegoers have been enjoying a comic book adaptation renaissance since the release of Marvel’s Iron Man in 2008. We’ve had critically successful movies across the board, from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, to more direct adaptations like Snowpiercer and Kingsman. But for every good egg, there’s one that the critics couldn’t get the groove with. That’s where the fans come in. Fans of films panned by critics and reviewers often gain new life in, well, their afterlife.
It happens all over the place, whether it’s diehard fans of a television series helping to bring it back for a new season on Netflix, to a live-action film getting a sequel after decades of non-movement in the film world (we’re looking at you, Blade Runner 2049). Sure, it may be a while until we see films like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Thor: The Dark World or Suicide Squad on this list of films that have all earned a “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but it’s nice to know there are people out there hoping for more just like you. This list takes a look at 15 of the most critically-panned comic book movies that fans absolutely loved.
Critics of 1997’s Spawn film were unsettled by the film’s overt violence and staleness. The film holds an underwhelming 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but Spawn’s missteps may just be a case of the film’s time of release. It would make sense, as the Hard-R “superhero” film has only recently made a resurgence, and Spawn was destined to be a PG-13 flick. But since the film’s 1997 release, a generation of fans have been reintroduced to Todd McFarlane’s Spawn and his demonic journey.
The film, led by Michael Jai White, John Leguizamo and Martin Sheen would feel low budget by today’s standards, but it was impressive for many at the time with its visual presentation. While there hasn’t been a direct sequel to the original film, the franchise is planned to make a reappearance in the next few years, in addition to a new animated series.
14. THE LOSERS
Andy Diggle and Jock’s The Losers series was an adaptation of its own, sort of, being loosely based on an older DC Comics series. But the 2010 film, starring Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba and Jeffrey Dean Morgan received mostly mixed reviews from critics, earning the film a 48% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But fans mostly dug the film, saying it was a fairly faithful adaptation that was carried by its ensemble cast of actors and a solid style.
And because the film just barely performed over its box office budget, its unlikely a sequel will be anywhere in sight. Unfortunately, it looks like the critics won this time, but the mindless fun of The Losers will live forever. Plus, who doesn’t love Chris Evans in more comic book adaptations?
13. JUDGE DREDD
While 2012’s Dredd was both a critical and fan-favorite success, its predecessor, released in 1995, wasn’t quite as lucky. This loosely based adaptation starring Sylvester Stallone was a critical failure, netting an 18% on Rotten Tomatoes and disappointing fans of the character. But in the years since its release, Judge Dredd has gained itself a cult following, riffing on films like RoboCop, and becoming an example of a typical “action flick.”
Stallone’s portrayal was over the top, and the film was effectively violent and full of cringe-worthy moments, but it stands as a product of ’80s films in the action genre and Stallone’s other work as an action here. But like every other Dredd adaptation, Stallone’s portrayal of the character was the last we saw of the role in film for a while.
12. DAREDEVIL (DIRECTOR’S CUT)
You’ve heard it time and time again. “Check out the director’s cut of Daredevil. It’s much better!” Well, with the theatrical release of the film scoring a 44% on Rotten Tomatoes, almost anything could be an improvement. But fans swear by the later cut of the film, saying it adds layers to the film’s plot, turns down the cringe level just a bit and re-edits the thing into a more than watchable experience.
Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have talent like Michael Clarke Duncan and Ben Affleck on board to begin with. While the theatrical film didn’t quite hit blockbuster status in the wake of X-Men and Spider-Man, the director’s cut gave fans hope that truer adaptations could be on the horizon. Daredevil was eventually adapted by Marvel Television for Netflix in a dark, stellar series starring Charlie Cox.
11. COWBOYS & ALIENS
This 2011 film didn’t quite set the world on fire with its financially disappointing $174 million box office and 44% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but Cowboys & Aliens was not only an inoffensive adaptation of the 2006 graphic novel, but a fairly cohesive piece of eye candy for the summer box office. And while critics may not have liked the star-studded film, fans regard it as a simple, fun film.
Sure, it doesn’t help that the film is stacked with talent. Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde and Harrison Ford try their best to knock the film’s wild plot out of the park, and director Jon Favreau proved once again that he could adapt a comic book universe. Plus, being hot off the heels of two successful Iron Man films couldn’t have hurt this movie’s chances.
10. FANTASTIC FOUR
The first of the 2000s Fantastic Four live-action adaptations was critically-panned upon its release. Its campy story and characters were met with an unsatisfactory response. But while critics have this film resting at a 27% on Rotten Tomatoes, fans have begun to look back fondly on Fantastic Four.
Sure, as a film, there’s a lot to be desired. But while the plot is full of holes and its characters lack real motive, the casting was on-point. Ioan Gruffudd shines as Reed Richards, and as we look toward an inevitable reboot casting, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Follow that with comics-accurate depictions of Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) and Julian McMahon (Victor Von Doom) and you’ve got yourself a solid adaptation. Plus, Chris Evans’ Human Torch is great comic relief, and we might not have gotten Captain America if this franchise didn’t flatline.
9. HOWARD THE DUCK
While Howard The Duck may be the butt of a joke and a glorified cameo in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, the quirky character’s cinematic debut was actually in 1986’s Howard The Duck from Willard Hyuck. A far cry from the source material, the film was a bit of a campy mess and earned a washed 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
But in the years since its release and the reemergence of its titular character in both the pages of Howard the Duck comics and the Guardians films, the 1986 film has gained a bit of new life and a cult fan following. While a new film adaptation may not be in the cards any time soon, fans can continue to experience the mediocrity of the original film in all of its practical effects greatness.
8. GHOST RIDER
Ghost Rider is a contentious one. Critics panned it almost entirely, scoring it a 26% on Rotten Tomatoes, with reviewers saying things like “The worst adaptation of a Marvel Comics hero yet” and “A sodden, listless mess that wouldn’t thrill even the most ardent Hot Topic enthusiast. But this starring vehicle for Nicolas Cage developed a bit of a cult following with fans, and despite its low scores produced a sequel in 2011’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
Neither film was particularly faithful to the comics, aside from its depiction of the titular hero, riding around with his flaming skull on a motorcycle, chain-whipping baddies and peeing out flames. It was campy and flat out ridiculous, but it was about as good as we could ask for at the time. Thankfully, we have a pretty great current Ghost Rider in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Robbie Reyes.
7. ASTRO BOY
2009’s animated Astro Boy film was a visually appealing adaptation of the original source material, but the critical consensus was mostly split, landing the film a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The voice cast was inspired and included talent like Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage and Kristen Bell, while the story, albeit tropey and unoriginal, was solid enough for a children’s film.
But fans of Astro Boy have clung to the film despite its bomb at the box office, and while there hasn’t been a film since, New Line Cinema announced in July 2017 plans to reboot the franchise with a live-action film adaptation. Those looking for more modern Astro Boy goodness should check out the 2003 animated series of the same name. While not quite as charming as the original manga, it played well over its 50 episode run.
6. GREEN HORNET
Despite a not-so-great 43% consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, 2011’s The Green Hornet, written by the dynamic duo of Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, has become a cult favorite. While fans of the original comics might not find too much to love here, the film itself has taken on its own fandom, with some clamoring for an eventual sequel.
But while nothing has been officially announced (and Paramount Pictures has the film rights now and is expected to reboot the franchise), it’s easy to see why fans got on-board. Seth Rogen’s popularity was at a high, Christoph Waltz was just two years off of Inglorious Basterds and the comic book movie revolution had begun. The film isn’t phenomenal by most standards, but it was fun plot that felt fresh at the time.
5. 30 DAYS OF NIGHT
The Josh Hartnett-led 30 Days of Night sufficiently spooked horror fans when it released in 2007, but critics found themselves torn on the film leaving it rotten at 51% on Rotten Tomatoes. Based on the IDW Publishing miniseries, fans clung to the adaptation for its intense action and thrilling storytelling. But critics may have found it cut from the same cloth as other vampire films of the time.
Fortunately the film spawned a straight-to-DVD sequel called 30 Days of Night: Dark Days, written by one of the series’ creators Steve Niles, and a prequel mini-series, also worked on by Niles. While not critically successful, the film has nestled itself nicely in the cult world of horror film enthusiasts. We wouldn’t be surprised to see this one make a comeback in the future.
4. MEN IN BLACK II
Surprisingly enough, Tommy Lee Jones’ and Will Smith’s fan-favorite Men in Black II wasn’t a hot hot hit with critics in 2002. It currently stands at a 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics saying everything from “A mixed bag of comedy that can’t really be described as out of this world” to “A fiercely and aggressively bad movie…” Surprised?
Sure, the movie was a bit wonky with its Twister game-playing and pug-in-a-suit antics, but Men In Black II has held firm in its cult status for fans, who subsequently held out for Men in Black III, which fortunately played a lot better with critics, recapturing some of that film-friendly magic from the first movie. All that aside, fans still have love for the middle child of the MiB franchise.
3. THE PUNISHER
2004’s The Punisher had plenty going for it. Unfortunately, none of those things included a cohesive story or effective villains. This live-action depiction of Frank Castle was mostly panned by critics, earning a 29% on Rotten Tomatoes and garnering a total shift for the film’s spiritual sequel, Punisher: War Zone. But in the years since its release, The Punisher has found a soft spot in some fans.
Most of this comes from Thomas Jane’s portrayal of Frank Castle. An emotionally-wrecked man sets out on a path of vengeance and redemption. Jane captured Castle perfectly, and even reprised the role in the fan-favorite #DIRTYLAUNDRY, an independent short film that starred both Jane and Ron Perlman. It was short, sweet, brutal and sent fans into a frenzy. Frank Castle will be repped next by Jon Bernthal later this year in Marvel’s The Punisher on Netflix.
2. LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN
Much like Zack Synder’s Watchmen, this Alan Moore comic adaptation couldn’t quite capture the mysticism of its source material. As a film, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, starring Sean Connery, was just “ordinary” according to most critics, netting the film a quiet 17% consensus on Rotten Tomatoes. And while fans of the film might not be the same fans that enjoyed to comic series, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has gained a following since its release.
Fortunately for fans of the comic, a reboot film has been announced by 20th Century Fox. Fans of the original Moore series can only hope that this one will be a bit more faithful than the loose adaptation that was 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Hey, at least we got a fairly fun Sean Connery flick out of it.
Blade is one of those movies that feels like the perfect blend between comic book movie and B-horror film. It was surprisingly charming, full of lore and led by Wesley Snipes, basically the living embodiment of Marvel’s vampire slayer (who is also part-vampire). Blade has a whopping 54% on Rotten Tomatoes, and its two subsequent sequels haven’t fared much better.
Despite the negative critical reception of the films, the series has gained a pretty incredible fan-following, citing the movies as some of the better Marvel adaptation before the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to be. Fans continue to speculate about whether Wesley Snipes will return in the role for an inevitable film or Netflix adaptation of the comics. One things is for certain: you can absolutely count us in.
Do you agree or disagree with the critics on these? Let us know in the comments!
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