It’s always fun to watch superhero films. Always. It doesn’t matter if they’re good or bad because they’re either a wild, exciting and thought-provoking ride or hilariously silly failures. What isn’t fun is getting really excited about seeing our favorite superheroes adapted to live-action only to witness them completely fail as characters in their respective films. It’s happened quite a few times and if you keep reading, you’ll see when, how and why these adaptations were so disappointing.
We’ve ranked these characters in order of disappointment. How is that even possible? We’ll be comparing the popularity of these characters in comics with the hype and reception of their appearances on film. We’ve gone as far back as the early 2000s for this one since that’s pretty much when superhero films were being taken a little more seriously. That way it’s fair and we’re not just unjustly poking fun at old comic book films like Steel (directed by Kenneth Johnson), which was made back when comic book films were still really goofy from concept to premiere. With that in mind, check out these 15 and see if you weren’t just as disappointed as we were when you saw them.
15. THE FANTASTIC FOUR
The Fantastic Four films (directed by Tim Story) were disappointing, to say the least. Yet, they were nowhere near as disappointing as the recent Fantastic Four reboot (directed by Josh Trank). Forget the poor writing present in the plots, that’s not what we’re here to talk about. We’re here to talk about Mister Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, The Thing and the Human Torch being portrayed as largely reckless youths instead of the complex family we’ve enjoyed in comics over the years.
To be clear, we’re not faulting the film for making changes to the characters. No one should expect filmmakers to stay one-hundred percent faithful to the comics. Some of the changes they made, however, such as making them much younger, were poorly executed and ultimately didn’t work for the story or any other aspect of the film. But, since no one really expected much of the film, the Fantastic Four of the reboot are first up on our list.
14. SILVER SURFER
The Silver Surfer was advertised as the overwhelmingly powerful antagonist of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer but when we went to see the film, we found that he wasn’t the main antagonist, more of an awesome character to get disappointed audiences interested in a sequel to a mediocre film. He has very few lines in the film and is given a rushed backstory with some assistance from his expositional abs.
This was the Silver Surfer’s first live-action appearance and while it was in a largely unjustified sequel, we still had our hopes up about the character we’d see (as well as the villainous world-eater that he would inevitably bring with him). They did get a few things right: his voice (the talented Laurence Fishburne), the essence of his origin and his powers. Still, it would have been better if the film placed less focus on forced conflict and more on the depth of its characters.
Sexuality is a pretty big part of Catwoman’s character. Selina revels in it, uses it as a weapon and as another way to feel free. She does that because, much like anyone who does in real life, she’s a complex person battling powerful inner demons from a dark and tortured past. Despite acting on more villainous impulses, she has proven herself to be a good person who cherishes life and the wellbeing of others just as much as any hero.
None of that is exhibited or expressed in the Catwoman film (directed by Pitof). Instead, we get Patience Phillips (played by Halle Berry), a soft-spoken, timid graphic designer who unintentionally stumbles upon a dark conspiracy within a cosmetic company, dies for it and is reborn through mystical means as Catwoman: an antihero who embraces her sexuality and…well, that’s pretty much it. Regardless of how well female-led superhero films are generally thought to fare, there was a lot of potential for Catwoman and it all went to waste.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe tends to focus on really powerful superheroes. With that in mind, it’s sort of expected that a hero like Hawkeye (played by Jeremy Renner) would be forced, more or less into the background. Considering that he’s clearly got more to offer than just being the guy with a bow and arrow, his scenes are oftentimes disappointing. Make no mistake, he certainly has some great moments, but generally, Clint as a character goes to waste in many scenes.
Consider that we’re almost at an end with the MCU as it is and we still don’t know that much as we’d like about Clint Barton. Aside from a few details such as the fact that he was hand picked by Director Fury, we don’t know anything about his origin. In fact, there are so many questions we have that the films don’t seem all that interested in answering like his adventures with the next superhero on our list.
11. BLACK WIDOW
It was exciting stuff when Natasha Romanov (played by Scarlett Johansson) first appeared in Iron Man 2 (directed by Jon Favreau). It was understandable that we weren’t given more of her in that film since she was undercover as Natalie Rushman half the time and the focus of the film was Iron Man. However, it’s been five films now and we still don’t know that much more about her.
She’s been a tragically underused character so far, which is such a shame because there’s so much to her. She’s a highly trained super spy who underwent brutal, merciless training and as we saw in Avengers: Age of Ultron (directed by Joss Whedon), it hounds her, despite her best efforts to repress or conceal it. The hardcore Russian spy is cool and all but we need to see more of that other side of her in future films.
10. GREEN LANTERN
Oh boy…Where do we even begin? There’s nothing inherently wrong with Ryan Reynold’s performance as Green Lantern. The problem was the fact that he was stuck in a poorly written film with tacky visual effects that offered no room to actually explore the character beyond the same old qualities you’d find in the typical loose cannon type of hero.
They focused a little too much on computer-generated spectacle and not enough on the titular character himself. Arguably the worst part of that is that that spectacle failed to impress. His CGI costume was underwhelming and did nothing to compensate for the lack of character. This was a film that many were looking forward to because Green Lantern is no small figure in the DC Universe. We’re hoping that when the DCEU introduce the Green Lanterns, they don’t make any of the same mistakes as Green Lantern (directed by Martin Campbell).
Forget the fact that Amazing Spider-Man (directed by Marc Webb) rebooted a film series that wasn’t even a decade old at the time. A lot of people compare the two but that’s not what we’re going to do here. Peter Parker (played by Andrew Garfield) in this film series is an incredibly bright high school student who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and– you know the rest. The film had no real need to go through it but it did anyway. To its credit, it really did add to the depth of the character.
What disappointed us about this adaptation of Spider-Man was that he didn’t show any real growth. It seemed like he would toward the end of the first film but then he just…didn’t. Growth and taking responsibility is what Spider-Man is all about and the films seemed to forget that. That’s why, no matter how spectacular the fights were or how witty he was, he just wasn’t Spider-Man.
When Elektra (portrayed by Jennifer Garner) first appeared in Daredevil (directed by Mark Steven Johnson), it was the first time her character appeared in a live-action film. Initially, it seemed as though it might be a decent adaptation of the character. Garner did a pretty decent job at playing Elektra Natchios, all things considered, but she didn’t get that much attention. Understandable. After all, Daredevil (played by Ben Affleck) was the focus of the film.
Then her spin off film premiered in 2005. Elektra (directed by Rob Bowman) attempted to provide the character with more depth. She was a highly trained ninja assassin with a mild case of OCD and experience returning from the dead. You’d think she’d have some pretty huge demons to deal with… but no. Despite Garner’s best effort, the film and its script seemed intent on keeping us from any real insight into the character. If we wanted gratuitous martial arts action scenes, we’d turn to those really old kung fu films.
Maybe it’s just because the MCU has a tendency to focus on Captain America’s (played by Chris Evans) more action-packed moments but, from what we’ve seen, it seems like Sam Wilson (played by Anthony Mackie) is a lot more hands-on with the common folk. After all, he was leading a support group for veterans with PTSD, as we saw in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (directed by Joe and Anthony Russo).
Maybe he has left that behind since becoming Falcon but we’d like to know. We get that he’s more of a sidekick to Captain America but it seems like the films could do more with his character than trap him in the role of what amounts to “guy-who-cracks-jokes.” Remember that this is the character who, in the comics, takes on the role of Captain America when Steve Rogers grows old.
Say what you will about the original X-Men trilogy, but they introduced a lot of powerful fan-favorites. Mutants like Jean Grey (played by Famke Janssen) are given a chance to show us what they can do. Unfortunately, with so many mutants, they aren’t given a lot of time to show us who they are. Take Jean Grey. It was great when we saw her use her powers to handle Toad or use her telekinetic abilities to save all the other X-Men, but that’s not enough.
When she appeared as Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand (directed by Brett Ratner), it seemed more like a missed opportunity to explore her inner workings and the struggle within her own mind. The film was more interested in showing us how much destruction she could cause with mediocre CGI and a lot of wind machines. Even more recently in X-Men: Apocalypse (directed by Bryan Singer), she isn’t given enough time or focus to show us more than the gothic teenager without all the black makeup or bad poetry.
5. DRAX THE DESTROYER
Far from being just the stereotypical tough-guy of the group, Drax the Destroyer (played by Dave Bautista) exhibited quite a lot of depth in Guardians of the Galaxy (directed by James Gunn), despite not being able to emote or comprehend metaphors. That’s not an easy thing to play, so we have to give credit where credit is due and praise Bautista for his performance.
What disappointed us was the fact that come Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (directed by James Gunn), Drax had changed quite drastically. He wasn’t just the coarse but lovable muscle of the gang, he was a father and a husband trying to avenge his family. The sequel sacrificed that so he could play a more comedic role and while they still attempted to showcase his drive and pain through Mantis, generally, it just seemed as though he’d become the jerk, who wasn’t so much confused by metaphors as he was drawn toward tasteless insults.
We’ll admit, as a mutant, Cyclops isn’t really as interesting as the rest of the X-Men. As a character however, one who is famous for having incredibly leadership skills and slavish devotion to an ideal, there was a lot that the X-Men films could have shown us. There were times when it almost seemed as though they wanted to, like in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (directed by Gavin Hood) when he led the mutant prisoners off of Stryker’s island. Aside from that moment, we never really see him show those skills again.
What’s even more insulting is the fact that they essentially killed him off early on in X-Men: The Last Stand, in what was essentially an off-screen death! Later on, when the Professor dies, none other than Wolverine takes the lead– the real star of the franchise. Now that they’ve pretty much retconned that whole story, maybe the franchise will finally make use of Cyclops as a character.
Comic book fans will definitely understand why this one is such a huge disappointment, more so than casual fans of the X-Men film franchise. Storm is a powerful mutant who’s worshipped as a goddess in certain places. In The Uncanny X-Men #201 (written by Chris Claremont, artwork by Rick Leonardi and more) she proved to everyone that even without her powers, she was capable of beating Cyclops and leading the X-Men.
It is crazy that she was pushed into the background in the X-Men franchise. Apparently, Halle Berry just could not catch a break with superheroines. She put a lot of emotion into her performance as Storm but the franchise seemed to refuse to take advantage of the potential in her character. Ororo has a complicated past, one that was touched on in X-Men: Apocalypse but it doesn’t go any further. She has few lines (barely any good ones) and does relatively little, which again is insane when you consider who she is and what she can do.
2. GHOST RIDER
There was so much wrong with the Ghost Rider film (directed by Mark Steven Johnson). Everything from the weird casting choice and shoddy performances to the clichéd dialogue. The saving grace was that Ghost Rider himself actually looked pretty decent, so props to Sony Pictures Imageworks and Kevin Mack for that.
Ghost Rider lives in a horror-filled world. He encounters demons and monsters on a regular basis so you’d expect quite a dark character. Unfortunately, that’s not what we got with Nicholas Cage’s portrayal of the character. We got someone with laughable quirks instead of the brooding, haunted character we know from the comics. Even worse…despite the negative reception, someone decided that the sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (directed by Neveldine and Taylor) was a good idea. We’re just glad that that’s all over.
Everyone was really excited about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (directed by Zack Snyder) because it meant the beginning of the DCEU and it promised us an epic battle between the man of steel and the dark knight. The only problem we had with it was the fact that this wasn’t the Batman everyone had come to admire in the comics. He wasn’t a detective or a caped crusader fighting for justice, he was a reckless, murderous lunatic with a bat costume and billions of dollars.
They tried to explain it, of course — he’s cynical, cold and grim after so many years fighting murderers and monsters but the great thing about comic book Batman is that he doesn’t let it get to him. He knows that giving in to it and taking a life would turn him into the kind of monster fights every night. The DCEU Batman (so far) has taken the key qualities of the character and discarded them for brutality and darkness, which just isn’t right.
Are there other live-action superhero adaptations that disappointed you? Tell us in the comments!
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