When X-Men burst onto the film scene in 2000, comic book movies got a shot in the arm. Though comic book properties were being adapted into successful movies for years, it wasn’t until the Bryan Singer adaptation of Marvel’s Merry Mutants that Hollywood realized how lucrative a superhero movie could really be. This opened up the floodgates, and a now seemingly endless deluge of comic book films populate the mainstream. The ever-growing DC Comics Extended Universe, the gargantuan Marvel Cinematic Universe and a whopping three Spider-Man reboots have permeated pop culture, and it’s hard to imagine a time without them. What’s weird is that there hasn’t really been a time without them!
Even before Tim Burton’s game changing Batman or Richard Donner’s heartwarming Superman: The Movie, comic book properties have been big business. In fact, they’ve been so big that you may not have realized a few that slipped by you, for one reason or another. Maybe the character was super obscure, or maybe the film has just quietly disappeared into the record books, only to be unearthed during some random Netflix binge session. As always, we’ve got you covered. Here are 15 superheromovies you might have forgotten (or never knew) existed!
You may have heard of this one in passing, or perhaps even saw it on the rack of the last video store in town before it shuttered for good. Running as a Sci Fi original movie before they became SyFy, 2005’s Man-Thing was an absolute bomb. It doesn’t help that the film is barely recognizable to its comic book counterpart.
Perhaps the writers were more interested in Swamp Thing than Man-Thing. Relocating the story from Florida to Louisiana, Man-Thing is depicted as a shambling, generic monster with the ability to manipulate plants instead of a burning touch. The film grossed a mere one million dollars but is notable for being one of the first actings gigs for Rachael Taylor, the Australian actress who would later play Trish Walker on Marvel’s Jessica Jones.
14. NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
In the ‘90s, David Hasselhoff was everywhere. Baywatch ran for 11 years, and with it came a number of spin-offs, telemovies and cameo appearances. In an era where Marvel was experimenting with the revival of the television movie (something the studio had found success with in the ’70s and ’80s), The Hoff got offered the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. commander Nick Fury.
Airing on Fox in 1998, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. also starred Lisa Rinna as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, whose name is mercifully shortened to Val. Reviews were all over the place, with some finding the film passable and others finding it awful. For what it’s worth, Hasselhoff went on record in 2012 saying he wanted another shot at the character, but he may have settled for playing Zardu Hasselfrau in Guardians of the Galaxy special features.
Gen13 was a big deal when it first launched in 1994. Playing as a sort of updated, modernized take on the X-Men, the Jim Lee/J. Scott Campbell book proved a success for years, As with several big properties of ‘90s comics, an animated feature followed. Set to be distributed in the US by Touchstone Pictures and featuring the voice talents of Mark Hamill, Alicia Witt and John de Lancie, you might have never heard of this one.
Sadly for Gen13, it’s a victim of poor timing. The film had one stateside showing at Wizard World Chicago in 1998 but was never released to home video. During production, DC Comics purchased Wildstorm, and Touchstone, a subsidiary of Walt Disney, elected not to promote a film property owned by rival Warner Bros.. The film received a limited European release, though, thanks to Paramount Pictures.
12. LADY DEATH: THE MOTION PICTURE
You almost certainly have heard of ADV Films. After all, they distributed a ton of anime when it started to boom in the ’90s, including Gantz and Neon Genesis Evangelion. In 2004, ADV took a stab at a comic book property and released Lady Death: The Motion Picture. Featuring a screenplay by creator Brian Pulido and none of the restrictions a mainstream animated film may entail, this had all the potential in the world to be amazing.
As you probably can guess, though, it wasn’t. The film is drastically different from the comic book incarnation of the character, presenting a more heroic Lady Death as opposed to the familiar version fans knew and loved, a vengeful woman who sought to exterminate life on Earth. The film received a largely negative reception and was quickly forgotten, though it’s still pretty easy to find on streaming services.
11. THE LOBO PARAMILITARY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL
Of course, it isn’t a list of forgotten comic book films without an appearance from The Main Man. Lobo got his due in the short film The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special way, way back in the forgotten year of 2002. Okay, maybe not that long ago, but it’s definitely been forgotten.
Based on infamous one-shot of the same name and starring Andrew Bryniarski (you remember him as Zangief in Street Fighter: The Movie. Yes, really.), the 13-minute film sees Lobo take on a contract from the Easter Bunny to kill Santa Claus. Directed by visual effect artist Scott Leberecht, the film is a sadly forgotten relic from an era when fan films were much harder to find. A new live action Lobo has been in the works, though it suffered a setback when star Dwayne Johnson opted to leave so he could play Black Adam for the DCEU instead.
10. TUROK: SON OF STONE
It’s easy to forget that Turok was a comic book series before the cartridge was ever inserted into your Nintendo 64. Originally a Western Publishing/Dell Comics property way, way back in 1954, Turok underwent a radical update in 1992, ramping up the elements of the supernatural and science fiction to match more popular series of the early ’90s. But of course, where Turok became best known is 1997’s Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, the first entry in the series on the N64.
In 2008, when a new Turok was released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the animated feature Turok: Son of Stone was released to coincide. An animated, direct-to-video film, Son of Stone is an updated origin for the character. Sadly, as with most animated tie-ins of its kind, Turok: Son of Stone was panned by fans and critics alike and has been quickly forgotten.
9. PAINKILLER JANE
Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti made names for themselves with their own Event Comics label, and in 1995 released Painkiller Jane. Something of a Wolverine amped up to 110%, Painkiller Jane recovered from injuries at an accelerated rate but still felt the pain. The book proved a success, leading to Event Comics being hired on to do the Marvel Knights imprint, and the rest is history for Quesada and Palmiotti.
Painkiller Jane remained popular and got a television movie on Sci Fi in 2005, starring Smallville alum Emmanuelle Vaugier in the title role, though the role was recast for a television series the next year with Terminator: Rise of the Machine’s Kristanna Loken in role. With a more grounded aesthetic than that of the original comic book series, Painkiller Jane only lasted for one season before being canceled, though another film reboot is currently in the works.
8. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
Before Spider-Man: Homecoming provided a shot in the arm for the MCU, before Marc Webb tried to make an edgier Amazing Spider-Man, even before Sam Raimi made his genre defining Spider-Man in 2002, Nicholas Hammond was playing the wall-crawler for telemovies and limited theatrical runs way back in 1977. Running for 13 episodes over two seasons, The Amazing Spider-Man was one of Marvel’s earliest live-action attempts.
The series was received well enough, especially overseas where several episodes were recut for theatrical release. Hammond’s Spider-Man had limited powers, but they caught amazing footage of Spidey crawling up buildings and swinging around the skyline, something that was truly impressive at the time. You might have seen these re-running in the early ’90s, capitalizing off the superhero film genre’s mild success thanks to Batman, but it’s more likely today’s fans missed these entirely.
7. GENERATION X
Following the 1989 release of Batman, comic book movies were cool again. Marvel tried to capitalize on this, but the end result was 1992’s direct-to-video Captain America and 1994’s unreleased The Fantastic Four. With its Saturday morning cartoon line doing well thanks to Spider-Man and X-Men, Marvel decided instead to try their luck with a television movie.
In theory, Generation X makes sense. You get the name recognition of the X-Men, but the school setting is cheaper to film in (in fact, Generation X is filmed in the same location used for Xavier’s Mansion in the later X-Men movies) and you save the bigger name characters for other appearances later. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out. Despite giving us the first live action appearances of Jubilee and The White Queen, the film failed to catch on and that was the last we saw of live-action Generation X.
6. RED SONJA
You’d be forgiven for forgetting about the existence of a Red Sonja film. Following the success of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian franchise, Red Sonja released a year later set in the same world, and even featuring Schwarzenegger appearing as Conan himself, with the 21-year-old model Brigitte Nielsen making her film debut as the titular Red Sonja.
Despite its ties to the Conan franchise, Red Sonja was a critical failure, with many reviewers saying the film was cheaply made and boring. The film was quickly forgotten, though the Red Sonja character has maintained relevance throughout the years in comics. A film remake was in the works in 2008 and has gone through changes, most notably shifting hands from director Robert Rodriguez and his then-girlfriend Rose McGowan. Presently, the project remains in development hell.
Spawn touted itself as the special effect event of the year, and to be honest, it’s right. With a massive amount of CGI, the film was technically revolutionary for the time but has aged poorly. Starring Michael Jai White and John Leguizamo, the film was a sanitized version of the comic mythos, edited down to a PG-13 rating and making the characters a little less terrible than their comics counterpart.
The only other comic book movie out at the time was Batman & Robin, so Spawn was a breath of fresh air. The film made back its budget but critically failed to garner much praise. A sequel went into development but failed to materialize. A reboot has been in the works since 2007, with McFarlane stating at 2017’s San Diego Comic-Con that the film would begin production soon with himself in the director’s chair.
4. THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS
Forget Thor: Ragnarok, Thor and Hulk already teamed up once. You almost certainly know about The Incredible Hulk, the insanely well-regarded 1978 television series that still holds up today. After five years and 82 episodes, the show wrapped up its run in 1982 but returned six years later for a series of television movies.
The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988) saw David Banner encounter a former student who had the ability to summon the Norse God of Thunder, Thor, after discovering his ancient hammer Mjolnir. The result was a campy but satisfying team-up. This film and its follow-up, The Trial of The Incredible Hulk, were intended as pilots for Thor and Daredevil series respectively, but neither effort came to fruition, and this era of Hulk stories would end with 1990’s Death of the Incredible Hulk, as well as series star Bill Bixby’s death after a battle with cancer in 1993.
3. SWAMP THING
Wes Craven already had a reputation as a master of horror by 1982, and he took that expertise to create the film adaptation of Swamp Thing. Starring stunt man Dick Durock and ‘80s It-Girl Adrienne Barbeau, the film proved a surprising success. No one realized at the time what an impact this film would have on the character.
Playing off its success, a new Swamp Thing volume was launched, and two years later was handed over to a new writer just starting to make his mark in America, Alan Moore. Moore’s update to the character is legendary and led to a Swamp Thing marketing blitz. A film sequel, television series, animated series and more followed, but the fad died out and by the mid-90s the character was largely relegated to a niche Vertigo title.
2. THE SHADOW
After Batman proved superheroes could be successful, the strangest thing happened: pulp magazine characters made a bit of a comeback. The Rocketeer (not technically a pulp magazine hero, but created in their template) didn’t prove to be the financial success anyone expected but is still beloved. More notable was an attempt at resurrecting classic pulp detective The Shadow.
Perhaps inspired by Batman’s success, The Shadow seems an obvious choice. And the movie, while reviews were mixed, did well. Russell Mulcahy, perhaps best known at the time for Highlander, crafted a moody piece with an all-star cast that included Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller and Tim Curry. The film was everywhere for a few months, but faded into obscurity shortly after, with reboots in development hell since the mid-’00s.
1. DOCTOR MORDRID
“Who the hell is Doctor Mordrid?” you’re probably asking yourself. And, well, yeah. Who the hell IS Doctor Mordrid? This one’s actually a really interesting story. Charles Band was a successful movie producer with a lot of lower budget titles to his name, and in the early ’90s got his hands on the rights to a Doctor Strange film. A script was written and production began, but the rights expired before filming could actually start.
Rather than abandon the project, Band rewrote the script to feature original characters, and Doctor Mordrid was born. Released in 1992 and starring Jeffrey Combs, the film received fair enough reviews but didn’t do well enough to warrant a follow-up. An official Doctor Strange film did air on TV earlier in 1978, but it was poorly received and the good Doctor wouldn’t get a proper film until 2016’s release.
Did you see any of these forgotten movies? Can you remember any others? Let us know in the comments!
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