Depending on who you ask, reboots are either a cinematic plague or an ingenious way to reinvigorate old franchises with new ideas. As superheroes have taken on an ever-growing prominence in popular film, they’ve naturally been subject to a range of reboots. While some of these superhero reboots seemed destined to flop, others became iconic by painting stories in a new context or emphasizing different aspects of familiar characters.
Now, CBR is taking a look at some superhero movies that actually need to be rebooted. For this list, we’ll be looking at any comic book and superhero-based productions that deserve another chance in the spotlight, regardless of commercial or critical acclaim. These films range from underrated cult classics to infamously awful flops, but they all feature characters and concepts that are overdue for a revisit
In 1998, “Blade” ushered in the modern age of superhero cinema. Starring Wesley Snipes as Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s vampire hunter, that film was Marvel’s first real feature success and spawned two sequels and a short-lived TV series. Anchored by Snipes’ commanding performance, all three films were action-packed thrill rides and popular blockbuster hits. Since Blade hadn’t had a major starring role in comics for some time, “Blade” established a formula for adapting more minor comic characters in film that “Iron Man” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” later followed to tremendous success.
While Marvel’s other franchises have thrived, Blade has faded back into relative obscurity in recent years. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Doctor Strange” have introduced the supernatural side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a new Blade film could be the perfect way to continue some of those plot threads. Even though Snipes has openly teased the idea of reprising his famous role, Marvel Studios shot down rumors about a possible new Blade film last year.
14. THE MASK
While “The Mask” might be one of the more beloved comedies of the 1990s, it started out as a hyper-violent Dark Horse Comic by Mike Richardson, Mark Badger, John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke. When it was adapted into a more cartoonish film in 1994, it helped launch Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz into superstardom. Although Carrey’s hapless banker turned unhinged, reality-warping prankster spawned an animated series and a merchandising extravaganza, the movie didn’t have a sequel until 2005’s dismally-reviewed “Son of the Mask.”
Despite the latter film’s failure, a new Mask film franchise could be a better fit in today’s cinematic landscape. Since the Mask’s core concept revolves around an inanimate object instead of a particular character, there’s no need to tie talent down in lengthy multi-picture deals. With the wild tonal divergence between the comics and the first movie, the Mask could star in anything from a kid-friendly romp to a bloody horror-comedy without much difficulty. While the original film’s Tex Avery-influenced special effects still hold up, modern advances in technology could really unleash the full potential of the eponymous Mask’s power.
During 1993’s blockbuster “Reign of the Supermen” story arc, John Henry Irons was introduced as the armored hero Steel, who tried to help fill the void left by Superman’s death. Although Steel was supposed to make his feature debut in a movie based on that storyline, that movie never materialized, but Steel starred in his own film in 1997. Despite starring Superman mega-fan Shaquille O’Neal, “Steel” eschewed much of its title character’s DC Comics history. Instead, it featured mostly original characters and scenes where Shaq’s basketball skills saved the day.
While that film was a critical and commercial flop, a new Steel movie could work in the DC Extended Universe. In the 1990s, Steel starred in his own comic for over 50 issues and served as the Justice League’s resident technology adviser during some memorable adventures. Given the current state of Henry Cavill’s Superman, a Steel film could faithfully follow the path set by the character’s comic history before joining DC’s super-team on screen. A new Steel movie could also play off of the popularity of Marvel’s Iron Man, offering a slightly more realistic, blue collar take on an armored superhero.
12. THE SPIRIT
Will Eisner’s “The Spirit” is one of the foundational texts of the comics medium, and Frank Miller is one of the field’s undisputed modern masters. In theory, Miller’s cinematic adaption of Eisner’s classic crime-fighter could have been the perfect way to introduce the character to a wider audience. Instead, the film was savaged for its plot, its characters and for drawing too heavily on 2005’s “Sin City,” an adaption of another Miller work.
While some aspects of the comic haven’t aged particularly well, the adventures of former detective Denny Colt range from noir mysteries to the edges of outer space. Between that tonal variety and a huge cast of memorable supporting characters, the Spirit seems like a multi-media franchise waiting to happen. With the influence of Eisner’s innovative designs, a Spirit film could lend itself well to experimental and inventive cinematography. It could even work as a light-hearted period piece in the vein of Indiana Jones, with a heavy emphasis on adventure.
11. TANK GIRL
In 1995, “Tank Girl” became one of the more bizarre comics to ever become a feature film. Created by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett in the 1980s, Tank Girl’s wildly experimental comics followed the rebellious title character and Booga, a mutant kangaroo, as they roamed around a post-apocalyptic Australian Outback. Despite the character’s cult status, the 1995 adaption of that comic, starring Lori Petty and Ice-T, was a critical and commercial failure upon its initial release.
While the film eventually garnered a small but dedicated following, a new Tank Girl movie could find a more receptive wide audience today. In 2015, audiences flocked to “Mad Max: Fury Road,” another hyper-stylized post-apocalyptic film set in the Outback. While some of Tank Girl’s characters don’t lend themselves well to live action, an animated feature could be a natural fit. Thanks to his designs for the cartoon alternative rock band the Gorillaz, Hewlett has a fairly large fan base outside of comics that might be drawn to an animated Tank Girl film. By bringing Hewlett’s kinetic designs to life, an animated Tank Girl feature could set a new benchmark for Western adult animation.
10. JONAH HEX
Jonah Hex is one of the most famous western characters in comics. Created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga in 1972, Hex has long outlasted his genre’s popularity and has maintained a fairly regular presence in DC Comics for years. In 2010, Josh Brolin starred as the scarred bounty hunter in a feature film adaption. While his performance received mild praise, critics and audiences were largely apathetic towards the production, despite an impressive cast that included John Malkovich, Megan Fox and Michael Fassbender.
In comics, Jonah Hex has teamed up with dozens of superheroes, fought supernatural monsters and traveled to a post-apocalyptic future. Hex’s distinctive features and trademark surliness make him an imposing figure who’s well-suited to the big screen with that kind of tonal elasticity. Since this summer’s “Wonder Woman” is already set to take place during WWI, a new Jonah Hex feature could help flesh out the early years of the DC Extended Universe. With a western film like Jonah Hex, DC could distinguish itself from Marvel’s franchises and entice filmmakers eager to offer their take on the genre.
9. THE CROW
While its legacy is marred by the tragic on-set death of its star Brandon Lee, “The Crow” was one of the more successful comic book adaptations of the 1990s. James O’Barr created “The Crow” during the black-and-white independent comics boom of the 1980s. Both the comic and the 1994 film follow Eric Draven, a murdered rock musician who comes back from the dead to avenge his girlfriend’s murder. With its unique blend of gothic romance, visual flair and stylized action, the film was a critical and commercial success, spawning several sequels and a TV series.
A reboot of “The Crow” has been in the works for years, and the rights to the film, tentatively titled “The Crow Reborn,” switched hands in late 2016. While that film’s status is somewhat unclear, it could work especially well in today’s market. In a world where both “Twilight” and Batman can sustain lengthy cinematic franchises, a new Crow film could bridge the gap between superhero action and supernatural romance.
8. THE PHANTOM
Created by Lee Falk for King Features Syndicate in 1936, the Phantom is one of the prototypes for the modern superhero. Although the character’s adventures drew more from the tradition of pulp heroes like the Shadow, he was one of the first crime-fighters to wear a skin-tight costume. The character’s classic comics and the 1996 feature, “The Phantom,” both follow Kit Walker, the latest in a long line of Phantoms who protect the fictional jungles of Bangalla. Despite a poor performance at the box office, that film received mixed reviews and found some success on home video.
One of that movie’s strongest points is the palpable joy that Zane’s Phantom exudes. As superhero movies have dealt with increasingly high stakes with increasingly less humor, that exuberant tone could help distinguish a new Phantom movie from a crowded field. Since 2010, Dynamite Entertainment has successfully published the Phantom and other King Features characters in light-hearted, globe-trotting adventurers. A Phantom reboot could follow that same lead and give audiences a hero who saves the day and has a great time doing it.
7. THE LOSERS
The Losers began life as a collection of hard-luck WWII soldiers, created by Robert Kanigher in the final days of the 1960s. In 2006, Andy Diggle and Jock revived the series for Vertigo as a present-day block ops team at war with the C.I.A. after being left for dead. That incarnation of the series served as the basis for 2010’s “The Losers.” Despite an impressive cast that included Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Idris Elba and Chris Evans, the film received mixed reviews and was largely eclipsed by “The A-Team,” a similar feature that was released two months later.
While it might not catch as many ascendant superstars as the 2010 film, a new Losers movie could help bind the DC Extended Universe together. Since “Wonder Woman” will take place during WWI, a WWII-era Losers movie could help fill in some historical gaps. In the present day, the Losers could act as a destabilizing wild card in DC’s movies. While the Losers haven’t traditionally had much contact with DC’s heroes, they could serve as an antithesis to the importance of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
6. SWAMP THING
DC Comics’ Swamp Thing was created by Len Wein and the recently retired Bernie Wrightson at the start of the 1970s horror comics boom. After being doused with chemicals and running into a swamp, scientist Alec Holland originally became the monstrous hero Swamp Thing. While Steve Bissette and Alan Moore’s drastic revisions redefined the character in the mid-1980s, the character’s first origin was the basis for 1982’s “Swamp Thing.” The film, directed by horror icon Wes Craven, received mostly positive reviews and spawned a low-budget comedic sequel, a live-action TV series and a short-lived cartoon over the next decade.
Despite the fairly simple premise at his core, Swamp Thing has become one of the defining characters of the DC Universe. When Moore re-engineered the character as an elemental force that only thought it was Holland, the comics billed themselves as “Sophisticated Suspense.” A new Swamp Thing movie could bring that same sophistication to the DC Extended Universe with its unique psychedelic, almost cosmic horror. While Swamp Thing seems likely to appear in DC’s long-gestating “Dark Universe,” the character is an ideal vessel to open up the more supernatural side of DC’s cinematic world on his own.
5. MYSTERY MEN
In the wake of “The Mask’s” success, 1999’s “Mystery Men” was one of a few films based on obscure Dark Horse characters. Originally created by Bob Burden as supporting characters in his independent series “Flaming Carrot,” the Mystery Men are a team of blue-collar superheroes with bizarre powers. While the Flaming Carrot didn’t join his teammates in the film, William H. Macy’s Shoveler, Ben Stiller’s Mr. Furious and Paul Reubens’ Spleen stood alongside several original characters in the absurdist comedy. While the film was a financial flop, it received generally positive reviews and became a cult classic on home video.
With the success of movies like “Deadpool” and “The Lego Batman Movie,” superhero comedies are more commercially viable than ever. A new Mystery Men film could capitalize on that trend and nostalgia for the first film as it nears its 20th anniversary. The satiric elements of Mystery Men could be more effective with a wider audience that’s grown more familiar with the tropes of the superhero genre.
After years of trying to make a movie about an established superhero, director Sam Raimi decided to create his own in 1990’s “Darkman.” While Raimi would eventually bring Spider-Man to the big screen, “Darkman” achieved critical and commercial success in the wake of 1989’s “Batman.” The movie stars Liam Neeson as scientist Peyton Westlake, who becomes Darkman after being maimed and left for dead by mobsters. Using his newfound ability to not feel pain and an experimental synthetic skin, the horribly disfigured hero dispensed his brutal brand of justice over three films in the 1990s.
Raimi hasn’t been shy about revisiting the characters he created in the “Evil Dead” franchise, and Darkman is overdue for a revival. After working in the constraints of major franchises like Batman and Spider-Man, a new Darkman film could give Raimi and Neeson a chance to offer their unfiltered take on superheroes. “Darkman” used elements of horror in a way that many superhero movies haven’t, and those trappings could help set a new Darkman film apart from a crowded field of competitors.
3. LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN
Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” has one of the most brilliant high concepts in modern comics. Over several miniseries and graphic novels, the series followed the continuing adventures of a group of adventurers pulled from Victorian literature. While the world of the comic was carefully constructed with arcane literary references, 2003’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” took several liberties with the comic’s core cast and plot. The film, which was Sean Connery’s final starring role, received dismal reviews upon its release.
Although a possible reboot has been teased for years, the League continues to remain unredeemed in the eyes of moviegoers. As productions like “Penny Dreadful” have shown, teaming-up literary characters from the public domain can be a formula for success. Many of the League’s characters are already at least somewhat familiar to a wider audience, and they can make unexpected but compelling partners. By recontextualizing these characters in a modern adventure story, a new League movie could essentially serve as an “Avengers”-style team-up for the literary crowd.
2. FANTASTIC FOUR
Since their creation in 1961, the Fantastic Four have been the cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. While Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created some of the greatest comics of all time with those characters, the four Fantastic Four films were mired in the muck of mediocrity. “Fant4stic Four,” Fox’s 2015 reboot of the franchise, reportedly faced a troubled production and suffered from a public feud between director Josh Trank and the studio. While the Fantastic Four of comics are defined by their compelling family dynamic and bold sci-fi concepts, the film was a gritty, dour affair that left most audiences and critics unimpressed.
While Fox’s X-Men film franchise has worked fairly well on its own, aspects of the Fantastic Four are intrinsically tied to other parts of the Marvel Universe. A Marvel Studios-produced Fantastic Four movie could only happen after considerable legal deal-making, but the breezy humor and cosmic scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would work well with the Fantastic Four. With a deep bench of characters like Dr. Doom, Galactus and the Silver Surfer, the Fantastic Four could even thrive in a stand-alone franchise with a lighter tone that emphasized its more “fantastic” aspects.
A quarter of a century ago, Todd McFarlane’s “Spawn” helped set off the Image Comics revolution. As one of the most successful creator-owned characters of all time, Spawn became an icon of the 1990s and… spawned… action figures, an animated series and a 1997 film. In “Spawn,” Michael Jai White stars as Al Simmons, a fallen soldier who’s resurrected by the forces of evil before turning against his demonic masters. Despite negative reviews, the movie was mildly successful with audiences and fans of the character.
Although there have been a few attempts to revive the franchise, McFarlane announced that he had completed a script for a low-budget, horror-focused Spawn reboot that he hoped to direct. While most superhero movies are big budget bonanzas, a Spawn movie that casts its lead as a more spectral force could help broaden the scope of the superhero genre by bringing in elements of horror, suspense and supernatural thrillers. If McFarlane can helm a successful Spawn reboot, that might also open up the door for other comics creators to have a bigger role in adapting the characters they know and love.
For all the latest on upcoming superhero films like “Logan” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” stay tuned to CBR. Let us know which reboots you want to see in the comments!
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