The Marvel Cinematic Universe seems downright unstoppable at times. For instance, as Justice League‘s cinematic debut stumbled out of the gate, Marvel hit us with Thor: Ragnarok on the big screen and The Punisher and Runaways on the small screen. What’s the key to Marvel’s success? Why do they succeed when the DCEU continues to falter? The primary answer is “characters.” From the beginning, the MCU has understood the need to make us care about these people as characters first, superheroes second. We care about these versions of the characters because, more often than not, the MCU is giving us the best possible version of them.
They’ve also had a lot of mistakes to learn from. After all, Marvel has had live-action versions of its characters for the better part of a century, going back (appropriately enough) to serial Captain America films made during the latter years of World War II. There have been successful TV series as well as failed movies. Above all, though, there have been some absolutely terrible versions of your favorite characters. Don’t believe us? You don’t have to dig out grandpa’s VHS tapes and check…just keep scrolling to learn all about the 15 most embarrassing versions of popular MCU characters!
The MCU Daredevil represented a creative gamble for Disney. Not only did they have to him after his movie, but they had to prove that audiences were ready for the darker, more adult MCU stories on Netflix. Fortunately, Daredevil actor Charlie Cox knocked it out of the park, but most fans don’t know just how much worse than Ben Affleck it once was.
Rex Smith portrayed the character in the Trial of the Incredible Hulk TV movie, and he even rocked a version of the black suit that Charlie Cox would sport in his first season. The similarities end there, though: as Matt Murdock, Smith (sans glasses, too) was often over-the-top and silly. As Daredevil, his fights are laughably bad, often seeming more like slapstick than superhero. Finally, his costume is often shot in bright lights, helping emphasize how much it looks like a bargain bin Halloween costume!
If you’ve ever wondered why we’ll never get a solo MCU Hulk film, you can blame Universal Pictures. Ever since their terrible Hulk movie, they’ve retained the distribution rights to the character, which keeps Disney from pulling the trigger on a solo Ruffalo adventure. This is unfortunate, as Ruffalo manages to channel quirking and charm as Bruce Banner and frightening rage as Hulk…and he does it much, much better than Universal ever did.
Eric Bana played as Bruce Banner in that first Hulk film, and he did a decent job. However, Hulk was a different story: as a CGI creation, the technology wasn’t quite there yet to bring Hulk to any kind of realistic life, so he looked weird and cartoonish. To make things weirder, the movie portrayed a Hulk who got physically taller as he got angrier, eventually making him look like a knock-off Godzilla monster.
13. RED SKULL
If we’re being completely honest, Red Skull ended up being one of the more boring MCU villains. Veteran actor Hugo Weaving chewed as much scenery as he could, but he was mostly reduced to making scary-looking faces under scarier-looking makeup. However, things could have been much, much worse.
You see, Red Skull was also the villain in that other Captain America movie. No, not Winter Soldier or Civil War…it was the one made in 1990, and it was so bad that it was never released theatrically and quietly shuffled to a VHS release. While there was a lot wrong with this movie, Red Skull is near the top of the list: he’s soft-spoken, makes a terrible attempt at a German accent, and speaks in way too many puns. And did we mention his face looks a rejected Garbage Pail Kid toy?
12. NICK FURY
By this point, Samuel L. Jackson has become synonymous with Nick Fury. There’s some funny history to this: when the Ultimates (a kind of rebooted Avengers in a different continuity) comic debuted, artist Bryan Hitch drew Nick Fury to look like Jackson. In one early issue, when the characters discuss who should play them in a movie, Fury insists on Jackson…a request that was, of course, made manifest in 2008’s Iron Man.
Originally, Nick Fury was white, and the casting doesn’t get much whiter than David Hasselhoff. He played the title character in a Nick Fury made-for-TV movie. He was highly recommended, too: as Hasselhoff likes to remind people, Stan Lee once called him “the ultimate Nick Fury.” However, comparing the Hoff’s schlocky performance to Samuel L. Jackson’s slick performance, it looks Jackson has proven there’s a new “ultimate” in town!
Actually getting Spider-Man in the MCU was a huge moment for fans. Sony had clutched the film rights to the character for years and watched their revenues decline before reluctant teaming up with Marvel. Tom Holland ended up delighting as Spider-Man, and he was a high point in Captain America: Civil War before dazzling us in Spider-Man: Homecoming. However, live-action Spider-Man wasn’t always so great.
In 1977, we had a TV film called The Amazing Spider-Man (not to be confused with anything involving Andrew Garfield). This was basically the pilot to the upcoming TV series,and it starred Nicholas Hammond as both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. Some of the stunts and effects were impressive for the time, but it’s almost impossible now to look at the costumes and action sequences and not completely cringe. If only there had been a ’70s live-action Tony Stark to build a better suit!
When it comes to the MCU, Thor is enjoying something of a renaissance. His first movie had mixed reviews and its sequel was disappointing, but Thor: Ragnarok has been a critical and commercial smash. Part of this success comes from pairing Thor and Hulk together. However, Ragnarok was not their first live-action team-up!
In 1988, we got The Incredible Hulk Returns, yet another TV movie based on the successful Incredible Hulk television show. The paper-thin plot involves Thor teaming up with Hulk to take on mobsters (villains usually below his pay grade). Let’s be honest: it’s tough to overstate how bad Thor looks here, as if the costume designers borrowed a generic barbarian outfit from a Conan movie and just handed him a Mjolnir-looking hammer. Maybe the Grand Master can make this guy look good, but the filmmakers sure as hell couldn’t!
9. GENERAL ROSS
The character of General Ross has had surprising staying power in the MCU. We see him as an antagonist in The Incredible Hulk, and he is seemingly disgraced after his attempts to catch Hulk end with him unleashing The Abomination on Harlem. However, he pops up again in Captain America: Civil War as a reasonable voice against unchecked superhuman power. And in this performance, he blows his predecessor out of the water.
In the Hulk movie by Universal, General Ross was played by Sam Elliott. And yeah, we get it — Sam Elliott is a national treasure. However, in this movie he is often lost in the shuffle of too many characters, and he rarely transcends his status as “angry military guy.” While it’s sad to see Elliott get outshone like this, he’d be the first to admit: sometimes, you get the bad movie, and sometimes, the bad movie gets you.
8. CAPTAIN AMERICA
Captain America is one of Marvel’s oldest superheroes, so it’s only fitting there have been so many Captain America movies. More recently, Chris Evans has perfectly inhabited the role for the MCU: he manages to be believable as both the square-jawed action hero Captain America and the flawed, thoughtful man out of time, Steve Rogers. However, the character’s earlier appearances were downright disturbing.
For instance, Captain America had a movie back in 1979. The movie has a bizarre plot about Captain America taking his name from his father, a World War II hero, but the strangest thing is the motorcycle: his main superpower in the movie is a tricked out motorcycle that can go super-fast, become virtually invisible, and even fly. If that’s not weird enough, it’s tough to take his costume very seriously: he looks a lot more like Super Dave Osborne than Captain America. This version of Cap definitely needs to go back into the ice for a few decades!
7. HOWARD THE DUCK
To put it mildly, Guardians of the Galaxy threw a lot of surprises at viewers. One of those surprises was after the credits, as audiences discovered that The Collector had none other than Howard the Duck in his collection. Howard pops up again in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, exchanging duck-related puns with a lovely lady. Overall, director James Gunn knows how to use Howar — as a joke character who adds humor where needed.
Marvel directors were not always so wise. In 1986, director Willard Hyuck and Lucasfilm brought us an entire Howard the Duck movie. The movie was absolutely savaged by critics, and they took shots at everything from the incomprehensible plot to the bad creature effects. To top it off, there’s a scene where Lea Thompson comes very close to hooking up with Howard, who looks like a thirsty Chuck E. Cheese robot!
It’s a pretty damn good time to be a Punisher fan. After a successful cameo in the second season of Daredevil, Punisher’s own series debuted on Netflix. In it, actor Jon Bernthal continues to perfectly embody the grim and endless war on crime carried out by Frank Castle. Before that, Thomas Jane played Frank Castle in a flawed but entertaining live-action movie. The worst Punisher movie, though, came years before that.
In 1989, the first Punisher movie debuted, and it starred action movie veteran Dolph Lundgren as Frank Castle. The movie was basically a disaster: while Lundgren is good at action, he has little range as an actor. And the film took out many of his compelling motivations and even took away the signature skull. The end result is that the first Punisher movie was just another ’80s shoot’em up starring Dolph Lundgren…hardly a memorable experience.
5. GENERAL TALBOT
Over on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., General Talbot has become a surprisingly robust character. He represents the concerns of the President and the country, and is sometimes an antagonist when S.H.I.E.L.D. is on the wrong side of the law. More often than not, though, he works with Phil Coulson to help save the world from Hydra and other evil forces.
We see a very different version of Talbot in Universal’s abysmal Hulk film. While he’s still an antagonist, he has none of the personality and three-dimensional character exhibited by his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. counterpart. He basically exists to piss off Hulk and get killed in his attempts at mad science. Throw in that he comes across as more pretty boy than soldier, and it’s tough to take this guy seriously at all!
Every real fan of the MCU is familiar with Vincent D’Onofrio’s mesmerizing performance as Kingpin in the Netflix Daredevil TV show. He manages to perfectly embody both the quiet menace and the physical intimidation of the comic character. Some fans may even remember when Michael Clarke Duncan played the role in the Daredevil movie, successfully making the villain as larger-than-life as he was always drawn. There’s another Kingpin, though, and he’s definitely the worst.
This version of Kingpin was played by John Rhys-Davies for the Trial of the Incredible Hulk TV movie. Now, every fan of both Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings knows that this is a solid actor, but he looks nothing like the Kingpin: he’s got hair, he’s got a beard, and he is usually wearing the kind of shades that belong more to the world of Ghost in the Shell than Marvel!
3. AUNT MAY
It seems like we’ve had way too many Aunt Mays in the last decade alone. Most recently, Marisa Tomei portrayed Aunt May as the character officially joined the MCU with Spider-Man: Homecoming. She made a lot of waves as the younger version of Aunt May, something even Tony Stark couldn’t help but notice. However, there are some versions of Aunt May that you notice for all the wrong reasons.
In the 1977 Amazing Spider-Man TV movie, the character was played by Jeff Donnell. The actor herself was good in many other roles, but she wasn’t given much to do here, being reduced to little more than a shrieking and nagging aunt. This is the worst version of Aunt May because she’s barely a character and more like the personification of Peter Parker’s persistent guilt.
When making the second season of Daredevil, the creators knew they would have to up the ante in terms of the stakes for characters and audiences alike. They did so by introducing Elektra, who manages to walk the fine line between being a master assassin and being the charming femme fatale who helps get Matt Murdock out of his shell. And she’s a profound improvement over the first live-action Elektra!
The Ben Affleck Daredevil movie was awful, but it wasn’t so bad that 20th Century Fox wasn’t willing to gamble with a solo Elektra film. In it, Jennifer Garner reprises her role, and it was pretty terrible. Despite Garner’s considerable acting chops, the movie treats her as little more than a one-note action stereotype in improbable clothing. The end result is that rare feat: a movie that insults both comics fans and general audiences with equal vigor!
1. DOCTOR STRANGE
Doctor Strange made quite the splash in the MCU. His solo film brought in hot British star Benedict Cumberbatch in as the mysterious Sorcerer Supreme, and we got to see a side of the MCU that we had never seen before in the form of mystic threats. One thing that even the Eye of Agamotto could not see, though, was that there was a completely horrible Doctor Strange movie before this.
In 1978, the direct-to-TV Dr. Strange movie debuted. It was intended to gauge audience interest in a possible TV series, but no one liked it: Peter Hooten was boring as Strange himself, and the entire movie dragged. The special effects were terrible even by ’70s standards, and the whole thing was a 90-minute snooze fest. After watching this, you can see why it took decades for us to get another Strange movie!
Which of these is the worst-looking? Let us know in the comments!
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