The growing number of superhero movies and TV series means more heroes, more villains and a greater variety of super powers. Back in the day, only big enough characters could make it into movies. However, all of that changed when Marvel decided to bring a bunch of misfits called the Guardians of the Galaxy to the big screen. Over the years, we have witnessed live-action adaptations of a very diverse cast of comic book characters, that up until now were unlikely to never get on screen. Suddenly, audiences are getting used to talking animals, magical powers, and aliens. And with modern technology characters such as Hulk and Groot are not only possible but also believable.
However, it was a long time coming for these peculiar characters to look this good on screen. And even now they are not always executed with the same level of success. But complex super powers are not the only ones that are hard to pull off on screen. Superpowers that cannot be seen are a whole other beast, since there are no visible actions that indicate that a character is using his powers. With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at 15 superpowers that looked awful on-screen.
The problem with magic-based powers stems from the fact that unless your character needs to say some magic words or make a gesture, the powers will mostly take place in the character’s mind. Meaning, the audience only gets to see the end result of the use of magical powers.
And without any visual clues as to what’s going on with the character’s magical powers the audience can easily feel left out of the scene. Much like telepathic abilities, magic that doesn’t require any action from the user looks pretty boring on film. In the 2015 Fantastic Four movie, Doctor Doom was able to literally blast people’s skulls with no visible effort whatsoever. But this doesn’t mean that magic-based powers always look bad, case in point Doctor Strange.
Characters that possess animal physique have always existed in comics. A number of them have even made it into live-action adaptations. Looking at the Guardians of the Galaxy‘s CGI Rocket Raccoon it’s easy to take the creation of live-action versions of animal-based powers for granted. However, animal-based powers have been very poorly executed in a number of other movies and television shows. A recent example that comes to mind is The Amazing Spider-Man‘s Lizard.
Instead of going all out with Spidey’s reptilian villain and giving him a long snout and fangs, the movie decided to have a human-faced lizard creature that looked laughable and far less menacing than his comic book counterpart. Now that Spider-Man was rebooted again, Lizard may get another chance at a live-action adaptation.
Spidey, Daredevil, Superman, Wolverine and many other comic book heroes and villains have enhanced senses. And while this is a very cool ability to have at your disposal, it’s not one that is easy to faithfully represent on-screen, as evidenced by the 2003 Daredevil movie.
As we all know, Matt Murdock’s senses have been enhanced by the same radioactive isotope that left him blind. After the accident, Matt discovered that his hearing, smell, taste, and touch were amplified to superhuman degrees. The way Matt’s super senses are conveyed in the Netflix series is by using Matt’s own reactions and specific camera angles, a technique that’s proven to be very successful. The Daredevil movie, however, used awful effects and bad CGI to quite literally show Matt’s enhanced senses, which ended up looking very cheesy.
In season five, Arrow introduced a whole new cast of heroes to replace the missing members of Team Arrow. Mr. Terrific, Wild Dog, Artemis, the new Black Canary and Ragman joined the Green Arrow on the mean streets of Star City. Ragman’s mystical powers were met with split opinions from the fans.
For some, characters like Damien Darhk and Ragman just didn’t feel like the right fit for Arrow. But on top of that, Ragman’s ability to manipulate his rags through mystical powers was very poorly portrayed on screen. His rags lacked a sense of plausibility and resembled a bunch of tentacles flying about. As a result, a character with a very strong set of superpowers looked very lame on-screen.
We need to talk about the Green Lantern movie. As much as all of us would love to be able to forget this god awful movie ever got made, its many shortcomings have been permanently etched into our memory. While looking bad is most certainly not the greatest sin the Green Lantern movie committed, it’s in the top five. Putting aside the horrid CGI costume for a moment, let’s talk about Green Lantern’s superpowers, the willpower-based construction.
This amazing power gives Green Lantern the ability to create anything as long as he has the willpower to do so. You’d think that such a power would come in pretty handy and look pretty amazing, but that’s not the impression you get while watching Green Lantern. Most of the creations looked like unbelievable CGI contraptions that don’t really aid the hero.
How do you properly portray invisibility? Simple logic dictates that if something is invisible, you’re not supposed to see it at all. However, this poses a problem in live-action media since their very nature is mostly visual. What most movies and TV shows do is have some kind of a blurry silhouette in place of the character to make it easier for the audience to follow what’s going on on the screen.
In the 2005 Fantastic Four movie invisibility was conveyed through the use of these blurry silhouettes as well as leaving Sue Storm’s clothes visible. And while this did help the audience to understand what’s going on in a scene, it looked pretty ugly and made it seem like she was fading rather than being actually invisible.
Much to everyone’s delight, Chris Evans got a second chance at a superhero role as MCU’s Captain America. Otherwise, he would have been all but forgotten much like the rest of the cast of the Fantastic Four franchise. Evans played Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch, and just like the rest of the team fell victim to some pretty bad CGI. Unfortunately, the Human Torch didn’t look much better in the 2015 reboot either.
So perhaps fire-based powers were just not meant for live-action. Whether it’s literally bursting into flames or creating and manipulating fire, these kinds of superpowers can easily look underwhelming. However, it’s sad that the Arrowverse managed to accomplish more on a TV budget with Firestorm and Heat Wave, than both Fantastic Four movies combined.
Powers that are not visible such as mind control and mind reading are quite difficult to get right on-screen. A combination of certain camera angles and stylistic choices is used by directors to tell the audience that although not much is happening on screen, the action is taking place inside a character’s head. But successfully pulling off telepathic powers is not only a daunting task for the director, but also for the actor.
Actor James McAvoy who plays young Professor X in the X-Men franchise spoke openly about the challenges he faces when portraying his powers. However, despite all his efforts, the gesture he used (as shown on the image above) has led the audience to make up a drinking game every time Professor X would use it.
Ask any X-Men fan and they will tell you stories about how the movie version of Iceman failed to live up to his comic book counterpart. While some will argue that the reason is bad casting, others are more prone to put the blame on bad writing. However, Iceman’s appearance has also made it on the list of reasons fans hated the character in the movie. When we talk about appearance we don’t mean Shawn Ashmore’s physical appearance, but rather the character’s icy look.
Ice-based powers have always been tricky to portray in live-action. In the comics, artists would just draw a light blue figure with a couple of cool ice-like details and the character would look pretty awesome. On the screen, however, Iceman looked like a giant human-shaped iceberg. While his freezing powers didn’t look bad, his icy look certainly could have been better.
2017 was a big success for the MCU on the big screen with box office hits such as Spider-Man: Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, however, the same cannot be said of their television series. After the poor reception of Iron Fist, Marvel suffered an even harder blow with their IMAX series Inhumans. Dissecting what went wrong in the Inhumans has been overdone at this point, but a huge letdown were the effects, which considering the budget should have been out-of-this-world.
Still, Medusa’s hair looked so lame and cheesy it made us cringe throughout the entire ordeal. Hair manipulation, or trichokinesis, is not a super power you get to see often like flight or telepathy. The visual effects department was probably faced with a big challenge, but they had to do a much better job.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is probably one of the worst superhero movies ever made and its special effects didn’t do it any favors. After making three X-Men movies with some pretty believable special effects, 20th Century Fox decided to throw all that out the window for X-Men Origins: Wolverine. An already horrible film was made even worse by some pretty shoddy CGI. Every time Logan’s claws would shoot out of his knuckles they would looks so bland, fake and badly lit. Pause any scene with the claws and you’ll see that they look as if a kid unsuccessfully dabbled in Photoshop.
Thankfully though, in the following X-Men movies, Wolverine’s claws looked much better. However, it is doubtful that any of us will ever be able to forget the cringeworthy CGI we witnessed in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Flying superheros are abundant, whether they were born with the ability such as Superman and Supergirl, or developed tech to aid them in soaring the skies like Iron Man and Falcon. And while it may seem simple enough on the surface, a number of movies and television shows have struggled with depicting this awesome power in live-action. There are so many ways flight scenes can go wrong – visible wires, obvious use of green screen, poor CGI and in extreme cases all of the above.
Older Superman movies struggled greatly with the Man of Steel’s flying powers, especially Superman IV which had a considerably smaller budget. More recently, Supergirl has taken to the sky on the CW show of the same name and while the flying scenes don’t look horrible, the pilot scene where she saves the plane stands as a weaker example.
After watching Thor: Ragnarok, as well as other Hulk appearances in the MCU, it’s easy to forget that making the Hulk look believable on screen is not an easy task. But all it takes is one look at the 2003 Ang Lee’s Hulk movie to refresh your memory. Everything about this movie was pretty much horrible, but Hulk’s appearance had to be the worst part, especially the morphing scenes. Morphing powers haven’t had the best track record when it comes to live-action adaptations, whether it’s a werewolf, the Hulk or just making a character smaller or bigger.
The morphing scenes in the 2003 solo Hulk movie are particularly laughable. The way they distorted Eric Bana’s face during the transformation and added green pigments over his skin makes it look like a poor Photoshop edit.
In recent years, we’ve been seeing a lot of speedsters, both on the small screen and the big screen. In 2014, the Flash got his second chance on television and X-Man: Days of Future Past introduced its version of Quicksilver. A year later, a different Quicksilver appeared in Avengers: Age of Ultron and most recently Justice League featured a different version of the Scarlet Speedster. In all of these live-action adaptations super speed looked pretty cool most of the time.
In fact, looking at these recent speedsters run almost makes us forget how bad super speed looked not so long ago when John Wesley Shipp was Barry Allen. The 1990 The Flash series used 126 special effects in the pilot episode, however, without modern technology the Flash’s super speed still looked rather poor.
Movies and television series have been trying for a very long time to get elasticity right, but we have yet to see this super power successfully executed. A particularly good example for what not to do when adapting elasticity in live-action is the 2005 Fantastic Four movie. If this movie served any purpose it is to teach us how difficult it is to depict stretching powers on screen. Not that this stopped Fox from rebooting the franchise with almost equally poor-looking elasticity powers.
Not even a $120 million budget could help the 2015 Fantastic Four movie to make Mr. Fantastic’s powers look believable. The most recent attempt at a live-action stretcher is The Flash‘s Elongated Man, whose powers also suffer from a lack of plausibility. Although, for a TV budget it’s not that bad.