The last two decades have brought a bounty of fantastic superhero movies to fans who have been thirsting to see their favorites brought to life. Marvel led the way in 2000 with X-Men, which allowed other superhero movies to get a greenlight from studios who were shy about spending money on comic book adaptations. Then came The Dark Knight trilogy, when Chris Nolan changed not only the style of superhero movies, but also the focus on characterization over action. Superhero movies have also benefited from technological advances, with complete characters and entire worlds being crafted in CGI.
With the good, however, comes the bad. While some scripts may have resulted in a better understanding of superheroes and their challenges, others completely missed the mark and wound up doing more damage than good. Lousy box office takes and terrible reviews give superhero movies a bad name. Each time one fails, studios are more reluctant to produce more. No studio chagrin, however, compares to the wrath of a comic book fan who is disappointed with a movie. There’s a special pain that comes with seeing your favorite superhero brought low by a bad movie. Here are CBR’s 20 most disappointing superhero movies of all time.
20. X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE
X-Men Origins: Wolverine was Hugh Jackman’s first solo film as Wolverine. As CBR mentioned above, fans were nigh on frantic to see more of Wolvie, in all his claw-wielding glory, than the ensemble films had shown. Fans were also hoping to see more of Wolverine’s fascinating backstory, which had only been hinted at previously. Plus, there was also the promise of seeing Deadpool.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine turned out to be a mish-mash of a movie. Rather than present a fresh take on Wolverine’s origin, the film served up a formulaic story that revealed very little about Wolverine we didn’t already know. The action was a mess, but how could it not be? Director Gavin Hood had never helmed anything close to an action movie before Origins. As for Deadpool, the only explanation for that travesty was the Hollywood writers strike, which left the production without a writing team.
19. SUPERMAN RETURNS
Brandon Routh starred in one of the most forgettable Superman movies of all time. Because Superman Returns debuted almost 20 years after the previous Superman movie, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Superman fans were eager for a good reboot. After seeing the magic that director Bryan Singer had conjured with X-Men and X-Men 2, they expected a fun, but more realistic, portrayal of the Man of Steel.
However, the result was less than super. Bryan Singer faithfully re-created 1978’s Superman to his detriment. While most of the movie was visually pleasing, it came off as stilted and dull. Routh certainly looked the part, but he and his co-star, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, had zero chemistry. Even Kevin Spacey, an Oscar-winning actor, failed to make Lex Luthor a threat in any way, because he was forced to mimic Gene Hackman’s turn as the bald-headed baddie.
18. SPIDER-MAN 3
Comic book fans were thrilled with Tobey Maguire’s turn as the web-spinner in 2002’s Spider-Man. Director Sam Raimi clearly had a handle on Peter Parker’s personality, as well as the complicated dynamics between Peter and his friends and family. Spider-Man was as much a character piece as it was a superhero movie.
By the time Spider-Man 3 rolled out in 2007, the novelty had worn off, for both the audience and the filmmakers. Maguire had almost been fired from Spider-Man 2, after claiming he had a back injury to try to get more money out of Sony. That scene created bad blood and bad press, which may be why the sequels didn’t earn as much at the box office as the original. Plus, Spider-Man 3 was bursting with too many villains, so much so that the story became muddled and confusing.
17. X-MEN: THE LAST STAND
As CBR mentioned above, director Bryan Singer worked magic with X-Men and X-Men 2. He had re-invented superhero movies, taking them from kitsch to character-driven stories. His love of comic books, and his in-depth knowledge, came through in his filmmaking. Critics praised how Singer grounded the X-Men and juggled screen time for each superhero.
However, Singer left the X-Men franchise to make Superman Returns. Brett Ratner was hired to direct instead, and the result left audiences and critics disappointed. Gone were the deep characters and grounded emotions of the first two movies. Ratner’s goofy humor (he directed Rush Hour 2 and The Family Man) wasn’t a good fit for a movie that was supposed to depict not only the noble death of a major character, but also a near apocalypse. By the time Phoenix sacrificed herself, fans were happy to see her go.
In 2003, when Daredevil premiered, Marvel fans were itching to see their favorite Defender on the big screen. Unlike the X-Men or Spider-Man, Daredevil was a regular guy who taught himself how to take a punch and keep going, essentially. He was a nighttime vigilante who was attuned to the beat on the streets.
Sadly, the Daredevil movie disappointed fans and critics. They were used to the originality that Bryan Singer and Sam Raimi had brought to the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises, respectively. Daredevil tried to be too many things at once. At times, director Mark Steven Johnson went for a dark, brooding vibe, while other times he orchestrated over-the-top action sequences. The movie was neither here nor there, and left too many viewers lost in the middle.
15. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
Something happened between The Amazing Spider-Man, which was released in 2012, and its sequel, which came out in 2014. Marc Webb directed both movies, but somewhere he lost the thread. The Amazing Spider-Man was a thoughtful new take on Peter Parker’s origin story. His parents played a larger role, as did his own teenage angst.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2, however, was a jumble of scenes that, like Spider-Man 3, had too many villains. Jamie Foxx was wasted as Electro, who was portrayed as Frankenstein’s monster. Dane DeHaan, as Green Goblin, seemed as confused as the audience as to why he was there. The worst scenes, though, were between Emma Stone, as Gwen Stacy, and Andrew Garfield, as Peter Parker. The two were a real-life couple at the time and their lines seemed more like improv exercises than scripted scenes.
14. THE WOLVERINE
Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine is the most popular actor in the X-Men series of movies, which is why he starred in three standalone films. The combination of his cavalier attitude, his insecurity and his lethal combat skills makes him fascinating to watch. He can also deliver a punchline like nobody’s business.
The Wolverine, which was released in 2013, was the second attempt at giving Wolverine the movie he deserved, but it missed the mark. The audience wanted to see Wolverine slicing his way through the movie, but he spent most of it limping around Japan. Fans are attracted to superheroes for their strength and their indestructibility. He didn’t need to spend the majority of the movie at death’s door. Plus, an inexplicable romance was piled on top of his less-than-superhero portrayal, which made the movie even more boring.
13. SWAMP THING
Fans of Swamp Thing were psyched for the 1982 movie adaptation of DC’s scientist-turned-creature. He’s a powerful superhero who is tapped into the Green, which allows him control every plant — every plant — on Earth. He also possesses a great supernatural knowledge, giving him a mystical advantage over his enemies.
Obviously, Swamp Thing is a powerful guy, but the movie adaptation ignored his strength as a superhero in favor of playing for laughs, which were few and far between. The movie vacillated between being campy and being dark, which made the entire film a confusing mess of genres. The only saving grace was actress Adrienne Barbeau as the typical damsel in distress, but even her charisma couldn’t keep Swamp Thing from being a movie that was mired in the muck.
12. BATMAN & ROBIN
By 1997, when Batman & Robin was released, fans were becoming disillusioned with Batman movies. Batman and Batman Returns, released in 1989 and 1992 respectively, had pleased audiences and critics alike. However, 1995’s Batman Forever, starring Val Kilmer and Nicole Kidman, disappointed fans who were already sad that Michael Keaton wasn’t returning. Enter Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, when everyone was set to dislike the latest Dark Knight adventure.
Joel Schumacher made what might be considered a gutsy move by taking the camp of the 1960’s TV series and running with it. Unfortunately, he ran a little too far. Batman and Robin looked ridiculous as they spouted lines straight out of the ’40s in their anatomically correct bodysuits. Plus, the movie was stuffed with over-the-top villains. The entire mess was a terrible disappointment.
11. SUICIDE SQUAD
To say DC fans were excited for Suicide Squad is an understatement. Only a few months prior, a lot of fans had been dissatisfied with Batman v Superman. Suicide Squad was placed on a pedestal by fans, and Warner Bros., as the salve to heal their wounds. In the run-up to the movie’s release, even director David Ayer said he felt the pressure was unjust on his movie that, originally, was supposed to be a fun one-off.
Suicide Squad could not have hoped to live up to the hype. Even if it had, the movie was a disaster. There wasn’t much to see that wasn’t shown in the trailers, and the studio had definitely chosen the best bits for those clips. Too many superheroes battled for screen time in a story that made very little sense. The entire production was more of a love letter than a good movie.
10. GREEN LANTERN
Possibly the only good thing to come out of 2011’s Green Lantern was the real-life union of its stars, Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively. Green Lantern fans were psyched for the first live-action movie starring Hal Jordan. All the pieces were in place for a fantastic movie: director Martin Campbell was hot off Casino Royale; superhero gurus Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim wrote the script; and Ryan Reynolds was a talented fan-favorite in the starring role.
As the saying goes, the best laid plans… you know the rest. Regardless of having the perfect pedigree for a film, the result was a huge disappointment. The origin story, that limped forward at a glacial pace, was muddled by an additional storyline. The special effects looked horrible and the action sequences were few and far between. Fans and critics mercilessly panned Green Lantern.
Elektra was the best part of 2003’s Daredevil. Jennifer Garner wowed everyone with not only her acting chops, but also her skill in action sequences. (Her time on Alias was not wasted.) Where Ben Affleck was dull, she was a bright spark that lit up the screen, so a feature film starring Garner as Elektra seemed like slam dunk. Plus, women were excited to see a movie about a female superhero.
Unfortunately, Jennifer Garner was, again, the only exciting part of Elektra. She clearly had a handle on the character and the fight scenes, but the script was woefully lacking intelligent dialogue or an impactful story. Elektra didn’t even take in enough at the box office to cover its budget. Women were especially disappointed because Hollywood then decided that a female-driven superhero movie would always be a bad idea, so it wouldn’t make another until Wonder Woman 12 years later.
8. HOWARD THE DUCK
Howard the Duck wasn’t a typical superhero, let alone the kind of superhero who warranted his own movie. But in 1986, writer-director Willard Hyuck was tapped to make a feature film about Marvel’s famous fowl, which turned out to be pretty much the end of his film career. Even George Lucas, as an executive producer, couldn’t make this turkey fly.
First, Howard looked awful. Special effects weren’t advanced enough to create a believable CGI character, but audiences couldn’t get past his rudimentary body and his flesh-colored eyelids. Next, the movie lacked a story completely, and the characters were all over the place. Hyuck tried to fill the void with a lot of explosions and a lot of destruction, however no amount of car chases or exploding buildings could save Howard the Duck.
7. GHOST RIDER
Ghost Rider was another movie that seemed to have all the right ingredients for success. In 2007, Nicolas Cage was a hot property, with the National Treasure franchise in full swing and an Academy Award on his shelf. Although Mark Steven Johnson was directing, fans and critics hoped that he had learned from his mistakes on Daredevil, and that experience would help him bring Ghost Rider to life.
The first hint that the movie would bomb was when the studio refused to hold press screenings until the day before. Critics had to scramble to submit their reviews in time to stop people from wasting their money. It didn’t matter. The movie was panned for its cheesy special effects and its inconsistent script. Fans were hugely disappointed that a badass like Ghost Rider came off like one of Nic Cage’s Saturday Night Live sketches.
6. THE PUNISHER
It’s ironic that Frank Castle had to go from a big screen to a little one to increase his popularity. Jon Bernthal’s turn as The Punisher resonates with viewers more effectively on Netflix’s Daredevil than 2004’s feature film. The Punisher barely made enough money to cover its budget.
The cast couldn’t be blamed for the movie’s woes. Thomas Jane had enough brooding and brawn to play Castle, and John Travolta showed his usual charismatic flair as Howard Saint. However, The Punisher’s origin story goes awry once Castle’s family dies. The movie ticks off the same boxes as other action movies, without offering enough insight into Castle to fully explore why he became a ruthless killer. The audience is forced to make too many assumptions about what should have been a complex story.
5. FANTASTIC FOUR
Fantastic Four was dead on arrival when it premiered in 2015. No one thought a reboot of this superhero team was a good idea to begin with. Fans and critics were gun-shy after the team was portrayed in a very mediocre way only a decade before. Compared to recently released amazing superhero movies, like The Dark Knight and Avengers, Fantastic Four needed to work a miracle to be a success.
Fantastic Four was pronounced a dud long before it hit the big screen. Even director Josh Trank took to Twitter to defend himself against the onslaught of criticism, before the movie even premiered. That’s never a good sign. Once Fantastic Four dropped, the predicted negative reviews poured in and audiences stayed away. Fantastic Four made about a third of its budget. Ouch.
Because Warner Bros. was enjoying the success of three Superman movies, in 1984, the studio decided to branch out and make a movie about Supergirl. Supergirl wasn’t as famous as other DC women, like Wonder Woman, but the creative team was hoping that Supergirl’s familial bond with Superman would help boost their bottom line. Director Jeannot Szwarc was tapped after his success with Somewhere in Time, starring Superman himself, Christopher Reeve.
Unfortunately, Supergirl was made at a time when no one had a solid handle on how to make a good superhero movie, let alone one that starred a woman. The story was paper thin, and the effects looked homemade. The climactic fight scene came off more like a cat fight from a ’50s beach-blanket flick. Girls in their teens were sorely disappointed that their heroine wasn’t a match for her cousin.
Catwoman was another movie that seemed destined for success, based on its star alone. Halle Berry was white-hot in 2004, having starred in two well-received X-Men movies and a James Bond film, as well as winning an Academy Award for Monster’s Ball. Plus, casting a black woman as Catwoman was creating a lot of positive buzz.
Catwoman should be a lesson to all studios that hiring a French director who has only one name isn’t a good idea. Pitof had only directed a French action movie set in 1830. He wasn’t prepared for a movie that required special effects, which wound up looking primitive and laughable. He also had little experience with action sequences, which meant Catwoman’s fights were clumsy. The entire movie came off like a joke, when its star and its superhero deserved better.
2. SUPERMAN III
Superman III was an enormous disappointment, mainly because the first two movies had created very high expectations. Superman was a well-paced origin story that hit all the right notes. Then, Superman II improved on the model by introducing interesting and terrifying villains. Superman fans were mistakenly prepped for a fantastic third instalment.
Superman III completely ignored its superhero and focused far too much screen time the antics of Richard Pryor, his co-star. With Pryor’s presence, the movie became a slapstick comedy that only showed Superman as an after thought. Even the movie’s poster looked like a joke. The strange choice to play Superman as a punchline didn’t attract audiences, and the movie only grossed half of Superman II. Superman IV: Quest for Peace was even more awful, but no one had expected much, thanks to Superman III.
1. MAN OF STEEL
Granted, Man of Steel was a better movie than several others on this list. However, because expectations were so high for Zack Snyder’s take on Superman’s origin story, the result was a big disappointment. The Dark Knight trilogy had changed how superhero movies were made, and Snyder was known for lifting comics off the page into a singular visual style. The combination of Snyder’s talent, and what Chris Nolan had introduced to the world, was sure to be a hit.
True Superman fans were devastated with Man of Steel. Man of Steel looked like Snyder struggled to create a unique vision within the constraints of the studio wanting a darker tone, a la The Dark Knight. Fans were outraged when Snyder toyed with the very nature of Superman by having him kill Zod. Superman is not meant to be the Dark Knight, so the entire movie was an unsuccessful paradox.
Which superhero movie do you feel was the biggest disappointment of them all? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
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