Nostalgia has a mysterious ability to take any property and warp our memory of it. Have you ever tried doing something you used to love only to find out that it's not as great as you remember? Movies can be the same way, with your recollection of classic movies being transformed by your perception of it at the time. There’s nothing like seeing a great movie for the first time, but as with all things, father time always wins. After a while, movies lose their luster and eventually they no longer fit in with a new era of movies.
Superman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Blade, and Unbreakable are all superhero movies that are better in hindsight. When they were initially released, they filled the audience with wonder, took them on a zany romp, immersed them in an aesthetic, and shocked them with a last minute twist. However, as time has passed and the sheen has worn off of these movies, issues become more apparent. In addition to that, audience expectation has changed with the advent of the age of superhero movies. There are other movies with this same issue and, to discuss them, here are 15 Classic Superhero Movies That Have Not Aged Well.
When you think of classic superhero movies, this is always the first one that comes to mind. It’s the first big budget superhero movie about the first superhero to be known by the entire world. This movie is a classic if there ever was one, with an endearingly cheesy tone and a goody two shoes protagonist. It made its name on tapping into a sense of goodness the audiences believed in. The good guy wins and gets the girl and the bad guy loses and goes to jail.
However, that’s what dates this movie. The goodness in this film is nice to look back on, but with the omnipresence that the internet offers, the world has seen some truly horrible things and it’s much harder to pretend that we live in a world remotely similar to that. Also, those special effects have been left in the '70s.
Guillermo del Toro’s level of eccentricity is comparable to Quentin Tarantino and Tim Burton. Del Toro possesses a unique voice that always shines through in anything he directs. He loves monsters, a steampunk atmosphere, and clockwork. Hellboy was no exception to this as the titular character was a hulking red demon, the world was one in which there was a very real supernatural undercurrent, and there was a Nazi assassin powered by gears.
Del Toro’s style in this instance is what keeps Hellboy from holding up against other, more modern, superhero movies. There’s nothing wrong with stylish movies, but the style he brought to Hellboy has lost favor with modern audiences. The steampunk aesthetic hasn’t been popular in years and the makeup they used to portray Hellboy and Abe would be laughed at today. This is a unique film but one that wouldn’t resonate with a modern audience.
Steampunk has faded and the gothic aesthetic is in the same boat. Tim Burton is one of the more eccentric directors working in film today and much of that distinction has to do with his fascination with everything gothic. From Edward Scissorhands to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Burton has a love affair with the color black and the Victorian era. Batman was no different.
In Batman, Gotham City was the crowning achievement of Burton’s love of the gothic aesthetic, with massive bell towers, Victorian era buildings, and massive amounts of gargoyles populating the iconic city. This aesthetic even found its way into the design of the Batmobile and Joker’s weapons. But there aren’t many places in the world that look like this and the vehicle/gadget designs aren’t very practical. With today’s audiences clamoring for realism in their superhero movies, this wouldn’t work.
12 THE MASK
The Mask wasn’t much more than a vehicle to allow Jim Carrey to go full Jim Carrey. However, it turned into an infectiously fun superhero flick. Carrey gave a remarkably restrained performance as Stanley Ipkiss, but when he turned up the Jim Carrey and became The Mask, it was a wild ride for the audience with laughs every step of the way.
However, this movie’s biggest asset is also the thing that dates it the most. When The Mask came out, Jim Carrey was on top of Hollywood. The world paid a lot of money to see him chew every bit of scenery he could get his teeth on, sometimes literally. But people eventually grew tired of this and he’s been forced to branch out. To be fair, he’s proven that he’s not just a one trick pony. But the time of his brand of comedy has passed.
If there ever was a superhero movie to represent the '90s, it would be Blade. A dark supernatural thriller, Blade is about a human-vampire hybrid in a leather trench coat and sunglasses who hunts vampires to protect New York City. Audiences responded well to Wesley Snipes’s detached and merciless portrayal of the Daywalker.
There were no real overarching themes. Gratuitous fun is great, especially for a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. But Blade does, and that lack of substance makes it leave your consciousness as soon as you’re finished discussing the action scenes. There’s nothing to talk about in this movie and superhero movies nowadays, even the bad ones, give the audience a theme to chew on and discuss after the movie is over.
This movie along with Spider-Man are the two films responsible for reinvigorating the nearly dead superhero movie genre. X-Men exploded on the scene with Bryan Singer directing the first adaptation of the mutant team. Easily the best thing about the movie was the performances of these classic characters; nearly every performance in that movie was fantastic.
X-Men was so famous because it was new for moviegoers. Not only was this the first time that the mutants had been seen on the big screen, but it was the first superhero with an ensemble cast like that. Add together these factors and the movie practically writes itself as long as a steady hand is guiding it. The plot was acceptable, but the appeal of seeing team-ups is gone following The Avengers and Justice League. Audiences need more now and X-Men doesn’t offer much below the surface.
Spider-Man will always be known as one of the movies that managed to revive a dying superhero movie genre. Its slight camp combined with an earnest portrayal of Peter Parker by Tobey Maguire and a deranged depiction of Norman Osborn by Willem Dafoe ensured that this movie resonated with audiences of the time.
It isn’t as cheesy as some of the other entries on this list...but it’s still pretty cheesy. Spider-Man is ultimately a movie built on tropes: the meathead jock Flash Thompson, the girl next door that’s way too pretty for the protagonist in Mary Jane Watson, the loveable nerdy protagonist in Peter Parker, the nerd’s less smart best friend that vies for popularity in Harry Osborn. That’s not how the world works anymore and modern audiences will notice. In addition, Green Goblin’s costume is awful and some of Spider-Man’s CGI makes him look like a video game avatar.
8 BATMAN: THE MOVIE
The role of Batman is was turned Adam West (RIP) from an actor into a cultural icon. His work on the deliciously campy Batman series in the '60s is the stuff of legend, with his pseudo-serious take Bruce Wayne giving way to a full-on walking meme in Batman. And it wasn’t just him. Burt Ward was a fantastically silly Robin while the villains ranged from incompetent to caricatures of superhero archetypes.
However, if you’re not already a fan of this series, you probably won’t ever be. This kind of tongue-in-cheek show isn’t for everybody and wouldn’t mesh well with the state of superhero movies now. Audiences in this era expect a real superhero story with good action, even if the movie is primarily a comedy. Batman and Robin are barely competent enough to be superheroes in this series if we’re being honest.
7 THE ROCKETEER
The Rocketeer is one of the best superhero films you’ve never heard of. It gained a very strong cult following over the years, but it didn’t really garner much attention when it first came out, despite positive reviews. The Rocketeer takes place in '30s Los Angeles and follows a stunt pilot as he discovers an experimental jetpack and proceeds to perform good deeds in the area.
This movie is a fantastic adaptation of the 1930 serials, capturing the same sense of wonder and innocence that the serials inspired in the children who watched them. It was about doing the right thing. But this isn’t the '30s anymore and that kind of thing just doesn’t appeal to audiences today. Kids watch superhero movies to see bombastic action set pieces while adults go to see their favorite characters go through situations on screen...and also for bombastic action set pieces.
6 SWAMP THING
Swamp Thing has been a fan favorite character in DC Comics for years. Readers love the deep, supernatural mythos and varied powerset of the character. The character is also very tragic. Alec Holland is a scientist who is working on a top secret restorative project in the swamps. He’s killed when the project is sabotaged and is then revived with the intent to save the woman he had begun to fall for.
The reason that this movie can’t hold up is that, at its core, it’s a rubber-suit monster movie, and my goodness is it an ugly monster. The special effects, in no way, hold up in this film with Swamp Thing looking like the original Creature from the Black Lagoon. If it weren’t for this fact, the premise might actually work, but the moment you capture a glimpse of the titular creature, all immersion would be lost.
5 TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
Ah, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a group of sewer dwelling mutated turtles who are named after renaissance painters and also happen to be ninjas...comics are fun. And that’s exactly what this irreverent movie turned out to be. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a fun romp through New York where the innate fun of the original comic books were fully realized.
But if you didn’t love the source material, there isn’t much the movie has to offer you. It’s plenty fun, but the premise is so ridiculous that it’d be hard to grasp. Also, it had too much fun and not enough plot. Comic book movies these days are all about stakes, even extremely fun movies like Ant-Man feels like the world as we know it at stake. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t even really present a threat to NYC. And the turtles didn’t look great either.
4 THE CROW
This movie was...different. The Crow was a supernatural thriller about a man killed by gang violence that is revived by a mysterious grow that also grants him the ability to heal instantly from any wound. From there, he follows the crow as it leads him on a warpath to get revenge on the gang members who killed him and his wife. Bruce Lee’s son, the late Brandon Lee also starred in the film.
The Crow was a very good movie. It was stylish, filled with action, and made you care. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of explanations. No information is given about the crow that revived him or the terms of this revival. When the crow was harmed, Lee lost his powers, but this was never established previously. In today’s age of practicality, audiences need to know exactly what’s going on before they buy into anything.
3 THE METEOR MAN
The Meteor Man was a superhero comedy film about a mild mannered schoolteacher who, after been struck by a mysterious green meteor, gains a plethora of ill-defined superpowers and uses them to fight against a local gang. This movie was 100 minutes of pure silliness, but it was kitsch in a way that could appeal to kids and teach them to do the right thing.
But modern audiences need more than this. The Meteor Man lacked much in the way of substance. Even kids movies have hidden meanings and inside jokes for the adults that are forced to watch these movies with their kids. This had less and it wasn’t even primarily a kids movie. It was good fun back in a day when the title of “superhero” movie didn’t carry any weight. But nowadays, you need more than this to be in the genre.
One of M. Night Shyamalan’s best movies, Unbreakable was about a man named David who discovered that he had superpowers and his evolution orchestrated by comic book fan and supposed ally, Elijah. Unbreakable is a restrained cinematic experience. It flirts with the superhero genre, but it never fully dives in. And that’s modern audiences wouldn’t respond well.
The movie spends a lot of time hinting at something that never happens and while the story itself is fantastic, the payoff is not. There’s only one fight scene in the whole movie and it’s very lackluster, with David merel strangling a criminal. The movie ended with Elijah revealing he was behind numerous terrorist incidents and claiming that his purpose was to be the villain to David’s hero which would be awesome if there was any payoff whatsoever. David simply called the police on him and even that was told instead of shown.
1 SUPERMAN 2
So many people consider this to be one of the greatest superhero movies of all time and there’s a case to be made for that. Terence Stamp’s portrayal as the regal and nihilistic General Zod is one to remember while seeing Superman take on three enemies that can match him in power certainly raised the stakes compared to a borderline incompetent Lex Luthor.
But this movie’s downfall lies in what modern audiences are willing to stomach before they lose interest. There’s far too much suspension of disbelief in this. People can let things slide when there’s an explanation, but Superman 2 has no interest in explanations. How did he erase Lois’s mind with a kiss? Who knows. How did a machine take away his powers? You got us. What’s that cellophane S he throws onto Zod in the Fortress of Solitude? We couldn’t tell you.