In the wake of the box office and critical disaster that was The Spirit, I got to thinking about bad comic book movies. There are some films—Daredevil and Fantastic Four spring to mind—that are widely perceived as terrible, but first of all I think they get a bad rap. Secondly, even if you want to take for granted that they’re bad, they still don’t hold a candle to some of the more daunting stinkers out there like, say, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. I wanted to take a look at some of my personal Hall of Shamers and then solicit opinions from you, my dear readers.
Before I get into a list, though, let me preface this with a little disclaimer: there are certain movies (let’s say Elektra) that you can hear about the project and just know it’s going to be wretched. With these films, the expectations are so low that I’m never disappointed in them. In order for me to consider a film truly horrible, I have to have some expectation of quality. Now, that said, there are some movies on my list that no sane human would have expected quality from. That’s just me. Try not to be too distracted and let’s just enjoy the awfulness together. I’m also going to say that, for the purposes of this list, TV pilots are not “movies.” So anything that was intended to be a TV show (like the unaired pilots for The Spirit and Justice League of America, or the pilot for Gen 13) won’t be on my list. There’s plenty of badness even without those.
10. The Hulk
Ang Lee’s disasterpiece has been a staple of “bad comic movies” discussions since about fifteen minutes after the last screening let out. He lost all of the cool, fun aspects of comics and retained things like cornball ’60s dialogue and (bizarrely, for a movie) panels. Poor performances and an aimless script, combined with no real sense of what the titular character should be doing, made this an instant flop…but it’s still got a few redeeming qualities (Jennifer Connolly is always good to look at, for example), and not nearly as bad as some of the others listed here.
9. Gen 13
In spite of being unreleased, this animated bit of awful has been widely available on the Internet for a while now. This actually could have been a serviceable enough flick, except that the voices were so over-the-top bad that it took a mediocre script down several notches. The other problem, of course, is that the movie couldn’t decide whether it wanted to appeal to a younger, Teen Titans-flavor audience or to the kind of folks who are watching Marvel’s Ultimate Avengers and DC’s direct-to-DVD movies. The result is a story that tries to follow the arc of Image’s first Gen 13 miniseries and instead gets tripped up in worries about whether a lot of the jokes and even some of the imagery and events would be suitable for an under-12 audience.
8. Superman: Doomsday
When one of the most fun superhero stories I’ve ever read—the death and return of Superman—was announced as the first of DC Comics’ direct-to-DVD, PG-13 animated features, it was hard to express how excited I was about it. Instead of just working with the material they had, though, Warner Animation truncated, altered and muddied the storyline to the point where it was unrecognizable and, more importantly, unentertaining. While the epic scope of the original story, and all the intricacies of the continuity in place at the time in the DC Universe, were never going to be successfully brought into the film, it certainly couldn’t have been any worse to give it a try.
7. Spider-Man 3
I was never as big a fan of the Spider-Man film franchise as many others were (I think it’s too dated, with its dialogue bearing just a touch too much resemblance to the ’60s source material, and I’ve never been a fan of the organic webshooters), and so the third film—where even the Spideyflick apologists can’t really claim it was all that good—is a good place for me to take a potshot at the franchise. With too many characters and not enough script, this movie was just a mess…and the fact that Topher Grace was a dreadful choice for Venom and the Sandman looked a bit like Sand from Geoff Johns’ JSA wasn’t helpful either.
6. Batman & Robin
The Burton Bat-flicks were great, and then Batman Forever—while not a cinematic masterpiece—was at least fun and retained some of the sensibilities of the better ’60s and ’70s Batman comics. But when the franchise introduced its army of needless supporting characters, ruined Bane for moviegoers (arguably the coolest character to come out of the ’90s in the comics) and delivered some of the worst performances of Arnold and Uma’s careers, it was years before anybody could take the toys out of the box again—Schumacher left them damaged and radioactive.
5. Superman Returns
What Batman & Robin did to the Batman franchise, Superman Returns did to the Superman franchise. Superstar filmmaker Bryan Singer, who had bought himself some fanboy street-cred by successfully adapting X-Men to the screen, proved that the comic book world would have been better off if he’d just stuck with producing House and left the Big Blue Boyscout alone. This movie was disappointing on a scale that only Superman movies can be, it seems, and issues with casting were only the beginning. There’s a temptation to beg for a break from movies starring Lex Luthor, but after the box office disappointment of this beaten dog of a movie, it seems more likely that they’ll give movies starring Superman a break.
From the ashes of Superman’s death rose a phoenix. Steel has, since his creation in 1993, been one of the best, most inspirational characters…and that rarity: a minority superhero who doesn’t have on him the stink of tokenism. It shouldn’t be a surprise that when Shaquille O’Neal made a film version (wherein there was no reference to Superman, so his entire origin had to be reconfigured), the movie was an unmitigated disaster…but for those few who held out hope and actually paid to see the film, the free-throw jokes were just salt in the wound.
3. The Spirit
Here’s the point in the list where the movies just get painful to sit through. Watching Frank Miller’s The Spirit, a movie based on one of comics’ greatest properties, I had to fend off sleep and stop myself from walking out.
Halle Berry is officially the coolest person in the world for embracing her Razzie Awards for this terrible film with such gusto. The most painful aspect of this movie is that, with Berry attached, there was a fleeting moment where I thought it sounded like it could be good. All that vanished when the first trailers leaked out, and then when I actually sat down to watch the film I realized that not only wasn’t it good, but it might actually be something that nasty, dictatorial regimes play for enemies of the state in small, concrete rooms.
1. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace
John Byrne’s involvement with this film makes it even more of an affront to comics fans, in much the same way that Frank Miller’s involvement with The Spirit did. Superman is one of the greatest characters in modern fiction, and the epic badness of his last three feature films (all featured on this list) is a testament to how hard he is to get right…but that doesn’t excuse a travesty like The Quest for Peace.