We’re living through the golden era of the superhero film, and for the most part that’s a good thing. Sure, some people claim that eventually audiences will tire of seeing these classic characters rebooted continually on screen; eventually, we’ll all get “superhero fatigue.” And while that’s a possibility, it’s been genuinely thrilling to see many of the characters who defined our childhoods adapted for the cinema, and with massive commercial and critical successes like The Dark Knight and The Avengers lurking in recent memory, it seems likely studios will continue to pump out superhero films at an alarming rate. We’re here today to talk about what happens when some of those superhero films are just…bad. It does happen, and it happens often, which is why we here at Goliath have rounded up 11 of the worst superhero films of all time, and boy are some of ’em awful. Let’s be clear, this is a list so spectacularly terrible that train wrecks like Daredevil (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and Superman Returns (2006) didn’t make it. Yeah…read on in peril.
16. Judge Dredd (1995)
Joseph Dredd (Sylvester Stallone) is a tough talking, by the book, law enforcement and judicial officer in the dystopian future city of Mega City One. Judge Dredd is a “street Judge” with the authority to arrest, convect, sentence, and execute criminals. When Dredd’s evil clone brother Rico escapes from jail and frames Dredd for a murder he didn’t commit, Dredd is found guilty and sent to a penal colony not rot. The film starts of fine but quickly devolves in to a cheesy comic book film adaptation. The set and costume design (by Gianni Versace), along with special effects were decent for the time but they couldn’t save this film. Stallone’s performance is so bad that at times it feels like he’s lampooning himself and the action film genre. The film cost nearly $90 million to produce and while it did turn a profit, it was still a considerable flop for the studio. It’s unfortunate that the source material wasn’t put to better use, and fans would have to wait until the 2012 film, Dredd was released to see a film that did the property justice.
15. The Meteor Man (1993)
The Meteor Man, written, directed, and starring Robert Townsend is centered around an unassuming school teacher named Jefferson Reed who lives in a gang controlled neighborhood in Washington D.C. When a meteor falls from the sky and lands on Jefferson, he discovers that he has gained numerous superpowers including x-ray vision, super strength and the ability to fly, and he sets out on his quest to rid the neighborhood of evil doers. The star studded film cost $30 million to make and went on to earn a meager $8 million at the domestic box office. With an uninspired story line that’s full of superhero cliches it’s no surprise the film failed to capture an audience. The Meteor Man struggles with its identity as a film and the movie seems to be unsure wether it’s a superhero film or a parody of one. It’s clear that Robert Townsend would have been better served bringing in someone else to direct the film as it clearly wasn’t smart choice to try and do everything on his own.
14. Blankman (1994)
Damon Wayans, hot off the heels of a starring role on the sketch comedy show, In Living Color brings his talents to the big screen in this 1994 comedic superhero film. Wayans plays Darryl, a childlike man with a McGuyver-like knack for crafting crime fighting gadgets out of junk. He accidentally develops a method to make his clothing bulletproof and he takes his skills to the streets in order to avenge the death of his grandmother after she’s killed in a Mafia hit. When Blankman becomes a sensation in Metro City, Darryl’s brother Kevin (David Alan Grier) reluctantly agrees to become Blankman’s sidekick. Although the two have some good chemistry and Darryl/Blankman can be quite endearing at times, the film fails to be anything more than an extended comedy sketch. The film is simply unfunny and unentertaining and struggles to find an identity. Unfortunately, everything Blankman has to offer can be seen in the 90 second trailer and although it’s a better film than Meteor Man, it’s not worth your time.
13. Howard The Duck (1986)
Howard the Duck is simply one of the worst Marvel films ever made and it’s shocking that this project was green lit in the first place. Billed as a Superhero comedy, the film stars Howard the Duck who is transplanted to Cleveland from his home planet of Duckworld, an alternate version of Earth where everyone is a duck. Howard is a charming, anthropomorphic duck complete with legs, arms, and thumbs! Produced by George Lucas, the screenplay was originally written with the intentions of being adapted to an animated film but later became live-action due to a contractual obligation. Released in the summer of 1986, the film was a commercial and critical failure earning several Razzie nominations. The movie struggled to break even, earning back just $15 million domestically on the $30 million budget. The film was full of ridiculous plot holes and errors and featured some laughably bad scenes. Although Howard is a cute and cuddly duck that may seem well suited for younger audiences the film features adult themes and includes an memorable scene where he’s thrown into a hot tub where two people are having sex. Howard the Duck is a complete mess and is a film that Marvel Studios would sooner forget.
12. Steel (1997)
Based on a DC comic series, Steel stars NBA hall of famer Shaquille O’Neal in the lead role. O’Neal plays the role of John Henry Irons, and engineering genius who specializes in building advanced weaponry. Through the use of an armoured suit, Steel is given access to heightened strength, speed, and the power of flight, he’s essentially DC’s answer to Iron Man. Steel is one of the most beloved B-list DC characters and features and interesting back story that involves the death of Superman at the hands of Doomsday. Director Kenneth Johnson opted to omit the ties to the Superman story line and instead inserted a generic origin story that failed to capture the attention of audiences. Unfortunately, the charismatic O’Neal doesn’t poses the acting chops needed to elevate this film from anything other than a cheesy action flick. The DC superhero features some great source material that should have made for a great film, that’s not what we have here.
11. The Spirit (2008)
Based on the classic newspaper comic strip of the same name which ran from 1940-1952 written by the legendary comic artist Will Eisner (the man who coined the term “graphic novel”), The Spirit should have been a slam dunk; it had pleasantly retro source material to draw from, it had a stellar cast which featured performers as talented and varied as Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Eva Mendes, and it had an invested and visually gifted director in Frank Miller. So what went wrong? We wish we knew. Watching The Spirit, one might surmise that the entire film is made up of nothing more than vapid dialogue, cheap noir pastiche and sexist overtones, all errors which seem particularly grievous given the talent involved. Whatever the case, The Spirit remains a poor adaptation which routinely spoils the good source material from which it is drawn, an unfortunate fact when considering the now-legendary status of said source material.
10. The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
We’ll say this for the original adaptation of The Fantastic Four (2005): for all its horrific flaws and poor casting choices (Oh, Jessica Alba…), it’s watchable. That’s a sentiment that can’t be shared with its sequel, 2007’s The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. A jumbled film which spoils the introduction of not one but TWO of Marvel’s most iconic characters (both The Silver Surfer and Galactus are handled so incredibly poorly that fans have been clamoring for Fox to sell the rights to those characters back to Marvel since this film’s release), Rise of the Silver Surfer has the poor distinction of one of its most harrowing scenes taking place at the wedding of Ioan Gruffodd’s Reed Richards and Jessica Alba’s Sue Storm. Yes, it’s that horrible. At least the first film featured the over-the-top scene chewery of Julian McMahon, here relegated to a supporting role until surprise! He was behind it all along! Here, all we get is a threatening cloud.
9. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)
We’re betting some of you didn’t even know they bothered to make a sequel to 2009’s Ghost Rider, the poor adaptation which featured Nicholas Cage as titular hero Johnny Blaze, who turns into the fiery Ghost Rider to combat the forces of evil. And while that film was notoriously bad, it’s looks like Citizen Kane compared to the abomination that is the sequel, Ghost Rider: The Spirit of Vengeance (2011). Described as a “stand alone sequel/soft reboot” (An easy way of claiming the studio is disowning the first film entirely), The Spirit of Vengeance sees Blaze once again fighting off minions of the damned while indulging any and all pyromaniac tendencies, including…peeing fire? Yeah…it’s not great. With Cage’s shtick growing increasingly maniacal and a plot that transcends nonsensical and moves to absolute gibberish, it’s a wonder anyone bothered sinking cash into The Spirit of Vengeance at all.
8. Green Lantern (2011)
With a veteran director in Martin Campbell, a $200 million dollar budget and a rising star in hunky Hollywood dynamo Ryan Reynolds, the stars seemed aligned for 2011’s adaptation of the Green Lantern; unfortunately for both the filmmakers and the audience, the result of this collaboration was the severely underwhelming Green Lantern (2011), a film that reaffirmed the importance of screenwriters in Hollywood and further reinforced the idea that just because something glitters with CGI does not make it gold. A flashy but empty popcorn flick that squanders a solid performance from Reynolds and his supporting cast (there’s still a part of us that wants to see Mark Strong fully realized as evil lantern Sinestro, a development heavily foreshadowed in this film), Green Lantern features some of the worst computer generated graphics ever seen in Hollywood and attempts to imbue a sense of peril by making civilians flee from a…floating head made of yellow smoke? Mother of God, we hope someone got fired for that one.
7. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Consistently cited as one of the worst films (not just superhero films…films in general) of all time, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace continues the descent into mediocrity started in Superman III (1983). Following Superman as he attempts to combat Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman returns) and his new Superman clone, Nuclear Man, The Quest for Peace features cheap special effects, a paper thin plot, and acting so weak you can hear the actors/actresses mentally cashing their paycheques as they recite their lines. It’s clear nobody was trying with this one, and any viewing makes it abundantly obvious this was the last vestige of a once-profitable franchise that would lie dormant until the return of the Man of Steel in 2006’s Superman Returns (also an incredibly underwhelming film). The last film to feature Christopher Reeve as Superman, The Quest for Peace is an unfortunate end to the first true comic book film star’s tenure as the man in the red tights.
6. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
There’s really nowhere positive to start with this abomination of a film that incurred the universal wrath of critics and fans alike, so we’re left with nothing but a list of negatives, the length of which is far too long for a Goliath article, but we’ll give you the CliffsNotes; wooden acting, awful script, forced love interest, Deadpool has his mouth sewn shut, Wolverine gets amnesia bullets, that guy from the Black Eyed Peas is there…Oh hey! Gambit is flying the plane! Wait, what? If that progression seemed confusing to you, don’t bother watching the film because it doesn’t make much more sense than what you just read. Directed by Gavin Hood and starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Ryan Reynolds and Lynn Collins, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a truly disastrous film that manages to both waste a star talent like Jackman while butchering the origin story of one of comic’s most iconic characters. Good work, Hollywood! How could you mess it up worse? Oh wait…
5. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Yeah, you know things are getting pretty dire when you’re casting That ’70s Show alum Topher Grace as a former bodybuilder. What’s alarming about this revelation is that nobody in the casting room during auditions for 2007’s disastrous Spider-Man 3 took a look at the ultra-muscled Eddie Brock, the everyday persona of iconic villain Venom, and said “Really? Eric Foreman?” Jokes aside, Grace is probably the least of our concerns when watching Spider-Man 3, a convoluted mess of a film that features an impromptu haircut and a dance montage to let you know Spidey’s off the rails. While Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films are classics which helped vault comic book adaptations to the monolithic critical and commercial plateaus they now frequent, Spider-Man 3 was a massive disappointment that was plagued by numerous rewrites and heavy handed studio involvement (seriously boys, let the filmmakers do their thing). Also starring James Franco, Bryce Dallas Howard and Kirsten Dunst, Spider-Man 3 concludes what could have been an epic trilogy with a firm dud.
4. Jonah Hex (2010)
Based (loosely) around the DC Comics character of the same name, 2010’s Jonah Hex is about as unremarkable as films get. Directed by Jimmy Hayward and featuring Josh Brolin as the titular character, with a supporting cast including Megan Fox, John Malkovich and Michael Fassbender, Jonah Hex was a massive box office disappointment as it failed to recoup most of its $47 million dollar budget. Critics focused on the film’s brutally underdeveloped plot and incredibly short run time; at only 81 minutes (including credits), the film was very short and felt as though it had been cobbled together last minute in the editing room. Unsalvageable despite the best efforts of Brolin, Jonah Hex incited fan outrage due to the few similarities shared between the film’s narrative and that of the comic book, which focuses on a scarred and cynical bounty hunter as he tracks down evildoers and protects the innocent.
3. Elektra (2005)
This spin-off of the underwhelming Daredevil (2003) adaptation has the unfortunate distinction of making that film look absolutely stellar; there’s really nothing in Elektra that we as an audience needed to be privy to. Directed by Rob Bowman and seeing Jennifer Garner reprise her role as the titular assassin from Marvel’s stable of heroes, Elektra sees Elektra Natchios do battle with The Hand, a syndicate of ninjas who will stop at nothing to destroy the “The Treasure,” a young martial arts prodigy who poses a threat to the organization if left to develop under the proper tutelage. The film is really no more developed than that summary, as it gives almost no character development and even the film’s action sequences leave much to be desired. Incredibly underwhelming, Elektra spoils the opportunity to explore one of the more morally flexible characters from comic lore and instead delivers a stale, forgettable film that the world simply could’ve done without.
2. Batman & Robin (1997)
Critically panned upon its release and still viewed as one of the worst films ever made, Batman & Robin was Joel Schumacher’s swan song in the realm of the superhero film, and oh what an exit it was. Picking up where he left off in Batman Forever, Schumacher took his trademark camp and self-awareness to a whole new level with Batman & Robin, which starred George Clooney as the Caped Crusader, Chris O’Donnell as Robin, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman as the villainous Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, respectively. A film so terrible that Warner Bros. would ultimately choose to reboot the franchise rather than pursue a sequel (Schumacher had filed a treatment for a sequel, titled Batman Triumphant), with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins debuting some years later.
1. Catwoman (2004)
It’s pretty apparent by this point that there’s been a bevy of absolutely awful superhero and/or comic book adaptations that’ve come out in recent years, but none of them mentioned to this point compare to 2004’s Catwoman, the film which saw Halle Berry take on the speed, reflexes and personality traits of a cat to do battle with Sharon Stone, who has made herself invincible with the power of facial scrub (Yes, that’s actually the plot. Yes, we think it’s awful too. Yes, we hope it was somebody’s cousin who wrote it, or else there’s no good excuse…). It’s a truly terrible film that was labelled as such immediately after its release, and the stink it attached to the character ensured she did not appear in any other feature films until Catwoman was resurrected by Christopher Nolan for 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, where she was played by Anne Hathaway.