Rotten Tomatoes has become an increasingly important (or at least popular) tool for measuring a film’s relative merit, as the nearly 20-year-old review aggregation site has essentially replaced the old star system and has become so mainstream that studios rely on high scores, called fresh ratings, to market their movies. Essentially, everyone from studios to film critics to your average moviegoer has a love/hate relationship with RT, as a “Fresh” or “Rotten” score now plays a huge role in determining whether a film will succeed or fail at the box office, as well as the court of public opinion.
The Tomatometer has become a battleground of sorts for superhero movies in particular in recent years. While the majority of movies put out by Marvel and DC enjoy considerable box office success, there have been quite a few that have fared poorly on Rotten Tomatoes. This in turn has generated considerable debate over things like whether certain movies with “Rotten” scores truly are as bad as critics would have us believe, or whether critic reviews even matter at all. Regardless of where you stand on the matter, we’re not here today to discuss Rotten Tomatoes as an entity, but rather to examine which superhero movies have received the worst scores on the site.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, the following are the worst superhero ever made.
20. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – 27%
Critics Consensus: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice smothers a potentially powerful story — and some of America’s most iconic superheroes — in a grim whirlwind of effects-driven action.
There may be no superhero movie more divisive than Batman v Superman. Zack Snyder’s brooding 2016 film pitted two of the world’s most popular heroes against each other while also playing double duty as the opening salvo in DC’s shared universe plans. Although Snyder’s prequel, Man of Steel, also received mixed reviews, no one was prepared for the critical lashing that Batman v Superman received, with the film registering a mere 27% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Still, Batman v Superman made over $800 million at the box office and attracted a large following of loyal, passionate fans, so it could realistically be labeled “review-proof.” Evidently, Warner Bros. paid close attention to the film’s poor review scores, as the studio made a number of course corrections both successful (Wonder Woman – 92%) and not so successful (Justice League – 40%) to try and improve their image.
19. Green Lantern (2011) – 26%
Critics Consensus: Noisy, overproduced, and thinly written, Green Lantern squanders an impressive budget and decades of comics mythology.
Looking back on 2011’s Green Lantern, it’s still hard to believe it didn’t turn out much better than it did. The film had a great lead in Ryan Reynolds, talented script writers with proven track records (including Michael Green, who would later work on such acclaimed films as Logan and Blade Runner 2049), and Martin Campbell, the filmmaker responsible for arguably the greatest 007 movie of all time (2006’s Casino Royale) in the director’s chair. Put all those pieces together and 9 times out of 10 you’d have the recipe for a legitimately good blockbuster.
Unfortunately, Green Lantern was much, much worse than the sum of its parts. Over-edited and sporting some of the worst CGI ever seen in a major studio production, Green Lantern was a heartbreaking comic book adaptation that failed to convey why Green Lantern as a character is so beloved among DC’s fanbase. We’d only learn later that studio interference was a near-constant problem during production, which may help explain why Warner Bros. released a movie so bad that even Ryan Reynolds’ charisma couldn’t save it. Green Lantern holds a 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
18. Ghost Rider (2007) – 26%
Critics Consensus: Ghost Rider is a sour mix of morose, glum histrionics amidst jokey puns and hammy dialogue.
The years prior to the release of the first Iron Man — and thus, the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — saw a number of B and C-list Marvel characters inexplicably getting their own movies, including the demonic antihero Ghost Rider. Starring Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes, 2007’s Ghost Rider was written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, who had previously written such films as Jack Frost, Daredevil, and Elektra, so it was already pretty clear before the film’s release that it probably wasn’t going to be a top-tier production in terms of quality.
Sure enough, Ghost Rider flopped with critics, though it did manage to find box office success, grossing more than double its (frankly insane) $110 million budget. Ghost Rider’s faults are certainly undeniable but unlike a number of movies on this list -which are legitimately bad – Ghost Rider falls into so-bad-it’s-good territory, mostly due to Cage’s trademark overacting.
17. Suicide Squad (2016) – 26%
Critics Consensus: Suicide Squad boasts a talented cast and a little more humor than previous DCEU efforts, but they aren’t enough to save the disappointing end result from a muddled plot, thinly written characters, and choppy directing.
Considered by most to be the worst film in the DC Extended Universe, Suicide Squad’s brash, exuberant marketing campaign convinced many that it would be one of 2016’s most entertaining releases when it actually turned out to be one of the year’s worst. Despite featuring a couple of big name stars in Will Smith and Margot Robbie – both of whom turn out to be two of the film’s few redeeming qualities – and a director with an impressive body of work, Suicide Squad was a mess from front to back. David Ayer’s rugged directing style, used to great effect in films such as Training Day and End of Watch, is lost amid Suicide Squad’s garish visual style, ham-fisted musical cues, and surface-level character development.
Suicide Squad has become something of a warning for rampant studio interference, as the film was reportedly cut to pieces in the editing room in order to better match the tone of the film’s entertaining trailers (there are even rumors that the final cut was overseen by the very marketing team that created said trailers). Throw in Jared Leto’s Joker, who was somehow even worse than expected in the iconic role, and it’s pretty easy to see why Suicide Squad sits at a “Rotten” score of 26%, even if that really doesn’t matter all the much when the film still generated three quarters of a billion dollars at the global box office.
16. Blade: Trinity (2004) – 25%
Critics Consensus: Louder, campier, and more incoherent than its predecessors, Blade: Trinity seems content to emphasize style over substance and rehash familiar themes.
Alongside 2000’s X-Men, the original Blade (1998) is often credited with kicking off the modern comic book movie industry and still holds up today as a kick-ass action flick. Both Blade and Blade II performed reasonably well with critics and currently sit at 54% and 57 %, respectively, on Rotten Tomatoes — not “fresh” by any means, but not terrible either. Blade: Trinity, the third entry in the franchise, had everything in place to be the best of the trilogy. The film was directed by David S. Goyer, who had familiarity with the franchise after having written the original Blade, and also brought in a number of exciting co-stars to complement Snipes, including Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds.
Unfortunately, Trinity not only ended up being the least profitable Blade movie, but also the worst by a pretty wide margin. Whereas the first two Blade movies — especially Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II — had a distinctive Gothic style to compliment their engaging vampire action, Blade: Trinity was simply a bad B-movie with cheesy dialogue and a terrible villain to boot. That being said, Trinity is worth enduring just for the campy performances being offered by Reynolds and Parker Posey, but there’s a good reason the Blade franchise went on an indefinite hiatus after this travesty was unleashed upon the world.
15. Spawn (1997) – 18%
Critics Consensus: Spawn is an overbearing, over-violent film that adds little to the comic book adaptation genre.
Spawn was one of the most popular comic book characters to come out of the 1990s, so it’s no surprise that the first live-action adaptation of Todd McFarlance’s devilish antihero arrived on the back of much anticipation. If you’re anything like us and grew up watching the 1997 film directed by Mark A.Z. Dippé, you may be surprised to learn that Spawn was absolutely savaged by critics. In truth, they were right to do it.
For as much as Spawn blew us away with its CGI effects and “mature” tone back in the day, the film has not aged well one bit. The visual effects are now laughably bad (remember that awesome scene where Spawn’s cape billows out everywhere? It doesn’t look so hot anymore) and the film spends way too much time letting John Leguizamo annoy the crap out of not only Spawn (Michael Jai White, whose performance is one of the film’s few redeeming qualities), but the audience as a whole as the repulsive villain Clown. In an ironic twist, the numbers “666” add up to Spawn’s Rotten Tomatoes score: a lowly 18%.
14. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) – 17%
Critics Consensus: Just ordinary. LXG is a great premise ruined by poor execution.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Sir Sean Connery, as the rather awful The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen represents the Academy Award-winning actor’s final on-screen performance. Connery’s Allan Quatermain is easily the best part of this woeful adaptation of Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel, which meanders between nonsensical plot points and explosive set pieces that end up being undermined by some questionable CGI (the monstrous Mr. Hyde looked terrible upon release and the effects have only gotten worse with age). Admittedly, the film is very much watchable in an ironic, semi-detached sort of way but it’s hard to argue with that 17% Rotten Tomatoes score. No wonder Alan Moore hates adaptations of his work …
13. Judge Dredd (1995) – 17%
Critics Consensus: Judge Dredd wants to be both a legitimate violent action flick and a parody of one, but director Danny Cannon fails to find the necessary balance to make it work.
Not to be confused with the excellent 2012 film Dredd starring Karl Urban, Judge Dredd arrived at a time when Sylvester Stallone was having a career revival of sorts thanks to 90s action movies such as Cliffhanger and Demolition Man. Creating another successful action franchise out of a comic book adaptation was a logical next step, which brought us 1995’s Judge Dredd. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very good adaptation.
Judge Dredd received negative reviews from both fans and critics alike for being unfaithful to the source material and it didn’t help that the acting was pretty atrocious across the board (you know you’re in trouble when Rob Schneider is one of the top-billed stars). Judge Dredd now stands as one of the lowest-rated films of Stallone’s career and the best thing that can be said about it is that it didn’t outright kill the Dredd franchise, as fans eventually did get a movie worth getting excited about, even if they had to wait nearly twenty years for it.
12. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) – 17%
Critics Consensus: With a weak script, uneven CG work, and a Nic Cage performance so predictably loony it’s no longer amusing, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance aims to be trashy fun but ends up as plain trash.
Remember what we said earlier about Ghost Rider performing well at the box office? Well, it was enough to get a sequel green-lit and the end result was 2012’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, which once again saw Nicolas Cage in the title role. Shot on a much smaller budget in Eastern Europe by the directing-duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Gamer), Spirit of Vengeance is an interesting film in that, like its predecessor, it is far from being a good movie, but its moments of brilliant insanity make it a considerably more enjoyable viewing experience than the original Ghost Rider, or indeed many of the other films on this list.
Cage turns in a decidedly unhinged performance even by the actor’s own lofty standards, seemingly recognizing the inherent ridiculousness of his character and giving us a Ghost Rider who stares intently into his enemy’s eyes for an awkwardly long time before stealing their souls and who also pisses fire at one point in arguably the film’s most inspired sequence. It’s a shame that the whole film doesn’t carry this over-the-top, zany tone, as these moments are so few and far between that the otherwise conventional plot and structure stands out all the more. We’re not surprised that critics hated this movie but honestly, it’s kind of a guilty pleasure for us.
11. Howard the Duck (1986) – 15%
Critics Consensus: While it has its moments, Howard the Duck suffers from an uneven tone and mediocre performances.
Based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, Howard The Duck bombed so hard in the United States that it was marketed completely different overseas, with the title character nearly being erased from advertising. The title was changed to “Howard: A New Breed of Hero” and the posters all but eliminated him, instead focusing on the brand recognition that came with executive producer George Lucas’ name.
Needless to say, the ploy didn’t work and nothing could save one of the worst-reviewed movies of 1986 from failing to recoup its (for the time) expensive $37 million production budget. However, much like other cinematic travesties such as Troll 2 and The Room, Howard the Duck has become a cult classic largely on the strength of its overall crumminess.
10. The Spirit (2008) – 14%
Critics Consensus: Though its visuals are unique, The Spirit’s plot is almost incomprehensible, the dialogue is ludicrously mannered, and the characters are unmemorable.
The Spirit represents Frank Miller’s first outing as a solo director and it shows in the finished product. Having written some of the greatest graphic novels of all time, including The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, and Sin City, Miller tried to translate his storytelling prowess from the page to the silver screen but fell well short of expectations.
Sporting impressive visuals and an all-star cast including Gabriel Macht in the title role, as well as Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, and Sarah Paulson in supporting roles, The Spirit had all the elements to be a great comic book adaptation, but simply failed to execute on the level of plot. It also doesn’t help that the film is campy beyond belief, though depending on your preferences for that sort of thing there’s a good chance you may appreciate what this film accomplishes in terms of being outrageously, entertainingly bad.
9. Steel (1997) – 12%
Critics Consensus: Steel is a badly-acted movie that indulges not only in superhero cliches, but also the sappy TV-movie-of-the-week ones.
Released at the height of the basketball player-turned-actor era (what up Space Jam?), 1997’s Steel cast Shaquille O’Neal as DC superhero John Henry Irons, a.k.a. Steel, and was both a critical and box office bomb. Shaq’s lead performance earned the basketball superstar a Razzie Award nomination and the film itself was received as a slow, meandering B-movie that was nowhere near as exciting as a superhero movie should be.
The one saving grace is Shaq’s co-star Annabeth Gish, who received praise for her performance as John Henry Irons’ wheelchair-bound ally Susan Sparks. In an interesting twist, Steel premiered only a couple of days after Spawn, meaning that Shaq just missed out on the opportunity of being the first African-American man to star as a major superhero in a live-action film.
8. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) – 12%
Critics Consensus: The Superman series bottoms out here: the action is boring, the special effects look cheaper, and none of the actors appear interested in where the plot’s going.
Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978) is widely regarded as one of the best superhero movies ever made even to this day, and even Richard Lester’s follow-ups Superman II (1981) and Superman III (1983) proved successful, even if they paled in comparison to Donner’s original. The same can’t be said for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, a movie so bad that it essentially killed Superman live-action movies for nearly 20 years before Bryan Singer decided to revive the franchise with the aptly named Superman Returns in 2006.
The major problem with Superman IV is that it lacked the life and soul that made Donner’s original so memorable and affecting, but it was also weighed down with ridiculous plot developments and terrible special effects. The fact that the core cast of Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, and Margot Kidder all signed onto this movie is really quite astounding in retrospect, given that the finished product resembles a direct-to-video release.
7. Jonah Hex (2010) – 12%
Critics Consensus: Josh Brolin gives it his best shot, but he can’t keep the short, unfocused Jonah Hex from collapsing on the screen.
Any movie starring Josh Brolin, John Malkovich and even Megan Fox should attain a baseline level of quality, but Jonah Hex is such a bad movie that its only real redeeming quality is its mercifully short 81 minute run time. Josh Brolin plays the title character, a badly-scarred bounty hunter type in the Old West who ends up doing battle with a disgruntled Confederate colonel (Malkovich). Brolin does what he can to try and elevate the material, but it proves to be an impossible task in a film that introduces subplots seemingly at whim and then drops them almost as quickly (the acid-spitting snake man is a particular highlight).
Unsurprisingly, Jonah Hex was plagued with behind-the-scenes production problems and it’s really a small miracle that it even made it to the screen. With an embarrassing 12% Rotten Tomatoes rating, it’s a shame that it ever did.
6. Batman & Robin (1997) – 10%
Critics Consensus: Joel Schumacher’s tongue-in-cheek attitude hits an unbearable limit in Batman & Robin resulting in a frantic and mindless movie that’s too jokey to care much for.
It’s hardly surprising to see that Batman & Robin has such a low Rotten Tomatoes score. Officially the lowest-rated live-action Batman movie of all time, Batman & Robin was so bad that it effectively killed the Batman franchise that Tim Burton and Michael Keaton kicked off so promisingly with the successful Batman (1989), with Warner Bros. opting to put it all on ice until Batman Begins finally revitalized the brand nearly a decade later.
From Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ill-advised (though hilarious in retrospect) onslaught of ice puns, to George Clooney’s woeful miscasting, to the infamous Bat-nipples, Batman & Robin is overflowing with terrible ideas, all wrapped up in some of the most garish costume and production design ever seen in a superhero movie. That being said, as far as unintentional comedy classics go, there are few better than this!
5. Elektra (2005) – 10%
Critics Consensus: Jennifer Garner inhabits her role with earnest gusto, but Elektra’s tone deaf script is too self-serious and bereft of intelligent dialogue to provide engaging thrills.
A spin-off/sequel to 2003’s Daredevil, Elektra could have been an opportunity to push female-driven action films forward, but is instead remembered as one of the worst comic book movies ever made. Elektra is the definition of a studio-mandated film made with the sole purpose of cashing in on a popular trend. In this case, that trend Fox was chasing was superhero movies but the irony is that Daredevil was neither commercially or critically successful, so it was hard to imagine that an ill-advised spin-off based on a character with even less name recognition was somehow going to set the box office on fire.
Jennifer Garner told reporters at the time that she only did Elektra due to contractual obligations and it shows in her performance, which is arguably one of the worst of her career. Thankfully, Fox gave up on both Daredevil and Elektra after this film’s release, eventually allowing the rights to both characters to revert back to Marvel and paving the way for the considerably better Netflix Daredevil series.
4. Supergirl (1984) – 10%
Critics Consensus: The effects are cheesy and Supergirl’s wide-eyed, cheery heroine simply isn’t interesting to watch for an hour and a half.
Long before The CW’s Supergirl TV show and Melissa Benoist earned favorable reviews from critics and fans alike, Columbia Pictures’ UK division brought Superman’s Kryptonian cousin to the big screen with 1984’s Supergirl, which was framed as a spin-off of the live-action Superman series starring Christopher Reeve.
While Supergirl holds the distinction of being the first superhero film to feature a female character in the title role, that’s about the film’s only redeeming quality, as it’s routinely brought up in discussions of the worst superhero movies ever made. Supergirl’s cheesy dialogue and poor characterization are even more unfortunate in retrospect when you consider how stacked the film’s cast is, with veterans such as Faye Dunaway, Mia Farrow, and Peter O’Toole all appearing in this clunker.
3. Fantastic Four (2015) – 9%
Critics Consensus: Dull and downbeat, this Fantastic Fourproves a woefully misguided attempt to translate a classic comic series without the humor, joy, or colorful thrills that made it great.
It’s hard not to feel bad for the Fantastic Four (and especially their fans), as Marvel’s “First Family” has yet to have a big screen adaptation worthy of their name. But whereas 2005’s Fantastic Four and its 2007 sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer came close in some regards to doing the Fantastic Four justice, the 2015 reboot was so bad that it makes those previous movies look like genre-defining spectacles by comparison.
Like many of the other films on this list, many of Fantastic Four’s problems seem to stem from behind-the-scenes turmoil, with some sources reporting that 20th Century Fox and director Josh Trank butted heads throughout production and that Fox ordered reshoots behind Trank’s back, while other sources claim that it was Trank’s “erratic behavior” on set that led to Fox’s dismissive attitude towards the filmmaker. Whatever happened, it’s clear that none of this turmoil resulted in a quality film being produced, as Fantastic Four is plagued with numerous problems, most prominent of which is that the whole enterprise feels wholly unnecessary. Superhero films should never be this boring.
2. Catwoman (2004) – 9%
Critics Consensus: Halle Berry is the lone bright spot, but even she can’t save this laughable action thriller.
Yikes. The 2000s gave us all sorts of bad superhero movies but it’s unfortunate that two of the worst were female-driven, with both Elektra and Catwoman seemingly providing studios with ample evidence that these types of movies didn’t work. Or, you know, maybe it was just because they were awful movies? Anyway, Catwoman was released in 2004 and starred Halle Berry as the femme fatale. Berry was only a couple of years removed from her historic Oscar win and had already proven she could successfully play a superhero with her performance as Storm in the X-Men movies, so Catwoman seemed like it would be a purrfect (I’m so sorry) fit.
Unfortunately, Berry’s performance was about as far from Michelle Pfeiffer’s incredible portrayal of the character from 1992’s Batman Returns, as Berry’s version lacked the seductive nature of Pfeiffer’s and instead was over-the-top and hyper-sexualized. That being said, Berry’s performance could have actually worked if the movie around her was actually watchable, but Catwoman is a soulless, over-edited, boring affair that is simply a mess. Audiences were clearly able to sniff out this stinker from a mile away, as Catwoman proved to be a dud at the box office.
1. Captain America (1990) – 8%
Critics Consensus: Lacking a script, budget, direction, or star capable of doing justice to its source material, this Captain America should have been left under the ice.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, 1990’s Captain America is the worst superhero movie of all time and we’d be inclined to agree. Long before Marvel Studios and Chris Evans teamed up to do the character justice on the big screen, there was this ill-conceived live-action adaptation, which only managed to earn … $10,000 at the box office. No, that is not a typo. It certainly doesn’t help that Captain America is a tough character to get right given his ridiculous outfit and overly-patriotic symbolism, but the film doesn’t even try to handle these elements with anything resembling nuance, instead delivering a viewing experience overflowing with camp.
There’s also hardly anything resembling a script holding it all together and the whole thing just has “low budget” written all over it (probably because the budget was indeed very low). When Marvel fans wax poetic about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and what it’s done for elevating superhero movies as a whole, Captain America is a prime example of the dark ages that came before.