It’s no secret that Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four, the latest film adaptation of the comic book superhero family, is a total flop, both critically and financially. Reviews have been overwhelmingly negative, with Grantland‘s Wesley Morris writing, “The entire experience is shameful — for us, for the filmmakers, for whoever at the studio had the job of creating the ads, in which the cast appear to be starring in hostage posters.” It currently sits at a 8% on Rotten Tomatoes and it plunged a record 78.7% in its second opening weekend. So, of course, we had to take a moment and revisit some of the other, worst comic book movie adaptations of all-time, starting with the original Fantastic Four starring Jessica Alba and Chris Evans.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer just sucked on such a basic and fundamental level. It completely disregarded the talents of its lead actors in favour of weird, cheesy slapstick material that just didn’t meld with the darker story of the Silver Surfer himself and of chief villain and planet-eater Galactus. I remember watching this movie and just being disappointed in the waste of good elements on shoddy, poor execution — from Chris Evans’ likeable presence (that would later win him Captain America), to the vastly underused Kerry Washington as Ben’s love interest Alicia, it reeks to high heaven of a quick cash-in with little thought to story, coherence, or heart.
The fact that one of the ‘gags’ is poor Jessica Alba’s Sue Storm’s invisibility powers fading in and out so Alba is left in a state of vulnerable undress, is inherently creepy, and is the cherry on top of the glossily-iced turd that is Rise of the Silver Surfer. Thank God the four leads’ careers survived this trainwreck, and weren’t, like so many of the main villain Galactus’ victims, devoured into a black hole of anonymity. — Chris
The Green Hornet (2011)
I’ve blocked out most of my memories of this film, but I can still recall, very clearly, how much I truly hated The Green Hornet. It’s so godawful — unnecessary and boring, with horrifically filmed fight scenes — to the point where it is still one of my go-to worst movies. What’s it about? You don’t need to know. I watched the trailer to bring back some images, and the gist of it is this: Seth Rogen tries to be a superhero, and it’s not a good time. Fantastic Four can’t possibly be as awful as The Green Hornet. — Laura
Ghost Rider (2007)
In a close tie with Ben Affleck’s Daredevil is Nicholas Cage’s Ghost Rider (2007) for the worst comic book film adaptation I have ever seen. The film already had its work cut out, trying to make a B-list comic book anti-hero successful. It’s no secret that fire is one of the most difficult things to CGI. With a hero who periodically turns into a vengeful skeleton with flames shooting out of his head, the painfully underdeveloped special effects did nothing to help the movie’s doomed cause. With historically talented actors and a decently stylized mood, the film disappoints in its poorly written dialogue and convoluted plot. In some ironic twist of fate, a second Ghost Rider was produced, with even lower reviews than its predecessor. Ghost Rider must have sold his soul to the devil, to have a sequel made after the first one failed. — Michelle
Not all superheroes are created equally, and unfortunately Bruce Banner and his alter ego “The Hulk” often times fall short to other, less powerful superheroes due largely to his lack of control. Although The Hulk has made appearances in several movies, and even had two of his own features, the character’s main claim to fame is either being at the right place at the right time, or simply being pointed in the right direction and being allowed to cause destruction. The 2003 Ang Lee film Hulk doesn’t do the character any favors. While striving for lofty filming goals, including picture in picture screens as an homage to comic book panels, the film does not succeed in being artistic, but rather creates an over dramatized, slightly confusing distraction to the story line. The movie feel rushed in places, namely through Hulk’s origin story and character development, and drags in others, such as the poorly executed scientific explanations and uninspired action sequences.
However, all of these atrocities could be overlooked, were it not for a scene in the middle of the movie featuring dogs. In an attempt to demonstrate the instability of the compound that has affected Banner and his father, three dogs are introduced, who have presumably been in contact with the substance. Two dogs are threatening-looking pit bull types, who upon their change turn into muscular gargoyles with a huge gaping mouth full of dangerous teeth. The third dog is a French Poodle. Fully groomed and about as non-threatening looking as they come. When this dog changes, it is impossible not to laugh as he attacks the protagonist, poofy ears swinging as he tries to bite.
The last half of the movie drags, and feels much longer than 138 minutes and the entire time the viewer is left wanting more — more emotion and character development from Banner, more explanation to his background before he suddenly turns green and violent, and more focus on the details of the storyline that is developed (the conflict between Banner and his father). And please, far less murderous poodle. — Lucy
Tank Girl (1995)
I try to avoid watching comic book movies because I can’t say I’ve ever loved any of them (except The Dark Night), but I’ve got to say I never understood the hype surrounding The Avengers. I came into a sold out theater expecting to be blown away, but the only thing special seemed to be that multiple famous superheros were all together in one movie. The plot was pretty pedestrian and exactly what I would have expected The Avengers to be knowing it was about a group of Marvel superheros. I suppose this has more to do with inflated expectations than the movie itself being bad, but afterwards I was baffled when the friend I came with wanted to see the movie again. I guess the fight scenes were cool, but just like most other comic book movies I’ve seen, it doesn’t delve deep enough into character development to motivate me to care about the characters or their outcomes. That’s why I think The Dark Night was so spectacular because it not only brought humanity to Batman, but also to the villain.
Probably the absolute worst comic film I’ve seen was Tank Girl, an adaptation of an awesomely irreverent comic featuring kangaroo mutants and a capitalist company hoarding the world’s water. That film had a fraction of Marvel’s budget, however, and I found its half baked campiness endearing. I admire a film like Tank Girl that’s willing to take chances motivated by a distinct POV even if it doesn’t end up paying off versus The Avengers that seems more focused on cool explosions and zingers than actually saying anything new. That said, I know there’s a desire for films like The Avengers, considering that it grossed $1.52 billion, so I don’t see Marvel looking to change the formula any time soon. — Sarah
Green Lantern (2011)
Of all comic book movies that have been made (and there have been many) none of them have disappointed me quite like the Green Lantern. With its flashy budget and glitzy graphics, not even my deep attraction to Ryan Reynolds could keep me entertained past 30 minutes. Although the cast seemed to have good chemistry, the underdeveloped plotline weighed down their attempts at portraying interesting characters.
The special effects completely took over the story and caused it to get lost underneath the noise. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the graphics that made this superhero movie as colorful as its comic counterpart but sometimes more is not merrier. Overall the whole movie fails to truly leave a lasting impact — this story should have been left inside the DC world. — Yara
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
The saddest thing about Spider-Man 3 was that once your eyes fell upon the screen, it was as if the film reached a personified hand into your brain and retroactively altered your memories of the first two Spider-Man films. Do you remember Spider-Man 1? Do you remember how it was the first legitimately good superhero movie of the 2000s? Do you remember when critics praised Spider-Man 2 as possibly the best superhero movie ever made up till that point? No, of course you don’t. Because when you think of the Toby Maguire Spider-Man trilogy, you probably jump ahead to a queasy feeling of intense embarrassment at the mess that was Spider-Man 3.
If you’re anything like me, your brain zeroes in on the greatest crime: the moment when the film tried to make wholesome-cup-of-human-soy-milk Tony Maguire into a “bad boy” stereotype, by having him put on a dark shirt, get an emotional haircut, and do a sexy musical number at a bar.
Sure, if we’re discussing the worst superhero movies of all time, I could describe how the Venom storyline was utterly wasted, I could elaborate on how nobody cares about the giant sand monster, or I could listen to the drone of Peter’s ex-best friend as he whines about his life and embraces the evil heritage of his father for… no understandable reason. These things may have made Spider-Man 3 boring, but truthfully it was the musical dance number that killed it. Not only was the scene grossly out of place for the film, but it’s rare to witness a scenario depicted on screen that so horribly misses the mark on understanding what audiences think is cool or edgy.
It blows my mind that screenwriters, directors, costumers, and all the crew that worked on it, allowed this scene (and this idea of “sinister” fashion choices) to go all the way to theaters. Which focus group let this one go? Who can we blame for this? I say blame everyone. Spider-Man 3 was a terrible movie and we all must live in a world where we are stupider for having seen it. — Sara
Many would tab Batman & Robin as the worst comic book movie ever made, and they wouldn’t be wrong. In fact, it’s amazing that we’re in a world where superhero movies (the ugly mess that is Fantastic Four notwithstanding) are safe and desirous blockbusters given how many options one could choose as its worst (Elektra! Daredevil! The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen! Green Lantern!).
Why I won’t choose Batman & Robin is because we weren’t yet living in a land where superhero movies were expected to be great yet in 1997, and plus, now the movie is so bad it’s fun to watch. Most of the more recent ones don’t have that quality, and existed in a post-X-Men world where audiences expected something more from their comic book movies (“With great power…”).
That’s why my vote is for Spider-Man 3. Spider-Man 1 and 2 are two of the best comic book movies ever (still, in my book), and Sam Raimi (and Bryan Singer) ushered in the age (of Ultron) we now live in, for better or worse. That’s what made Spider-Man 3 so shocking, and why I remain upset over it. I also managed to skip Jonah Hex, Howard the Duck, any and all Ghost Rider‘s, Spirit, Catwoman, and Steel, which helps the cause [while X-Men: The Last Stand remains the most frustrating/disappointing comic book movie ever because of its detonation of the Dark Phoenix Saga, if you can somehow separate yourself from that, it actually becomes not as terrible as you remember].
But back to Spidey: There were too many villains. They broke the Peter Parker and Mary Jane relationship forever. I don’t even need to say more than Emo Spidey. The awful Venom FX when Topher Grace’s Eddie Brock emerged, ready to talk, in the middle of a fight. James Franco fatigue. It still is a template for how not to make a superhero sequel, and it’s stunning that Sony made the same mistake again with The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Plus, we’re still feeling the lasting effects of its failure, because it’s necessitated not one reboot but two reboots from Sony (and now Marvel Studios), hogging precious box office real estate from more diverse superheroes. — Andy
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)
While movies based on comic books are not well known for their coherency or depth, the third (but not last) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie that debuted the year I was born is probably one of the most nonsensical, borderline racist, and overall cringe-worthy films of any genre I’ve ever seen. And this is not to say I dislike it; in fact it was one of my favorites as a child and, although it doesn’t hold up as well a decade plus since I last saw it, some of the charm remains.
The aforementioned charm lays only in how spectacularly, intensely awful the movie is in almost every regard. The visuals, from the Turtles themselves to the god-awful special effects made it seem like you were watching the history project of a third grader on bad acid. This was only reinforced by the plot which, replete with ninjas, samurais, time travel, and magical objects, seemed like its only intention was to confuse its audience into submission. The movie would then utterly destroy your psyche, subduing you with the turtles’ movement which seemed somehow both stilted and too-much-caffeine jittery, their animatronic jaws gnashing and soulless eyes stripping the viewer of any psychological defenses, while simultaneously barraging them with soul crushingly terrible (and again, often very racist) one liners.
The crassness of the dialogue, the abundance of sexual innuendos, and the offensive ethnic jibes coupled with the outlandish, almost nonexistent plot actually make Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III that much funnier now than it did back when I was 8, if only through imagining what might have gone through the writers’ heads while making this garbage heap movie. But, like a flaming pile of garbage, once you get past the smell and the blinding existential hopelessness, it almost seems to shine brilliantly, like a star long dead that continues to bathe you in a comforting, politically incorrect glow that you realize will long outlive you. — Max