Sometimes, movies are bad! And sometimes, comic books get turned into movies! So there’s a good chance that some of those comic book movies will be bad! The badness of any given bad comic book movie can be explained by any number of reasons, like a) a lack of faithfulness on to the source material, b) interference from a studio that doesn’t understand the director’s vision, b) bad actors or c) Frank Miller.
Please note: we’re not including sequels, prequels or spinoffs on this list, because you’ve probably heard enough about the gosh darn batnipples already.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Back in 2003, before Sean Connery and his brogue retired themselves to a sunny Caribbean island to live out the rest of their days, the former James Bond starred in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Based on a well-liked comic book series by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, expectations for the film were high among fans, but the result was a sordid, sci-fi, steampunk mess in which a group of 19th Century literary figures – Allan Quatermain (Connery), Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), etc. – team up to prevent their DNA from being used to create super-powered weapons.
Among other requests, the studio insisted that Tom Sawyer (Shane West) be added to the story for American audiences, while major plot points from the comic were altered. Director Stephen Norrington reportedly clashed with both the studio and Sean Connery over their interference in the film, which may explain why neither he nor his Scottish star have made another live-action film since.
After the success of Robert Rodriguez’ and Frank Miller’s Sin City in 2005, fans expected a sequel in short order, but it somehow took nine years to get off the ground. In between, controversial comics writer Frank Miller tackled his second film project, an adaptation of Will Eisner’s long-running newspaper strip The Spirit.
This time, Miller worked solo as both writer and director, and his lack of experience was glaringly apparent. The Spirit seems to take place in the same hyper-stylized, monochromatic world as Sin City, but it lacks Rodriguez’ grindhouse aesthetics. Instead, it’s chock-full of awkward humor and poorly-conceived action set-pieces. Despite a cast that included Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and Eva Mendes (with a relatively unknown Gabriel Macht in the lead), the film barely made a blip when it came out in 2008, which some attributed to Miller’s increasingly problematic output as a writer.
Fantastic Four (x 3)
Last week’s release of Fantastic Four, the third attempt at adapting the venerable superhero series into an entertaining feature film, proves that maybe we should just let this fabulous foursome remain on the page. The first adaptation of the film was made in 1994, when legendary schlockmeister Roger Corman produced the film for the sole purpose of retaining the rights to the characters.
That film was never released and can only be found on bootleg, but 20th Century Fox eventually got a chance to make their own Fantastic Four in 2005, which was successful enough to warrant a sequel, but annoyed fans with a portrayal of the characters that seemed to be aimed at children rather than fully-grown fanboys.
Fans had high hopes for the latest version, which director Josh Trank described as “Cronenberg-ian” (so adult!) last winter, but early reviews have been vicious to the film. Our review of the film was a more measured, but nevertheless, it might just be time to put these four to rest.
Alien vs. Predator
While Alien and Predator are both original cinematic properties. Alien vs. Predator began its life as a pesky, disreputable, mash-up comic book. Of course, the possibilities of such a crossover were too much fun to keep on paper, so it was adapted into a movie by Paul W.S. Anderson in 2004. In the resulting film, a group of archaeologists discover a pyramid below the surface of Antarctica.
Reflecting the plot of the original Alien, something goes wrong and the team finds itself threatened by extraterrestrial life in a confined space. But unlike Alien, AVP doesn’t have the tension of an old-school haunted house film, nor does it have any characters as intriguing as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. Instead, it replaces those qualities with an abundance of hackneyed action scenes, calculated the please its audience rather than challenge it.
When Nicolas Cage showed up on set to play Johnny Blaze (aka Ghost Rider) in this 2007 film, the make-up team covered his large bicep tattoo of the comic book Ghost Rider’s flaming skull under layer’s of make-up before the day’s filming began. So you can’t say the eccentric actor wasn’t dedicated to his role.
Nevertheless, Ghost Rider didn’t really work as a film, whether because of Cage’s weird hairpiece, the lackluster special effects, or the poorly-written script that tried to loop veteran easy rider Peter Fonda into the movie’s universe as the Devil himself. Part of the blame can probably be laid at the feet of Daredevil director Mark Steven Johnson, who never really figured out the whole comic book movie thing.
Howard the Duck
Back in the 1986, neither Marvel’s film department nor George Lucas’ career were riding particularly high. For the first theatrical Marvel film since the serial era, Lucas decided to produce an adaptation of Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik’s existential, surreal comic strip about an anthropomorphic duck trying to cope with the real world.
Directed by Walter Huyck, who also worked with the Lucas on the screenplays for American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Unfortunately, Howard the Duck lacked the magic of George Lucas’ most famous creations. Despite Lucas’ staunch support of the film, it was shredded to pieces by critics, who targeted Chip Zien’s poorly-functioning animatronic duck costume as a big obstacle.
After America finally decided earlier this year that the Confederate flag was very bad, it would be surprising to see a Confederate soldier as the hero in a summer action film, but 2010 was a different time, when Josh Brolin donned the rebel scrubs to play the western gunslinger Jonah Hex.
Hex is a cavalryman who gets left for dead by his commanding officer (John Malkovitch) for refusing to follow orders, so maybe he’s not so bad. Later on, he’s resurrected from the dead with a heavily disfigured face and the ability to communicate with the dead.
Adapted from a DC comics property of the same name, Jonah Hex showed promise early in development, when the crazy duo of Neveldine/Taylor (the masterminds behind the Crank series) were signed on to direct. Unfortunately, the studio got cold and made major changes to the script. Animation veteran Jimmy Hayward was tapped to direct and the resulting film holds little to recommend. Still, if you’re looking for a film that’s weird enough to feature Megan Fox, John Malkovitch, Michael Fassbender and, uh, Will Arnett in its cast, then this might be the one for you.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Speaking of Megan Fox and Will Arnett, they both also appear in the third adaptation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (after the nostalgia-inducing three-film franchise in the ’90s and an animated version in 2007). Fox’s career went through a rough patch after she was unceremoniously dropped from the Transformers franchise, in which she plays a supporting role to a pizza-loving Shia LaBeouf. To try and get the ball rolling again, she signed up for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in which she plays a supporting role to some pizza loving radioactive accidents.
Though many people have fond memories of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from childhood (particularly the Saturday morning animated TV series), they’re not exactly great source material for a blockbuster film franchise. Rebooting this franchise with a grittier aesthetic meant affected its comedic potential, which should really be the main purpose of a movie about crime-fighting turtles. As one critic said: “the title no longer sounds zany; it looks like a series of keywords.”
Cowboys & Aliens
It’s got cowboys! It’s got aliens! It’s got Indiana Jones and James Bond! How could it go wrong! Well, it did. John Favreau’s follow-up to the Iron Man movies got lost in its own genre-mashing novelty. Ultimately, the film failed to ground itself in a story worth telling, and instead decided to give its audience an abundance of alien-on-cowboy action.
Not that there’s anything wrong with alien-on-cowboy action, but large-scale films tend to work better when the creative team builds their action set-pieces around well-developed characters with sensible motivations. Favreau’s Iron Man is the perfect example of such a movie. Cowboys & Aliens, with its six credited screenwriters, failed in that regard, which might explain why Favreau moved back to the indie world for his next feature, Chef.
At this point, it feels rude to make fun of Catwoman. Sure, it was bad, but Halle Berry handled her failure with aplomb! She even showed up at the Golden Raspberry Awards to pick up her Worst Actress “award” in person, feeding the desires of those who expect our celebrities to grovel before their audiences, admitting they aren’t worthy of our respect. Take that, Ben Affleck! Accept our disapproval!
Still, no amount of celebrity fan service can make us forgot just how bad this movie is. Directed by the mononymic French director Pitof (who was never heard from again), Catwoman is full of bad special effects (even by 2004 standards), corny dialogue, and a story-line that makes little sense.
Billy Zane won our hearts as the charming John Justice Wheeler in Twin Peaks, and then lost our hearts as the conniving Cal Hockley in Titanic, but in between he was The Phantom, a Depression-era superhero who saved the world from evil pirates or something.
Wearing a tight purple suit and mask, Billy Zane was an awkward superhero, and The Phantom was an awkward movie. Taking place largely in the jungle, it differs sharply from the urban settings of most comic book movies, and probably owes more to Indiana Jones than Batman. Whatever the case, The Phantom didn’t exactly turn Zane into a superstar. His last film to reach theaters was Uwe Boll’s widely despised BloodRayne in 2004.
Before the fast-talking Ryan Reynolds merc’d us in the mouth in last week’s Deadpool trailer, he green’d our gobs in Green Lantern. Unfortunately, Reynolds’ caustic wit was downplayed in favor of a wide-eyed awe at his character’s new powers. When Hal Jordon finds his magical space ring, he acts more like Elliot discovering ET than one of his fellow superheroes.
Between the childish tone and the generic CGI-fueled action, many fans were disappointed in the film. In one particularly hated scene, Green Lantern uses his ring to create a Hot Wheels-esque car ramp and shoot a car at one of his enemies.
Get it? R.I.P means “Rest in Peace” and P.D. stands for “police department,” so it’s a good pun for a movie about some cops who police the afterlife. Within the context of the film, R.I.P.D. stands for “Rest in Peace Department,” which counts Roy Pulsifer (Jeff Bridges), a former Civil War soldier, as one of its officers. Together with recently murdered Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds, making his second appearance on this list), they team up to stop another dead guy from bringing a whole bunch of other dead people back to life.
Along with the hokey title, the film came with a hokey sense of humor. While it at least gave Ryan Reynolds a chance to be a smart-ass (his forte), it also forced both him and Bridges to wander through a bunch of unconvincing CGI explosions. The film never quite manages to escape the level of thought it must have taken to come up with “R.I.P.D.” as a title.
Following in the unfortunate footsteps of Jonah Hex, Priest is another muddled steampunk Western, this time with vampires. Paul Bettany plays a vampire-fighting priest, replete with a tattoo of a cross on his forehead.
Filmed with that blue-gray color template that has become so commonplace in dystopian action films, Priest essentially replaces the racist caricatures of Native Americans from old “Cowboy and Indian” tales with vampires. You get the distinct impression that director Scott Stewart actually wanted to make his own western, but had to couch it in a bunch of sci-fi vampire jumbo in order to get it greenlit.
Paul Bettany may be a great actor, but between Priest and Legion, it seems that he’s not really an action star. Nevertheless, he’s probably the best part of this misbegotten, schizophrenic, genre-mashing failure. Maybe someone should give him another chance.
Believe it or not, these aren’t the only bad movies based on comics! There’s a whole bunch of these things out there! What movies made you want your money back? Which ones made you leave the theater in a fit of disgust? Which ones made you want to vomit in disgust all over the person seated in front of you? Let us know in the comments below!