Captain America, Batman, and Iron Man are just three examples of superheroes portrayed on screen who are not only popular, but whose prominence in the movies reflects their characters’ importance in the comic books.
While it may seem like a no-brainer to take characters who have been fully developed through literally decades of previous material and use this material when translating them to the screen, it’s not actually the norm. Unfortunately, superhero characters in movies are often unrecognizable from their canon. For all the money comic book movies are making right now, there are a lot of comic book characters, some of them vastly important to their comic universes, who aren’t being given their proper due.
From Marvel to DC, Sony to Fox, this is an issue that has affected every studio today making superhero films. Whether the issues stem from not having enough screen time, a lack of understanding by the powers that be, or a creative decision that completely ruined the character, the fact remains there are tons of characters that have yet to be shown the respect they deserve.
Here are 15 Comic Book Characters Who Are Unrecognizable In The Movies:
15. Alicia Masters – Fantastic Four (2005 and 2007)
In the first Fantastic Four film franchise (okay, technically the second one, but nobody counts the Roger Corman movie), Alicia Masters was a kind, compassionate woman who Ben Grimm met in a bar and eventually started dated him. End of story. They make no reference to her backstory or other contributions in the Marvel universe outside of dating Ben Grimm.
Sure, an argument could be made that they were ignoring her family connection to the Puppet Master because it wouldn’t be relevant unless he was the villain, but to ignore her role with the Silver Surfer is just stupid. One of the most significant storylines in her comic history was convincing the Silver Surfer to betray Galactus because Earth was worth saving.
Alicia gives a passionate plea for each individual life on Earth, forcing the Silver Surfer to confront his own soul and values, and eventually betray Galactus. Without Alicia, the defeat of Galactus would not have been possible, nor would the redemption of the Silver Surfer– thereby affecting the entire universe.
Fox Studios gave that job to Invisible Woman instead. But it’s not through confrontation that she steps into Alicia’s role– she simply reminds vaguely the Surfer of his wife and reminds the audience that Mr. Fantastic is a really bad romantic partner. Alicia was special for a reason in the comics and instead of finding out why and letting her shine, they simply turned her into Ben’s girlfriend.
14. Klaw – Avengers: Age of Ultron
To those unfamiliar with the comics, Ulysses Klaue from Avengers: Age of Ultron may not have even registered. In the movie, the character’s entire purpose was to name drop Vibranium and the country of Wakanda. To fans of the comic this was also a hint at bigger things to come –especially where the Black Panther is concerned— but for the moment, a few throwaway lines are all we have.
Klaw is such an important character when it comes to the Black Panther series, not just because of how often they fought, but because of what he represented from a historical standpoint. Klaw’s constant attempts to steal Vibranium from the country of Wakanda were a clear allegory for the rampant colonialism that had spread across Africa, eventually dividing the country. The vast natural resources of Africa were highly sought by European countries and led to extensive conflict between several different countries and the native people of Africa. Klaw’s importance as a villain is not just about stealing some rare minerals, but the reality of how the souls of African countries were being stolen.
13. Colossus – X-Men Franchise
What’s the best way to use one of the most well-rounded members of the X-men comic book universe? Well, according to Fox Studios, it’s to turn him into a depthless, worn cliche of a strong man. In the comics, Piotr Rasputin is a descendant of Grigori Rasputin (yes, the evil Russian “sorcerer” Rasputin). He is also, in his heart of hearts, essentially a pacifist. He will fight to defend his friends, family, and the lives of innocents, but he does not actively seek out fights. Did you (or any moviegoer) get any of that from the films?
Colossus of the comics felt so strongly about his convictions thathe left the X-Men on multiple occasions (though everyone quits the X-Men, so that isn’t something too unique). In one instance, he left and joined Magneto’s Acolytes, hoping that his pacifist views would temper the group and make them less violent and antagonistic. Did any of that come through in the movies?
The movies did get two things correct in their portrayal of him: he has metal skin when he activates his mutant power and he did a fastball special with Wolverine once, while fighting a Sentinel in the ridiculously short danger room sequence in X-Men: The Last Stand. Beyond that, the silver screen has done a huge disservice to Piotr Rasputin.
12. Sentinels – X-Men: Days of Future Past
When it comes to the Sentinels, the giant mutant-hunting robots, X-men: Days of Future Past almost got it right. Sentinels in the Marvel comics universe are a symbol of fear and have been a longstanding threat to mutants. No matter how many times they are defeated and the Sentinel program gets shut down, they start up somewhere else.
But, what should have been the start of a great onscreen legacy for the giant robots turned out to be nothing more than a one -time affair. It’s understandable that the movie would posit that the US government wouldn’t want Bolivar Trask involved with the program, but when has the government ever turned down a fancy new weapons system?
Sentinels should have been involved in an epic first round fight with Apocalypse and his Horsemen. They should have been humanity’s first attempt to stop the destruction. It was a great opportunity to continue utilizing one of the X-Men’s deadliest enemies and could have provided some variety to X-Men: Apocalypse.
11. Baron Zemo – Captain America: Civil War
Just because the villain in Captain America: Civil War was excellent doesn’t mean he should have been called Baron Zemo. When developing this movie, they clearly created a new villain then simply slapped a random comic book villain’s name on him.
Baron Helmut Zemo in the comics is the 13th Baron Zemo and the son of a top Nazi scientist. Zemo’s father was killed just after WWII, in combat with Captain America. This instilled an obsessive hatred for the Captain in Zemo.
Zemo has been a constant threat in the comics, leading many incarnations of the Masters of Evil, which is basically an evil version of the Avengers. He even went on to create the first incarnation of the Thunderbolts, a team of villains masquerading as heroes while many of the real heroes had been sealed off in a alternate reality created by Reed Richards’ son. Ultimately, all of Zemo’s plans revolve around two things: killing Captain America and conquering the world. The only similarities between the movie version and the comic version are a hatred for Captain America (and the Avengers) and a desire for revenge. Beyond that? These characters that share a name are completely different.
10. Maria Hill – The Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier
Maria Hill is one of SHIELD’s highest-ranking officers and most controversial directors– at least that’s who she is in the comics. In the movies, she seems to be a content second-in-command who does anything Fury tells her. The movies did a major disservice to the character of Maria Hill by essentially removing any ambition the character has in the comics.
The real Maria Hill is an aggressive and motivated agent always willing to do what it takes to protect the world, a characteristic often brings her into conflict with heroes. While Fury is more about manipulation, Hill favors the direct approach: show up with force to diffuse a situation so that hopefully she won’t need to use it. The she;s willing to go to any lengths for her job.
In the Assault on Pleasant Hill storyline, S.H.I.E.L.D., under the direction of Hill, has set up a prison for supervillains that uses a cosmic cube (think the tesseract from Avengers) that essentially rewrites their brains. In addition to being extremely morally questionable, it backfires, like all plans do in comics, and the heroes have to step in and stop it. Despite all that, Hill would absolutely do it again given the chance. This Maria Hill is nowhere to be seen in the movies, and it is a shame that Hill isn’t allowed to be the tough-as-nails director that she already is in the comics, when she succeeded Fury.
9. Bane – Batman and Robin
Maybe this is going after low-hanging fruit, but Bane in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin was a slap in the face to every single fan of the comic book character. In the comics, Bane is a tactical genius, an excellent fighter, and the venom he uses enhances his already incredible fighting ability.
The way he is portrayed in the film was mind-numbingly bad. The film renders him as a science experiment gone wrong. He’s a version of Frankenstein’s monster that can only exist as Bane while he is getting a steady stream of his venom and a brainless beast that only exists to serve Poison Ivy. The Knightfall series that introduced the character, one of the best Batman stories ever told, isn’t just about Bane defeating Batman in a fight. It is about Bane defeating Batman in every way possible, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Bane wanted to completely destroy Batman and executed a carefully constructed plan in order to accomplish that goal.
The Bane we see in Batman and Robin has none of those characteristics. It’s possible that in developing a villainous sidekick for the film, the writers just saw a picture of Bane on a comic book cover and figured they knew what he was about.
8. The Green Lantern Corps – Green Lantern
The Green Lantern Corps are the defenders of the innocent who wield the green light of will power. They are law and order in the universe. But in the 2011 Green Lantern film, they’re absolutely useless and seem more like a social club. If the threat of Parallax, a giant space monster that uses the yellow light of fear, was as dangerous as the Guardians claimed, the Green Lantern Corp would have called in all members and waged a full assault on the entity.
At least they would have in the comics. In the movie, after a failed first attempt, the Corps sits around and chats about it and ultimately refuses to help, even after Hal Jordan pleads with them to do something. Of course, the ease with which Jordan then defeats Parallax makes the Corps seem even weaker. If Jordan, a brand new recruit who barely had a grasp on how to fully use his ring, could single-handedly overcome Parallax, how useless must the rest of the veteran Green Lanterns be that they were too consumed with fear to keep fighting for the good of the universe?
7. Lex Luthor – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
How do you take one of comics’ most legendary villains, who has already been successfully portrayed in films, mind you, and screw him up? Turn him into a Silicon Valley hipster, of course.
Lex Luthor, the real Lex Luthor, is the definition of self control. He is a man who always plays the long game; never committing himself to action when he can have others take the risk for him. He is a master manipulator with clearly defined goals. In Batman v Superman, Lex Luthor wants to have Batman destroy Superman for him, but why? It can be argued that it was to protect the world against dangerous Kryptonians, but the film really doesn’t seem to rationalize it that way. It seems more like the actions of a crazy genius who just wants to see if he can get the two heroes to kill each other, rather than a part of some shrewd plot.
The comics version of Lex has seen some changes over the years, but he’s always had reason behind his schemes. Sure, he has made some direct attempts to take Superman out of the picture, but always in service to his personal greater good. Nothing about Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor reflects this. With no personal history with Superman, what was the motivation for Lex here, beyond seeing if he could do it?
6. Mercy Graves – Batman v Superman
Most people may only be familiar with this character from the Superman and Justice League cartoons. Marcy Graves was once the leader of an all-female street gang who managed to impress Lex so much that he gave her a job as his bodyguard, chauffeur, and personal assistant. In Batman v Superman, her entire role consisted of making sure Bruce Wayne didn’t get lost wandering around Lex’s home and then getting blown up. It’s possible some of you didn’t even realize she was in the movie to begin with, but sadly the woman who could just as easily been the party’s caterer or coat check girl, was named Mercy Graves.
Instead of being the totally devoted ruthless bodyguard that she is in the comics and cartoons, Marcy Graves is a secretary. No offense to secretaries, but for the strength of her character in the comics, Mercy at least deserved to be clearly named in the movie. Maybe an argument could be made that there wasn’t enough time in the movie to fully explain who she was, but then, why not sign her on for another movie? Why disrespect her name and kill her off? Mercy should have been at Lex’s side 100% of the time and she should have had a chance to introduce herself properly before being written out.
5. Batgirl – Batman and Robin
There are so many problems here that it’s hard to know where to even begin. In the comics is Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon. She is a skilled martial artist, brilliant computer programmer, hacker, and expert detective. Batgirl in Batman and Robin is Barbara Wilson, Alfred Pennyworth’s niece. While they try and make her seem skilled with computers, her only real talent appears to be her nosiness. Taking a character as well rounded as Barbara Gordon and turning her into Barbara Wilson is mind-boggling.
Let’s pretend that this movie’s plot was brilliant and they were trying to simplify things so as not to detract from the genius script. Fine. But Barbara being the daughter of the Commissioner instead of Alfred’s niece would have taken less screen time to explain, not more. Couldn’t they at least given her Barbara Gordon’s skills? It may come as some consolation that she can technically be considered a different character, since she isn’t Barbara Gordon, but we all know who she was supposed to be… and we’re still bitter.
4. Harry Osborn – Spider-Man Franchise
With the conclusion of Spider-Man 2, Sony had set the stage for the appearance of the second Green Goblin, Harry Osborn. The movie introduced a sky-boarding Harry calling himself the New Goblin. Can we all just agree that this was ridiculous and looked more like a ’90s flying evil snowboarder than it did a Goblin?
A key thing about Harry Osborn is his overwhelming desire to make his father proud, and while the early films did nod to this, the third film really dropped the ball. Harry seemed miserable, taking his father’s tech and completely changing it to be the New Goblin, as if he’s trying to prove himself as his own man rather than trying to honor his father. Harry should have taken up an identical costume when battling Spider-Man. That’s what his father would have wanted. Simple revenge isn’t what Harry was about and to use it as Harry’s motivating force for two films gets the character completely wrong.
3. Janet Van Dyne – Ant-Man
What is the best way to celebrate one of the founding members of the Avengers and one of the greatest female superheroes in the Marvel universe? If you answered: remove her from the cinematic universe almost entirely and ignore all of her world-changing contributions from the comics, then you and Marvel are foolishly on the same page.
Janet Van Dyne is one of Marvel’s most important characters, despite not being one of the strongest. A small sampling of her accomplishments include naming the Avengers, being the leader and chairman of the team, leading a reserve team to defeat the Masters of Evil when the main team was defeated. These things don’t even take into account her status as a role model for young girls and women everywhere.
Sadly, Marvel decided to change the character’s history and temporarily exile her to the microverse, a decision that seems to have been made to avoid dealing with an ugly, but significant part of her story. The domestic abuse storyline between her and Hank Pym is understandably a difficult story to tell. Doing so in a movie where Hank Pym would need to be portrayed as a hero, would make it a pretty dark movie. Nevertheless, ignoring this part of her story does a disservice to the character and to women who have been in a similar situation and viewed Janet as an example of strength.
2. Galactus – Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
When translating one of Marvel’s most fear-inducing characters to the screen, it’s important to remember what makes him so intimidating. For Galactus, his appearance is a huge part of that. So obviously, when Fox brought this giant planet-devouring space god to the screen, they turned him into a large space fart.
Defenders of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer will try to justify this decision in two ways. Firstly, the reveal of what Galactus would look like was being saved for the Silver Surfer spin-off Fox was so sure was going to happen (but never happened). Secondly, the film showed Ultimate version of Galactus, which is a swarm of robots that often took the shape of a cloud in space. The problem with either of these excuses is that it wasted the best opportunity to save the franchise by establishing a real threat in Galactus.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer was mediocre, at best, but if the movie had ended in a cliffhanger reveal of Galactus looming over Earth, comic book audiences everywhere would have gone nuts. Instead of people saying, “Why was everyone scared of a space cloud?” they would have said, “Holy crap, Galactus! When is the third movie coming out?” Failure on the part of the studio to deliver the very villain that the entire movie was geared up to reveal killed the franchise. It’s a perfect example of the dangers of dramatically changing a character from their comic book form.
1. Bean (Ender’s Game)
No, this item isn’t cheating and yes, it deserves to be number one. While the character did originate in the Orson Scott Card book Ender’s Game, the book series was translated into comic book form in 2008. Bean is one of Ender’s closest friends – something the film did a poor job of showing, mind you.
He was the second most important person in Battle School and it’s arguable that Ender would not have won the war without Bean’s work behind the scenes. When Ender was at the end of his rope and needed someone to pick up the slack it was Bean he turned to. When the instructors at Battle School thought Ender was on the verge of burning out and failing, it was Bean they expected to take over for him. And yet, outside of Ender, the only students from Battle School that the movie got right were Petra Arkanian and Bonzo Madrid. Everyone else was a shadow of who they were in the books and comics.
If you haven’t read Ender’s Shadow then you really only know half the story. In a few years, when they decide to reboot the Ender’s Game movie (because we all know they will), we can only hope they film Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow at the same time, giving us the full story of Battle school and getting Bean right.