Comic book movie audiences are often difficult to please. Whether outspoken fans express outrage at the treatment of their favorite character, or whether a movie ends up coming across as culturally insensitive, there’s plenty of ways a comic book adaptation can end up angering viewers. Discussions and arguments over the specifics of comic book movies and their more notorious scenes have become very heated at times, and a negative reaction can cost a movie revenue or even have it banned from theaters in some places.
While it’s difficult for any movie to please everybody who watches, some scenes in comic book films stand out more than others for controversial or unpopular choices that have backfired on the creators.
Here are the 15 Most Controversial Scenes in Comic Book Movies.
***Warning: There will be SPOILERS***
15. Man Of Steel – Superman Breaking Zod’s Neck
While the entirety of Man of Steel left audiences with mixed feelings about its moody, gritty interpretation of Superman’s origins, no scene has generated more controversy than the ending to the movie’s climactic battle. Forced with the option of either letting the evil Zod continue his destructive reign of terror, or end the battle once and for all (or at least until Batman V Superman), Henry Cavill’s Superman ultimately chooses to snap his adversary’s neck, preventing the immediate death of a cowering family, as well as stopping a destructive clash which has leveled a large chunk of Metropolis.
Longtime Superman fans were appalled at the decision: in many eyes, the decision to show Superman ending a life went against everything the character stands for. The debate has raged online ever since: should Superman end a life to save others, or would the true Man of Steel find a solution that didn’t involve breaking the neck of even the most hardened supercriminal?
14. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Snowden Leaks
Captain America: The Winter Soldier, much-loved by fans, included one controversial scene that explored the contemporary debate over privacy rights. Thanks to Edward Snowden, who leaked hundreds of classified NSA files and became a fugitive in the process, the idea of governments spying on their citizens and keeping dark secrets was a hot topic of the time.
In the Captain America sequel, Cap makes the controversial choice to leak all of S.H.I.E.L.D’s secret files onto the internet, thereby bringing down the web of secrecy that had led to the rise of HYDRA within the government organization. Many audiences spotted the parallels with Snowden’s situation at once, leading to a discussion on the ideological message within the movie. As Captain America is often seen as the ultimate personification of the United States, some interpreted his actions as controversial commentary on the government’s reaction to the Snowden leak – an argument that Edward Snowden is a patriot rather than a terrorist.
13. X-Men: The Last Stand – Cyclops’ Death
The third X-Men movie stands out in the minds of viewers for a number of reasons. The film is notable for killing off many popular characters, a move that angered audiences so much that all deaths were eventually fixed in a later movie through the vagaries of time travel.
Of all the deaths in The Last Stand, none were as unpopular with X-Men comic fans as the fate of Cyclops, the former leader of the X-Men. While the character played second-fiddle to Wolverine throughout the first two movies, Cyclops only appears briefly at the beginning of The Last Stand, before being killed off-screen and never mentioned again. This was done due to scheduling conflicts with the actor James Marsden, who was working on the rival studio’s Superman Returns at the time, but longtime X-Men fans were livid that such an important character had been removed from the movie in such an unceremonious way.
12. Spider-Man 3 – Emo Peter Parker
While it can be argued that Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy hasn’t aged particularly well in the years since their release, it’s important to remember that at the time of their release, Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 were critically acclaimed box office smash hits. While Tobey Maguire’s take on Peter Parker was awkward throughout the first two movies, his character was so relatable that audiences couldn’t help but root for him in spite (or indeed because of) of his idiosyncrasies.
With Spider-Man 3, though, Peter’s awkwardness and the cheesy elements of the first two films boiled over, leading to a scene where Parker is confidently dancing his way through the streets of New York, much to the embarrassed horror of both onlookers and movie audiences. This culminates in a bizarre scene in a jazz bar where Peter, desperate to one-up his ex-fiancée, plays the piano and dances on tables in one of the most-cringeworthy scene in any movie about a man wearing a red and blue spandex suit.
11. X-Men Origins: Wolverine – Bad Deadpool
With the current popularity of Deadpool, in theaters now, the failure of X-Men Origins: Wolverine stands out more than ever – the first movie to feature Wade Wilson was so poorly received that for many years movie studios were entirely unwilling to approve Ryan Reynolds’ pet project.
The creators behind X-Men Origins: Wolverine were completely taken aback by the fan outcry regarding Deadpool – Wade Wilson’s appearance in the beginning of the movie was well received by fans during test screenings, leading moviemakers to reshoot several later scenes in order to turn their ‘Weapon 11’ villain into Deadpool, as a nod to fan excitement. When fans saw how their favorite character had been literally mutilated, however, they were less than impressed.
Fan outrage over Deadpool’s appearance in the first Wolverine solo film came primarily as a result of the drastic changes that were made to the character, most notably the removal of the character’s mouth. Viewers who were familiar with the Merc with a Mouth were unimpressed by this irony, and the poor reception of the character stuck in the public consciousness so strongly that the latest Deadpool movie directly references it.
10. Green Lantern – Punching His Assailants
Ryan Reynolds’ comic book appearances are no stranger to controversy. Green Lantern failed to live up to moviegoers’ expectations in many ways – particularly as audiences found it difficult to relate to the titular character, whose reckless and selfish actions make life a lot more difficult for a variety of other people around him.
One scene drew fan ire by showing Hal Jordan discovering the power of his ring by punching ordinary humans through brick walls and car windshields. In the scene, Hal is ambushed in a parking lot by three men who had lost their jobs earlier in the day due to Hal’s recklessness at work. After punching Hal a bit, the group turn to leave, feeling that they’ve punished Hal enough, meaning that he is no longer in any danger from them. It’s at this moment, while attempting to get revenge, that Hal discovers his Green Lantern powers by hitting the three men so hard that he causes significant property damage.
Humans are often shown in movies to be more resilient than they are in real life, but this didn’t stop some online commenters from pointing out that Hal Jordan, the supposed hero of the movie, starts his superhero career by accidentally murdering three men and then ignoring his actions for the rest of the movie.
9. The Dark Knight Rises – That’s Not How Bombs Or Stock Markets Work
Some movies are controversial because of character motivations or ideological messages. Others create controversy by ignoring basic scientific and financial laws.
The Dark Knight Rises has been criticized by many viewers for not showing an understanding of the way the stock market works – the typical response to a terrorist attack on the stock exchange would be to shut down trading for the day, and even if Bruce Wayne’s big stock market failure had been allowed to go through, it wouldn’t instantly result in his electricity being shut off and his car being repossessed.
Another controversial scene came at the end of the movie, when Batman flies a neutron bomb off the coast of Gotham, getting it far enough away that it detonates harmlessly at a safe distance. Anyone with even a basic understanding of how atomic weapons work called foul – with the bomb detonating that close to Gotham, regardless of the size of the blast, the entire city would be irradiated by the fallout and would be uninhabitable for years to come.
What’s more, while the final scene of the movie, showing Alfred discovering Bruce alive and well alongside Selena Kyle in Paris, might be a heartwarming ending to the trilogy, many fans were annoyed at the unanswered questions it produced. How did Bruce manage to get out of the country without any money, after being declared legally dead? How are he and Catwoman supporting themselves considering that one of them is a renowned jewel thief and the other opposes theft? The unanswered questions for the end of the Dark Knight trilogy will continue to be debated upon internet forums for years to come.
8. Iron Man 3 – The Mandarin is Not The Mandarin
In the lead-up to the release of Iron Man 3, comic book fans began to get very excited about the movie’s antagonist, the sinister Mandarin. Altered in the movie to more closely resemble contemporary cyber-terrorists, Ben Kingsley’s portrayal appeared to be both formidable and slightly creepy – two things the actor is often known for in his roles.
The reveal, half way through the film, that the Mandarin is actually a confused actor with a substance addiction name Trevor Slattery divided audiences. Some felt that the plot twist, and Kingsley’s hilarious performance, provided one of the highlights of the movie. Others, on the other hand, were annoyed by the bait-and-switch, and argue that the movie ruined one of the most interesting villains in the MCU.
Considering the Marvel One Shot which shows Trevor being kidnapped by a representative of the ‘real’ Mandarin, there’s every possibility that Marvel will one day return to the character again, going part way to appease fan outrage at Iron Man 3.
7. Superman Returns – Christ Imagery
Bryan Singer’s attempt to revitalize the Superman movie franchise didn’t manage to light the fire that Warner Brothers had been hoping for, but while not all fans enjoyed the film, some audiences were particularly upset with it.
In particular, some viewers were unhappy with imagery and dialogue throughout the film which appear to draw parallels between Superman and Jesus – this includes a scene where, having saved the world, Superman falls to Earth with his arms splayed as if he were on a crucifix. For a while, Superman is believed to be dead, before returning to life – some viewers argued that this directly parallels the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
6. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – Galactus is a cloud
The first two Fantastic Four movies can hardly be considered serious in nature – especially when compared with the far bleaker reboot of the franchise. With a team leader who stretches like a cartoon character, it’s difficult for any movie starring Marvel’s First Family to avoid coming across as a little zany while keeping a sense of realism.
For the most part, Rise of the Silver Surfer matches the lighthearted tone of the movie that came before it, although it does attempt to challenge audiences a bit by adding some end-of-the-world peril that was lacking from the first installment. Those who are familiar with the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer comics were surprised, though, that while the movie featured a stretchy dance number and burp jokes, it shied away from providing a cinematic look at Galactus, the world-eating antagonist of the story. Choosing instead to portray the movie’s villain as a nameless black cloud, the movie’s vague interpretation of planetary annihilation left some long-time comic fans more than a little annoyed.
5. The Avengers – Phil Coulson’s Death
When it was announced that Joss Whedon, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly fame, would be in charge of the first Marvel team up movie, comic book movie fans prepared for the worst. Whedon had long since been known for suddenly and unexpectedly killing popular characters, and many were worried that they’d see their favorite character go up in smoke during the movie without reason or logic.
Even with fair warning that someone might die, Loki’s suckerpunch murder of S.H.I.E.L.D agent Phil Coulson took audiences by surprise. The character had gained popularity thanks to his role in both Iron Man movies and Thor, and fans laid the blame squarely on Whedon’s shoulders. Joss came out after the movie’s released and explained that the death hadn’t been his choice, but he’d known from the moment he saw the initial script that he’d be the one to get the blame.
4. Batman and Robin – the Bat Card
Joel Schumacher’s over-the-top Batman movie proved hugely unpopular with fans of the comic book character. The movie’s attempt to tribute the campy ‘60s television show by making everything in the movie bright, bold, colorful and cheesy was unpopular with fans who preferred the darker, more serious Batman that they’d seen in previous movies.
The ‘60s Batman show was known for its bizarre gadgets and for items on Batman’s utility belt which were oddly specific in their use. The movie tribute this with the inclusion of a variety of weird Bat-tools, but none generated more controversy than the Bat Credit Card. Fans point to the scene where this is used as an example of everything that’s wrong with Schumacher’s take on the Caped Crusader, and the moment lives in cinematic infamy to this day.
3. Batman Returns – Gruesome Death of the Penguin
On the complete opposite end of the controversy spectrum comes Tim Burton’s second take on the Dark Knight. While the first Batman movie was fairly dark in its tone, nobody could have anticipated just how dark Burton was willing to go with a movie based on a childhood icon.
Batman Returns barely features the titular character, instead focusing primarily on the movie’s diverse cast of villains, including the Penguin as played by Danny DeVito, a disfigured outcast who grows up to hate the people of Gotham for abandoning him to a life in the sewers; and Catwoman, a mild-mannered receptionist who is thrown from a building only to be magically resurrected by cats. While the movie features a fair amount of gore, including a scene where the Penguin bites a man’s nose so hard that it bleeds, the truly gruesome scenes are saved for the end of the movie.
After the final battle has been fought (and Christopher Walken’s character has been electrocuted until he’s nothing more than a charred husk) the Penguin, mortally wounded, makes one last attempt to kill Batman. Failing to find his trusty gun umbrella, the character coughs up a river of black blood before falling to the floor, dead. The signature Tim Burton weirdness shines after this, as penguin pall-bearers waddle around the body, pushing the Penguin slowly into the nearby sewer, where he sinks to the bottom.
Such a graphic death scene was completely unexpected for fans of the first movie, and plenty of parents were shocked and appalled at the content that had been displayed to children in the audience. While there have been plenty of dark moments in Batman movies since, nothing else has been quite so controversially graphic yet poignantly sad in its depiction of death.
2. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – the erogenous knees
Edgar Wright’s cinematic adaptation of a comic about a slacker fighting his girlfriend’s exes in order to win her love moved around a lot of elements from the source material. In the movie, several fights between Scott and Roxie Richter, Ramona’s ex-girlfriend, are combined into one in which Ramona uses Scott as a puppet to fight her ex-lover, as Scott is unwilling to hit a girl. Instead of defeating Roxie through violence, Scott touches her on the back of her knee, which Ramona explains is a “weak spot” that sexually arouses her.
While the scene of Roxie writhing on the floor before climactically exploding into a pile of coins is played for laughs, some audiences objected to the idea behind it, questioning whether Scott’s actions count as sexual abuse. Scott lacks consent to touch Roxie sexually, and she seems less than thrilled that he does so.
1. The Dark Knight – Batman Breaks the law
Christopher Nolan’s second take on the Caped Crusader is notable as one of the most popular comic book adaptations of all time, presenting a realistic, dark take on Batman and the city of Gotham. As a vigilante working outside the law, Batman is no stranger to ignoring due legal procedure to achieve his goals, but two scenes in this movie stood out enough to cause controversy.
Early in the movie, Bruce Wayne travels to Hong Kong to kidnap and illegally extradite a known money launderer and Chinese citizen who is protected under international law. The Chinese government was less than thrilled with the political implications of this scene, and The Dark Knight was refused approval for release in Mainland China – although it did release in Hong Kong, where the scene proved very popular with audiences.
During another scene later in the movie, Batman and Lucius Fox illegally hack into a network of cameraphones and other mobile devices in order to track the whereabouts of the movie’s criminals. Some audiences objected to seeing Batman portrayed as the hero while completely ignoring privacy laws and spying on the citizens of Gotham.
Many comic book movie fans are notoriously hard to please, and as such there have been plenty of times when movies have ended up stirring controversy over the content of certain scenes.
What are your favorite controversial scenes? Which movies do you think are judged unfairly by audiences? Have your say in the comments below!