For a long time, superheroes were universally revered in their respective universes. Evil was afoot, and most folks were just glad someone was there to help them out of their jams. Sure, you’d get the occasional detractor, like J. Jonah Jameson, the newspaper editor who had it in for Spider-Man. But, for the most part, heroes could do no wrong. In fact, they were so good at their jobs that civilian casualties were virtually non-existent. Sure, destruction of property was rampant, but everyone seemed to understand that was all just collateral damage. When a civilian did die, it would be a major plot point and our heroes would be wracked with guilt over it. But in recent years, superheroes have gotten pretty sloppy, and the people are not pleased.
Here are 16 times that our careless crusaders had lapses in judgment, or were just plain oblivious to the safety of the powerless people unfortunate enough to be caught up in their bad guy beefs.
16. Spider-Man – Spider-Man 2
Villains aren’t always out for civilian blood. Sometimes, they just want to incentivize their nemesis, and they know that risking innocent lives is a surefire method. In Sam Raimi’s masterful Spider-Man 2, Doc Ock doesn’t give a fig about Spidey. It’s not until a bitter Harry Osborne hires him to kill the web-crawler in exchange for a rare and crucial isotope that Ock goes after him in earnest.
A fan of the classics, Ock uses an innocent old woman (who just so happens to be Peter Parker’s Aunt May) as bait. The battle begins on a civilian-free clock tower, but they soon fall onto a crowded R train. A mortal hero like Indiana Jones would be understandably forced to continue the fight in this location. There’s not too many ways off a moving train unless you have, say, super strong spider webbing that can swing you to safety. If Spidey swung to a nearby rooftop, Ock would follow with his own robust grabbing arms. Then they could get back to combat without making it anyone else’s problem.
But our hero seems committed to the train battle (maybe it’s a bucket list thing?). Doc Ock begins yanking passengers out of the windows and flinging them at Spider-Man, who manages to make quick landing webs for them. But then Ock rips out the train’s controls, leaving the wall-crawler to stop the hurtling coach with pure strength. While he does eventually succeed, it’s literally by a thread. With the entire first car dangling over a ledge, people are pretty pessimistic right up until the last second, as Spider-Man’s short-sighted decision making had nearly killed them all.
15. Batman – The Dark Knight
Early on in The Dark Knight, Batman intercepts an impending drug deal between Scarecrow and some goons on the top floor of a parking garage. Instead of leaving a little bit earlier so he could safely zoom the Batmobile up the ramp, the Caped Crusader sets his auto-pilot to four-wheel through a wall, crushing several parked cars in the process. Then, it starts shooting firebombs, missing the bad guys entirely and blowing up more civilian cars. We don’t actually see anyone sitting in them, but can you imagine if someone had decided to just hang out for a few extra minutes to send a text or finish jamming out to a favorite song?
Furthermore, most of these cars look pretty old. These aren’t the wheels of billionaire playboys. They belong to regular folks who were probably stoked to have found a parking space in downtown Gotham.
14. John Hancock – Hancock
While John Hancock does use his powers of flight, invulnerability, and super strength to save people on occasion, he’s also just a wee bit of an alcoholic nihilist. After causing millions of dollars in damage to the city of Los Angeles, the people are not having it. Hancock meets P.R. consultant Ray when he saves him from an oncoming train — at the expense of the train and everyone on board. The fallout from this convinces him to hire Ray in order to help improve his public image.
This works for a time, but when Hancock discovers that Ray’s wife, Mary, has similar powers (coming by this information during an attempt to mack on her while Ray is asleep in the next room), it leads to a knock-down, drag-out fight which tears up streets and crushes populated cars. A lot of the damage is caused by Mary (who can make tornadoes and really doesn’t like being called crazy), but Hancock is 100% the instigator of the fight that sends them careening through buildings and cranes all over downtown L.A. Not to mention the number their relationship puts on poor Ray’s heart.
13. Superman – Superman III
If you haven’t watched the Christopher Reeve Superman films in while, do yourself a favor and re-visit them. The latter two of the four film series are absolutely terrible, but in the most entertaining way possible.
The plot of Superman III is beyond convoluted, involving manufactured tornadoes, an aspiring coffee baron, and a kid’s birthday party, but it’s the D.I.Y. kryptonite made by Gus (Richard Pryor, for some reason) that turns Superman into an all-powerful alcoholic douche. As young Ricky from Smallville helpfully observes, it’s not all Superman’s fault. He’s “just in a slump!”
He grows a five-o-clock shadow and vandalizes a dive bar after he drinks himself into a state of belligerence. No innocent people are hurt while he’s under the influence, but it’s mainly because he gets distracted when he and his alter-ego, Clark Kent, split apart and have a lengthy petulant fight in a junkyard. Practically a god thanks to the power of Earth’s yellow sun, the normally teetotaling Man of Steel prides himself on his restraint. And it’s a good thing too, because Superman succumbing to his id is akin to leaving the nuke button with a toddler.
12. Doctor Manhattan – Watchmen
Doctor Manhattan’s mere existence puts people at risk. He comes on the scene when a forgetful nuclear physicist named Jonathan Osterman accidentally leaves his watch in an intrinsic field test chamber. The machine malfunctions, causing Jon to vaporize and then re-assemble his atoms into an all-powerful blue Chippendale.
At first, everyone is pretty stoked, because his abilities to alter molecular structures and transcend time and space serve as an excellent deterrent for enemies of the United States. The government gives him his nickname in a clever bit of marketing, designed to remind would-be aggressors of the nuclear jamboree known as the Manhattan Project. Unfortunately, he is accused of unwittingly causing the creation of cancer cells in the people who cross his path. Tormented by this news, he moves to Mars, leaving the world vulnerable to a deadly plot by Ozymandias (see: the next entry on our list).
Despite the fact that he can see all of time happening concurrently, he remains oblivious to the fact that that Ozymandias orchestrated the cancer rumors in order to get him out of the way. Sure, Manhattan’s interest in earthly concerns wanes, but he still cares enough that he runs off to hide in his proverbial Martian pillow fort when he thinks nobody wants him around anymore.
Ultimately, New York (and several other cities in the film adaptation of Watchmen) gets leveled because a physicist went back for his watch.
11. Ozymandias – Watchmen
There’s a small faction of evil geniuses that believe the only way to save humanity is to kill an awful lot of humans. Trust fund orphan Adrian Alexander Veidt eschews his vast fortune to travel the world on a hash-fueled vision quest. When he returns from his year abroad, he tells everyone (probably in a pretentious affected accent) that his name is now Ozymandias, and he uses his smarts to become a costumed vigilante. He reacquires said fortune, priding himself on having never compromised his superior ethics to do so.
But all the while, this Prep School Gandhi is enacting a plot to assassinate his colleagues and bio-engineer an alien to destroy New York (man, the Big Apple can not catch a break) in a foolproof effort to unite the world against a perceived extraterrestrial attack — ushering in an era of peace in the process. Surely all those New Yorkers who get exploded love this plan and are excited to be a part of it.
10. Hulk Vs. Iron Man – Age of Ultron
It’s no secret that Tony Stark suffers from a teensy weensy case of hubris. So when Hulk has a smashy psychic break at the hands of the Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man is pleased as punch to have a chance to take his Mark XLIV Armor (aka HulkBuster) for a spin in the middle of a populated city street. Stark “protects” civilians from a rampaging Hulk by smashing him into the pavement, and then dragging him down the street, bowling over everything in their path and then throwing him into a truck. Iron Man then stops Hulk from ripping out the suit’s circuits by punching him into a farmer’s market. Stark eventually makes a move to get Hulk out of town, but when he first picks up the Grumpy Green Giant, it seems as fine a time as any to move the party to a less populated locale. Maybe then those poor people in the glass elevator could have made it to their floors and he wouldn’t have accidentally leveled an in-progress skyscraper. Here’s hoping the construction crew had the day off.
9. Superman – Superman: The Movie
Among the Last Son of Krypton’s greatest superpower hits are flying, limitless strength, laser eyes, and freeze breath. But one of his deep cuts, revealed in his first jump to the big screen, is that he can turn back time by reversing the Earth’s rotation.
Ignoring warnings from his deceased alien patriarch echoing in his brain, he busts out this jam in order to save his office crush, Lois Lane. Because he’s off preventing untold mortal mayhem that results from one of Lex Luthor’s deployed nuclear missiles, he’s not there to save Lois from suffocating in her dirt-filled beater car. The film cuts between Superman doing pretty important things like saving a town from the destruction of the Hoover Dam and Lois slowly disappearing under a pile of rubble. After he turns back time, he makes a beeline to Lois and lures her out of her car with his intense baby blues before the earthquake hits.
8. Hulk – The Incredible Hulk
Ed Norton’s Bruce Banner just wants to be left alone so he can make moon eyes at Betty Ross. But that dang U.S. military won’t let him. In an attempt to persuade him to join the team, Betty’s daddy injects a serum made from Banner’s blood into an emotionally volatile British Marine, because that sort of thing never goes awry.
Shockingly, the marine reacts poorly and turns into a horrible mutated version of Hulk, appropriately referred to as Abomination. And wouldn’t you know it, Abomination does not take very good care of his toys.
Banner kicks off his intervention by free-falling from a helicopter, in the hope that he’ll turn into the green guy before he goes splat. Fortunately, he does Hulk out, and there aren’t any people or cars in his landing spot. But then he and A-Bom have an explosive tussle through Harlem, as panicked people dive out of their way and hopefully get out of their cars before one of the big dudes uses it as a weapon.
7. Wolverine – Logan
James Howlett would be the first to tell you that he’s no hero. But then he’d contradict himself by going berserker on a bunch of bad guys or playing “Little Miss Sunshine” with a young girl in order to save her from the evil scientists who created her in his image.
Still, Wolverine doesn’t always make the best decisions. Case in point, even though he knows the Reavers are nipping at their heels in Logan, he takes the time to help a kindly farm family wrangle their horses after a car accident. He then lets a white lie about being a single dad on a road trip with Grandpa turn into dinner and a sleepover, knowing full well that his enemies have no qualms about killing any innocent people who stand in their way. Not to mention the fact that Old Man Xavier has seizures that could potentially destroy the continent.
6. Mr. Incredible – The Incredibles
We don’t see all of the incidents that lead to mass litigation against superheroes, but Mr. Incredible’s introduction is fraught with carelessness, as he doesn’t even notice dropping a tree on a moving car after rescuing a cat. Who knows how much damage he has unknowingly inflicted up to this point.
What we do know is that his first lawsuit comes from a suicidal man who was saved against his will and injured in the process. This incites other lawsuits, some possibly more justified (the x-ray vision Peeping Tom) than others. A headline montage tells us everything we need to know about why costumed superheroes eventually must hang up their capes and go into hiding.
Among the charges: millions of dollars in public property damage, and “scores” injured in a rescue attempt. Dynaguy is charged with public endangerment. Average citizens are angry and scared. They start protesting, and the government responds by creating an anonymous costumed hero relocation program, both to protect the heroes from the public and vice versa. The Municiberg Times reports that 85% of the public is in support of this program, which has to be a record for the American public agreeing on something.
5. Captain America – The Winter Solider
Partly in response to the Battle of New York, the government constructs three super-helicarriers linked to sky satellites set to serve as the first line of defense for any more homicidal aliens that might stop by. But Hydra has compromised the helicarriers, so they are also secretly scanning the planet; ready to take out anyone who might threaten their evil plots. People like, say, Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff.
As is often the case, these giant war machines are controlled by a single microchip. So Cap, Black Widow, and Falcon are tasked with replacing the Hydra chips with ones programmed to obey S.H.I.E.L.D. commands. Once the chips are in place, they command them to immediately start destroying each other. Trouble is, they’re still hovering above the nation’s capital at the time. Maybe they didn’t realize that D.C. is pretty darn close to the several large bodies of water, including Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. How about taking a few extra seconds to fly them a little to the east and avoid a whole lot of death and destruction?
4. Scarlet Witch – Age of Ultron
Anguished over the death of her brother, Pietro (who dies saving Hawkeye while he’s busy saving a little boy), Scarlet Witch abandons her post at a crucial moment in the battle of Sokovia. While she’s off doing some personal avenging, Ultron’s drone is able to activate a vibranium-powered machine which will fly the city up into the air and then let it fall, triggering a global extinction effect.
The Avengers do manage to evacuate most of the city and explode the landmass in the air, but if Wanda had stayed at her post, it wouldn’t have even come to that. Moreover, they’re only in this mess because Tony Stark couldn’t leave well enough alone. He had to go and create his own Frankenstein’s Monster that turned against him and decided that the only way to save Earth is to (say it with us now) kill all the humans.
3. The Avengers – The Avengers
The Battle of New York is kind of a big deal. When Loki makes a play for world domination, he uses Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to get his plan into motion. Turns out that Stark Tower is the perfect conduit to allow Loki to open up a wormhole over New York City that allows a host of murderous aliens to slip through and start blowing up the place.
While the Avengers are fighting, they do take pains to protect citizens and help get them out of harm’s way. But it shouldn’t have come to that. They already have Loki captive on a helicarrier. The only reason he is able to escape and activate the wormhole-opening device is because the Avengers can’t stop bickering. Loki also manages to kill the universally beloved Agent Coulson on his way out the door. The devastating battle that rages through the city is repeatedly brought up going forward as a 9-11 level catastrophe. Never forget.
2. Doctor Who – Doctor Who
Part of what makes time travelin’ Doctor Who so compelling is that he often has to make tough decisions about whether or not to save lives. Sometimes a large-scale disaster is a “fixed point in time”. Changing the outcome would create a ripple effect that would disrupt the timeline. Otherwise, he would definitely go back and undo his first catastrophic decision – destroying his home planet of Gallifrey (and every last Time Lord) in a double extinction that also takes out the genocidal machines known as the Daleks. Of course, this tragic event is also what makes him so dark and mysterious to his companions. So maybe it’s not all bad.
He does later (or earlier? Time travel is so confusing) have the opportunity to return to that moment and capture Gallifrey in a pocket universe, rather than destroy it outright. But living in a pocket can’t be that much cooler than obliteration. And besides, circumstances are such that most of the Doctor’s incarnations don’t even remember having saved Gallifrey, despite having rallied to make it happen.
1. General Zod Vs. Superman – Man of Steel
When General Zod escapes from the Phantom Zone in Man of Steel, he eventually comes for Kal-El, using the entire world as hostages. But it’s kind of a bluff, because Zod’s plan to terraform Earth into a new Krypton would annihilate humanity anyway. Zod even has a batch of Kryptonian zygotes ready to go, made from Clark Kent’s DNA. It’s up for debate whether or not those potential Kryptonians count as life, but by destroying them, Superman inarguably eliminates the potential to make any more of his kind. His justification is that “Krypton had its chance”, which isn’t a super sound argument for the extinction of a species.
With nothing left to lose, Zod wants to tear Superman apart, and attacks him in downtown Metropolis. At this point, Zod has furious tunnel vision for Kal-El. Both of these guys can fly pretty darn fast. It would have been so easy for Supes to take their beef to Antarctica, or, better yet, space. But instead, they level the better part of the city with their super squabble.
PS: Those buildings are by no means empty. Batman’s fury about this incident is a major plot point of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and honestly, it’s completely justified.
What other superheroes should have done more to protect the people? Let us know in the comments.