As the saying goes, all good things eventually get pooped on by Hollywood. While there’s little doubt that seeing our favorite superheroes come to life on the big screen is thrilling, they all can’t be Deadpools and Logans. Nor can they have the farsighted brilliance of The Avengers. When done right, a superhero movie is as enjoyable as filmmaking gets and can turn a second rate character into a fan favorite, money-making powerhouse, like it did with Iron Man, Thor and Liam Neeson. When done wrong, we get duck boobs. Not to mention some truly heinous adaptations of our favorite comics that make us wish they were never ripped from the page and carelessly dumped on the screen.
Leave it to Hollywood to take something we all love and hold dear, and then bludgeon it senselessly to death. So in honor of the most successful of them all hanging up his cinematic claws before that ever happens, we’re counting down those characters who didn’t have the good fortune to be played by Hugh Jackman.
Here are 15 Heroes Who Were Ruined By Hollywood.
Take the genie from Kazaam, put him in a clunky suit made out of silver spraypainted styrofoam and give him a sledge-hammer that doubles as a laser cannon. Then add in such inspired catchphrases as, “It’s hammer time!” and we’re left with a surefire recipe for superhero ruination. No amount of Shaq-Fu could save 1997’s Steel from getting tossed in the scrap yard.
One could easily be mistaken for thinking this film stole the plot of Iron Man if it hadn’t come out over a decade earlier. Shaquille O’Neal plays John Henry Irons, a former weapons designer whose tech falls into the wrong hands, so he uses his junkyard know-how to make himself a super suit. Amidst all its other problems, Steel cheapens everything that made the Man of Literal Steel great by removing him from the Superman mythos and giving him the ’90s treatment, baggy jeans, Kamikazes, and all. Which is why maybe it’s time the DCEU took another swing and brought him back into the fold. While Hollywood’s at it, why not give Kazaam another go, too. Because if you can remake Space Jam, anything’s possible.
There are few comic characters cooler, grittier, or more tortured than Spawn. A former assassin murdered by his boss, Al Simmons sold his soul to see his wife one last time and ended up reborn as a Hellspawn soldier with godlike powers. All said and done, Todd McFarlene’s angel of death anti-hero is basically a demonic Batman, only not above violently killing people. In other words, this character had no business being in a PG-13 movie. Especially one with a budget that couldn’t even spring to give his trademark shape-shifting cape more than a few minutes of screen time.
In their infinite wisdom, the film’s studio New Line Cinema felt it better to go the more teen-friendly route with McFarlene’s creation, opting for fart jokes over ripping people’s heads off. Then they threw in a staggering mess of poor visual effects, a cringe-worthy final fight in Hell against a 64-bit furry fire-monster, and John Leguizamo’s Clown character showing us the skidmarks on his underwear. Now we’re all for jokes about clown demons crapping their pants, but there is a time and a place for everything, and in the no-nonsense gruesome world of Spawn, it felt wrong.
Ultimately, the film turned the character into lighthearted fare and failed to capture his true essence. A worthy franchise revival has been in the works ever since, and may be close to finally coming to fruition. But for the time being, we’ll just have to settle for the HBO cartoon series.
13. Jonah Hex
The world really didn’t need a Jonah Hex movie. Or at least it didn’t deserve the one it got. A confederate Civil War veteran turned bounty hunter with a disfigured face and even more grisly personality, Hex was one of the first true anti-heroes in comics. As an expert marksman whose greatest assets are his grit and honor, there’s plenty of morally ambiguous material here to play with. Unfortunately, 2010’s Jonah Hex ignored all of it.
Jonah Hex is what happens when you combine the current superhero fad with Hollywood’s odd desire to remake Wild Wild West. The result is a steampunk western that has nothing to do with its source (save in name) and everything to do with being awful. Because having Jonah Hex merely be one of the deadliest men alive isn’t enough of a box office draw, the filmmakers decided to turn him into a super-human magician that has the ability to talk to ghosts. Mutant zombies, gunslingers, soldiers, fantasy, realism, revenge, massive guns, Megan Fox as a prostitute. It’s all here — every big blockbuster action movie cliché you can think of. Plus an underdeveloped hero that most moviegoers have never heard of or care about in a genre even fewer want to visit.
We’re not saying the story of Jonah Hex trying to stop John Malkovich from destroying America with an oversized six-shooter that fires exploding oranges couldn’t be fun. But if you’re going to go down that road, at least do it with a little panache, not to mention cohesive storytelling. And please, before all else, read the comics first.
12. The Spirit
More than likely, you have no idea who The Spirt is. And if you do, it’s only because you labored your way through the utterly absurd 2008 film of the same name. But this movie isn’t notable for botching a character no one cared about so much as it is a catch-all for just how awful superhero films can get once Hollywood (and the unbridled mind of Frank Miller) get a hold of them.
The Spirit was a near invulnerable masked hero from the ’40s created by famed comic pioneer Will Eisner, billed as “the only real middle-class crimefighter.” Yet somehow from that mundane bio, we get a tasteless debauchery of self-indulgent camp that, instead of providing an action-packed lampooning of comic heroes, turned out to be an uninspired visual ripoff of Sin City. This includes such scenes as Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson torturing a kitten to death in a dentist’s office while dressed as Nazis for no particular reason. While all this could have worked if done right (well, maybe not the kitten bit), the incomprehensible script and corny dialogue make the whole thing tough to watch. The Spirit is a warning to all superheroes, even those with no name to stand on, of what could happen when movies start to run out of original ideas and instead start throwing as much sex, violence and flash as it can at its viewers in hopes no one will notice.
11. The Shadow
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Alec Baldwin, of course. Because when we think superhero, that’s immediately where our minds go. For those in the dark, The Shadow is a mysterious vigilante whose great power is to cloud the minds of men through a combination of ventriloquism, hypnotism, and red scarfs, so they have a hard time seeing him and he has an easy time beating the crap out of them. Considered one of the first superheroes, this Dark Avenger was a major influence on comics and primary inspiration for Batman. He debuted in radio serials and pulp novels in the ’30s, and in all honesty, could make for one very entertaining movie. Especially as a stylized art-deco period piece, which the filmmakers tried unsuccessfully to pull off by stealing their sets from The Rocketeer.
In the end, though, it’s the ridiculous situations that Baldwin’s character inserts himself into that make 1994’s The Shadow better left out of the limelight. Take one scene at a club where he mind-rapes his cop uncle and then tries the same stunt on a woman, who proves immune to his creepy eye assaults, so he runs away in a cab. Then there’s the time he telepathically makes someone jump off a building to their death. Also, Ghenghis Khan’s last living descendant creates an atomic bomb to blow up everything and The Shadow defeats him by throwing a mirror at his head. So yeah, that’s what Hollywood thinks of the granddaddy of heroes.
Here’s hoping the upcoming film for Doc Savage, another classic pulp hero, will fare better.
10. Howard the Duck
Is Howard the Duck a superhero? During the Civil War comic arc, he did attempt to register under the Superhero Registration Act. He also teams up (or at least appears in the general vicinity) alongside such heavyweights as Spider-Man, She-Hulk, Ghost Rider, Santa Claus, and KISS. He’s a master of Quack Fu, occasionally dabbles in magic, routinely saves the planet from supervillains such as Doctor Bong, and has even suited up as the Iron Duck and merged with Deadpool over the years. All and all, he sounds pretty super to us. Though moviegoers may never know the true potential of his heroic nature thanks to George Lucas and his ill-conceived take on the character in 1986’s Howard the Duck.
Sure, the film has grown into what many would call a cult classic. But that has nothing to do with Howard and everything to do with the fact we get to see Lea Thompson flirt with bestiality, as well as watch a female duck go topless, which was probably the first set of breasts many young viewers ever saw. Just imagine for a moment if the film had stuck to its roots and brought to life the satirical, Kafka-esque existential waterfowl originally created by Steve Gerber. At his best, the Howard of comics was a counter-culture icon. Imagine Deadpool only with feathers. We loved his brief cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy, and can only hope he will make a triumphant R-rated return someday soon.
Batman and Robin rounds out the trifecta of films (the others being Steel and Spawn) that helped make 1997 the worst year in superhero movie history. While this notorious flick did much in the way of harming the film cred of many a superhero and villain alike, one of its greatest casualties was the Dark Knightress herself, Batgirl.
It would be all too easy to put it all on the casting Alicia Silverstone as Barbara “Wilson”. Though considering Alicia was the “it” girl of the moment, that move made sense. Maybe she could have even pulled it off if the film’s creators hadn’t turned Batgirl into a mishmash of character types whose sole purpose was to show gratuitous closeups of her butt and breasts in a Batsuit. This maneuver was made all the more creepy given her unnecessary re-imagining as the cutesy schoolgirl niece of Alfred. Possibly even more disturbing were the reports that many of her scenes were cut for “continuity purposes” because Silverstone gained too much weight during production. All in all, the terrible characterization and behind-the-scenes nonsense helped turn what should have been an empowering character into a one-dimensional stereotype.
8. The Punisher
The next batch of heroes are notable in that they all found redemption despite Hollywood’s best efforts to annihilate them. While their inclusion here does depend on how you define “Hollywood,” there’s little doubt the long form storytelling offered by the likes of Netflix, and even network TV, has done wonders for those superheroes stunted by the more traditional moviegoing experience. Case in point, the Punisher.
Not once, not twice, but thrice has Frank Castle found himself shot down by Tinseltown. While these aren’t the worst movies ever made, none do much in the way of making us care about Punisher and the wave of dead bodies he rode in on. Dolph Lundgren’s straight-to-video release is what you’d expect from your typical ’80s action flick, only it’s boring, removes most everything recognizable about the character, and feels more like the love child of Death Wish and Commando than anything else. Despite a bigger budget, 2004’s second go around starring Thomas Jane wasn’t much of an upgrade. More violent MacGyver than vengeful vigilante, this version puts the Punisher in a run-of-the-mill revenge tale, only slightly improved by getting to watch John Travolta get blown to smithereens. Punisher: War Zone, on the other hand, did make a conscientious effort to do the character justice, and ended up putting a bullet right in the head of his film career thanks to its over-the-top convolutedness.
Fortunately, the Punisher has since been avenged with a fittingly complex portrayal by Jon Bernthal in season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil, one that has us chomping at the bit for his upcoming new series.
7. Ghost Rider
Granted, few things can top Nicolas Cage’s CGI abs. Or seeing him pee fire. Or basically witnessing him do anything. Yet somehow, both 2007’s Ghost Rider and the 2011 sequel miss the mark on all cylinders, and turn one of Marvel’s badassest creations into a dud. Surprisingly, no amount of even the most dramatic finger pointing ever put on film could save this soulless incarnation.
Sure, watching Nicolas Cage motorcycle across America hunting for corrupt souls (while his head is on fire) sounds like the greatest thing ever. But a lack of acting, an overabundance of computer effects, and the complete absence of tangible plot extinguished any hope of either film doing the Spirit of Vengeance justice. How do you make someone as cool as a flaming skulled biker seem like a whimp? By having him get that way by accidentally bleeding on a contract with the Devil, then saying crazy things like, “he’s scraping at the dooruh!” Anyone looking for Nic Cage being Nic Cage has come to the right place. Anyone else looking for a faithful adaptation of a Ghost Rider would probably be better off sticking to ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
While Supergirl has had some truly heinous moments over the years, none were more disastrous than her self-titled 1984 film. At the time of its release, the world was riding high on Christopher Reeves, cellophane ‘S’ shields, and the Man of Steel getting drunk and fighting himself in the first three installments of the Superman series. So making a movie where his superpowered female cousin fights a maniacal Faye Dunaway over the affections of a high school groundskeeper only made sense.
Is Supergirl the worst superhero movie ever made? It’s definitely up there. Did it make the character look awful in every way possible? You betcha. Does it make us want a bucket of fried chicken? YES. But most of all, we’re just happy that Kara Zor-El managed to find saving grace on The CW of all places. Because if that show proves anything, you don’t have to turn Supergirl into a flying bimbo to get people’s attention, or lack thereof. Of course, if the theories prove true and she is in fact slated to appear in Man of Steel 2, the character might just end up finding atonement two times over.
Oh, Catwoman. You started off so strong with your Julie Newmar-ness and being Michelle Pfeiffer-y. But then 2004 rolled around and you decided to throw it all away for a pick-up game doing your best impersonation of the Harlem Globetrotters.
First off, we should be clear. Hale Berry’s character is not the Catwoman. But no one cares. It’s all the same Catwoman to the average moviegoer, which sadly marred the legacy of those other amazing portrayals that proceeded this one.
Having nothing to do with being one of Batman’s greatest counterpoints and everything to do with Halle Berry’s cleavage, this film changed all conceivable aspects of the character and made her silly, sexist, and entirely pointless. Some might say Anne Hathaway’s performance in Dark Knight Rises brought the role back from the brink, but let’s face it, she wasn’t really Catwoman either. Sure, she wore some goggles on her head that kind of looked like pointed ears, but that doesn’t make you Selina Kyle. Getting thrown off a building by Christopher Walken only to come back to electrocute him with her lips — now that’s a Catwoman. In the comics, this Gotham City siren toys with her friends and foes alike with over-the-top antics, strutting the line between righteous hero and seductive villainess. It’s something Hollywood, unfortunately, seems to have forgotten. Here’s hoping they start remembering in the very near future.
If it weren’t for Netflix’s awesome series, the only version of the Man Without Fear we would know today would be the 2003 version that was left to us by the guy who appeared in Gigli that same year. Now that’s scary. While Ben Affleck would go on to bigger and Batier things, his interpretation of the blind lawyer turned guardian of Hell’s Kitchen was a far cry from Charlie Cox’s inspired turn as DD. But for all the critiques of bad acting that plague this film, that’s not why it failed to resonate.
Dark, complex, and ninja-like, this street level hero has been one of Marvel comic’s greatest offerings, with shelves of rich material to call upon. But whereas Netflix has taken their time in exploring the shadowy underworld of Hell’s Kitchen, its movie predecessor went all in by jam packing everything they could into two hours. From an origin story to fighting his greatest adversaries in Kingpin and Bullseye, and then still finding time to partake in the romancing (and death) of Elektra, there was little chance anyone could save this movie from overwhelming the senses. But who cares about any of that now. Because we’ve got The Defenders. And if we have this horrible movie to thank for it, then maybe Hollywood being awful isn’t such a bad thing after all.
3. Green Lantern
Thank goodness for Deadpool. What made Ryan Reynolds the perfect fit to play the smart-ass, sarcastically violent Merc with a Mouth made him a terrible choice to wear the Green Lantern Corps ring as one of Earth’s mightiest guardians. In the comics, Hal Jordan is as dutiful as they come, regarding his powers and lofty status with a solemn seriousness that makes him, for the most part, a stand-up guy. Reynolds, on the other hand, once played a frat boy who made eclairs filled with dog sperm.
Ridiculous villains, an over bloated script, horrendous CGI, and a disturbing lack of imagination is the legacy left by 2011’s Green Lantern. Meant to kick start a new cinematic shared universe for DC, the film might just go down in history as the most disappointing superhero movie of all time — one that still makes Hollywood hesitant to bring back one of the more famous characters in comics. Which means at best, maybe we’ll see this founding member of the Justice League get a cameo in the upcoming film. Overall, the Green Lantern worked better as a Hot Wheels commercial than as an entryway for the DCEU. And at the center of it all was an unrelatable, cocky jerk. And his awful face mask.
Despite easily being one of the top five most recognizable superheroes in existence, the Boy Wonder has routinely gotten the short end of the short pants. Even Batman seems to relish in slapping him about and having sex with his girlfriend. But perhaps the most traumatizing moment of his over 80 years of sidekicking came when he was written into 1995’s Batman Forever and it’s nitwitted follow-up, Batman and Robin.
In the comics, Robin (any version, pick one) is a worthy companion to the Dark Knight with his own code to uphold and demons to overcome. In the movies, he wears an earring. A whiny, obnoxious, incompetent brat, Chris O’Donnell’s character spends his time on screen stealing the Batmobile, hitting on school girl,s and routinely getting captured in the most ridiculous ways. Also, he yells “Cowabunga!” while sky surfing. Robin deserves better. Though he did look really cool hanging up that laundry. So what do we know?
1. The Fantastic Four
Where to start with this one? Pretty much every superhero on this list either has already or has the potential to someday in the future rise up from their ruinous ashes scattered about La La Land. The same can’t be said of Reed Richards and Co. In fact, after three disastrous big screen outings, even Hollywood has to be ready to start clobberin’ the idea of ever letting the First Family of Marvel back in theaters.
Bolstered by the success of X-Men, 20th Century Fox originally intended its other Marvel property to help them ride the wave of superhero pay dirt for years to come. Instead, they got two failed franchise attempts, one that felt like a cartoon and another that left audiences stranded on Planet Zero Fun. For our part, we got Captain Flame On doing such character-defining things as turning a chair around before he sits, Reed Richards clubbing, a gigantic fart cloud named Galactus trying to eat the universe, and the worst reviewed Marvel movie in history. And we won’t even go into the Roger Corman produced version that was so bad Marvel blocked it from being released. When you look up the word “ruined” in the dictionary, surely a picture of the Fantastic Four cast (any of them, really) awaits.
Are there any other awesome superheroes who Hollywood royally screwed over? Tell us in the comments.
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