Not every comic book superhero adaptation gets turns into gold at the box office. While the superhero boom in Hollywood has made many people rich and turned many superhero films into massive blockbusters, there are exceptions. Most of the “failures” still earn back their ludicrous budgets and possibly get rebooted a few years later.
The Spider-Man franchise is already in line for its second reboot after less than 15 years. But some movies, like this summer’s Fantastic Four, lose money for their studios and live on in infamy.
Here are Screen Rant’s 10 Worst Superhero Box Office Bombs.
Warner Bros. banked a lot on Catwoman being a blockbuster hit. A $100 million budget and a heavy marketing campaign tried to build up buzz for a movie that seemed like a surefire hit, benefiting from the recent boom in superhero movies. The film, however, was in development hell for years on end, with Michel Pfeiffer and Tim Burton first touted for the title role and director, as a spin-off from Burton’s Batman Returns. Then, Ashley Judd was rumored to step into the catsuit, and then Nicole Kidman had a shot.
Finally, Halle Berry was cast, along with the signing of unknown, one-named French filmmaker Pitof. The critical response was disastrous, as was that of the box office, raking in $82 million worldwide out of a $100 million budget. Part of the film’s failure may reside in the creative decision to jettison the film’s origins in the Batman universe. Halle Berry played a character named “Patience Phillips,” not the Selina Kyle we know and love, and her version of the cat bore little resemblance to that in the comics.
Jonah Hex (2010)
Jonah Hex was a great comic book. It told the tale of a facially scarred, but remarkably amicable bounty hunter who stuck by a personal code to protect the innocent – it was one of the great achievements for DC Comics. The film version? Not so much. A $47 million budget went into creating a movie for this iconic character, but something got lost in the translation.
Josh Brolin, a great actor in his own right, was cast as the titular character, but the screenplay lost all the grit and guts that made the comic book a success, which is apparent in the film’s 12% Rotten Tomatoes rating. A scant $11 million was made, opening at #7 on opening weekend, and grossing less than $500,000 overseas. Too bad the producers didn’t stick closer to the original source material.
Aeon Flux (2005)
How could an adaptation of the popular animated heroine be such a bust? I mean, it featured Charlize Theron in leather tights and had a decent budget of $63 million. Aeon Flux was bound for success, but achieved far less than that. Theron’s skin tight pants weren’t enough to lure audiences at the box office, proved by a measly $52.3 million worldwide gross, and neither was the skimpy plot involving Aeon Flux as an assassin who is sent out to kill the Chairman, but unwillingly uncovers deeper mysteries.
Director Karyn Kusama, whose feature directing debut was the excellent Girlfight, may have been better at directing personal, indie fare. The only person who came out of this project with half of her integrity intact was Theron,who recently kicked all sorts of as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.
The Spirit (2008)
2005’s Sin City was incredibly important for graphic novelist Frank Miller, making over $158 million and bringing in an influx of Miller adaptations to the silver screen, including the blockbuster 300. Miller used his new found Hollywood leverage to adapt a Will Eisner comic, The Spirit, for the big screen.
Gabriel Macht played the titular character, a man brought back from the afterlife to fight the corrupt bad guys of Central City, yet there was none of the excitement of Sin City, and instead of feeling alive and exciting, it felt robotic at its core. Even worse, its $39 million worldwide box office take failed to reach the $60 million budget that was put into its production. The impressive cast of the film, including Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Eva Mendes, couldn’t even turn it into a success.
In the early ’90s, DC’s “Death of Superman” storyline brought forth many intriguing characters, the best of whom was Steel, inspired by African-American folk-hero John Henry. The first red flag in this production was the casting of NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal as the titular hero. “Shaq” had delved into acting before, with unfortunate results (ahem…Kazaam).
The film’s plot was a string of clichés about Steel getting revenge on his old boss, who is supposed to be mass producing dangerous weapons and selling them to criminals … or something like that.The film grossed an embarrassing $1.7 million on a reasonable $17 million budget, which tells us that audiences were not so keen on Shaq as a superhero.
While CBS attempts to revitalize Supergirl for the 21st century this fall, one must never ever forget the dismal movie version from 1984, which set back the possibilities of female superheroes for decades. Coming off three successful Superman movies, it was only fitting that Hollywood would want to attempt a celluloid version of his female sidekick.
Helen Slater was chosen as the titular character, a Kryptonite companion to Superman, who loses an Orb and comes to earth to retrieve it, only to find out that a wicked witch has found it and is attempting to use the orb for destruction of the planet. With a $35 million budget – in 1984! – the film was a disaster from beginning of production to the end. It was released in the U.K. in 1984, but only made it to the U.S. two years later, earning a measly $14 million worldwide.
Tank Girl (1995)
Based on the British comic book created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, the title character of Tankgirl drives a tank that she also calls home. A 1995 film version starring Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, and Ice-T ended up being a complete bust on its release, earning a mere $4 million on a budget of $25 million.
Its director, Rachel Talalay, blamed the studio for forced cuts and total lack of artistic control. Over time, the film has gained a considerable cult following due to its feminist themes and general lunacy of the plot. Even Talalay has warmed up to the film again, stating “It was unique, it was new, it was fresh, it was way ahead of its time, and I’m happy that I got to do it and that I’ll always have her.”
Howard the Duck (1986)
Howard the Duck, the surrealist Marvel character, is probably not the first comic book hero you’d put at the top of your list for a film adaptation. Yet in 1986, George Lucas himself produced a film about this dastardly duck, who is accidentally pulled down from his space-bound home to planet Earth.
Howard has to stop an alien invader who was also accidentally zapped to earth and is now taking over human bodies. Critical consensus was nasty, as was the box office intake, which was only $16 million in comparison to a $37 million budget. Nevertheless, the Duck made a cameo in last year’s über-successful Guardians of the Galaxy.
Punisher: War Zone (2008)
None of the three Punisher movies to date have done particularly well at the box office. The Dolph Lundgren-starring 1989 version wasn’t released in theaters, while the 2004 film featuring Thomas Jane didn’t really light the box office on fire, either. But it at least had more punch than the 2009 reboot/pseudo-sequel, War Zone, a film that was – forgive me for saying this – a punishment in its own right.
The story goes that Frank Castle’s family was killed by a mob family, and Castle exacts revenge and kills everyone in the clan except Billy Russotti, who sustains very severe injuries that, even with plastic surgery, make his face looks like a jigsaw puzzle. The movie tackled the Jigsaw vs. Punisher rivalry, but, due to a poor screenplay that left out a lot of character development, lost much of the gripping momentum that made the comic books so good. A $35 million budget meant that the film’s $10 million worldwide box office intake was a complete and utter failure.
According to most comic book fans, Daredevil was stinker of a movie, so why did anyone think we needed a spin-off with Daredevil’s sidekick Elektra (Jennifer Garner) getting her own movie? Clearly not audiences, as the $43 million budgeted film only took in $24 million at the domestic box office.
It’s not that Jennifer couldn’t kick ass in those leather pants (have you ever seen Alias?), it was the lack of care that went into the movie. After being killed in Daredevil, Elektra is revived and trained to become a contract killer who tries to protect a family that is hunted by supernatural assassins. A director’s cut was eventually released, which promised to be better, but it only contained an added 3 minutes of footage, which clearly wasn’t enough to save this poor film from entering movie infamy.
Did we miss any other marquee superhero movies that failed to land at the box office? Are there any other superhero movies that deserve to be mentioned on our hall of shame? Let us know in the comments below!
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