While there’s no debating that superhero movies are currently at their absolute best, there was a time where films about masked heroes were more likely to be found in the bargain bin than the blockbuster lists. From the ’60s to the ’90s, most super-offerings were campy, low-budget disasters, often only loosely based on the source material. While there have been one or two since then that are scraping the bottom of the barrel, the movies in this list tend to make Green Lantern look like Oscar material.
The Rules: The films have to be full-length, no short films, but can include TV movies. Superheroes are also all comic-book-based; heroes created for a film aren’t included. These are the worst of the worst – films that truly scrape the bottom of the movie-barrel.
11. Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance (2011)
The most recent entry on the list, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was so widely recognized as a terrible film that it managed to scoop a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Prequel, Remake or Rip Off. The follow-up to the only slightly better-received 2007 film, Ghost Rider, is packed full of cheap and dirty action sequences clinging desperately to what little storyline exists, and had critics foaming at the mouth.
The film may have been criticized for the weak (yet strangely convoluted) plot, poor writing and sloppy CGI, but one of the biggest criticisms is for Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider. His acting crossed the line between intense and ridiculous, and his performance is hard to take seriously. A sad B-movie for a potentially great character.
10. Catwoman (2004)
Where would a bad-superhero-movie list be without this atrocious version of one of our favorite Batman villainesses? Halle Berry may be a phenomenal actress, but even her talents couldn’t atone for this mess of a movie. Berry herself recognizes this as a terrible film, and accepted a Razzie for her role in it, at which point she even apologized for how awful it is.
Catwoman’s biggest issue lies in how far it deviates from the source material. Selina Kyle is inexplicably renamed Patience Phillips, and it’s suggested that she is one in a long line of Catwomen who gain their powers through mystical Egyptian cat… stuff. Phillips is clearly heavily inspired by the hugely superior Pfeiffer version of the character, starting out as a timid office worker killed by the higher ups after discovering their plan to sell defective cosmetics. It’s enough to make you wonder if the writers even picked up a comic, or just riffed off Batman Returns.
9. Batman: The Movie (1966)
A film spinoff from the gloriously campy ‘60s TV series, this was the Bat’s first appearance on the silver screen (apart from some low-budget serials in the ’40s). This film may be terrible, but it’s definitely found its way into the ranks of movies so bad that they are actually good. Starring the incomparable Adam West as Batman alongside Burt Ward as Robin, it’s a shiny, happy superhero movie as they biff and bash their way through no less than four villains in 105 minutes.
Following on from the show, the costumes look homemade, the effects are terrible, and the dialogue is so cheesy that you want to melt it and dip bread in it. However, there is something to be said for the sheer joy that the film takes in being silly. Far from film genius, this has become something of a cult classic for it’s tongue-in-cheek approach to the caped crusader.
8. Batman & Robin (1997)
Another Razzie winner (this time for Alicia Silverstone as Worst Supporting Actress), this ‘90s Batman flick was nominated for an impressive ten other Razzies, covering essentially every aspect of the film. The movie is cluttered with comic book names, introducing both Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) and Robin (Chris O’Donnel), as well as including two villains in Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) and Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
The film as a whole is just too over-the-top to be taken seriously. The jokes fly thick and fast, and the camp-value is off the charts, but not in a good way. Sets and costumes are eye-wateringly bright (and feature the infamous Bat-nipples). Attempts to tie together all these quips and characters with plot and backstory lead to a frenetic and headache-inducing installment in Batman history.
7. Fantastic Four (1994)
This unreleased B-movie was made with the sole intention of allowing the studio to retain the rights to the Fantastic Four characters, and it shows. Produced by the “king of B-movies,” Roger Corman, the film is incredibly corny, chock-full of poorly-delivered and groan-worthy lines. Because it was never intended for release, the film was given the most limited of budgets, and this is obvious in every scene.
However, the film made it to cult classic status, as Corman’s work has a certain silly charm to it. This is a superhero film without even a hint of darkness, as our brightly-costumed heroes battle a villain with a diamond ray gun, getting into obviously choreographed fights and delivering terrible lines. While its low quality is famous in nerdier circles, it’s still occasionally fun to watch as a film so bad it’s good. Almost.
6. Steel (1997)
This oft-forgotten attempt to bring a little diversity to big screen superheroes, Steel was one of athlete Shaquille O’Neal’s first forays into the world of acting (and it shows). Unsurprisingly, his painfully wooden performance was nominated for a Razzie and heavily criticized in most reviews of the box-office flop.
The effects and costuming are sub-par, with the key to the character’s style (his “iron” armor) regularly flapping in the breeze and generally not appearing even vaguely like metal. On top of the poor effects, acting, and a solidly one-dimensional hero at the helm, Steel ladles on some cheese with an ooey-gooey feel-good message that simply doesn’t scan.
5. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Easily recognized as the worst of Christopher Reeve’s Superman films, The Quest for Peace failed on almost every level. It failed to save Cannon Films as the studio had hoped a Superman film might, and Reeve himself regretted his involvement with the film. The budget was miniscule for a superhero film, and after (allegedly) running out of funds while still filming, the movie was cobbled together and released, only to fail at the box office.
Another Razzie nominee (for Worst Visual Effects), this one fell down primarily because of the terrible appearance. While the acting is generally considered passable (although not brilliant, by any means), the special effects are incredibly cheap and give an overall low-budget feel to the film. The plot (such as it is) lacks any real depth, and the villain just doesn’t seem overly threatening or engaging. The Quest For Peace is widely credited as the reason that Superman dropped out of the live action arena for over a decade after its release.
4. Captain America (1990)
That this was a straight-to-video offering (that isn’t even a sequel or spin off) really says it all. A cheap and tacky B-movie version of Steve Rogers fails to impress in a film that Entertainment Weekly called “not merely wrong for kids, it’s just all wrong”.
While it manages not to stray too far from the basic Captain America origin story, as Steve reawakens in the ‘90s, the plot starts to devolve into a less-than-subtle environmental propaganda piece, with some nuclear energy (the weapon of every ‘90s super villain) thrown in for good measure. Throughout, it deals with the usual cheap and tacky costuming and terrible effects; Red Skull deals with some cringeworthy prosthetics that give him the look of a man in a cheap Red Skull mask. Sadly, one of the biggest issues was with star Matt Salinger, son of reclusive author JD Salinger, who lacked the charm that is so vital to the character.
3. Dr. Strange (1978)
This little-known TV movie is perfect for anyone who thought that Doctor Strange would just be so much better if he looked more like a cheesy ’70s porno star (complete with mustache and heavy gold chains), and was accompanied by a jaunty soundtrack and some psychedelic special effects.
The movie lacks any real action, or indeed plot, as vast chunks of time are spent watching Strange solicitously deal with patients, and other characters just sort of… exist. Instead of the action-packed superhero movies that we get today, this is a long winded and incredibly boring take on the superhero. Possibly this was done because those crazy spinning color effects were expensive in the ‘70s, and this film clearly had a budget that needed to be viewed with a microscope.
Our female “villain” is just the cherry on top of this godawful sundae, as Morgan Le Fay not only chooses not to kill Strange because she thinks he’s cute, but receives the ultimate punishment of… being made unattractive and old-looking. Dr. Strange is a meandering and largely pointless attempt at a superhero film.
2. Supergirl (1984)
This painfully chauvinist rom-com of a superhero film is difficult to watch without wincing. The plot itself is horrifying in its blatant sexism, as Supergirl battles a fairly unimpressive witch for the affections of an attractive gardener. While Superman got to take on legitimate threats to the world, Supergirl takes part in what boils down to an hour-and-a-half long catfight for a hot guy.
The cast is almost all-female, which would be a nice foray into diversity… if they weren’t all quite so brain-dead and motivated entirely by their desperate need to get a man. Just to hammer the point home, at any point where either Supergirl or her bumbling magical foes are in trouble, they call in the boys to save the day. Finally, in a bizarre twist to the final boss battle, it’s not Supergirl who actually vanquishes the enemy, but the hot gardener. However, he kisses her after, so everyone’s happy.
1. Spider-Man (1977) and Spiderman Strikes Back (1978)
In 1977, Spider-Man appeared on the small screen in a two-hour backdoor pilot titled only Spider-Man, which was the start of the short-lived series The Amazing Spider Man. In ’78, the show spawned a spin-off made-for-TV movie, which is just as bad as you might expect it to be. This achingly slow film includes a bad guy with a beard and a black polo-neck (so that you know he’s the bad guy), a wonderfully ‘70s brown cord suit as Parker’s daywear, and an annoying female journalist who is after an interview with Spider-Man.
Like Dr Strange (also released that year), our hero spends the majority of the movie out of costume, and the parts that he does spend in the red and blue involve almost no actual web-slinging (presumably that was just too pricey). Instead, he takes down villains in stilted hand-to-hand fights that are fooling absolutely no one. Add in some truly terrible (and often confusing) sound effects, corny dialogue and plot-holes a plenty, and this is easily the worst live-action superhero movie ever made.
Did we miss any even worse superhero movies? Let us know in the comments!