The '90s were a huge decade for comic book movies. After the raging success of Tim Burton’s Batman, studios began looking to the pages of their favorite comics for source material for the next big blockbuster. Unlike the colorful and well-written stories of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the dark spectacles that the DCEU has to offer, comic book films from the '90s were more varied in tone. From campy Batman films to high-flying Disney heroes to wacky action comedies, many of these films took big chances that didn’t always pay off. The first few years brought us some real classics, but as the decade ran on, the movies began to lose their magic.
So let’s go back in time and take a look back at some of the best and worst this decade had to offer. Here are 20 Comic Book Movies From 1990 To 2000, Ranked Worst To Best, for your reading pleasure.
20 Batman & Robin
It’s ironic that a sequel to the movie that started it all would end up stalling the Batman franchise for 8 years. Batman & Robin was released in 1997, toward the end of the decade when superhero films weren’t bringing in the same box office numbers they
Director Joel Schumacher really wanted to double down on taking the series in the direction of the campy '60s television series that he'd established with Batman Forever. Hints at the film’s disastrous future came early. Star Chris O’Donnell, who also played Robin in Batman Forever remarked, “The second time, I felt like I was making a kid's toy commercial."
Although the film performed well overseas, it was clear that Batman was beginning to tarnish with US film goers. Opening to $40 million in its first week, the film’s attendance declined by 64% in the following week. Also, critics absolutely hated the film, claiming that Schumacher's campy style was overbearing and irritating.
To the day, Batman & Robin star George Clooney claims the film killed the franchise. Schumacher himself has even apologized to fans of Batman Forever, saying he only wished to entertain them.
Shaquille O’Neal may have dominated the basketball court, but his acting contributions were a little lacking, to say the least. Unless you count those creepy Gold Bond commercials that desperately try to skirt around the fact that Gold Bond is for male genitalia.
Steel is based on the DC character of the same name and tells the story of John Henry Irons, a high-tech weapons designer who dons a metal suit of his own design to become a vigilante and is definitely not Iron Man. The film was brought together by music producer Quincy Jones and David Salzman, who were big fans of the character and the message behind him.
The film was also directed by Kenneth Johnson who most famously known for creating the television series V and The Incredible Hulk.
Despite this collection of talent, Steel did not connect with critics, who tore the film apart. To add insult to injury, Steel only made about $2 million of its $16 million budget back.
18 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
Time travel can be a tricky plot device for any movie, but that didn’t stop the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ third theatrical outing from trying. In this Turtles adventure, the quartet find themselves traveling back to feudal Japan to save April, who has been transported to the past by a magical scepter while shopping at a flea market.
The ridiculous plot may have been saved by having the Turtles fight some of their more familiar enemies. But this Turtles film is completely devoid of any of the major villains that made the cartoon or comic such a success. That’s right no Shredder, no Krang, not even Baxter Stockman. Furthermore, this third TMNT film has a far lighter tone than the other two and seems to be directed more at children.
Another change was the studio's decision to switch animatronic duties to All Effects Company (The Blob, F/X 2) rather than the respected Jim Henson Creature Shop who originally designed the Turtles for the first two films.
Despite receiving overwhelmingly bad reviews, the film actually still made about $20 million at the box office. Still, the film performed much lower than its predecessors and it was the last we’d see of a live-action Turtles film till Michael Bay tried his hand at it in 2014.
17 Captain America
The moment Cannon Group founders Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus purchased the rights to make a Captain America film, you knew it was either going to be a beloved cult classic or a spectacular trainwreck. Unfortunately, it was much more the latter.
After Golan had left The Cannon Group in 1989, he still maintained the rights to Captain America and still desired to make the film a reality. He enlisted the help of Sword and the Sorcerer director Albert Pyun to direct. Pyun had already worked with Golan in the past when he directed the Jean-Claude Van Damme film Cyborg for Cannon.
Unfortunately, Goaln didn’t have enough of a budget to make Captain America come together. Everything was poorly made, from Cap’s iconic shield to his costume, which caused star Matt Salinger so much pain they had to glue fake ears to his head because the mask was cutting into his real ones.
The film holds a 8% on Rotten Tomatoes, but to be fair, it’s far better than Cap’s 1970s outings. Then again, so is an old TV set to white noise.
16 Barb Wire
In the '90s Pamela Anderson was at the top of her game. Baywatch had made her a household name and she was looking to expand her career to film.
In 1996, Anderson starred in Barb Wire, a film based on the Dark Horse comic of the same name. The film’s plot is taken directly from the classic Humphrey Bogart film Casablanca, with Barb being the replacement for Rick Blaine. Rather than during WWII, the film takes place in 2017, during the Second American Civil War, which hopefully doesn’t become a reality after this last election.
Unfortunately, taking a story from a timeless classic wasn’t enough. Audiences and critics simply couldn’t buy Anderson as an action hero and the film lost over $5 million at the box office. Coincidentally, the comic series ended the same year of the release of the movie... which is most likely not a coincidence at all.
15 Judge Dredd
Sylvester Stallone might have been one of the biggest action stars in the '90s, but even his presence couldn’t make this 1995 comic book film a success. Judge Dredd is based on the 1977 British comic 2000 AD, about a post-apocalyptic future where all areas of the law are dished out by the same department.
Rumor has it that Stallone and director Danny Cannon were at odds creatively from the very beginning. The two had different visions of where the film was supposed to go and as a result, it became a jumbled mess. Comic creator John Wagner was not a fan of the final outcome. He told Empire Magazine, “the story had nothing to do with Judge Dredd, and Judge Dredd wasn’t really Judge Dredd even though Stallone was perfect for the part."
According to critics, Judge Dredd was a disaster, and it eventually won star Sylvester Stallone a Golden Raspberry for Worst Actor.
When the Spawn series was released by Image Comics in 1992, Hollywood began to show immediate interest in bringing the comic to the silver screen. Creator Todd McFarlane was apprehensive at first about giving away the film rights to his dark character. If a film was going to be made, he wanted to be given some creative control. As a result, McFarlane sold the Spawn film rights over to New Line Cinema for $1, promising him creative input and merchandising rights.
The film's effects were immediately a problem for the production. Originally greenlit for $20 million, they had to double the budget to $40 million to accommodate. In fact, the special effects weren’t completely finished until two weeks of the film’s release. Still, despite the inflated budget, the film was a relative success making a little over double its money back. Film critics did not feel the same way, though. Spawn received generally poor reviews, with only a few giving it credit for its amazing visuals.
13 Tank Girl
Just because a film is bad, doesn’t always mean it’s forgotten. Tank Girl is one of those films that have attracted a cult following over the years despite not being the most masterfully made, to say the least.
Based on the popular British comic, Tank Girl stars a spunky Lori Petty, Malcolm McDowell’s robotic hand, and Ice-T as a mutant kangaroo.
Director Rachel Talalay worked for over a year to get Deadline publisher Tom Astor’s permission to make the film. Once she got it, she worked closely with the comic’s co-creators Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett. She even turned down an offer from Disney so she could stay more faithful to the source material.
Regardless of good intentions, the reviews for the film were generally negative. Most found the film to be too silly and unstructured. Still, some believed the film was underrated. Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader said of the film, “it's funnier and a lot more fun than Batman Forever.”
12 The Shadow
The Shadow has been a character in pop culture for over 80 years now. Besides appearing in his own comic, The Shadow has starred in radio (where he was voiced by Orson Welles at one point), comic strips, pulp novels, and had actually appeared in previous movies throughout the '30s and '40s.
From the get go, screenwriter David Koepp worked hard to find just the right feel for the 1994 film version of The Shadow that the studio would sign off on. Producer Martin Bregman told Sci-Fi Entertainment, “Some of them were light, some of them were darker, and others were supposedly funnier – which they weren’t. It just didn’t work”
The Shadow is not a complete disaster; it stays true to its central theme that all men are capable of evil and that every day can be a struggle. Still, the film didn’t connect with audiences enough to make it a hit. The film received mixed reviews and only made a modest amount at the box office.
11 Batman Forever
Batman Forever marked the changing of the guard for the '90s Batman film series. Tim Burton had stepped down and Michael Keaton decided to go with him. This left Val Kilmer to don the cowl while Joel Schumacher began to get a feel for the series-- before absolutely killing the franchise with Batman & Robin.
Batman Forever isn’t a horrible film, but it’s not great. Schumacher tries to stray from Tim Burton’s darker installment by flirting with the campiness of the '60s television show. The film marks the first appearance of Robin within the '90s franchise and has Batman fighting against The Riddler as played by Jim Carrey.
The film received mixed reviews but was still a monetary success.
Arguably the film's biggest accomplishment is its soundtrack, particularly Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose”. The song was a short-lived hit in 1994, till Schumacher asked Seal to put it on the soundtrack a year later. From then on, the song would be embedded into the mind of '90s radio listeners forever.
10 Mystery Men
Some of you might be thinking, “Mystery Men was based on a comic?” Well, it’s not based on the old Fox Comics series, Mystery Men, which starred heroes such as the Blue Beetle. The Mystery Men movie is actually based on characters found in The Flaming Carrot series, which much like the movie, is a parody of comic book heroes.
Mystery Men stars an “All-Star” (more on that later) cast of comedians such as Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Hank Azaria, Eddie Izzard, and Paul Reubens. The film came out in 1999, around the time that superhero films were beginning to lose their luster at the box office, so a parody seemed right at the time.
Perhaps they waited too long, or perhaps other horrible superhero parody films, such as Blankman and Meteor Man, tainted Mystery Men’s performance. Despite somewhat positive reviews, the film was a complete bomb.
In an ironic twist of fate, Smash Mouth’s “All Star” which appears in the film went on to become a hit song, haunting us forever in films such as Shrek, Rat Race, and Digimon: The Movie.
9 The Rocketeer
When Dave Stevens created The Rocketeer in 1982, he believed the series would make a good film adaptation. The film rights were sold quickly, yet the film remained in production limbo for about five years. Eventually, Disney realized that the series would make for a good toy line and obtained the rights. With the success of movies like Batman and Dick Tracy, which started the superhero boom of the '90s, The Rocketeer found itself greenlit.
Originally the film was to be set in modern times, but with the success of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Disney realized a WWII period piece could be very lucrative. The film went through many rewrites before Disney would sign off on a version. By the time all was said and done, the film shirked its more adult themes for that of a family-friendly action film. The film received mixed reviews but still maintains a relatively decent fanbase. A Rocketeer reboot was confirmed in July, entitled The Rocketeers.
8 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
When the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was released in 1990, it was a huge hit. Hollywood being what it is, of course, a sequel was destined to be made.
With twice the budget of the original Ninja Turtles movie, this sequel planned to be bigger and badder than before. The film added Bebop and Rocksteady wannabes, Tokka and Rahzar, wrestling star Kevin Nash was cast to play Shredder upgrade Super Shredder, and who can forget the real star of the film, Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap”.
The Secret of the Ooze didn’t perform as well as the original in terms of box office numbers, but was a hit nonetheless. Like the original, Ninja Turtles II was met with mixed reviews, but there is something appealing about the film’s unapologetic attempt to outdo the first by throwing bigger bad guys at our heroes and selling out in a spectacular fashion.
Originally, Marvel Studios had planned on a comedic sendup to the Blade series with LL Cool J attached as the main character. New Line Cinema eventually acquired the rights to the film and attached Batman Begins scribe David S. Goyer to pen the script. Goyer stressed that Blade would probably not lend itself well to comedy so he switched it to a straight action film. From then, the film sat around for about 4 years till Wesley Snipes was cast in the role.
The film was not well received by test audiences and the original run time was around 140 minutes. This caused heavy edits to be made that ended up pushing back the release date of the film by almost six months. Reviews for the film were mixed. Still, the film proved to be a success taking in a little over $90 million at the box office. Its success managed to spawn two sequels.
Just when it seemed that superhero movies were about to completely peter out, Bryan Singer brought us the long awaited film adaptation of Marvel’s X-Men franchise. Fox had already helped make the X-Men a household name with the animated series in 1992, but the trail to a live-action Hollywood film was rocky.
In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing they waited. A script was written as far back as 1984 by Marvel writers Gerry Conroy and Roy Thomas. Back then, Orion Pictures optioned the rights to the Marvel heroes but were facing financial troubles and the film never materialized. Carolco Pictures was next up to bat in 1989 and, with the help of Stan Lee, tried to get a James Cameron produced X-Men film directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Alas, Carolco went bankrupt, reverting the rights back to Marvel. Finally, with the success of the Fox animated TV show, 20th Century Fox purchased the rights to the X-Men in 1994. The film had a tough time getting off the ground due to budget issues, finding the right cast, and reworking the script.
Once the film premiered in 2000, it was immediately praised by critics and made over $200 million at the box office. The film is credited for bringing superhero movies back into favor in the new millennium.
5 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The sequels may not have been stellar, but the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a favorite in people’s minds, recalling a time before Michael Bay got his hands on the beloved franchise.
For a comic book series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had everything going for it. With a hit cartoon and successful toy line, surely a movie was a no brainer. Still, just about every major studio turned down the idea of a Ninja Turtles movie. After the unfortunate failure of Masters of the Universe 3 years before, many in Hollywood were afraid that the film would be a disaster at the box office.
The movie got picked up by the then-fledgling New Line Cinema, who was known more for low-budget indie fare. It received mixed reviews, but with only a $12 million budget, this low-budget film became a huge hit at the box office, making over $200 million.
4 The Mask
Jim Carrey was already well-known from In Living Color and from films like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. But up until The Mask, he was not a performer who was well-respected by critics. Many found his brand of comedy to be sophomoric, but the role as Stanley Ipkiss really was tailor-made for him.
As an everyday guy who comes across the mask of Loki, the role required Carrey to basically be a live-action Looney Toons character. Although he had help from Industrial Light and Magic and Digital Domain in achieving this, his lanky physicality and face seemingly made out of silly putty made him a perfect performer for the role. Later that year, he was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance.
The film received good reviews and made well over $300 million. It was a huge hit for Carrey and eventually catapulted him onto the A-list, making him one of the most bankable actors of the '90s.
3 Men in Black
The Men in Black comic series released in 1990 and shortly after, Walter F. Parkes and Laurie McDonald approached comic creator Lowell Cunningham to option the rights to TMIB series to make a film. Men in Black was released in 1997 and was an unbelievable success, taking in almost $500 million at the box office. The film was also reviewed very favorably and holds a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Will Smith’s appearance in films like Bad Boys and Independence Day had already solidified him as a bankable action star, but Men in Black’s tone allowed Smith to stretch his already proven comedic talents a bit further. Against Tommy Lee Jones’ stone-faced portrayal of Agent K, Men in Black brought something new to the cop buddy comedy by framing it within a sci-fi backdrop.
For a short time, it also began a trend of Will Smith songs designed to accompany whatever movie he was in. The song, “Men in Black” performed by Will Smith won a Grammy in 1998 for Best Rap Solo Performance. Smith would follow this up with “Wild Wild West” for the the movie of the same title in 1999 and “Black Suits Comin’ (Nod Ya Head)” for Men in Black 2 in 2002.
2 Batman Returns
Batman’s success in 1989 absolutely guaranteed a sequel and Warner Bros. wanted to get right to work, but Tim Burton wasn’t sure if he was up for it. In the November 1989 edition of Cinefantastique, Burton said, “Sequels are only worthwhile if they give you the opportunity to do something new and interesting.” Well, he must have found something interesting because Batman Returns started filming in 1991.
The films featured much of what fans loved about the original Batman film. Michael Keaton made his return as Bruce Wayne and it introduced Michelle Pfeiffer's iconic performance as Catwoman. Also, Tim Burton brought back Danny Elfman to score the film, giving him more artistic control than before.
Batman Returns went on to be a success but failed to take in more than the original. Still, critics gave it generally good reviews with some critics disliking the film for being too dark and violent. How times have changed.
1 The Crow
The Crow will, unfortunately, be forever linked to the tragic death of Brandon Lee. Although he was the son of the legendary martial arts star, Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee was known for starring in lowe- budget action movies like Laser Mission or playing second fiddle to more established action stars like Dolph Lundgren in Showdown in Little Tokyo. The Crow promised to be the film that would launch him into the higher ranks of action film stardom, and with good reason.
The Crow is an exceptionally dark film and Lee is fantastic in it. Despite playing a dark character who primarily operates in the shadows, Brandon Lee’s portrayal of Eric Draven is charismatic and energetic. When he’s on the screen, you really can’t take your eyes off of him.
Although the movie was well received, the set was plagued with problems. According to Empire Magazine, there were rumors of rampant drug use on set. Tragically, a firearm mishap led to the young actor’s death. As a result, much of his scenes after his death had to be digitally composed.
What's your favorite superhero movie from this decade? Let us know in the comments.