Comic book movies are more popular than ever. For the most part, the boon of the superhero and its like-minded graphic novel cousins have churned out some great pieces of entertainment, but more than a few live-action adaptations have turned out to be real duds. For every beloved superhero tale on the big screen, there are just as many that are just as passionately despised.
But sometimes, comic book fans can be the worst and harshest critics. Every so often, a movie gets saddled with a popular negative impression that it doesn’t always deserve. It might not be the best movie or a revolution of the genre, but there are still a lot of redeeming qualities that fans ignore or deny. The movies on this list fall into that category.
They either proved to be unpopular, were poorly reviewed, or some combination of the two. They might not be the best comic book interpretations ever translated to the silver screen, but they are far from the worst. This isn’t regulated to just one company either. While all these movies come under the umbrella of DC or Marvel, the “big two” each have their share of unpopular tales.
So, without further ado, here are 15 Controversial Comic Book Movies That Are Secretly Awesome!
15. Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad was seemingly edited by a drunk monkey, and the plot is definitely a paint-by-numbers arrangement. For a movie all about supervillains, it functions much like any superhero film. Suicide Squad is an indisputable mess – but it’s a fun mess.
The characters and performances manage to override a lot of the movie’s shortcomings. El Diablo is a little known and little loved comic character, but Jay Hernandez makes him into a fan favorite. Will Smith is excellent as Deadshot, and his portrayal is just as deserving of a spinoff as Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn.
That’s not to downplay Ms. Quinn’s contributions to her live-action debut. She’s pretty much the heart of the whole movie, and even if the overarching plot is messy and bland, Harley’s journey is not. Her journey of self-discovery is a little rushed, but it manages to do something Batman: The Animated Series never did, and give Dr. Quinzel a life outside of the Joker.
14. Green Lantern
The costume is a travesty and the plot is filled with more holes than a slice of swiss cheese. Ryan Reynolds and the Green Lantern Corps deserve better superhero material. While Reynolds has Deadpool, the Corps are still awaiting their redemption. Yet while Green Lantern is not a perfect movie – not even close – there is plenty to enjoy here.
Most of the movie’s enjoyment factor does come from its headlining star. There are a couple things that the movie completely missed the mark with, but Ryan Reynolds is a superb Hal Jordan. Blake Lively does an equally tremendous job with Carol Ferris. She’s regulated to a damsel role throughout the film, but she still has the fire that makes her comic book character so compelling. It also helps that Reynolds and Lively’s chemistry is eye-catchingly evident in their scenes together.
13. Daredevil: Director’s Cut
Much like another one of Ben Affleck’s superhero outings (which we’ll get to in a bit), Daredevil is much improved by its extended cut. The theatrical version of Matt Murdock’s big screen adventure is riddled with missteps. The director’s cut not only fills in those holes, but gives the film an altogether darker and more satisfying tone.
As any fan of the Netflix series should know, Daredevil is at his best when there is a grittiness to him. Matt is a bruiser. He’s man who was raised by a poor boxer, and the director’s cut of Daredevil hits that in a satisfying way. This version of the movie manages to balance the more overtly “comic book” parts of the theatrical version, namely Colin Farrell’s Bullseye, with some real grit and emotion.
12. Superman III
Superman III is undeniably ridiculous. The decision to cast Richard Pryor, of all people, in a Superman movie is one of the most confusing decisions imaginable. Superman III is campy, but campy is not necessarily synonymous with terrible.
Superman III is certainly a step down from the more serious but still light-hearted first two films, but there is also something weirdly charming about it. It’s the closest that Supes has ever gotten to the ’60s Batman TV show, and it’s a very good look for Clark Kent. Pryor is distracting, but if you’re able to separate the character from the comedian’s reputation, there is something very fun about seeing him interact with Superman.
The movie also managed to gift the world with Christopher Reeves’ hero being temporarily corrupted by manufactured Kryptonite. The evil Superman and his flicking of peanuts is very stupid, but that’s the point. The sequence manages to be the perfect balance of danger and comedy, which is what you want from an incorruptible hero going bad.
11. TMNT: Out of the Shadows
The 2014 feature film reboot of these turtles left a lot to be desired. The turtles were supporting characters in their own movie, and much like the Transformers franchise, the plot was way too focused on the human characters. The sequel, Out of the Shadows, course corrected in a huge way. It certainly isn’t a perfect, but it is one of the martial arts fighting quartet’s better movie outings.
Out of the Shadows took what worked about the first movie, mainly the dynamic between the turtles, and expanded on it. The more “realistic” design of the heroes might be slightly off-putting at first, but the movie matches their personalities to a tee. The human characters are still present, but are either greatly reduced in their roles or improved upon outright. Stephen Amell’s Casey Jones is an outright crowd-pleaser, even.
10. The Wolverine
Logan might be considered the best Wolverine movie ever, and one of the best superhero movies of all time, but it’s not Hugh Jackman’s only respectable solo outing as the beloved mutant. The Wolverine never received the high praise of Logan and has been largely forgotten, but it’s a great example of what makes Fox’s X-Men Universe so special.
The timeline of the franchise may be a travesty, but the wonderful thing about it is that it rarely feels like there is much restraint on what they can do. The Wolverine is unlike most superhero movies. The Japanese setting brought a fresh perspective and characters to the world that sets it apart from the previous X-Men movies in an exciting way. Japan also provides some stunning locales for the movie’s gorgeous (but brutal) fight scenes.
The Wolverine isn’t quite as existential or complex as Logan, but it did tap into that part of Hugh Jackman’s interpretation of the character. The Wolverine was the first time the series tried get deeper with the character beyond grumbling angst, and it worked.
9. Spider-Man 3
Spider-Man 3 is an overstuffed flick that sunk Sam Raimi’s series, but Tobey Maguire’s last outing does have a fair deal of redeeming qualities. While the third film is not nearly as tight or defined as it predecessors, it’s certainly an action-packed send-off for the trilogy.
Clearly, Spidey’s third film could’ve stood to lose a villain or two, but there are many great moments and some terrific action with the baddies that are included. This outing capitalizes on two movies worth of build-up with Harry Osborn, Topher Grace’s terribly miscast Eddie Brock has a few delightfully evil moments as Venom, and of course, Thomas Hayden Church’s Sandman was a standout. Sandman demonstrates Raimi’s golden touch for creating tragic villains throughout the movie, being both terrifying and heartbreaking.
Spider-Man 3 could have been much better, but it’s far from a complete dumpster fire of a movie. If the previous two movies in the series weren’t so well-done, you might not have batted an eye at evil Peter Parker’s terrible dance moves.
8. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Ultimate Edition)
The theatrical cut of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is just as confusing and overstuffed as its title. The R-rated extended edition fixes a great deal of the movie’s problems that critics pointed out upon release. The new version of the movie doesn’t suddenly change Lex Luthor’s personality, and the “Martha” scene is definitely still there, but it’s a much more polished and coherent film overall.
BvS has high ambitions for a superhero movie, and it doesn’t hit all its marks. It does hit much more than it misses, however. There’s a surprisingly emotional story in Batman v Superman where Clark is put up against a world (represented by Batman) that refuses to accept him. The Ultimate Edition highlights this fact, making his “death” particularly meaningful.
Speaking of Batman, he’s a straight-up revelation in BvS. Affleck portrays the perfect mix of rage, despair, and intelligence in his Bruce Wayne. As much guff as Cavill’s Clark gets from fans, Affleck’s Batman is the most accurate big screen depiction of the character to date.
7. Batman Forever
Before Joel Schumacher completely overloaded on camp in Batman & Robin (which is fun in a hate-watch sort of way), there was Batman Forever. Few would ever try to make the case that Batman Forever is the best version of Batman. There is no dark in this Dark Knight, and Jim Carrey is playing The Joker far more than he is The Riddler. And frankly, there are no words to properly describe Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face – no nice ones, anyway. As a piece of colorful and campy entertainment, however, Batman Forever is too fun to ignore altogether.
Batman Forever is a tonal whiplash of the highest degree following Burton’s Batman films, but it’s perfectly in line with the beloved 1960s series. Forever is self-aware. It’s a joke, but it’s meant to be a joke.
Camp personified, it’s a junk food movie but it doesn’t have any higher aspirations, and that’s perfectly fine. Forever is the cotton candy of Batman movies, for better or worse. But who doesn’t love some cotton candy every now and then?
6. Punisher: War Zone
Punisher: War Zone is a bloody gore-fest that revels in being as off-putting as possible. It’s also the best live-action version of Punisher (before Daredevil season 2 came along, anyway). War Zone is ridiculously over-the-top in its depiction of violence, but it’s also meant to be ridiculous. Despite a somber tone, War Zone is not meant to be taken seriously, by anyone.
Punisher: War Zone is a tribute to the violent, grindhouse movies of the 1970s and ’80s, and it completely succeeds. The director, Lexi Alexander, has been very open about the fact that she wasn’t trying to create high art with Punisher: War Zone. She wanted to do a faithful adaption of the comic book hero that involved making things as bloody, gory, and campy as possible, and she did exactly that.
Alan Moore’s Watchmen is widely considered one of the best graphic novels ever created. Zack Snyder’s live-action adaption is a shockingly faithful version of the source material, but it’s not thought of nearly as favorably. It’s true that Snyder’s Watchmen is not nearly as inventive or influential as Moore’s book (how could it have been?), but it’s still a worthy adaptation.
Watchmen fits Snyder’s sensibilities perfectly as a filmmaker. The director is simply not that interested in happy or traditional tales, and Watchmen is neither happy or traditional. Snyder perfect nails the book’s moody and noir-esque tone in his movie. Even if many shots are directly lifted off the page, they are still gorgeous to behold.
Watchmen’s biggest asset, however, is its cast. There has rarely been a comic book movie that so perfectly nails its ensemble. Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian deserves his own spin-off, and there is no limit to the amount of praise that should be loaded onto Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach, either. Watchmen is not a rollicking fun-time adventure, but a deeper look into the world of superheroics that deserves another chance.
4. Thor: The Dark World
Outside the extraordinary Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, Phase 2 of MCU is not all that warmly regarded. One of the supposed lowest points is Thor: The Dark World. Granted, Christopher Eccleston’s cookie cutter villain Malekith is an insult to the actor’s talents, but Dark World is worth a second viewing for any Marvel fan.
The best part of The Dark World is that it focuses greatly on the dynamic between Loki and Thor. While the first Thor saw the two separated for most of the film, and they barely interact in Avengers, Dark World has the dueling brothers as the selling point. The bickering and power dynamics between Loki and Thor more than make up for the predictable save-the-world plot.
3. The Amazing Spider-Man
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a hot mess of a movie that stuffs way too much into far too short a runtime, but Andrew Garfield’s first adventure in the red and blue spandex is far more enjoyable. Putting aside the fact that it is yet another telling of one of the most well-known superhero origin stories around, there’s a lot of fun to be had with The Amazing Spider-Man.
He may not be the most comic book accurate version of Peter Parker, but Andrew Garfield is a charismatic delight. He’s certainly more fun to watch than his predecessor. (Whether he’s better than Tom Holland is another matter entirely.) This extends to his co-star Emma Stone. The romance between Peter and Gwen is the best Spider-Man movie love story by far – perhaps the best in the entire superhero genre. Regardless of how the sequel turned out, there was a lot hope for a new Spidey franchise with this reboot.
2. Man of Steel
Man of Steel assuredly is not the most faithful adaptation of Superman’s mythos. Zack Snyder wanted to make a darker and grounded version of DC’s Big Blue Boy Scout, and he succeeded. This isn’t an inherently bad thing. It’s fine to prefer a lighter Superman who smiles a lot more than Henry Cavill’s version, but just because Man of Steel is more atmospheric doesn’t mean it lacks any optimism.
It’s the world around Clark that is dreary in Man of Steel, not necessarily Clark himself. Man of Steel does a wonderful job of proving that Superman can’t help being Superman. There is something very hopeful about Man of Steel as Clark continually shows up to be a hero to a world that doesn’t necessarily want him in return. And c’mon, the scene where he takes flight for the first time is one of the most inspiring moments in any superhero movie.
Man of Steel is an undoubtedly dark take on Superman, but it is also a much more modern and relatable version. Cavill’s Clark, a man who constantly feels out of place, is much more human than a smiling angel who can do no wrong.
1. Iron Man 3
There are several reasons that hardcore Marvel fans have major problems with the third (and probably final) Iron Man film. The Mandarin’s big introduction to the MCU is a joke, and the movie is more overtly comical than any previous MCU before or since. Iron Man 3 isn’t like any other MCU film, being a total product of director Shane Black from top to bottom. And those differences should be celebrated, not dismissed.
Removed from his suits, Iron Man 3 shows Tony Stark at his most crafty and witty. Iron Man 3 is a surprisingly deep film about the personal life of Tony, and Robert Downey Jr. does a fantastic job portraying a more vulnerable take on the character. Iron Man 3 is a testament to Downey’s commitment and handling of his role as MCU linchpin.
The humor at the movie’s core is certainly an acquired taste. Given the MCU’s homogeneous quippy sensibilities, though, the darker and more oddball tone of Iron Man 3 is a welcome change of pace.There is much more to Iron Man 3 than its (somewhat) disappointing villain reveal.
So what’s your favorite underrated (or outright hated) comic book movie? Sound off in the comments!
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