In just under a decade, Marvel Studios have built an incredibly impressive reputation for producing solid, enjoyable action films that appeal to a wide audience. Building on the existing reputation of movies from other studios that are also based on Marvel properties, the MCU now stands as the pinnacle of high quality filmmaking in the eyes of many of its fans.
But while it’s generally assumed by audiences that a Marvel movie is going to be enjoyable regardless of the film’s story and characters, and while the Marvel logo is often taken by fans as a seal of approval that guarantees a fantastic movie, there have been more than a few films in the past that have failed to live up to the hype, and haven’t managed to deliver on fan expectations.
These movies aren’t necessarily all terrible - though some are - but they squander the goodwill that previous Marvel movies have earned, and ultimately disappointed eager fans upon their initial release. In addition to movies made by Marvel Studios itself, there are also plenty of offenders from other production companies which still bear the Marvel logo, and therefore have left audiences feeling underwhelmed when they were expecting to see a high quality, enjoyable comic book movie.
Here, then, are some of the biggest disappointments from the history of Marvel characters in cinema, and some of the over-hyped comic book films that ultimately failed to live up to the expectations of fans who were excited by the prospect of seeing their favorite characters take to the big screen in a comic book movie event:
17 Iron Man 2
It’s important to remember that Marvel Studios hasn’t always been the king of cinema. If anything, the studio had a pretty rocky start, and had Iron Man not proven a phenomenal success, there’s a chance that things could have gone very differently for the fledgling studio.
With Iron Man 2, Marvel had the unfortunate challenge of trying to live up to the reputation of the first film, which would have been a difficult task in the best of circumstances. With this movie, though, Marvel simply wanted to keep the wheels of their cinematic universe spinning while other films, including Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and, crucially, The Avengers, were still a while away from completion.
The result is a movie that’s largely filler, with a contrived plot that simply gives people more Robert Downey Jr without all of the focus and energy of the original movie. Fans were left disappointed, but the movie ultimately achieved its goal of keeping the MCU alive long enough for more movies to be completed, and that was all the studio needed it to do.
16 Thor The Dark World
While the first Thor was hardly the biggest hit of the MCU at the time, it still won a solid fanbase thanks in large part to Kenneth Branagh’s near-Shakespearean directorial style. The movie is cheesy and often silly, but it has genuine heart, and some stellar performances from actors including Anthony Hopkins and Tom Hiddleston.
With the success of The Avengers and the enormous rise in popularity that both Thor and Loki enjoyed following the movie, there was a lot of pressure on Marvel to deliver a follow-up Thor film that capitalized on this fan excitement and made something people could be excited by.
Unfortunately, at this time in the studio’s history, Marvel was opposed to taking risks. The studio had a formula that worked, and would generate ticket sales without the need for a lot of risk-taking – as such, director Alan Taylor wasn’t given a lot of freedom to create a unique vision for the movie. The result is a perfectly adequate Thor sequel, that ultimately failed to light a fire under its audiences.
15 Fantastic Four (2005)
Back before the MCU became the biggest movie series in the history of cinema, Marvel movies were produced by a series of different studios, and each property would feature its own tone and style.
As comic book fans prepared for Fantastic Four to come to theaters, there was a general buzz of excitement at seeing Marvel’s First Family on the big screen. While some fans hesitated at the sight of Michael Chiklis in an unconvincing rubber suit as The Thing, overall, comic book lovers were excited to see the Fantastic Four brought to life.
The finished movie certainly features a lot of classic FF banter, and has a lighthearted, comedic tone that suits its source material, but fans were ultimately disappointed. Fantastic Four didn’t feel like the perfect use of these characters, and its overly slapstick storytelling, alongside a very unfaithful portrayal of Doctor Doom, left many fans wishing for a less childish approach to Reed Richards and his family.
14 Fantastic Four (2015)
Ten years after the original Fantastic Four hit theaters, and after that movie’s sequel had improved on some (but not all) of the original movie’s failings, Twentieth Century Fox gave another try at the franchise.
As fans had felt that the original Fantastic Four had been too silly, this new movie was designed to be dark, gritty, and far more like Fox’s other comic book series, X-Men. To this end, Chronicle director Josh Trank was given the task of adapting the Fantastic Four to the screen, and took a lot of inspiration from the Ultimate Fantastic Four line of comics.
The movie did not meet fan expectations. It’s hard to say that the hype for this movie was particularly huge (most comic book movie fans are always wary of the phrase “gritty reboot”), but even so, the film still managed to disappoint. Too much is changed from the comic book source material, characters are unlikeable, and the plot has been butchered by studio interference and lengthy reshoots. Somehow, even though not much was expected of this movie, Fant4stic (as the movie came to be known) failed to deliver on what little excitement fans could muster.
13 X-Men: The Last Stand
The first sign that Fox didn’t have a perfect handle on how to build a successful comic book movie came with the third X-Men title, which was poorly titled The Last Stand.
Fox was riding high after having kicked off the current superhero movie craze, and with Bryan Singer’s work on both X-Men and X-Men 2 standing as the benchmark for quality in the genre, most audiences were sure that the magic would return for a third instalment of the franchise.
Sadly, though, Singer departed to make Superman Returns instead, and Brett Ratner was brought in to create the third movie in the original director’s place.
There have been few times in the history of comic book movies when fans have been more disappointed than they were with The Last Stand. The movie’s pacing is abysmal, its plot leaves a lot to be desired, and many key characters are almost entirely written out of the story for various reasons.
Fans would have a long wait until First Class and a return to form for the X-Men franchise. If The Last Stand had gone better, the current landscape of Fox’s X-Men cinematic universe would look very different.
12 X-Men Origins: Wolverine
After The Last Stand, but before First Class, another X-Men movie filled comic book movie fans with glee as they eagerly awaited the origin story for one of the franchise’s most popular characters: Wolverine.
Following The Last Stand, Fox originally envisioned that their main series of movies was complete, and that instead, future films would tell origin stories for some of the more popular characters of the franchise. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was to be the first of several X-Men Origins movies, and was designed to build the framework of solo prequel films by filling in the blanks on James Howlett’s past.
Unfortunately, the movie that audiences got was about as far away from the grounded realism of the X-Men universe, as Wolverine acted like a cartoon character, leaping about on the top of a crumbling power plant cooling tower, and walking away from explosions like a bad B-movie action star.
Fans were unimpressed with this comically bad new direction for the franchise, and the next X-Men Origins movie, which was to focus on Magneto, was quietly reworked into Matthew Vaughn’s First Class.
11 Avengers: Age of Ultron
Avengers: Age of Ultron is not a bad movie.
Sometimes, though, a movie doesn’t have to be bad in order to be a disappointment. Age of Ultron failed to live up to the hype simply because it wasn’t absolutely, mind-blowingly incredible.
Joss Whedon’s first Avengers film is widely regarded as one of the high points of the genre. Bringing together the stars of Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man (as well as a recast Hulk), the movie wowed audiences by showing just how much fun a well-built superhero team-up movie can be.
With The Avengers gaining such incredible popularity, fans were understandably eager to see the formula repeated with a second film. Perhaps this was the problem – the formula was repeated a little too much, resulting in a movie that focuses on setting up a series of future Marvel movies, while hitting all the same story beats as the original movie.
Ultimately, while Age of Ultron has by no means been panned by the comic book movie community as a whole, it has been almost entirely forgotten – such is the problem with a sequel that tries to live up to a vastly more successful original film.
10 Amazing Spider-Man
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise ended on something of a sour note, when a planned fourth installment in the series was cancelled following a lengthy row between the director and Sony Pictures.
Sony wanted a new Spider-Man movie fast, while Raimi, frustrated with studio meddling on Spider-Man 3, wanted to make a better movie this time around. Ultimately, the decision was made to reboot the entire franchise, with Sony troublingly referencing Batman Begins as an inspiration for this new, gritty reboot.
Nevertheless, fans were excited to see a new take on the Spider-Man formula. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone looked perfect as the leads of this new film, and in spite of its third film, the previous trilogy had generated enough buzz around big screen Spidey appearances that most fans had high hopes for this new series.
These hopes were dashed fairly quickly. As it turned out, Amazing Spider-Man is little more than a remake of the original movie, and its unfocused script and glaring plot holes point to just how rushed the production was.
Following the unexpected success of X-Men, the floodgates opened for a series of different comic book movies, many of which landed with different levels of quality.
When Spider-Man proved a hit with audiences, fans of a similar comic book character, Daredevil, anticipated that his own foray into the world of live action would be a similar hit. With rising stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner in the lead role, it seemed that this would prove just as big of a success as some of the other popular movies that had come recently.
Sadly, the movie failed to live up to this hype. There was too much filler in the movie, alongside a general problem of a confusing tone that at times was too grim, while at other times was ridiculously cheesy. What could have been a winning franchise was quickly killed off, and after a poorly thought out spin-off for Elektra was also critically panned, Twentieth Century Fox sheepishly allowed the rights to the character to revert back to Marvel.
8 Iron Man 3
One of the more divisive movies in the MCU, Iron Man 3 has a lot of good points that are ultimately overshadowed for most fans by a few major plot frustrations which cast a dim light on the entire movie.
Following the success of Avengers and the disappointment of Iron Man 2, it seemed like getting acclaimed action movie director Shane Black to take over from Jon Favreau would make for a compelling movie, and fans were eager to see what Marvel would do to wrap up the Tony Stark movie trilogy.
Ultimately, though, fans were unimpressed. The reveal (spoiler alert) that Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin is simply a comic relief character rubbed fans up the wrong way, while the eleventh hour appearance of a fleet of Iron Man suits left people wondering why Tony Stark had spent so long without these backups, foraging for equipment in hardware stores instead of strapping on an easily called piece of experimental tech.
Ultimately, this was the big letdown at the heart of Iron Man 3: despite the movie’s name, there wasn’t actually a lot of Iron Man in the film.
As comic book movies grew in popularity last decade, plenty of obscure characters got a chance at the big screen, with middling success.
One character that certainly wasn’t obscure was the Incredible Hulk, who was at the time among the few Marvel properties that had already enjoyed a lengthy period in the public consciousness as a live action property, thanks to a well-received television series starring Lou Ferrigno.
With Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon director Ang Lee at the helm for Hulk, the movie seemed on paper like the perfect comic book movie. Sadly, in reality, fans were left unimpressed.
Ang Lee, it seemed, was so focused on the fact that this was a comic book movie, that he filled the movie with editing gimmicks designed to resemble comic panels. The plot is meandering and overly complicated, and a big, rubber-looking 2000s era CGI Hulk means that the movie’s star attraction looks a little like a bad video game.
For a time, people wondered whether the Hulk could be made to work on television at all – until, at least, Mark Ruffalo’s version wowed audiences in Avengers.
6 Blade Trinity
While Bryan Singer’s X-Men is widely held up as the movie that kicked off the modern superhero boom, several obscure comic book movies appeared in the years preceding its release. Most notable among these was Blade, and movie which earned a strong following for its violent, dark story about a vampire hunter played by Wesley Snipes.
The second Blade movie, for the most part, managed to satisfy fans of the original film, but when Blade Trinity was released, fans were very disappointed with the final entry in the series.
Trinity had a particularly troubled development period, with its star refusing to play ball with the director and other actors, making it difficult to actually film a full movie. This is apparent in the final film, where Ryan Reynolds’ adlibbing is used to fill in cracks left by Snipes’ awkward filming schedule.
The movie brought the Blade franchise to perhaps an untimely end, as audiences who had once been incredibly supportive of the series quickly lost interest in the main character and the world that was built around him.
5 Spider-Man 3
The first two Spider-Man movies may not have aged particularly well, but at the time of their release, they were two of the high points of comic book cinema. The first movie was responsible for many other copycat comic book films that followed, while Spider-Man 2 is widely regarded as a rare instance of a sequel being better than the original movie.
With all things looking good for the franchise, audiences went into Spider-Man 3 eager to see what might well be a perfect trilogy of films.
The movie was an enormous disappointment in many ways. Not only did the film run for far too long, with too many villains competing for screen time, but Sam Raimi’s love of cringeworthy Toby Maguire moments finally went too far with a musical number in the middle of the film that’s designed to show how evil Spider-Man has become.
Fans collectively rolled their eyes, and Spider-Man 3 is widely considered one of the biggest letdowns in comic book movie history.
4 Ghost Rider
One of the newer Marvel properties to make it to the big screen last decade, Ghost Rider seemed like a great choice for a movie, with its visually stunning lead character, and its offbeat supernatural origin story which appeared very different to what had come before in titles that were more science fiction than fantasy.
When Ghost Rider debuted, Nicholas Cage hadn’t yet become synonymous with terrible movies – although this film definitely helped him to build that reputation. Cage mumbles and murmurs his way through the unimpressive, lackluster movie, and the plot’s reliance on superhero tropes (such as seeing the love interest waiting alone in a restaurant for twenty minutes) completely wastes the unique options provided by the source material.
In spite of generally unfavorable reviews, Ghost Rider eventually earned a sequel, but this was very poorly received. By the point it came out, Nic Cage’s reputation as a star of terrible movies had been cemented, and nobody was in a hurry to repeat the experience of watching him play Johnny Blaze.
3 X-Men: Apocalypse
While the X-Men franchise has had its ups and downs, for the most part, fans of the series are willing to be forgiving. X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine may have disappointed fans, but following the success of X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, excitement for the latest movie in the series was at fever pitch once again.
X-Men: Apocalypse was poised to be Fox’s most popular comic book movie yet, but when the film released, fans quickly turned against the franchise. This movie is bloated, filled with too many subplots that don’t go anywhere, and culminates in a very cliché CGI destruction battle that left audiences feeling very cold towards the X-Men franchise in general.
Instead, Deadpool became the biggest seller of all of Fox’s superhero films, while the studio was forced to rethink its entire plans with the future of the franchise in order to try and bounce back from the disappointment of Apocalypse.
2 Amazing Spider-Man 2
Following the lukewarm reception that Amazing Spider-Man earned from fans who, by and large, preferred the cheesy Sam Raimi series to its gritty reboot, everyone involved in the movie’s sequel promised that this time around, things would be different.
Last time, they claimed, the script hadn’t been quite right. With Amazing Spider-Man 2, things were far better planned, and the movie was going to blow people away.
Fans were skeptical to say the least, and Amazing Spider-Man 2 ended up with the worst box office sales of any Spider-Man movie. Even so, though, some fans were intrigued to see what was next for Andrew Garfield’s version of Peter Parker.
Ultimately, though, the movie failed to wow audiences, and ended up being less popular than the first film in the series. The plot spends too long trying to set up future films, which left audiences feeling bored and annoyed. There was a sense of genuine relief among fans when, finally, Sony announced that they were giving up on this new Spider-Man universe in favor of loaning the character to Marvel instead.
While Amazing Spider-Man 2 wasn’t the most hyped movie in all the world, if fans are relieved when a series gets cancelled, that suggests that it’s probably not managed to meet what little hype it did enjoy.
Superhero movies are an increasingly common sight on the current Hollywood landscape. The current ruling king of the genre is the Merry Marvel Movie Machine, which inexplicably manages to churn out hit after hit, every few months, in an unprecedented display of overall quality.
That said, not every Marvel movie is a hit, and even some of the films produced by Marvel Studios itself have fallen short of the mark when finally revealed to audiences.
Perhaps there’s a lesson in this for fans of comic book movies, and of blockbusters in general. Just because a movie looks good on paper, it doesn’t mean that it’ll necessarily be a fantastic cinematic experience. No matter how highly praised a creative team may be, or how good a trailer might look, a film can still end up bombing if it’s not put together just right.