When Michael Keaton donned the Dark Knight's iconic cape and cowl in 1989's Batman, he seemingly kick-started the superhero genre that has absolutely dominated the box office over the past three decades. Comic book fans have been treated to numerous films featuring their favorite Marvel and DC characters, and several other studios have followed suit and released their own action-packed superhero films in an attempt to replicate the success of those popular blockbusters.
According to Box Office Mojo, more than a quarter of the Top 100 All-Time Worldwide Box Office Grosses belong to superhero films released since 1990. Thanks to universally-beloved films like Avengers, The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2, the bar for the superhero genre is incredibly high, and studios have to pull out all of the stops if they hope to impress audiences. It's clear that most entries in this beloved genre have successfully managed to satisfy casual and dedicated fans alike, but some installments fell flat and proved that not all superhero films are created equal.
Every few years since the superhero craze began, a film has hit theaters and received widespread criticism from audiences for a variety of issues, from bad acting and weak writing to ridiculous costume decisions and an overuse of CGI. These tragic flops leave a bad taste in our mouths whenever we think about them, no matter how many years have passed since they came out or how many great films studios have put out since their release in an attempt to make us forget they ever existed. Here are The 25 Most Disappointing Superhero Movies Since 1990.
25 BATMAN & ROBIN
It's impossible to talk about superhero flops without first mentioning Batman & Robin.
Batman and Batman Returns showed fans exactly what a superhero film could be, by treating us to Michael Keaton's fantastic portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and Batman and giving us memorable live-action versions of some of the Dark Knight's most iconic villains. Gotham City felt dark and real, and those films truly felt like a comic book had come to life.
Unfortunately, the successful saga fell apart when its fourth installment, Batman & Robin, hit theaters. The costumes were over-the-top, the dialogue was silly, George Clooney wasn't the best Batman, and fans had to suffer through Arnold Schwarzenegger's bevy of ice puns. It was a complete, unforgettable disaster.
24 X-MEN 3
After seeing how successful DC's Batman movies were, 20th Century Fox decided to follow suit with their own superhero film, X-Men, in 2000. The film didn't feature the best dialogue and some characters barely resembled their comic book counterparts, but Marvel lovers still poured into theaters to see their favorite mutants on the big screen.
The studio fixed some of their mistakes in the sequel, but the conclusion of their trilogy was an absolute mess. X-Men 3 had far too many characters, wasted popular heroes like Rogue and Cyclops, and centered on a weak plot which ruined Marvel's popular "Dark Phoenix" storyline. Luckily, this year's Dark Phoenix will attempt to do it justice.
23 SPIDER-MAN 3
Shortly after the release of X-Men, Sony released their own film featuring a beloved Marvel superhero, Spider-Man. Fans rejoiced over the chance to see the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler in action, and the film's sequel is still considered to be one of the best superhero films of all time thanks to its stellar casting, plot and action sequences.
Then Spider-Man 3 ruined the franchise in almost the same exact way X-Men 3 messed up its own trilogy. The film had too many villains, wasted fan-favorite adversary Venom, and made some seriously questionable choices regarding Peter Parker's personality. Tobey Maguire was a solid Spidey, but we'll never forgive him for Emo Peter.
22 GREEN LANTERN
Some celebrities were born to play live-action superheroes, and Ryan Reynolds is definitely one of those celebrities. He actually seems to read comics and care about the characters, he's classically handsome just like most of Marvel and DC Comics's leading men, and he's capable of being both a comedian and an action star.
None of that helped him save Green Lantern, though. The film featured subpar writing, too many bizarre characters, and was plagued by an over-reliance on computer generated imagery. Even Hal Jordan's mask was CGI! Reynolds seemingly agrees with fans who disliked his movie, and made fun of it years later in Deadpool.
When M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable released in 2000, viewers had no idea that the film would eventually serve as the first part in a superhero trilogy. Split introduced fans to the villainous Horde sixteen years later, and its conclusion featured a cameo by security guard-turned-hero David Dunn, setting up the final film in the surprise franchise.
Fans anxiously awaited the final installment for nearly three years, but Glass wasn't quite the action-packed superhero blockbuster we expected. In fact, there was very little action at all. The three main stars did a great job reprising their roles, but audiences found themselves bored for most of the film and didn't love its bleak ending.
Chris Evans is another one of those stars who was just born to play a superhero, and he's had several tries at doing so over the years. He has been an amazing Captain America, provided some major laughs in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The Losers, and was a great Johnny Storm in an otherwise bland Fantastic Four series.
For some reason, though, he just couldn't carry Push to the level of success his other superhero stints saw. There were some great special effects used in the film, but the plot was forgettable and filled with holes and the characters didn't have enough development or personality for viewers to care about them.
19 IRON MAN 2
When Iron Man came out in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was officially launched and the bar was set for all superhero films moving forward. Fans absolutely loved Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark so much that Marvel actually put out a sequel to his film before they even released solo films for other popular Avengers like Thor and Captain America. Unfortunately, the highly-anticipated follow-up wasn't as well-received as the original.
Iron Man 2's Whiplash wasn't as captivating a villain as Tony's former mentor Obidiah Stane, and the billionaire playboy's rival Justin Hammer came across as too silly to be taken seriously. Without interesting antagonists for Iron Man to square off against, the film suffered and Downey Jr.'s continued flawless take on Stark wasn't enough to fix things.
18 X-MEN: APOCALYPSE
20th Century Fox put the X-Men franchise on hold after the final installment in their original trilogy was met with widespread criticism, but X-Men: First Class helped breathe new life into the series and opened up a realm of new possibilities for our favorite mutants. The first two films in this new trilogy were well-received by fans, but Apocalypse suffered from some of the same problems as X-Men 3.
Before the movie even hit theaters, fans complained that Apocalypse looked more like Ivan Ooze from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie than his comic book counterpart. The film introduced too many new characters, didn't make En Sabah Nur appropriately interesting, and comic book lovers complained that it strayed too far from the source material.
17 BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
The MCU laid out a clear outline for how to successfully start a superhero franchise, but DC clearly didn't pay attention. Instead of introducing new heroes with their own solo films, they just threw major characters into crossover films and expected viewers to care about them. We met The Flash and Cyborg for the first time in Justice League, and Batman and Wonder Woman were haphazardly thrown into the sequel to Man of Steel.
To make matters worse, Batman v. Superman featured one of the most laughable, anti-climactic battle sequences ever, in which the Dark Knight instantly let go of his vendetta against Superman because their mothers shared the same name. Jesse Eisenberg's ridiculous Lex Luthor and the bland, easily-vanquished Doomsday didn't help things, either.
16 SUICIDE SQUAD
Spider-Man 3 and X-Men 3 acted as warnings to all future superhero films about the dangers of having too many iconic comic book characters thrown into one movie, but again, DC refused to learn from the successes or failures of the genre and released an utterly-subpar Suicide Squad.
The squad's large roster kept audiences from being overly invested in any of its members, and despite the adequate lack of character backstory or development, there still wasn't enough time for the writers to properly provide the film with a decent plot. Jared Leto's over-the-top, tattooed Joker made matters so much worse and caused dedicated fans of Batman's greatest foe to absolutely loathe the film.
15 FANTASTIC FOUR
While superhero fans still aren't sure how they feel about Fox's first attempt at giving Marvel's "First Family" their own series of films, nearly everyone can agree that the Fantastic Four films which featured Chris Evans' fantastic portrayal of the Human Torch were at least much better than the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot.
The reboot starred Michael B. Jordan, who went on to do a phenomenal job in the MCU as Black Panther villain Erik Killmonger, but Jordan just wasn't enough to carry this lackluster film or help viewers ignore its confusing plot or poor editing.
14 THOR: THE DARK WORLD
It's evident from the box office success of each Marvel Cinematic Universe film that fans will flock to theaters to see their favorite heroes no matter what, but the franchise has suffered from one major issue over the years that some viewers and critics just can't ignore. Many MCU villains are incredibly forgettable and leave no real lasting impact.
Malekith was one of these tragically bland antagonists, and was void of any real character development or relatability. He dragged the second Thor film down so much that even the return of fan-favorite Loki wasn't enough to make fans love it, and if the film didn't feature the introduction of an Infinity Stone, audiences likely wouldn't ever bother to rewatch The Dark World.
Batman's gallery of rogues is filled with absolutely amazing villains, and Catwoman has been a favorite among the Dark Knight's fans ever since she was first introduced in 1940. It's no big surprise that DC wanted to make a film featuring the notorious their-turned-vigilante, but it was a surprise when that Catwoman film proved to be an absolute dud.
Instead of portraying beloved cat burglar Selina Kyle, Halle Berry was Patience Phillips, a boring artist who started acting like a humanoid cat when she became Catwoman. Berry's acting was weak, the plot was often ridiculous, and fans understandably disliked the fact that Catwoman barely resembled the character from the comics.
12 X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE
It's truly hard to believe a movie featuring Hugh Jackman's iconic portrayal of Wolverine and Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool dissatisfying fans, but even those two couldn't save X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The attempt at giving Logan a backstory just didn't work – the film underutilized fan-favorite mutant Gambit, it drastically altered Wolverine's relationship with Sabretooth, and it ruined the Merc with a Mouth in ways fans never imagined possible.
Deadpool is known for his great sense of humor, but Origins glued his mouth shut at the end of the film and gave him all sorts of powers he doesn't have in the comics. Reynolds was perfect for the character, though, and it's a miracle Fox eventually pretended this disappointing film never happened and gave him his own origin film.
11 IRON MAN 3
After Iron Man 2 failed to satisfy viewers the way the Iron Avenger's first solo film did, Marvel gave Tony Stark one last shot at a solo film. Iron Man 3 did a great job showcasing Stark's vulnerabilities after the traumatizing events of Avengers, but unfortunately, the film suffered from a common MCU problem in that it was ruined by its weak villains.
Marvel made a huge mistake in turning Iron Man's longtime comic book rival, the Mandarin, into a derelict actor merely masquerading as a global supervillain. The film's ultimate antagonist after that twist was revealed turned out to be a vengeful genius with incredibly silly fire-breathing, limb-regrowing capabilities, which made things even worse.
10 JUSTICE LEAGUE
Audiences didn't particularly love the DC Extended Universe introducing Batman and Wonder Woman in Dawn of Justice instead of in their own solo films, but that didn't stop the studio from going on to do the same thing with The Flash and Cyborg in Justice League. The massive crossover film could have and should have been on the same level as Marvel's Avengers, but it was a huge failure in comparison.
Fans understandably weren't as invested in the members of Justice League as they were in the Earth's Mightiest Heroes in their first team-up, which reduced viewer anticipation before the film and excitement during it. Justice League also featured a boring, character-less villain, who was just instantly dispatched by Superman shortly after the Man of Steel arrived.
9 BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE
This is one of the most iconic Batman stories ever written, as it finally provided fans with a Joker backstory and showed just how far the Clown Prince of Crime was willing to go to prove that anyone can go mad after "just one bad day." The film did a solid job staying true to the source material, but something about the film seriously bothered most fans.
Instead of immediately diving into the classic Batman story, the film opened with a long introduction to Barbara Gordon's Batgirl. She and Batman entered into an awkward relationship which the characters don't share in the comics. Bruce is meant to be a sort of fatherly mentor to Barbara, so it made comic fans really uncomfortable.
8 THE GREEN HORNET
The Green Hornet was first introduced in an American radio program back in 1936, and has since been featured in a variety of television shows and films. Fans had high hopes for Columbia's Green Hornet when it was first announced that Seth Rogen would portray the titular character and that iconic villain actor Christoph Waltz would portray the antagonist, but the film sadly suffered from an inability to determine whether it was a superhero origin story or a mere spoof of one.
Rogen's take on the character was so ridiculous that the Green Hornet could never be taken seriously as a real hero, and the film's poor pacing and weak plot kept it from being truly enjoyable.
7 POWER RANGERS
It's easy to understand why Saban thought a new Power Rangers film would be successful. Millennial nostalgia helps each of the Transformers films do well in the box office, and everyone seems to love superhero films these days. Unfortunately, it seems like people would rather watch the well-known Avengers on the big screen than Billy, Jason, Kimberly, Trini, and Zach.
Power Rangers constantly jumped from being too gritty for kids to too silly for adults, so it failed to satisfy either age group. People also just couldn't get over the Iron Man-esque costumes worn by the Rangers and might have given the film a better shot had its heroes donned the uniforms worn by the original 90's characters.
6 AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Compared to the other three Avengers team-ups, Age of Ultron is an undeniable disappointment. This is in large part due to the poor characterization of its robotic supervillain, proving yet again that the MCU's greatest weakness lies with the antagonists.
Ultron was made to help the Avengers save the world, but immediately after he powered on, he decided that the only way to do that was to eliminate Earth's Mightiest. His motives weren't entirely understandable or justified, and since he was less likable than Loki and less unstoppable than Thanos, fans failed to be as invested in him as they were in the Avengers' other foes. The film also wrote off Quicksilver too fast, and tried to force people to care about a Hulk-Black Widow relationship that came out of nowhere.
5 GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE
When Ghost Rider hit theaters in 2007, audiences didn't have any Marvel Cinematic Universe films to compare it to, and accepted the mediocre film simply because it featured a popular character from the comics. By the time its sequel came out, however, fans had already seen the first five films of the MCU's Phase 1. By comparison, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was an absolute joke.
Nicholas Cage's acting was unwatchably silly, and the film had a weak script and ridiculous special effects. Cage loves comics so much that he actually named his son Kal-El (Superman's Kryptonian name), but that sadly didn't help make him an acceptable Johnny Blaze.
4 THE WOLVERINE
Fox's Origins solo film for Wolverine was a huge failure, but since fans continued to love Hugh Jackman's portrayal of the iconic X-Men hero, the studio tried again with The Wolverine. The film tried harder to stick to the source material and focused more on Logan and his inner demons than Origins really tried to, but for some reason, it still just didn't work.
Logan's struggles with his near-immortality grew tiresome after a while, and the film suffered from its lack of recognizable and popular X-Men characters. It also took way too many creative liberties with its gigantic robotic version of classic Wolverine antagonist, the Silver Samurai. Luckily, Fox tried one more time with Logan, which proved Jackman can carry a solo film with the right script and supporting cast.
When Stranger Things' David Harbour was cast as the new Hellboy for the 2019 remake, fans of Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy series had high hopes even though the iconic director wasn't going to be involved in the film. Unfortunately, while Harbour tried his hardest job to bring the gruff half-demon superhero to life as spectacularly as Ron Pearlman had, director Neil Marshall simply was no del Toro.
2 AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
MCU fans seem to believe that Tom Holland is the best Spidey to ever see the big screen, but Andrew Garfield looked just like the Peter Parker of the comics and his comedy as Spider-Man was spot-on. Unfortunately, he'll never be remembered as the best wall-crawler because it's just too difficult to overlook how over-the-top The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was.
The film spent far too long exploring a storyline about the mystery of Peter's parents, especially since it never actually got solved. Fans were sick of seeing the Green Goblin on the big screen, since Tobey Maguire's trilogy featured a Goblin in every film. Jamie Foxx was a horrible, socially awkward Electro, and Paul Giamatti's Rhino was so corny that his brief appearance actually turned the whole film into a joke.
1 THE INCREDIBLE HULK
Even the biggest Marvel fans seem to occasionally forget that The Incredible Hulk is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film didn't impact the overall MCU in any significant way outside of introducing General Ross, it featured a different actor as Bruce Banner, and main characters like Betty Ross, Samuel Sterns and the Abomination haven't been mentioned at all since its release.
Norton made for a believable Banner, but he lacked the charm and sense of humor Mark Ruffalo brought to the role from Avengers and on. Abomination is one of the Hulk's greatest rivals, but his similarities to the giant green monster made their climactic clash fairly boring. Overall, the film wasn't the MCU's worst, but Incredible Hulk wasn't as fun as most entries in the franchise and can easily be skipped.