Just before the turn of the century, not much was happening in the way of live-action comic book films. DC’s run of solid Batman and Superman franchises came to a swift halt with Batman and Robin, which virtually killed the Dark Knight as a big screen presence, while movies like Steel did little to win over fans. On the other hand, Marvel’s relatively successful Blade was sandwiched in between the first in a line of poor Fantastic Four attempts, and the straight-to-television Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., which starred David Hasselhoff in the lead role.
Everything changed in 2000, with the introduction of the X-Men to mainstream cinema. Not long after, Sam Raimi and Christopher Nolan sealed the long-term success of the genre, with their Spider-Man and Dark Knight trilogies raking in huge rewards both critically and financially.
Unfortunately, what followed was mass hysteria from DC, Marvel, Sony and Fox, who each collected the rights to their respective characters and rushed out a tidal wave of superhero movies in blatant attempts to one-up the rest. Even now in the days of shared universes, we are seeing more and more movies fail to live up to the standard set by those early X-Men and Spider-Man films.
They say there’s no better time to be a comic book fan, but in 17 years packed full of superhero goodness, there was always going to be a few missteps. Here are the 15 Worst Comic Book Films Since 2000.
15 Green Lantern
In answer to Marvel’s Iron Man, DC threw everything they had at Green Lantern in an attempt to kickstart a shared universe of their own, splashing the cash on an all-star cast and a whole lot of CGI. The former holds up to their end of the bargain, with Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively’s real-life chemistry translating to the screen, and a Mark Strong performance far too good for this movie, but the effects are overblown and distracting.
Green Lantern shoots for both the comedy of the MCU and the grit of The Dark Knight, DC’s most recent success, without ever finding a balance between the two. It feels at times like two different movies, held together by one ridiculously animated superhero suit; the dramatic moments want so hard for you to take them seriously, which is just never an option, when the majority of the humor is aimed so specifically at a younger demographic.
14 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
It’s a tough call between the two most recent Turtles movies. Out of the Shadows arguably plays things a little more loosely, packing in one or two more laughs than its 2014 predecessor (which is about the best you can hope for with these movies), but at least the first incorporated something resembling a plot.
The sequel uses fan favorites Bebop and Rocksteady, an insanely over-the-top performance from Tyler Perry, and a brief appearance from Oscar-nominee Laura Linney as an excuse to tell the most basic of world domination stories. What’s more, the turtles themselves are even more unlikable this time around, actively seeking attention for saving the world in the first film, to the point that you don’t blame Will Arnett for stealing the credit.
13 X-Men: The Last Stand
Like the Spider-Man trilogy that released alongside it, the X-Men franchise kicked off with two of the most faithful comic book adaptations put to film, and like the Spider-Man trilogy that released alongside it, the third installment puts all of that good work to waste.
The Last Stand attempts to round out the trilogy with the mother of all X-Men stories – the Dark Phoenix Saga – but director Brett Ratner came aboard production far too late to do it any sort of justice. The deaths of Cyclops and Professor X are rushed attempts to aid Jean’s breakdown, but her development is stunted in favor of new characters. By the third act, Ratner is throwing in cameos at random (presumably because those characters had been a part of Bryan Singer’s pre-agreed plans), and the one character who should have taken priority is lost in the crowd.
12 Kick-Ass 2
Speaking of X-Men, it was Matthew Vaughn that recovered the franchise after The Last Stand. Vaughn stepped in as writer/director of X-Men: First Class, and though he returned as neither for Days of Future Past, he is credited as coming up with the story for the sequel. He was not involved at all for X-Men: Apocalypse, which reinforced the idea that you shouldn’t continue a Matthew Vaughn franchise without Vaughn himself, after the huge disappointment that was Kick-Ass 2.
Following on from Vaughn, new writer/director Jeff Wadlow had a much tougher time in towing the line between violent and tasteful. The film suffers from a complete lack of subtlety, without any of the charm that canceled out the vulgarity of the original, and even the addition of Jim Carrey isn’t enough to wash the bad taste from your mouth. Carrey famously disowned the movie, which he claimed promotes violence, and in this case, it’s hard to disagree.
11 Blade: Trinity
Dracula makes an appearance in the final Blade installment, but the real horror story where this movie is concerned is behind the camera. You can make up your own mind on David S. Goyer’s superhero scripts, which include Batman Begins, Batman v Superman, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and all three Blade movies, but there are few positive things to say about his talent as a director.
Blade: Trinity somehow looks worse than the first two movies, with effects that didn’t hold up in 2004, let alone today. Goyer fails in getting any emotional response from his actors, and simply turns the volume up in an apparent attempt to compensate, which results in a film at complete odds with Guillermo del Toro’s stylized Blade II.
Wesley Snipes made his distaste of Goyer known, and later sued the studio for cutting his scenes in favor of Ryan Reynolds. Blade: Trinity is yet another behind-the-scenes disaster, another franchise-killer, and still not the last we’ve heard of Ryan Reynolds on this list.
10 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Nicolas Cage’s first outing as Johnny Blaze was criticized across the board, but a sequel that comes out and changes absolutely nothing is a far bigger offender. If anything, Spirit of Vengeance is even more absurd, and any attempt to turn silly into fun is undone by the script’s complete misunderstanding of its own characters and dreadful CGI.
In the same year that the Hulk was smashing the Chitauri and Bane literally split a plane in two, Spirit of Vengeance can’t make a pyrotechnic skeleton look anything close to realistic, and the character is made no less believable by a masterclass in Nic Cage overacting. Cage has claimed that he has trouble choosing the right roles, and we’d love to know what part of this script made him think that his character would be even remotely likable.
The Daredevil spin-off that literally no one asked for, you might well have forgotten that Elektra ever existed by now, because most of the general public did so a week after its 2005 release. The film became Marvel’s lowest-grossing movie since 1986’s Howard the Duck, and firmly shut down any signs of a shared universe over at Fox.
Just that this movie was ever developed, just two years after Daredevil’s colossal failure, and that some bright spark at Fox saw a leather-clad Jennifer Garner as the next big thing in superhero movies, is enough to land it a place on this list. The film itself isn’t offensively bad, but there’s just no reason for it. Everything from the action and choreography to the performances and direction is plain average, and the plot isn’t even resolved at the end of it all.
8 The Amazing Spider-Man 2
It’s genuinely difficult to believe that anyone involved in the making of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ever watched Spider-Man 3. While the final entry into the original trilogy tries to do too much, Marc Webb’s 2014 sequel repeats exactly the same formula, but without the luxury of having Sam Raimi to fall back on.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had a shocking run from its pre-production, during which Sony obviously decided that its general audience needed spoon-feeding, to its promotion, at which point someone at the studio thought it would be a good idea to push the Rhino as a major character. When the film was finally released, and it turned out to be a cliché-infested set-up for movies that were never likely to happen, it should hardly have been a surprise to anyone.
Even now, three years on, the movie stands out like a sore thumb alongside The Winter Soldier, Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy, and remains a huge dampener on one of the best ever years for comic book movies.
7 Fantastic Four (2015)
The three previous Fantastic Four movies had set the bar pretty low, and yet Josh Trank's 2015 attempt somehow manages to be worse than all of them. The most frustrating thing about ‘Fant4stic’ is that it exists only to keep the rights from Marvel, and Fox didn’t even have the courtesy to make it good.
The one up side to the movie is its relatively short run time, but its lazy retelling of origin stories any casual movie fan already knows makes 100 minutes feel like a lifetime. Not one of those 100 minutes is spent on character development, and the final act is virtually non-existent. Trank claims that there’s a good movie in here somewhere, but considering that literally all of its decent moments are in the two-minute trailer, that’s a bold claim.
Just three years before the MCU began, 2005 still represents a low point in the history of Marvel films. Alongside underwhelming movie releases Elektra and Fantastic Four, the studio finally got its long-awaited Man-Thing adaptation off the ground, which initially debuted on the Syfy channel. Put into context, Marvel’s last direct-to-television film was 1998’s Nick Fury, which offers an insight into how little the studio had invested in this project.
The worst thing of all is that there’s potential in the title character, whose motives tend to fall into the morally gray category. Unfortunately, director Brett Leonard is more concerned with tone than the Man-Thing itself, who is presented unfairly as a legitimate villain, and could realistically be taken out of this movie in favor of a more generic swamp-dwelling monster.
5 X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Our good friend Ryan Reynolds is back again, but this time in a role that would later redeem his entire superhero career. The latest Deadpool movie proves beyond all doubt that Reynolds was born to play Wade Wilson, and there are glimpses of his talent in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, at least until the movie does the unthinkable and sews the Merc’s mouth shut.
And we haven’t even started on the lead character yet, who tries his best through the single most underwhelming origin story ever told in the comic book genre, considering that the four previous X-Men movies had hinted so heavily towards Logan’s past. But even Hugh Jackman can’t overcome the subpar effects, claustrophobic action and a script written by none other than Game of Thrones mastermind David Benioff.
4 Jonah Hex
In 2010, with the Dark Knight trilogy still at the forefront of the comic book genre, Warner Bros. had the perfect opportunity to open up a shared universe capable of competing with Marvel’s. But rather than launch fresh Superman, Wonder Woman and Flash franchises, the studio decided it was time to bring another second-string DC character to life, because Steel, Constantine and Catwoman had gone so well…
Jonah Hex follows a remarkably similar pattern, dumbing down its violent and thoughtful source material for absolutely no reason. The movie is so poorly-made across the board that there’s almost no point in getting into specifics, and this is only #4. If we have to find anything resembling a positive, it’s the casting of Josh Brolin, and the fact that it wastes only 80 minutes of your time.
3 The Spirit
Frank Miller is considered one of the most influential comic book writers, but the best writers don’t necessarily make the best directors. The man responsible for reinventing such classic superheroes as Batman, Wolverine and Daredevil finally took the step into filmmaking for 2005’s Sin City. Co-directed with Robert Rodriguez, Sin City certainly didn’t disappoint, but Miller ditched Rodriguez for The Spirit in 2008, which remains his one and only solo movie project. For obvious reasons.
The Spirit has the visual appeal of Sin City, but none of its subtlety, which is demonstrated most effectively by Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson’s villain is given free rein to wear just about anything he wants and smear as much make-up on his face as is humanly possible, while his current MCU teammate Scarlett Johansson doesn’t have it any better. The movie simply wastes its actors, whose corny dialogue is something that will forever haunt Frank Miller’s legacy.
2 Son of the Mask
The long-awaited sequel to The Mask stars Malibu’s Most Wanted actor Jason Kennedy in place of Jim Carrey. Must we go on?
We must, but only to drum home just how ridiculous the concept of this movie is. Cartoonist Tim Avery and God of Mischief Loki battle it out over Tim’s son Avery, who was conceived from the power of the Mask. We could let the premise slide if there was even a single funny moment in the movie, but the lack of humor in the dialogue is matched only by the Razzie-nominated cast.
We’re not sure even Jim Carrey could save the script (that inexplicably passed through several stages of development), but the lack of any charisma in the leading role is noted. Between Batman and Robin, Evan Almighty, and Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, you’d think studios would have learned not to make Jim Carrey sequels without Jim Carrey in them.
Several decades of comic book mythology were swept firmly under the rug in 2004, when director Pitof decided that Selina Kyle was old news. The Frenchman renamed the character Patience Phillips, gave her real-life cat superpowers, and had her use them for such activities as erotically-charged basketball and to turn down slightly loud music.
While Pitof ignored Michelle Pfeiffer’s inspired performance in Batman Returns, he chose instead to take inspiration from Batman and Robin, relaying a series of cat puns that Mr. Freeze would be proud of. For a director that supposedly specializes in visual effects, the action is laughable, from the horrible CGI of the bank robbery scene to the uncomfortable close-ups of the basketball disaster.
In the years since, Halle Berry personally accepted a Razzie award for her role, Pitof has directed a single TV movie, and Catwoman has been mercifully reinstated to cinema by Anne Hathaway.
What did we miss? Leave your terrible superhero movies in the comments!