We’re almost a decade into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there’s still a sense of hesitation that precedes every Marvel Studios release. Despite the unprecedented level of success on the bg screen, Marvel fans are always ready to be disappointed by the latest Marvel Studios film. Call it cynicism if you must, but it’s not fair to refer to their hesitation as paranoia. After all, we’re talking about characters and worlds deeply rooted in people’s childhoods. We’re talking about movies that promise to be the kind of definitive blockbuster experiences that define the theater experience. Most of all, we’re talking about movies that have gone very, very wrong before.
Marvel Studios might not be perfect, but they’ve got a Hall of Fame batting average compared to the collective efforts of every other studio that has attempted to adapt a Marvel property into a full-length film. Not every great Marvel movie has been helmed by Marvel Studios, but the absolute worst Marvel films ever made exist somewhere beyond the reaches of the MCU. Forget childhood memories and forget blockbusters; we’re talking about movies so awful that they belong in the deepest reaches of failed film hell. Bad comic book movies are one thing, but these are some of the worst movies ever made, regardless of pedigree.
These are the 15 Worst Marvel Movies Not Made By Marvel Studios.
15 Fantastic Four (1994)
The infamous Roger Corman version of Fantastic Four ranks low on this list for a couple of reasons. First off, it was never meant to be released. Based on who you believe, the movie was either made so that a production studio could retain the rights to the Fantastic Four property, or it was intended to be released as an actual film until Marvel stepped in and said, “absolutely not.”
So why would Marvel be so worried about this movie releasing? Well, it’s not great. The film was shot on a shoestring budget over the course of a few weeks. Roger Corman’s undeniable B-movie charms occasionally shine through, but the movie is plagued by some truly awful CG special effects and audio quality that renders large chunks of dialog inaudible. Still, the fact that this movie only checks in at number 15 should really tell you just how devoid of merit the rest of the movies on this list are.
14 Spider-Man 3
There's no shortage of Spider-Man 3 apologists in the world (you know who you are). Like the Star Wars prequel apologists, this group of fans maintains that Spider-Man 3 wasn’t really “that bad” and only suffers such an awful reputation because it is regularly compared to the series' two great films that came before. That’s a perfectly rational argument, but it fails to take into account one thing: emo Peter Parker.
The visual of Tobey Maguire as an emo club dancer whose change of attitude supposedly represents the evil within Parker's soul really does tell you all you need to know about Spider-Man 3. The story goes that Sam Raimi wasn’t particularly fond of the Venom character, but was pressured by the studio to include him in this movie. That triggered a snowball of half-hearted ideas that eventually led to Spider-Man 3 coming across like three or four different movies duct taped together by bad acting and even worse writing. This is one of the biggest blockbuster botches in cinematic history.
13 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was released the same year as The Avengers. Think about that. The same year that we got a movie which essentially celebrated the renaissance of the superhero movie market, we also got a movie that reminded everyone of the darkest days of superhero films, when famous comic characters were treated with about as much care as famous death row inmates. You could cite the duality of these projects as a bit of yin/yang karma, but that gives its existence far too much meaning.
The sad thing about Spirit of Vengeance -- besides the fact that it ever happened - is that the movie isn’t actually trying to be anything special. There are many times, in fact, when it seems like the film is trying to be a Roger Corman-esque, lovable B-movie. The problem is that the script and characters are entirely devoid of personality. The few moments that are supposed to be fun are undone by awful CGI, bad acting, awful direction, or bad CGI acting that is awfully directed.
12 Daredevil (2003)
2003’s Daredevil is a movie haunted by two questions: “Why Daredevil?” and “Why, Daredevil?” The first speaks to the eternal mystery which is why Daredevil was chosen for a major movie adaptation ahead of a score of more mainstream Marvel superheroes. Apparently, the answer to that question is that director Mark Steven Johnson actually turned in a really good script for the character that played off his darker elements. Of course, you’d never know it based on the movie we got.
That leads us to the “Why, Daredevil?” query, which is the question just about everyone asked when they tried to wrap their heads around why anything in this movie was happening the way it was. Even if 20th Century Fox was hesitant to release a more mature superhero movie during this era, that still doesn’t explain why everything in Daredevil is so comically over-the-top. Daredevil isn’t quite Schumacher Batman bad in that respect, but you can actually hear the disdain in everyone’s voices as they’re forced to utter some of the cheesiest lines in superhero movie history.
11 X-Men: The Last Stand
In retrospect, maybe it was a little unrealistic to expect X-Men: The Last Stand to surpass the original film and X-Men 2. After all, those were revolutionary superhero movies, and X-Men 2 still stands as one of the greatest comic book-based films ever made. Even still, nobody could have predicted just how awful X-Men: The Last Stand would be.
It’s tempting to just say “Brett Ratner” when explaining the movie’s problems and move on. It’s so tempting, in fact, that we’ll do just that. Ratner may not be entirely responsible for this trainwreck, but the difference between his approach to directing an X-Men movie and Bryan Singer’s previous approaches was clearly the source of most of the movie’s worst moments. X-Men: The Last Stand's emphasis on the more absurd aspects of the X-Men universe might have worked once upon a time, but you can’t go from the mature and measured style of the first two movies directly to this. Whatever clever moments there are in the script are immediately undone by things like Vinnie Jones’ Juggernaut performance, too many characters to possibly keep track of, and meaningless action scenes played out for spectacle.
10 The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The question isn’t -- or at least shouldn’t be -- whether or not The Amazing Spider-Man 2 belongs on this list, but rather if it’s worse than Spider-Man 3. While you can go wrong either way, the slight edge on the all-time worst rankings goes to Amazing Spider-Man 2 in our eyes. Not only does it not possess those rare moments of Sam Raimi directed brilliance that Spider-Man 3 can at least hang its cowl on, but director Marc Webb failed to learn any lessons from Spider-Man 3’s mistakes and instead gleefully repeats many of them.
If you want to treat Amazing Spider-Man 2 like a real film, you could say that it suffers from pacing problems, which stem from Webb’s attempts to try so many things at once. That’s a pretty big if, though, when you consider that Amazing Spider-Man 2 is really just confirmation that Sony does think the average audience member is the lowest common denominator of humanity. It’s a CG-filled action scene schlock fest where the few actors that are trying are relegated to a dry read from the big book of cliche dialog.
9 Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D
Back in the late ‘90s, Marvel was desperate for money. There’s really no nice way to segue into that. The company was in dire straits and was willing to sell off properties for excess cash whenever possible. Their desperation led to a few noteworthy projects, but it also resulted in made-for-TV garbage like Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Where do you begin? David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury, that’s where. Before the world knew of the glory that is Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, they got to watch Hasselhoff chew the scenery like the comic book Nick Fury chews cigars. The movie features just enough to references to its source material to suggest that someone involved may have actually read the comics, but there’s nothing about this movie which suggests that the writers actually found any of it to be interesting. Given its TV budget, you can forgive this movie for its poor effects and cheap cast, but there is no forgiving the way it fails to provide even the guiltiest of pleasures across a two-hour runtime.
Daredevil was a bad movie. There’s no way around that. Even the film’s significantly better director’s cut fails to do much more than remind you how easily that movie could have been saved by people willing to fight for it. For as bad as Daredevil was, however, Elektra is worse. Much, much worse.
We’re not exactly sure who it was that watched Daredevil and thought that Jennifer Garner’s wooden approach to the Elektra character was worthy of a spin-off, and we’re not even sure that anyone who thought that is listed in the film’s credits. Imagine, if you dare, a supernatural kung-fu film parody that isn’t portrayed like a parody. That’s roughly what we get here. As a comic book movie, Elektra fails to convey the spectacle of the scenario it creates. As an action film, Elektra fails to provide any scenes which aren’t completely ruined by quick-cut cinematography that renders whatever is happening in each fight null and void. Most of all, Elektra fails as an endeavor of humanity.
7 Generation X
There’s a good chance you didn’t even know this movie existed until just this moment. In a few more moments, you’re going to wish you could return to those blissful times. Yes, someone made a Generation X TV movie back in 1996. Well, at least that’s what it seems director Jack Sholder intended to do. What he made instead was an insult to the entire X-Men universe.
Remember those ‘90s videos that were made to be shown in classrooms and tried to appeal to kids with hackneyed takes on what adults assumed teenagers felt was “cool?" If you can get past the awful fashion and cringe-worthy use of slang, however, you’ll find that Generation X’s worst moments coincidentally coincide with its biggest deviations from the X-Men comics. From the incredibly over-the-top -- yet somehow still generic -- mad scientist villain, to strange character deviations which seemingly stem from that same misguided attempt to appeal to as many cliche images of teenagers as a studio could possibly dream up, this movie’s only saving grace is that it’s so diluted that it’s almost impossible to associate it with the X-Men at all.
6 Fantastic Four (2015)
The only thing worse than being a hackneyed B-movie populated with cliche characters spouting period specific gibberish masquerading as dialog is a superhero movie so boring that it never even threatens to entertain you with a few “so bad it’s good” moments. 2015’s Fantastic Four is that movie.
Some people are tempted to forgive 2015’s Fantastic Four by arguing that the movie at least had a budget to work with and features a few actors clearly trying their best. That’s nice and all, but it does nothing to disguise the fact that the movie tries so hard to be competent that it forgets to be remotely entertaining. Every point of plot progression is taken for granted, the entire movie is bathed in grays and browns, and the few-and-far-between action sequences feel like they were directed by a machine designed to create generic action sequences that got tired of its job 15 years ago and just phones it in until retirement.
5 X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Hugh Jackman is the perfect Wolverine. It’s been said before, but it bears repeating once more. You couldn’t dream up a better human to play the famous character. You have to make a concentrated effort to produce a film starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine that is entirely unwatchable. That’s as close as we can get to associating X-Men Origins: Wolverine with the word “effort.”
Wolverine’s origin story is one of the most fascinating in the entire Marvel universe. If done well, it could make for an incredible movie. Part of the reason why Origins fails to achieve that status is because the scriptwriters seemingly take for granted that audiences are automatically going to care about how Logan became Wolverine and never give them any reason to actually do so. Manipulations of the Wolverine mythology aside, the movie could have been saved if anyone involved -- besides Jackman -- had bothered to step back and really ask themselves if anything that makes Wolverine interesting is in this film. We’re not even going to get into the Ryan Reynolds/Wade Wilson debacle, because there's only so much room for darkness in our hearts.
4 Dr. Strange (1978)
Back in the ‘70s, Marvel wasn’t quite as interested in taking over the movie industry as they are now. They were, however, very interested in getting into the television business. Their instincts were right. After all, The Incredible Hulk was a pretty big hit for CBS. Really, all Marvel had to do was not completely botch their 1978 TV movie based on Doctor Strange to such a degree that CBS would need to work very hard to bury its existence.
As you’ve probably guessed, that’s exactly what happened. As an experiment in just how cheaply made a comic book movie can look, Dr. Strange is fascinating. Our only guess is that CBS hired the set and costume designer from Manos: Hands of Fate and threatened not to pay them unless they could somehow do a worse job than they did with that movie. Visuals aside, the real travesty here is a painfully slow plot that spends way too much time dwelling on Strange’s medical origins before veering into painfully over-the-top magical territory, the likes of which nobody involved with the project was capable of handling in a vaguely compelling way.
There was some debate regarding whether or not these TV movies should be included. After all, how much can you really expect from these low-budget endeavors? The thing of it is, though, that you can’t fairly talk about how bad Marvel adaptations can get without scraping the shallow barrel that is Marvel’s TV movie history.
Man-Thing scrapes the bottom of that barrel so hard that those who have seen it swear that they can feel wood chips in their eyes when they watch the movie. Made in 2005 as a Syfy Channel original, Man-Thing represents the pre-Iron Man era of Marvel licensing, when people saw the Marvel name and expected the worst. The worst is what they got in the case of this glorified fan film made by people who clearly weren’t fans and knew nothing about the property. This movie turns Man-Thing -- a compelling guardian character who exists in a morally gray area -- into a sci-fi movie villain just a few steps removed from Sharktopus. That’s the thing about this movie. It’s not that it’s significantly worse than other original movies this channel is infamous for, but rather that it’s an inhumanly corny sci-fi original that ruins a Marvel property with a lot of potential.
2 Howard the Duck
When you’re George Lucas and you’ve just finished one of the most successful film trilogies that has ever -- or will ever -- be released, you can pretty much do whatever you want in terms of follow-up projects. For some reason, he decided to get involved with a live action Howard the Duck film. Well, actually, Lucas really just expressed an interest in Howard the Duck, and studios that were eager to get involved with anything that concerned Lucas were more than willing to throw money at whatever the hell he was even vaguely interested in.
You have to wonder when, exactly, everyone involved with the project realized that nobody around them realized what they were doing. Howard the Duck is a downright fascinating mismatch of tone and humor. It’s a dark adult comedy one minute and a relentlessly cheery family film the next. Through it all, Howard the Duck manages to miss nearly every attempt at humor that was half-heartedly inserted into the script. At least the script was cheap and awful. The film’s insufferable special effects cost millions.
1 Captain America (1979)
When 2011’s Captain America was released, fans were worried that Marvel wouldn’t be able to make Captain America seem like a compelling character in the modern age. Captain America’s fans couldn’t help but worry about the worst case scenario. Little did some of them know that the worst case scenario had already played out in front of a nationwide audience on CBS in 1979.
This take on Captain America abandons the character's actual origin story in favor of a mythology involving a traveling artist named Steve Rogers who undergoes the famous transformation process when a group of thugs runs him off the road in an attempt to acquire some secrets his father possessed (don’t ask). This painfully dull reimagining of Cap's origin story is made worse by the fact that it takes up roughly sixty minutes of the 90-minute movie. That leaves audiences only a half-hour to enjoy unforgivably bad action scenes based largely on Captain America’s -- apparently trademark -- motorcycle. It all builds towards a climax which sees the Star-Spangled Avenger choke a man on a car’s exhaust. It’s a very special film.
Did we miss any of Marvel's absolute worst pre-MCU stinkers? Can you actually sit through any of the dumpster fires listed above? Let us know in the comments.