Comic book fans love their favorite characters. And they hate it when those characters aren’t respected. Fortunately, since the original X-Men and Spider-Man movies in 2000 and 2002, fans have seen a lot of faithful interpretations of the best heroes and villains comics have to offer. But all the excitement – and money – generated by the best of big-screen comic book characters has also led to cash grabs, hastily produced celluloid bombs unfaithful to the source material.
Here we present 12 of the most insidious examples of producers ignoring all that’s great about comic book characters, from both before and after the modern era of comic book movies. They range from thoughtless writing to stone-faced performances (as in unemotional, as opposed to The Thing) to pointlessly animated.
Here are the 12 Worst Movie & TV Adaptations of Beloved Comic Book Characters.
12 Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine
No doubt, we’re all looking forward to Reynolds’ reprisal of this role in Deadpool, scheduled for release on February 12, 2016. The trailer looks like we’re in for an action-packed ride filled with witty, fourth-wall-breaking dialogue and roided-up baseball player references. After all, that’s the Deadpool we know and love from the comics, right?
So why, in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, did they make the character, famous for his wisecracking mouth, mouthless? His appearance in the film starts off strong, beating up enemies while cracking wise. He disappears for a while and next time we see him, his mouth has been sewn, and then sort of melted, shut. Plus, now controlled by Stryker, Deadpool has all kinds of crazy mutant powers that the Deadpool we know and love just doesn’t have. It's a grab-bag of strange choices, but it looks like the new movie will right those wrongs.
11 Brandon Routh as Superman
A lot of actors had a lot of good luck on screen playing Superman prior to Routh’s performance in 2006, but had bad luck off screen afterwards. Routh didn’t even have the good luck on screen and has become more of a character actor, as opposed to the franchise-leader status that such a high-profile gig could lead to. Routh was a relative unknown when he was cast as the Man of Steel, but he had one thing going for him that nobody else did: he looked an awful lot like everybody’s favorite Superman, Christopher Reeve, star of the 1978-87 series of films.
Maybe that was part of the problem. In Superman Returns, Routh appears to be recreating or mimicking Reeve’s take on the role, rather than trying to make it his own, as Henry Cavill has done more recently. But where Reeve had all the charisma in the world, Routh was lacking. Then there’s the fact that his Superman is a bit of a pacifist – some have criticized the film for the fact that Krypton’s favorite son never throws a punch. Director Bryan Singer has admitted he might have missed the mark with the film as a whole, telling IndieWire that “It wasn’t what it needed to be.”
10 Julian McMahon as Doctor Doom
On IGN’s list of the Top 100 Comic Book Villains of All Time, Dr. Doom ranked #3, trailing only the Joker and Magneto. So he’s clearly a character comic book fans love to hate. He’s the archenemy of the Fantastic Four and has battled other Marvel good guys over the years. He’s an amazing super villain without super powers. Victor Von Doom is just a troubled, arrogant, exceedingly brilliant man, who also happens to be the leader of the fictional nation of Latveria and a sorcerer. He uses his intellect to create a suit of armour that gives him superhuman powers, and he often uses robot doubles to do his dirty work.
In the 2005 and 2007 Fantastic Four films, Doom (as played by Julian McMahon) is not the leader of a country, but the CEO of a corporation who doesn’t ingeniously create a suit of armor, but passively mutates into metal. And he suddenly has a natural ability to shoot lightning from his hands. While the comics version could shoot lightning, it was thanks to his own genius, building the power into his suit. After being frozen at the end of the first movie, an attack by Silver Surfer inexplicably heals him in the second movie. Ultimately, the flaw here is that a lot of the brilliant humanity was removed from Doom and his powers arrived by accident, rather than his own genius.
9 Bane in Batman & Robin
In the comics, Bane is a horrifying villain, not just because of his brute strength, but also because he has intelligence to match. It’s a scary combination and led to him figuring out that Bruce Wayne was Batman, tracking him down at Wayne Manor, then sparking a huge fight that ultimately left Batman a paraplegic.
In the ultra-campy Batman & Robin (1997), Bane is little more than a musclebound stooge in a mask. He starts out as a scrawny weakling who’s transformed by a mad scientist into the beast that he is. But he has none of the intelligence of the comic book Bane. He just walks around grunting and smashing. Fortunately, Hollywood redeemed itself for Bane fans with a more accurate portrayal by Tom Hardy in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.
8 Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
When 2005’s plodding Fantastic Four made money, producers wanted to cash in and make another with the same cast, despite it being poorly received by critics. So two years later, along came Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The plot of this sequel revolves around the Silver Surfer hanging 10 down to Earth, causing destruction everywhere he goes. But he later reveals that he’s only reluctantly causing this destruction because the evil planet-eating, cloud-like behemoth named Galactus is forcing him to.
What went wrong with this portrayal of Galactus? For starters, with just three months before the movie’s premier, designers had not finalized his look. And that couldn’t be clearer. Ultimately, for all the talk of Galactus, we don’t even see him as anything but a silhouette in the film. This is one of the most popular comic book villains of all time (ranked #5 on IGN’s 2009 list), and not only do we really not see him, but he’s immediately killed off. It was a wonder why they even bothered including Galactus in this film at all.
7 Chris O’Donnell as Robin in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin
Robin has grown to become synonymous with the word “sidekick” since his debut in Detective Comics #38 in 1940. He’s taken on many different forms and alter egos over the years and, frankly, he wouldn’t have lasted three quarters of a century if audiences didn’t enjoy him. Sure, he’s occasionally the butt of various jokes about his short shorts (not to mention wisecracks about homoerotic undertones), but people dig him. And he was iconically played by Burt Ward in the 1966-68 Batman TV series.
Then along came Chris O’Donnell in the 1995 feature film Batman Forever (and 1997’s Batman & Robin). Prior to his stint as the Boy Wonder, O’Donnell had a few credits in rom-comy fare and only one action flick, The Three Musketeers. But he brought a stilted, one-dimensional approach to the role – and the bizarre costumes didn’t help, with their shiny armor, unnecessary nipples, gigantic codpieces and floating, strapless masks. Interestingly, Marlon Wayans was cast as Robin but not used in the second Batman film, Batman Returns, and was signed on for the next one. At least he might have been fun to watch. Mark Wahlberg and Leonardo DiCaprio were also considered.
6 Howard the Duck
George Lucas is a genius when it comes to creating iconic characters and stories (and merchandise). And then there are the times when he doesn’t have a clue. There are many examples throughout the Star Wars films, but without question his biggest stinker outside of that galaxy is Howard the Duck – both the character and the film, which Lucas executive produced.
What’s particularly interesting in this case is that Howard the Duck was first a beloved Marvel comic book character. Beginning as a character in Man-Thing and spinning off into his own title in 1976, Howard was an anthropomorphic alien duck that wound up on Earth, hilariously spouting cynicism and self-awareness – he often broke the fourth wall and spoke about being a comic book character. The 1986 movie shed all that self-awareness, dumbing down Howard in favor of corny puns. Despite the box office bomb, Howard briefly appeared twice in Guardians of the Galaxy – so, who knows, maybe his role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will expand, with that acerbic personality comic book fans loved.
5 Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern
A lot of people like Ryan Reynolds. What’s not to like? He’s funny, seems smart enough, he’s easy on the eyes, and the dude can act. So throw that package into a role that comic book fans had been waiting to see on screen for years, and you’ve got an instant blockbuster on your hands. Right? And the 2010 Scream Awards named it the most anticipated film of the year. Well, clearly all those ingredients didn’t mix together to anybody’s taste.
So, what went wrong with 2011’s Green Lantern? Reynolds has blamed the non-existence of a script until late in the game. Frankly, the script is probably the biggest reason for the audience’s rejection of Reynolds in this role, and the movie in general. It’s just overflowing with expository dialogue and voiceovers that deprive the audience of actually seeing the cool things being spoken about. Then there was the strange CGI suit. That didn’t help, with its pulsating lights. Reynolds even poked a little fun at that in a recent Deadpool trailer.
4 Ben Affleck as Daredevil and Jennifer Garner as Elektra
Let’s just lump Bennifer 2.0 together for this one, since they both stunk up the same movie in 2003’s Daredevil. Ben Affleck dyed his hair an unusual shade of red to play the title character, while his now ex-wife, Jennifer Garner, played his love interest, Elektra. Affleck came out this summer in Entertainment Weekly to blame cynicism for the film’s downfall, claiming people didn’t think superhero movies could be made well. Maybe he’d never seen the original Superman, Batman, X-Men or Spider-Man.
Even if that were true, there are bigger problems at work. If there were any issues with audience perception, it was their perception of Affleck himself. He was in the midst of his relationship with Jennifer Lopez, during which folks saw him morph from average Joe to a guy who appeared obsessed with slick suits, caviar, Bentleys and champagne. In the film, Affleck seemed like he was phoning it in, with an alarmingly subdued performance. The whole film is mopey, with punch-by-numbers action sequences. As for Garner, she brought Elektra from one clunker of a movie to an even worse one in Elektra two years later.
3 Everyone in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Renowned comic book writer Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta) created The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with artist Kevin O’Neill in 1999. It was a fun and heady concept, featuring literary heroes of the 19th century teaming up to battle bad guys. The team included characters like Mina Murray (Dracula), Allan Quatermain (King Solomon’s Mines), Dr. Jekyll, Captain Nemo (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea) and the Invisible Man. The series earned awards and acclaim from critics and fans.
So, not surprisingly, Hollywood wanted a piece of the action. But they got it all wrong in the 2003 feature film, completely watering down and altering the characters comic book fans came to love. The Invisible Man wasn’t even himself, replaced by a generic invisible man due to a dispute over rights to the original literary character. The characters were forced into bizarre action sequences. Tom Sawyer (Shane West), who wasn’t in the comics, was added for a splash of youth and Americana. Mina (Peta Wilson) went from a complex, troubled woman, to a rabid vampire. Quatermain (a much-too-old Sean Connery) was changed from a deflated addict to a bombastic action hero. It was a perplexing mess.
2 Helen Slater as Supergirl
In the comics, Supergirl has endured from 1959 to today for a reason. At the time of the movie’s premiere in 1984, she had appeared in various issues of Superman and Action Comics, plus two of her own comic series as Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El (aka Linda Lee Danvers). After she arrives on Earth, Superman helps her adapt to her powers until she’s ready to go out and fight crime on her own.
By 1984, the original Superman franchise was riding a wave of success with three films under the cape of Christopher Reeve. Ever-enterprising producers decided to spin the franchise off with Supergirl, staring Helen Slater in the title role. But in a knuckle-dragging attempt to attract a female audience, they revolved the whole plot around romance, with the villain being primarily motivated by jealousy. Reeve was approached to at least make a cameo in the film, but refused, so the Superman tie-in was minimal.
Producer Ilya Salkind later admitted that Slater shouldn’t have been cast, with Brooke Shields being the better choice. It was Slater’s first film role, and it showed, with a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look and stilted line readings. Fortunately, they seemed to have finally gotten it right in the new Supergirl TV show, starring Melissa Benoist.
1 Halle Berry as Catwoman
A lot of actresses have had a lot of good luck with Catwoman over the years. Go all the way back to the original Batman TV series in the ‘60s, where Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt played her to purring perfection. Then Michelle Pfeiffer seductively slinked around in her skin-tight catsuit in 1992’s Batman Returns. We can even skip over Halle Berry for a minute to mention Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Returns and even Camren Bicondova as a young Selina Kyle/Catwoman on TV’s Gotham.
So, Halle Berry, where did you go wrong where so many others were purr-fect? She played the lead role in Catwoman, which was a 2004 stand-alone film, not related to any Batman franchises. Well, it wasn’t her fault alone. It was also everything around her, including production and writing decisions, that stunk like kitty litter. For starters, her alter ego was not Selina Kyle, but a new character, Patience Phillips – in fact, there was very little in common between the traditional Kyle/Catwoman and the version in the film. Rather than cunning, she was dull and meek. Rather than having fun with the “cat” persona, she literally acts like a cat who eats cat food and hisses at dogs. Oh, and there were magical cats that gave her super powers. Because, why not?
Are there any other big screen abominations that we should have included? Let us know in the comments!