While the Rotten Tomatoes tool for aggregating critical reviews doesn’t always fairly assess with technical precision just how good or bad a film is – since that is ultimately a subjective conclusion – its scores certainly give us a general sense of when a movie is a must-see or just not that great. Also, the Tomatometer is a pretty useful tool for comparing two or more films, which is always fun and worth discussing.
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Extended Universe, and other superhero-related franchises have been enjoying great success with their properties in the past few years, it is definitely not true that every superhero movie out there is worth making for the sake of profits or to serve an overall continuity. There are certainly superhero films that are just plain bad and should’ve never been released without going through some quite significant changes.
Some of these films are old, and others are very recent. Some of these heroes are from Marvel, some are from DC, and others are independent. Budgets fluctuate, reasons differ, and contexts vary… But all of these projects have one thing in common: they are not good.
These are the 20 Worst Superhero Movies Ever (According To Rotten Tomatoes).
Starring Ryan Reynolds (who had already played a different hero – Deadpool – in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Blake Lively (fresh off her Gossip Girl success), and Taika Waititi (who would later direct Thor: Ragnarok), Green Lantern was an attempt from Warner Bros and DC Comics to keep on capitalizing on superheroes in the heels of the incredibly successful The Dark Knight trilogy. But like Watchmen, which also came out during those years, it didn’t work quite as well as Christopher Nolan's take on Batman.
While Green Lantern was perceived by many as a career-killer, Ryan Reynolds certainly redeemed himself when he returned to his X-Men Origins character in 2016’s solo Deadpool movie.
Written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, who wrote Jack Frost, wrote and directed 2003’s Daredevil, and produced Elektra, Ghost Rider was not received well by most film reviewers and was even criticized by religious groups who claimed that it had satanic references.
Curiously, Nic Cage has a Ghost Rider tattoo, which had to be covered during the movie’s shoot.
Suicide Squad is the fourth installment in the DCEU continuity, and just like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – which also came out in 2016 – it was liked by some fans but not well-received by most critics.
There was a lot riding in the hands of Suicide Squad. For one, the movie featured Jared Leto’s Joker, which was the first time this character appeared in a live-action movie since Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning take in The Dark Knight. Secondly, Squad had to introduce seven villains that set out to save the world – Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, El Diablo, Killer Croc, and Katana – and one villain who was the actual antagonist of the story (The Enchantress). Last but not least, there were several production missteps reportedly attached to the project, such as rumors that the final cut of the movie was conducted by a marketing team.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Suicide Squad has a score of 25%.
The Blade trilogy is considered a huge commercial success, a defining franchise for actor Wesley Snipes, and a breakout opportunity for David S. Goyer (who wrote the first installment and directed the third) and Guillermo del Toro (who directed the second film).
Based on Marvel’s Blade comic book series created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, this franchise is apparently nearing a reboot, and actor Anthony Mackie has expressed interest in portraying the title character. The only problem is that Mackie is already part of the MCU as the hero Falcon, who was last seen in Captain America: Civil War.
2014’s reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles felt like an attempt to bring these iconic heroes to a Transformers-like tone and introduce them to children who might not be familiar with their stories. According to the film’s 22% score on Rotten Tomatoes, that attempt did not work.
Starring Megan Fox (who seemed to have given up on action movies after Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) and comedian Will Arnett (who voiced Batman in The Lego Movie and, later, in The Lego Batman Movie), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles went on to make a lot of money, but failed to make a lasting impression on fans.
Of course, low Rotten Tomatoes scores are not something new to the TMNT franchise, but things really hit an all-time low back in 1993 with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III’s score of 21%.
After the beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie (1990) and its The Secret of the Ooze (1991) sequel, III was meant to give a proper ending to this classic franchise, but failed to impress critics and fans alike. It was the only film of that trilogy that wasn’t written by Todd W. Langen, but other than that, there was no particular explanation as to why the third installment failed.
It took 21 years for the TMNT franchise to recover from III and reboot those characters on the big screen, and it’s unfortunate that two TMNT films have made this list.
After 1976’s Rocky and 1982’s First Blood (which introduced the character of Rambo), Judge Dredd was actor Sylvester Stallone’s attempt in the 1990s to create yet another successful action franchise through a title character brought to life by him. However, it didn’t work as well as expected this time.
Judge Dredd was criticized for lacking originality and being unfaithful to its source material, which was John Wagner’s comic book series of the same name. On Rotten Tomatoes, this movie has a score of 18%, making it one of the lowest-rated films of Sylvester Stallone’s career.
Spawn was an origin story for a devilish antihero character originally known as Al Simmons (and then resurrected as Spawn), which was created by Todd McFarlane, known for his writing in comic book series such as The Amazing Spider-Man.
The movie featured Michael Jai White (who officially became the first African-American actor to portray a major superhero in a live-action film), John Leguizamo (fresh off his Carlito’s Way success), and the legendary Martin Sheen.
Curiously, Spawn was directed by visual effects artist Mark A. Z. Dippé, who hasn’t done much mainstream work since, but is credited as the director of CBS’s 2017 Halloween animated special Michael Jackson’s Halloween.
Aside from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Ghost Rider franchise unfortunately also has two of its properties included on this list, as the 2012 sequel Spirit of Vengeance scored a 17% on Rotten Tomatoes.
This sequel had Nicolas Cage once again in the title role, but also featured actors like Idris Elba (who starred in this film in between 2011’s Thor and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World), Ciarán Hinds (replacing Peter Fonda as the Devil), and Johnny Whitworth (as Blackout, the movie’s villain). Eva Mendes, who was a love interest in the first installment, did not return for Spirit of Vengeance.
Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the duo that directed the Gerard Butler star vehicle Gamer, were responsible for directing Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
Sir Sean Connery, Academy Award winner for The Untouchables and immortalized as the 1960s-1980s version of James Bond, played the protagonist Allan Quatermain in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Since the actor was also known for having turned down the roles of Morpheus in The Matrix and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, it was curious that he decided to give a chance to something like League.
The film was directed by Stephen Norrington – who directed the first Blade installment – and written by James Robinson, a comic books veteran who has done work for both DC Comics and Marvel. During its opening weekend, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen opened at #2, behind Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
The Spirit was Frank Miller’s very first time as the sole director of a film. Known for having written the graphic novels Sin City, 300, The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, and Ronin, Miller attempted to take his storytelling expertise to the directorial role, but the result didn’t turn out to be what everyone expected.
This movie’s cast was absolutely stellar: Gabriel Macht (now mostly known for his role as Harvey Specter in Suits) played the protagonist The Spirit/Denny Colt, Samuel L. Jackson (now the MCU’s Nick Fury) was The Octopus, Scarlett Johansson (now the MCU’s Black Widow) played Silken Floss, Eva Mendes (who, as previously mentioned, had given up on Ghost Rider) was Sand Saref, and Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story veteran) played Ellen Dollan.
But The Spirit did not receive the same praise as the movie adaptations of Sin City and 300, and ended up only scoring 14% on Rotten Tomatoes.
1997’s Steel, starring Shaquille O’Neal, premiered a couple of days after Spawn, which means that Shaq almost had the opportunity to be the first African-American man to star as a major superhero in a live-action film, but lost that achievement to Michael Jai White.
Unfortunately, Steel failed on both commercial and critical levels, only grossing a little more than one million dollars in the box office and earning a score of 12% on Rotten Tomatoes.
According to writer and director Kenneth Johnson, Wesley Snipes was his first choice for the title role in Steel, but the studio believed that casting Shaquille O’Neal would help the film commercially. It’s helpful to remember that Space Jam came out the year before, in 1996, which means that the basketball player-turned-actor storyline was alive and well.
So what happened? Well, absolutely everything changed in the sequel. The first installment was directed by Alex Proyas (who later did I, Robot), written by David J. Schow, and had actor Brandon Lee (who was accidentally killed during the production of The Crow by a prop gun) as the title character.
For the City of Angels sequel, Tim Pope (a music video director) signed on to direct, David S. Goyer (previously mentioned on this list) wrote the screenplay, and Swiss actor Vincent Pérez took on the title role.
While it was obviously not Pope, Goyer, or Pérez’s particular fault, the elements were just not there for City of Angels, and The Crow franchise had to experience a very low moment.
After Richard Donner’s incredibly successful Superman: The Movie (1978) and Richard Lester’s follow-ups Superman II (1981) and Superman III (1983), actor Christopher Reeve came back once again to reprise his role as Clark Kent in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, a movie that arguably buried the live-action Superman franchise for nearly 20 years.
Superman IV just did not live up to everyone’s expectations of this beloved superhero, and went on to become his lowest-rated live-action film ever, with a score of 12% on Rotten Tomatoes.
It was only in 2006 that director Bryan Singer (who had done a great job in X-Men and X2) would take the chance to revive Superman in the movie format with Superman Returns. In 2013, kicking off the DCEU, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel became the very first film to abandon the classic cinematic continuity started by Richard Donner in 1978 and reboot the character to a new generation.
Now we enter the “10% or less” section of the list, starting off with 1997’s Batman & Robin, which scored a 10% on Rotten Tomatoes and officially became the lowest-rated Batman live-action movie ever. The runner-up would be Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which has a score of 27% – a number arguably much higher than 10%.
Excited by the success of Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), Warner Bros. wanted to keep going with this franchise even if director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton were uninterested in returning. The studio hired Joel Schumacher to direct the third and fourth installments and hired George Clooney to put on the Bat-suit for the fourth, and so 1997’s Batman & Robin came to life.
While Schumacher is an exceptional director and Clooney is an incredible actor, this franchise hit a very low point. It wasn’t until 2005’s Batman Begins that this superhero came back to the big screen.
Also with a score of 10% on Rotten Tomatoes is Elektra, a Daredevil spin-off starring Jennifer Garner.
You know things are bad when even Jennifer Garner told reporters that she only did Elektra due to contractual obligations. The film was largely criticized for its script and Garner’s poor performance. Even though Ben Affleck shot a cameo reprising his role as the Daredevil character, his scenes were cut from the theatrical release.
After the disappointing critical and commercial performances from Daredevil and Elektra, Fox gave up on those properties and the movie rights for those characters were reverted back to Marvel.
In 2015, in partnership with Netflix, Marvel released the current Daredevil TV series, and a rebooted version of Elektra was introduced during the show’s second season - soon to reappear in The Defenders.
Marvel’s “First Family” has yet to be properly adapted to the big screen. But while 2005’s Fantastic Four scored a 27% on Rotten Tomatoes and 2007’s sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer scored a 37%, nothing was quite as bad as the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot, which was rated with an extremely low 9% score.
The behind-the-scenes drama concerning 2015’s Fantastic Four became a “He Said, She Said” storyline, so it’s quite difficult to pin-point with precision what went so wrong with this project. Though, to be fair, there was quite a significant amount of studio interference and casting controversy, which didn’t help anybody.
The latest rumor related to this property is that Fox is developing a child-friendly version of Fantastic Four.
The 2000s didn’t just bring us Elektra, but also Catwoman, and these two films were for a very long time the two most prominent case studies for Hollywood to justify that female-driven superhero movies did not work. It wasn’t until 2017’s Wonder Woman that this notion would be demystified.
Starring Halle Berry in the title role, it’s fair to say that Catwoman was just not good. The character was hyper-sexualized and not taken seriously, which proved to be a stark difference from Michelle Pfeiffer’s very memorable portrayal of the character in 1992’s Batman Returns. On Rotten Tomatoes, Catwoman has a score of 9%.
A long time before Marvel Studios’ Captain America: The First Avenger, there was 1990’s Captain America, the tumultuous first live-action adaptation of this character, which only went on to gross $10,000 at the box office. Yeah, you that read right: ten thousand dollars.
No one extremely famous was featured in the cast of 1990’s Captain America. A few notable mentions include Ronny Cox (who played the villain Vilos Cohaagen in Total Recall), Ned Beatty (who was Lex Luthor’s henchman in Superman: The Movie and Superman II), and Melinda Dillon (who had a big role in 1999’s Magnolia).
Captain America not only didn’t get close at all to recouping its $10 million budget, but it also scored an 8% on Rotten Tomatoes, proving to be a commercial and critical flop.
Before Melissa Benoist came to rescue this character in The CW (originally CBS) television series Supergirl, Superman’s Kryptonian cousin had her own solo live-action movie: 1984’s Supergirl, a British production that cost $35 million to get made but only grossed $14 million at the box office.
This was the first superhero film that featured a female character in the title role, which means that Hollywood’s objection to betting on action movies with women as protagonists was unfortunately only growing stronger.
With a score of 7% on Rotten Tomatoes, 1984’s Supergirl is considered the worst superhero movie ever made. Fortunately, this character has been redeemed: the current Supergirl TV show has an outstanding 97% score on the same platform, tied with Arrow as the highest-rated series in The CW’s Arrowverse.
Are you a fan of any of these "rotten" superhero movies? What do you think should be on the list? Sound off in the comments!