Following many years of being pushed to the margins and being considered unsuitable for cinematic translation comic book movies now dominate the big screen. Looking back on the history of these adaptations it seems peculiar now that it took such a long period of time for the comic book/graphic novel to be considered something worth making a movie out of. Superman (1978), Batman (1989) and Spiderman (2002) featured arguably the three most famous superheroes in the world and all went through highly scrutinised productions before all achieving phenomenal success. Yet finally, in the post millennium, not only are these adaptations common in the modern landscape, they dominate it. Twenty years ago you couldn’t get Spiderman on the big screen, but now we have Ant-man, Rocket Racoon, Deadpool, Kick-ass and at least three cinematic universes dedicated to making comic book movies as often as possible. Needless to say getting to this point has brought a fair few disappointments, films that didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. So suit up, grab your patriotic shield, attach your web-shooters, there is a bat shaped signal in the sky, comic book movies in distress. Sadly they may be beyond our help.
#10 Superman IV The Quest for Peace (1987)
I almost feel bad for putting this one forward, but as it exists there’s not much I can do. With a shoestring budget, a ridiculous script, and terrible SFX, Christopher Reeve can’t save this abomination of a film. He knew going in it was going to be all kinds of awful, demonstrated by him refusing to turn up for the premiere. Nonsensical rubbish, there’s not really anything else to add, beyond wondering how much Gene Hackman got paid to turn up in this mess.
#9 Judge Dredd (1995)
I don’t think I’ve ever been so irritated by a Sly Stallone performance, and I saw his remake of Get Carter. The film is laughably poor, and explores none of the thematic social issues of the acclaimed comic book series. When Rob Schneider isn’t the worst thing about a film he’s starring in then you’ve got a problem. As amusing as it is now to look back and laugh at Stallone’s cries of “I am the Law”, at the time it was nothing short of an offensive caricature of a much loved comic book anti-hero. If you’ve never seen it then I insist you stay away from this catechism of 90’s awfulness.
#8 Spawn (1997)
It says something about the 90s that we had to wait until 2002 for a Spiderman film, but we got a Spawn adaptation in 1997. Marred with some bad SFX and an incoherent plot the film was butchered in post-production. A hyper violent comic book that was intended for an R rating in the USA, was heavily edited to make it suitable for younger audiences. Michael Jai White gives his best effort as the titular hell spawn, but this isn’t enough to save the film from the clutches of a laughably poor script and a bizarre performance from John Leguizamo as a demonic clown. There is an R rated cut of the film now available on Blu-ray, but it doesn’t fix the lousy narrative, or whatever Martin Sheen is doing in this movie. How this got given 3.5/4 by Roger Ebert, I’m not sure. Satanic influences?
#7 Steel (1997)
Steel is an incredibly (as in no adverb could describe how incredibly) loose adaptation of a series of Superman comics. Shaquille O Neal plays John Henry Irons, a vigilante with a costume that looks all kinds of terrible. Held together seemingly by little more than duct tape and pure will it serves as a visual metaphor for a film that is both ridiculous and a massive botch job. Judd Nelson’s post 80’s career reads like a car crash of cinematic misfires, and his appearance as an over the top villain in Steel is no different. Its saving grace is that you can watch it as a bad movie. Shaquille’s acting, a ridiculous sub plot revolving around him never making free throws, and Richard Roundtree ensure some ironic entertainment in this disaster.
#6 Batman & Robin (1997)
Following the downward trend of the series so far Batman & Robin managed to spawn enough hatred to cripple one of the most successful film franchises of all time. The actors were variously uninterested (George Clooney), over the top (Uma Thurman) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Though with a script like this who could blame them for being disinterested or hamming it up. Nonsensical, littered with ice based puns and basically just a very expensive toy commercial, it obliterated the good will of filmgoers everywhere and was one of the earliest examples of people utilising the immense power of the internet to share their feelings for how much they hated a movie. 1997 was an awful year for comic book adaptations (outside of Men in Black) and this was the worst of the bunch.
#5 Daredevil (2003)
It seems like a long time ago since Ben Affleck was ‘The man without fear’. Whilst Affleck is now a critically acclaimed director, and also Batman funnily enough, he never looked comfortable or convincing as Matt Murdoch despite being a huge fan of the comic. Combined with the scenery chewing Bulls-eye portrayed by Colin Farrell (an otherwise very talented actor) and a highly inconsistent tone Daredevil is best described as a hodgepodge. The studio were in part to blame, and a director’s cut of the film is available that is a slight improvement on the theatrical release, including a sub-plot involving Coolio of all things, but is still something of a comic book adaptation faux pas.
#4 X Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
It was hard to pick between the mediocre X Men: The Last Stand and this prequel exploring Wolverine’s past, but whereas X Men: The Last Stand had a few redeeming qualities X Men Origins: Wolverine teased us with glimpses of potential before snatching these moments away. Introducing fan favourites Deadpool and Gambit, only to completely screw up both iterations by sewing up Deadpool’s mouth and casting a charisma vacuuming Taylor Kitsch as Gambit. Coupled with dodgy SFX (How did Wolverine’s claws look faker here than in all the earlier films?) and a supporting role for Will.I.am, there is not much to like about this prequel.
#3 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)
When an over the top Nicholas Cage performance can’t save your film then you are truly lost. Even supported by Idris Elba and Ciaran Hinds the material flounders and sinks in desperation. After the mixed response to the first Ghost Rider it seems the studio felt they needed to make their adaptation grittier. Spirit of Vengeance is darker, dirtier and a lot worse than its predecessor. Featuring enough two dimensional characters to be sold on Steam as a platform game there is nothing of a positive note in the story, acting, music, effects or narrative. It’s worse than predictable, it’s just boring. It’s better for a bad movie to go out in a ball of flame than in a drab whimper like Spirit of Vengeance.
#2 Kick Ass 2 (2013)
Kick Ass was a great film. Full of energy, humour and Nicholas Cage it was a critical and commercial success. Lo and behold a sequel was announced, but unlike most lukewarm sequels this film really disappointed. Lacking the direction of Matthew Vaughn, and his and Jane Goldman’s scriptwriting, Kick Ass 2 is at times contemptuous, tonally inconsistent and when Jim Carrey’s on screen painfully unfunny.
#1 Fant4stic (2015)
Four attempts at bringing the fantastic four to the big screen, and none have lived up to the name as of yet. But that this latest offering was so bland, marinating in mediocrity for most of its runtime only to combust in a finale of pure, I assume studio inflicted, rubbish. Josh Trank, brought on following the success of Chronicle, struggled publically with this film and the end product shows an uninspiring concept torn between two separate entities. That this talented young cast, some of the finest actors of their generation, were left looking so lifeless and perplexed throughout the whole movie is a testament to how much the film lacks.
It might seem harsh to pour spite on these ill attempts, but it is through exploring the missteps of the past that we can learn and improve in the future. Without these failures there wouldn’t have been the propulsive motivation for others to reinvent what has been done before. Without the failure of Batman & Robin there wouldn’t be Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. If Daredevil had been a success would we have the fantastic Netflix series that has spawned up in its place? Judge Dredd was an insulting mess, but with lessons learned from this we now have one of the finest screen adaptations of a comic book in Dredd (2012). For now the comic book movie isn’t going anywhere and one of the main reasons for this is a willingness to learn, and correct, the mistakes of the past. Except for Fantastic Four, no one has learned anything there.