Every genre has its weak links, from the western giving us “Heaven’s Gate” to science fiction giving us “Battlefield Earth”. But the superhero genre arguably has it worse, as, when your cast is running around in colored lycra, screwing up can yield results that are quite memorable, laughable, and infuriating. Most of the time, these characters have a history to them that stretches decades into the past, and any huge failure reflects poorly on the studio’s image.
Being big fans of comic book movies, we at “Taste of Cinema” have created a list of 10 films that we feel make up the worst of the bunch. To make things interesting, we will be putting aside infamous entries that typically inhabit these lists, including “Catwoman”, “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”, and of course “Batman & Robin”, to shed light on some less-notable entries that may not have even crossed your mind. Enjoy!
10. The Phantom
The Phantom was a relatively successful comic strip from the ‘30s that, while never going mainstream, managed to be prominent enough to warrant some toyetic marketing, including a couple of cartoons and a video game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. In 1996, however, the character was finally brought to theaters with Billy Zane playing the hero.
Compared to the other titles on this list, “The Phantom” wasn’t a complete abomination. Several critics, including Roger Ebert, appreciated the pulpy feel the movie managed to evoke. But considering it chose to waste its potential on tired film banalities, including a boring love triangle and a generic villain, “The Phantom” has not stood the test of time.
9. Hulk (2003)
Many people are only vaguely aware of Ang Lee’s attempt at bringing the big green guy to the big screen, due in large part to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s reboot five years later, and that is honestly for the better.
The 2003 Hulk film was an over-edited, lifeless mess that seemed more keen on emulating Hitchcock then paying homage to the comics. Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly, two great actors, were stuck playing one-dimensional archetypes that could not make basic decisions unless prodded on by others.
The early Hulk comics were famous for their anarchic energy, focusing on Banner’s seemingly everlasting run from the US Government. None of that is present in this Hulk movie outside of a chase scene in the second act that is ultimately ruined by a confusing, overly mystical, anticlimactic third act. Stick with the Ed Norton version.
8. Tank Girl
Lori Petty has done some notable movies in her long career, from the original “Point Break” to “A League of Their Own” to “Free Willy” and so forth. One movie, however, that she might like to be less-remembered for would be “Tank Girl”.
An adaptation of an obscure British comic of the same name, “Tank Girl” was set in a post-apocalyptic world where an evil man (played by the charismatic Malcolm McDowell) controlled the country’s water supply, resulting in the creation of a resistance led by the eponymous Tank Girl.
Does the plot sound familiar? If so, you must be thinking of last year’s masterpiece “Mad Max: Fury Road”, which not only did this storyline better, but was also a lovely visual treat to boost. “Tank Girl” wasted its fine cast on a poorly-choreographed, sloppily executed, unfun action flick.
“Spawn” is one of the rare third party comics that has achieved mainstream notability. Remembered for writer/penciller Todd McFarlane’s gothic art, “Spawn” told the origin story of a special forces soldier that was killed and sent to Hell, and consequently sells his soul to return to the world of the living as a hellspawn.
Debuting in 1992, the character’s surprise popularity lead to the greenlighting of a feature film adaptation a mere five years later. Despite utilizing its $40 million budget relatively well in terms of recreating the comic’s iconic visuals, every other aspect of the “Spawn” movie read like the filmmakers attempted to disgrace McFarlane as much as possible.
Starring Michael Jai White in the leading role, an actor more known for his martial arts skills than dramatic depth, “Spawn” traded the comic’s rich atmosphere for a wannabe Tarantino feel that made the whole watching experience dreary and irate. This is one superhero movie that desperately needs a reboot.
6. Howard the Duck
“Howard the Duck” is remembered as being one of few non-Star Wars/Indiana Jones films to be produced by Lucasfilm, and that is not a good thing as the film proved to be a disaster for the esteemed company both critically and financially.
It had almost nothing in common with the comic it originated from outside of some character names, and was overall grotesque to look at, starting with the uncanny look of the protagonist’s design: a low point in Industrial Light & Magic’s history of VFX. Add on top of that a convoluted premise that featured bestiality and you have a movie best forgotten.