According to box-office returns, there are few types of movies fans enjoy more than a dashing, explosion-filled superhero epic. And if you take a gander at Rotten Tomatoes, it seems Hollywood is actually doing a fairly good job of making them.
But not every comic-book inspired adventure is a winner. Matter of fact, sometimes studios get the big-screen adaptations of these beloved characters so wrong that the badness of the resulting films become the stuff of legend.
And here are those legends: 10 big-budget superhero films (no direct-to-video flicks or TV movies here) with the worst Rotten Tomatoes ratings, ranked from merely bad to spectacularly, fantastically awful. All in all, they make Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice look like the goddamned Godfather.
10. The Spirit, 2008, Rotten Tomatoes Rating 14%
This had promise. Taking indie comic-book legend Will Eisner’s pulpy, workingman hero and slamming him into the style and system of producer Robert Rodriguez’ Sin City films would seem to make a lot of sense. Alas, comic-book writer, icon, and crypto-fascist madman Frank Miller was director here, so what you get is poorly shot, poorly plotted, and badly acted sexist pablum and none of the charm and vigor of Eisner’s beloved work.
9. Jonah Hex, 2010, Rotten Tomatoes Rating 12%
Hex (played here by the talented Josh Brolin) is a fringe Western character from the DC universe, a combination of the Punisher, Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, Wolverine, and other gruff, noble, violent loners. It’s good grist for a film, but Pixar alum James Heyward turned it into a mystical steampunk jumble that makes all the same mistakes as Wild, Wild West and The Lone Ranger without the impressive budgets, humor, or narrative coherence.
8. The Crow: City of Angels, 1996, Rotten Tomatoes Rating 12%
On the back of the moderate success of 1994’s The Crow (and the massive success of its gothy soundtrack), producers drew up this sequel despite the fact that the original’s charismatic star, Brandon Lee, had died in an on-set accident during its filming. It was a bad move. Confusing, foggy looking, and frustrating, City of Angels’ offers characters so uncompelling and a semi-apocalyptic setting so hackneyed that awards should be given to those who finish it.
7. Steel, 1997, Rotten Tomatoes Rating 12%
Ninety percent of what you need to know about Steel is that Shaquille O’Neal stars as an Iron Man-like engineering genius. There is, admittedly, a dopey charm to this highly off-book envisioning of one of Superman’s supporting characters. Beware of the boneheaded plot, performances, and janky super suit if you do want to dip in for a hate watch.
6. Batman and Robin, 1997, Rotten Tomatoes Rating 11%
Only one of two films on this list that we can recommend, Batman and Robin is where director Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever) took Tim Burton’s eerie franchise and steered it all the way into bizarre, technicolor camp. Batman (George Clooney) has nipples. There are butt shots. There are rollerblading henchmen. There is Uma Thurman vamping it up. There is Arnold Schwarzenegger bald and blue as a punning bad guy. It’s awful. It’s gaudy. It’s hilarious.
5. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, 1987, Rotten Tomatoes Rating 11%
Christopher Reeve didn’t want to return for the fourth installment of his otherwise fun and inspiring Superman series. Money, unfortunately, lured him back for this schlockfest. Thanks to a new set of C-budget producers at Cannon Films, the special effects are actually worse than 1978’s Superman, the villain is a glam-rock bodybuilder, and all the heart of the earlier films is gone. Really, it’s more sad than bad.
4. Elektra, 2005, Rotten Tomatoes Rating 10%
A semi sequel to the also dreadful Daredevil, Elektra has the benefits of the delightful Jennifer Garner, the sinister Terrance Stamp, and lots of ninjas. Alas, the script (and the dialogue in particular) is, for loss of any better word, dumb. Not even fun to watch as a guilty pleasure or a glorious train wreck, Elektra is an unrewarding slog. Even comic-book completists should avoid it.
3. Catwoman, 2004, Rotten Tomatoes Rating 9%
Starring the newly Oscar-anointed Halle Berry, Catwoman has its heart in the right place, and its foot on the third rail. Rejecting the classic backstory of Batman’s femme fatale, this film tries to create a feminist hero out of whole cloth and winds up with a character so inept and with a costume so laughable, that it’s impossible to look at it as anything other than accidental camp… bad accidental camp.
2. Fantastic Four, 2015, Rotten Tomatoes Rating 9%
This dour reboot takes the most fantastical, gee-whiz superhero team out there and turns them into a fully uninteresting collection of self-hating, bitter malcontents. Plagued by reshoots, studio interference, and the poor instincts of young director Josh Trank, this bid at a new, lucrative franchise still earned $330.5 million worldwide, though that was against an estimated overall cost of $200 million.
1. Supergirl, 1984, Rotten Tomatoes Rating 7%
As the new Supergirl TV series shows, Kara Zor-El can be an empowering, brilliant character. This mess, however, sees her pushed almost to the background of her own film. That said, this drowsy spinoff of the Salkinds’ Superman franchise of the ‘70s and ‘80s is so downright bizarre and righteously bonkers that it’s actually worth watching for purely ironic kicks. Faye Dunaway as a Nora Desmond-like witch, Peter O’Toole looking lost as an alien scientist, and the loopy, loopy production design are all pluses.