Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Worst Comic Book Movies Ever Made

Continuing the list I started yesterday, this post covers the Worst Comic Book Movies Ever Made. Now, for this list, I knew that I hadn't seen all of the movies that truly belonged here, so with help in whittling the field, I called in my good friend Clint, a man with unimpeachable credentials in the fields of comic books and bad movies. In addition to working together on the list, we each selected a "worst movie." Clint's reviews are noted with a special tag, everything else is by me.

10) Catwoman - There are some who would say that no list of terrible comic book movies is complete without this turkey and you know what, we'll have to take their word for it. Neither of us could stomach the task of viewing this reported abomination, so we decided the only fair thing to do was stick it at number ten and cop to going with the herd on this one. Can anyone who's seen it make a convincing case for why it wouldn't belong here?

9) The Punisher (2003) - OK, here's the problem with Punisher. In the old days, the Punisher got attention because he was a straight up killer in a time when comic heroes were still leaving the bad guys tied up outside police HQ with little birdies spinning around their heads. As comics got darker, the Punisher got darker still, and gradually became a celebration of over the top ultra-violence. Here's the problem: movies already have all that. We see it all the time. So, for The Punisher to make the same impact as a movie that it did as a comic, you're going to have to do either absurd Icchi the Killer levels of mayhem, or go for some of that real gets-in-your-brain visceral violence like The Wrestler or American History X. So it's even lamer that they trotted out this limp noodle. This movie reminded me of the generic PI movies they show on late night cable- maybe something starring Brian Bosworth. The whole point of the Punisher is that his need for vengeance has put him totally over the edge. In this movie, he's so over the edge that he commits the following heinous acts: 1) Befriending wacky neighbors. 2) Using cold steaks to scare a criminal into thinking he's going to be tortured. 3) Blowing up villain John Travolta's prized car collection. That seems about right for someone who killed your family, right? [Review by Clint]

8) Hulk - Upon viewing Se7en, producer Arnold Kopelson reportedly told director David Fincher, "You took a perfectly good genre piece and you turned it into a foreign film." That's pretty much what seems to have happened here. One can respect Ang Lee for trying something different with his comic booky transitions, but that doesn't excuse the boring script and the rather silly action scenes.

7) Blade:Trinity - What if they made a Blade movie and Blade was totally insignificant to the story? They'd end up with this horrible misfire. Wesley Snipes seems compeltly bored in his role and writer/director David S. Goyer (you know, co-writer of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) lets Parker Posey chew the scenery (sorry... the pun was right there) like a vampire that feeds on plaster and plywood. Ryan Reynolds is the only bright spot of this film, which seems more interested in setting up a spin-off than telling a good Blade story.

6) Ghost Rider - An even better argument than the first Hulk movie for why you should not have a CGI protagonist in a live action movie. Over the course of the film, my reaction to the visuals spanned the spectrum between "shitty" and "dumb." The villain is semi-obscure comics also-ran Blackheart, the son of the devil with an inferiority complex about his dad. In the comics, he's got an arguably cool spiny demon sort of thing going on. In the movie, he's the teenage boy from American Beauty, gussied up in eyeliner. So, it basically ends up looking like an extra from DOOM versus the guy from Fallout Boy. [review by Clint]

5) X3: The Last Stand - In a word: gutless. This Brett Ratner-directed travesty kills off two major characters without fanfare in the first half, then moves to a conclusion that indiscriminately kills and depowers most of the remaining interesting characters. The only thing more infuriating than this waste of solid raw material is the fact that the two final scenes hint that all of it can be undone quickly in time for the next sequel. This prompts one to ask, why bother with this shaggy dog story then?

4) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Not just bad, but bad on many levels. As a movie, it's just painfully average. It's a by-the-numbers studio action movie that takes no chances and breaks no new ground. The addition of Tom Sawyer as a fast-talkin' Yankee secret agent reeks of the worst sort of marketing-minded executive meddling. The only thing this movie did right was the inclusion of the immortal Dorian Grey, who was notably absent from the original comics. But what really sets this movie above the rest is the vast quality gap between the source material and the film. With properties like Batman and the X-Men, there's a lot of material out there, all of varying quality, so when you introduce a clunker like X3 into the mix, you're not really diluting the pool too much. But the League had only ever been fantastic. The second volume hadn't even been completed yet when the movie came out. So, when there's only 8 or 9 issues of tight, imaginative comics to use as a point of reference, it makes this totally forgettable effort look extra-bad. Plus, the filmmaking experience was famously so painful for Sean Connery that he's sworn off acting, so it's a double shot in the gut for us geeks. It's worth noting that all these criticisms of League apply equally to another Alan Moore adaptation, From Hell, but somehow that movie failed to gall audiences in quite the same way. [review by Clint]

3) X-Men Origins: Wolverine - So bad that it makes X3 look like X2. Wolverine is one of those characters who's cooler the less we know about him. Though exploring his origins could have been interesting, he deserved better than this poorly-executed one-off that somehow boasts worst visual effects than the first X-Men movie ten years ago, at a mere three times the cost. There are far too many winks at earlier X-Men films in this prequel, and as with X3, the entire enterprise feels pointless by the end. Couldn't we just have gotten a post-X3 spinoff with Wolverine?

2) The Spirit - I said everything I needed to say about this one here.

Clint's #1 ) Captain America: Let's be honest here - the fact that any movie from the 2000's is on a list of the worst superhero movies shows how spoiled we've become. The 80's and 90's were the real golden age of awful superhero movies. Howard the Duck, Swamp-Thing, Dolph Lundgren's Punisher - these are the stuff of shlock legend. And yet, the 1990 production of Captain America manages to stand out even among this bumper crop of turkeys. This crimes this movie perpetrates against film, superheroes, and the American way are literally too many to list.

The origin sequence, where a hero explores the limits of his new-found powers, is a sure-fire hit in any superhero movie. Captain America gets it out of the way quick by getting gut-shot a couple times and spending only ONE day in the hospital. Now that's super! Cap's arch-nemesis, the Nazi mastermind Red Skull has inexplicably become Italian, and sports an accent somewhere between Chico Marx and the "You like-a da juice?" guy from SNL. Cap's slickest move is to fake motion sickness as a pretense for car theft. He does this TWICE.

And we complain about bad CGI? You don't know how good you have it, kids.

At his best, the character of Captain America simultaneously personifies everything that's good about American patriotism, and provides hope that the 90-pound weaklings of the world can aspire to greatness. This movie presents an alternate interpretation, in which he's a time-traveling fuck-up who's seeking redemption for having done absolutely nothing to combat the Nazi menace. See, back in '43, Cap got his ass handed to him as soon as he set foot on foreign soil. Now he's got to stop the bad guys before they... well... I'm sure whatever they're doing it's very bad. It involves a chip in the President's head, but they've already been running the world for 40 years, so who cares?

And that's the real problem with Captain America. Plot points are alternately delivered with the expository grace of a USA Today headline, or not delivered at all. Story details get squeezed together like the movie is playing in fast forward, only to make space for high-stakes bicycle chases in the Italian countryside. The movie becomes a parody of itself. In fact, I'm sure some enterprising grad student could make the case for Captain America as a post-modern deconstruction of the entire superhero concept. Sadly, the movie is not nearly that creative, and even if it were, it would still be extremely boring.

[Bitter Script Reader's Note: Captain America was never released to theatres, but is heavily bootlegged and notorious in comic circles. Including it on this list might skirt the criteria we used to compile this list, but I can't reject a review this excellent. The Roger Corman Fantastic Four was also very close to making this list, but in the end it was decided there was space for only one unreleased film. Fair? Probably not, but it's our list.]

[Update: as L.F. pointed out in the comments, you can see Captain America on Hulu by clicking this link.]

Bitter Script Reader's #1) Batman & Robin - I resisted putting this in the top spot because it's almost like shooting fish in a barrel to make fun of this Joel Schumacher disaster. It's so campy that it's practically a tribute to the 1960s Adam West series. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman camp it up beyond belief as Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, while Alicia Silverstone and Chris O'Donnell given little to do beyond squeeze into their outfits. In his better moments George Clooney makes one wonder what he might have been able to do as Bruce Wayne if given a more serious script, but there's little here worth watching. The highlight of the Batman DVD boxed set was seeing Joel Schumacher sincerely apologize for this.

Now, I also promised Clint the opportunity to do a Minority Report #1 on my "Best Comic Book Movies" list, which I'm printing below:

MINORITY REPORT - Akira: If you ask people of a certain age if they've ever watched anime, a lot of them are going to say, "No, but I saw Akira." We had stuff like Speed Racer and Starblazers kicking around in America for decades, but Akira's stateside release is when we figured out that something different was going on across the Pacific. The setting is immediately interesting, the characters immediately memorable. The pace is deliberate and creepy, when it's not balls-out insane. The plot, involving a buried government experiment to weaponize the brains of children, provides fuel for some of the most imaginative action sequences ever drawn. The story seems to break down at the end, as director and original manga author Katsuhiro Otomo scrambles to pack six thick volumes worth of pseudo-metaphysical musing into 5 minutes of screen time, but I'd argue that collapse makes the movie all the more suitable for repeat viewings.


  1. Electra and Daredevil were terrible, too.

  2. Two more that are shooting fish in a barrel: HOWARD THE DUCK and BARB WIRE. BARB WIRE rips off Casablanca as well...

    And crap, now I'm going to have to watch that Nick Fury movie starring the Hoff. It's been making the rounds on encore-on-demand. Right now I'm looking at a picture of the Hoff in an eyepatch, and can't see how it couldn't make the list. I'm blaming you in advance for wasting two hours of my life I'll never get back, bitter!

    Ditto on Steel, although luckily that's not making the cable rounds, and I know I won't bring myself to netflix it. Although wikipedia is saying that his nemisis is played by Judd Nelson, which has some morbid appeal...

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  4. That was a compliment by Kopelson, right?

  5. I would slightly disagree with the Punisher (2003) being on the list. Comparatively speaking, it was truer to the Garth Ennis rebirth than one might think. However, opinion included, I would have staked the Punisher Warzone (2008) piece to be a much worse depiction. One scene alone seals the deal, as Castle and his little buddy Linus seemingly switch roles/attitudes as Castle cries for the innocents and Linus attempts to calm him by stating they are collateral damage. This, never happens in the comic. It just made me feel like Frank was a bitch.

  6. Grant, I very briefly considered watching that Nick Fury movie so it could be properly ranked, but decided that opening it up to made-for-tv movies would probably upend the whole list. We made an exception for CAPTAIN AMERICA. Clint took the bullet on that one, and as he has also suffered through Corman's FANTASTIC FOUR, it's a true badge of honor for him to award that film the "Worst Ever" title.

    We gave HOWARD THE DUCK a break for reasons I can't quite recall, but I think it had something to do with it being awesomely bad enough to be watchable as opposed to being true torture. STEEL was another one I considered Netflixing as we began narrowing our choices, but once we saw our emerging top ten, we realized it would have to be pretty bad to beat those. I was counting on the film being forgettable enough that no one would call me on it. Darn.

    Deaf Indian - ELECTRA is really bad, I agree. And this is coming from someone who likes Jennifer Garner. Clint HATES Daredevil too, but for some reason I find it watchable - particularly the director's cut.

    Unorthodox - Kopelson's comment may have been intended as an insult, but it definately feels like a back-handed insult that somehow becomes a compliment. Fincher recounts this somewhere on the Se7en commentary, if I remember correctly.

    Truthfully, we probably could have done a Top Twenty and still only scratched the surface. Doing this few let me skirt two questions: "which is worse: Superman III or Superman IV?" and "Is Batman Returns really any better than the two films that followed it?"

    I guess there's always next year.

  7. I haven't watched it and probably never will, but Captain America is up on Hulu.