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Top 10 Worst Comics to Film Adaptations

Supergirl was terrible, but is it one of the 10 worst? Supergirl was terrible, but is it one of the 10 worst?

Comic book movies are a hot property these days. Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman, and Hulk have all proven successful at the box office and the same promises to be true for the upcoming film versions of Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers. But not all film adaptations of comic books have been as wonderful as The Dark Knight. In fact most have been awful.

Here, we look back at a history of some of the worst of the worst. Some of these comic book movies never should have been made. But in other cases, great characters deserved better than they got, which means their fans are still waiting to see them on the big screen in something worthwhile.

10. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

An unconvincing Reed Richards was the least of this film's problemsAn unconvincing Reed Richards was the least of this film's problemsThe first Fantastic Four movie got some things right even though it was little more than a campy Mountain Dew ad. The second installment, 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer seemed to get its cues backwards. It repeated all of the previous film’s mistakes and left behind anything that was working.

But the film’s biggest problem is its plot. Everybody in the movie seems like an idiot after being easily duped by Dr. Doom, and the Silver Surfer turns out to be ineffectual after being teased as mega powerful. It’s a pretty serious botch of one of the great stories in the history of Marvel.

The film could even be forgiven for turning Galactus into a cloud if the rest of the story hadn’t been so awful.

Rise of the Silver Surfer wasn’t a total box office disaster, but the returns were disappointing enough to kill the series at two movies. However, rumor has it the Fantastic Four will soon get a reboot.

Spider-Man 3 and X-Men 3 were also both disappointing movies, and they seem especially bad given how good their predecessors were in those respective franchises. But both were easier to sit through than Rise of the Silver Surfer.

A low budget Fantastic Four movie was made in the ‘90s, but remains unreleased. It is purported to be one of the worst movies of all time, but due to its secretive status, it doesn’t make this list.


9. Barb Wire

Pamela Anderson in her glory daysPamela Anderson in her glory daysThere are only two good things about Barb Wire, and they’re perched on Pamela Anderson’s chest. Anderson starred in this 1996 flop hoping to make the transition from TV star to film star. But despite the huge and inexplicable popularity of Baywatch, Barb Wire did not catch on.

The film is essentially a futuristic re-telling of Casablanca with Anderson in the Humphrey Bogart role. Let’s leave it at that.

It was a terrible film based on a mediocre comic. The opening credits feature a lengthy and meaningless striptease by Anderson. It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s the only part of the movie worth watching.

As far as adapting lesser-known, female-led comics to film in the '90s, the track record really isn't great. For another example, see Tank Girl.

8. Elektra

Jennifer Garner looked great, but was still a hard sell as an assassinJennifer Garner looked great, but was still a hard sell as an assassin2005’s Elektra was a spin-off of the below average Ben Affleck vehicle, Daredevil (Bullseye without the mask? For shame!). Elektra was exactly as good as you would expect a spin-off of a not-very-good movie to be – terrible.

Jennifer Garner is supposed to be the badass assassin-for-hire, Elektra, but is entirely unconvincing as anything that isn’t cute and cuddly.  Elektra ought to have been an homage to the dark vision of comics creator Frank Miller, but was forgettable and bland instead.

There have been talks lately of rebooting the Daredevil franchise, which would likely include an Elektra character. Hopefully they get it right this time.

7. Howard the Duck

A mild-mannered Howard the Duck is a waste of time from the startA mild-mannered Howard the Duck is a waste of time from the startAt #7, we really start to delve into the cream of the crap. Howard the Duck is not only a bad comic book movie, but like many comics adaptations, is an abominable movie no matter what the context.

One of the biggest problems with the film is that it lacked an identity. Howard’s personality in the film is dialed back from his comic book personality, so he’s less abrasive. But then this wasn’t a kids movie either. Instead Howard the Duck occupies some bland middle ground.

The departure in tone is similar to what sunk 1989’s Return of the Swamp Thing. Unlike Wes Craven’s original 1982 adaptation of the DC comic, Swamp Thing, which was a serious action/horror flick (but not a great movie either), the sequel went for a campy, goofy tone that just came off confused and lame. Return of the Swamp Thing could easily take over a spot on this list.

6. Captain America

An iconic character gets done wrong in Captain AmericaAn iconic character gets done wrong in Captain AmericaTalk about a waste of time. There’s virtually nothing that the 1990 low budget version of Captain America gets right. It is unintentionally campy with poorly executed action and bad acting.

But the problems start with the script. For example, in the final battle Captain America uses a recording of the murder of the Red Skull's family (which he luckily has convenient access to at such a perilous moment) to distract the villain while he deals both the Red Skull and his daughter fatal blows.

Captain America is a bumbling B-movie for a character that deserves the best treatment possible.

5. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Not the worst, but one of the most disgraceful comics adaptations ever.Not the worst, but one of the most disgraceful comics adaptations ever.Although The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen may not be the absolute worst comic book film of all time, it is probably the hardest to swallow given the brilliance of the source material.

Legendary comics creator Alan Moore’s limited series about legendary literary figures saving the world around the late 19th century is exquisite graphica – comic books at their best.

The movie adaptation of this work is a shallow and barely coherent bastardization with no focus on the depth of the characters that made the comic series work so well.

Typical studio short sightedness also helped sink this project.  20th Century Fox asked for the inclusion of the character of Tom Sawyer, who did not appear in the comic, in order to appeal more to American audiences. That kind of stupidity begs for failure.

4. Catwoman

The normally exquisite Halle Berry's darkest hour as an actressThe normally exquisite Halle Berry's darkest hour as an actressCatwoman might be the worst movie on this list, but its arguable whether it is a comic book movie at all. It has the name of a comic book character in the title, and Halle Berry’s costumed protagonist bears a passing resemblance to the DC Comics character, but that’s about where the adaptation ends.

The film is not set in Gotham City; Catwoman’s alter ego is Patience Phillips, not Selina Kyle; and Berry’s character has powers and an origin story that are not remotely related to the long-running comics version (but actually owe more to Tim Burton’s competent reimagining of Catwoman in his 1992 film Batman Returns.)

Those liberties are just the tip of the disappointing iceberg. The story is stupid, too. It features a plot that makes little or no sense, and fails to develop a single character. This is a movie has made all kinds of “worst” lists and is to be avoided at all costs.


3. Judge Dredd

Stallone as Dredd. Anthrax must have been bummed.Stallone as Dredd. Anthrax must have been bummed.Judge Dredd is the ultimate example of what studios don’t understand about comic books and their fans. This movie is all about cheap thrills, but ignores character, story, and other essential elements that made the comic worthwhile in favor of Hollywood-style stargazing, big effects, and lame comic relief.

The movie fails right off the hop by painting a murky picture of the world in which the tale is set. The futuristic civilization, its government and people, are thrown up on screen, but the audience never gets the chance to understand how anyone feels about their circumstances. That lack of connection makes it hard to care about anything that happens.

In 1995, Rob Schneider and Sylvester Stallone might have seemed like a bankable duo in terms of action and comedy in film, but the perfection of hindsight gives modern audiences more insight into why this big budget explosion-fest was deplored by viewers and critics alike.

2. Steel

Shaquille O'Neal back when someone thought he could actShaquille O'Neal back when someone thought he could actSuperman films started off strong with 1978’s Superman: The Movie setting the standard for fine comics adaptations. But after a troubled yet decent sequel, it was all downhill for the Man of Steel.

1997’s Steel is loosely based on a character from the Superman universe, but goes to lengths to distance itself from America’s most iconic hero. That is maybe for the best, as this film is a doozy of a stinker.

Shaquille O’Neal stars as Steel. As an actor, O’Neal makes a great basketball player.

But his acting is right in line with the simplistic nature of the story, which is unexciting and predictable. There’s virtually nothing to recommend Steel.

Steel is so bad that it makes some of the other awful movies spawned of Superman comics seem tolerable by comparison. Even 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest For Peace and, worse still, 1984’s Supergirl, are more desirable than Steel.

1. Batman & Robin

How can you screw up Batman this badly?How can you screw up Batman this badly?After three huge successes at the box office, it would have taken a pure monstrosity to kill the Batman franchise. 1997’s Batman & Robin was just such a monstrosity.

The film diverged from any darkness, something the series had slowly begun to do since the first film. In fact, the third installment, Batman Forever kicked that devastating snowball rolling at nearly full speed. But Batman & Robin pushed the destruction into full gear and killed everything that made the Batman character exciting.

Batman & Robin tried to deliver something like a live action children’s cartoon, but it ended up being more like a bad Saturday morning TV commercial instead.

This movie is so detestable because, not only is it awful from top to bottom, but it nearly sullied the image of one of the greatest heroes in the history of superheroes.

Fortunately, Batman is a strong enough character to survive even the torturous death threatened by such a stinking steaming pile as Batman & Robin, and the character has made a fine comeback in recent years thanks to Christopher Nolan’s recent films.

How ironic that Batman yielded both the best and worst comic book movies of all time.

TV Movies

The Hoff as Nick Fury? I don't think soThe Hoff as Nick Fury? I don't think soOur list of the worst comics to film adaptations has been limited to theatrical releases. Had we chosen to include movies made for TV, there are a few unbelievably horrible examples that would have easily made the list.

The worst of these is Nick Fury: Agent of Shield, a 1998 TV movie starring David Hasselhoff. If ever a character was miscast, it was Hasselhoff as Fury. This was a low budget stinker from the days when high quality made for TV movies were still quite rare.

Throw in a love interest for Nick Fury, and you get one of many undermining ingredients to shatter any hope of bringing Marvel’s compelling eye-patch wearing, cigar-chomping secret agent to life.

Of comparable quality is the dismal Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again, which featured grown-up versions of the classic comic characters in what was a stand alone pilot for a potential series.

But the makers missed the point of what makes Archie and the Riverdale crew endearing, which is that they aren’t adults, they’re teenagers. The characters work because they are confused and bumbling in their attempt to act like grown-ups. It’s classic teen stuff, really. Who cares about a grown up Betty, Reggie, Jughead, Veronica, et al?

In the '70s, there were two live action television movies made of Captain America, a character who has been raked over the coals too much by inept adaptations. It's hard to judge Captain America and Captain America 2 three decades later. They seem pretty terrible now, but maybe they were all right at the time, kind of like the Incredible Hulk TV show, which was cool at the time but doesn't hold up very well in the 21st century. That show spawned some pretty so-so TV movies itself.

by Harold Lawrence
© Copyright RosebudMag.com, 2011

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Jonah Hex was one of the worst comic book films of all time.
Last modified on Thursday, 28 July 2011 18:38

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