With summer coming up, we’re about to see an influx of superhero movies, as the likes of Captain America and Spider-Man have become the biggest box office draws among summer blockbusters these days. Of course, that wasn’t always the case. In fact it wasn’t all that long ago when comic book movies were box office poison, with a rare exception like Tim Burton’s Batman back in 1989. But just because people haven’t been very good at making superhero movies doesn’t mean they haven’t been trying. They’d just like us to forget about their horrible attempts.
8The Punisher (1989)
For as great a character as Frank Castle, better known as The Punisher is, it’s kind of amazing that there’s never been a halfway decent version of the film. We could pretty much put any of the multiple attempts to bring Punisher to the big screen on this list, but we’ll focus on the 1989 adaptation starring the one and only Dolph Lundgren as the eponymous character. It was filmed in Australia on a budget of $9 million, and the reviews reflect how terrible it was, with just a 24% positive on Rotten Tomatoes. The one thing we can say about it is that, as far as the movies on this list go, it’s the least offensive of the bunch in terms of quality.
7The Fantastic Four (1994)
One of the most notoriously awful superhero movies of all-time is the 1994 version of Fantastic Four, which was so horrendous that the people involved have legitimately tried getting rid of evidence they ever actually made it. It was made by the legendary B-movie director Roger Corman, and it’s become something of an underground, cult classic for anyone lucky enough to get their hands on it. It’s campy, super low budget, and horribly acted and directed, which means it’s one of those movies that’s absolutely perfect to watch late at night on a Saturday with some buddies and a few beers when you just want to sit back and make fun of something that looks like a community theater production.
There’s low budget, and then there’s Condorman. This 1981 movie was actually a Disney creation, and deals with the Cold War in the most peculiar way imaginable, with a comic book artist dressing up like a giant condor and helping a KGB agent defect. Yeah, that’s the plot. We wish we were making it up, too, but it’s utter nerd fantasy mixed with American patriotism, and was so bad that Siskel and Ebert named it among the absolute worst movies to come out in 1981. Amazingly, Disney has been mulling giving Condorman another shot on the big screen, and in 2012 there were rumors of Robert Pattinson being interested in taking on the title role, because apparently he wants to destroy his career even further.
5Captain America (1990)
First things first, Captain America is a great character, and the version starring Chris Evans was, flat out, awesome. But what you may not have realized is that it wasn’t the first attempt to bring Captain America to the big screen. Instead, that took place in 1990 and featured the Captain fighting Red Skull, and later being revived in modern times in order to, and we’re not making this up here, save the President from a group of mobsters who are anti-environment. The horrible, cheap, just laughably bad movie starred Reb Brown as Steve Rogers. The name Reb Brown may not sound familiar, but if you’re a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, you may remember him as Dave “Big McLargehuge” Ryder in the classic episode, Space Mutiny. So that’s a pretty good indicator of how awful the movie’s quality is.
4TANK GIRL (1995)
Tank Girl, as a comic, has always been a bizarre comic book in its own right, so it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the one and only attempt to bring the story to the big screen was a miserable, strange, ill-conceived failure. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and the movie featured Lori Petty as the titular Tank Girl, and the film revolves around Tank Girl, Jet Girl – played by Naomi Watts, shockingly – and a few of their allies fighting what turn out to be mutant kangaroos. The comic is even weirder than that, of course, since Tank Girl’s boyfriend in the comics is a mutant kangaroo himself. Yep, nothing like a little weird, freaky, mutant bestiality to sell tickets at the box office!
Frankly, we don’t expect made-for-TV movies to be particularly good in general. But when it comes to superhero movies, they just seem to be exceptionally bad, even when dealing with weird, lesser known characters such as Man-Thing. Made in 2005, the super low budget Man-Thing aired on what was then known as the Sci-Fi Channel and has since become the ridiculously named SyFy is about, basically, a swamp monster that doesn’t much like the idea of oil drilling taking place in his territory. It ties in some absurd Native American “legends” and is basically ends with Man-Thing killing the bad guy before being blown up himself, though instead of dying, he’s absorbed back into the land.
For some reason in the middle part of the 00’s, there was an influx of “superhero” movies about those heroes going to special schools and learning how to use their powers. Some of them, like Sky High, worked tremendously well. However, not all were so well done. In particular, the movie Zoom was, frankly, an utter disaster. Starring Tim Allen and Chevy Chase, and frankly, the plot is just far too dumb for us to get into other than it revolves around Tim Allen as the titular “Zoom” who loses his powers, has to assemble a ragtag team of weird kids, gets his powers back, and, well, it’s just awful. Just, like, the worst.
1KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK (1978)
Okay, so this one isn’t exactly a comic book movie in the traditional sense, but does feature the members of KISS using superpowers to fight evil and save an amusement park from being destroyed. Yes, this was a real movie, albeit a made-for-television movie. This so-called “film” aired on NBC in 1978, right at the height of the band’s popularity, and it’s so atrocious that the members of KISS will not permit anyone around them to actually mention it exists. If the plot sounds like a rejected Scooby Doo story, well, that’s probably because it basically is. After all, it was produced by Hanna-Barbera, the same animation company that produced Scooby’s adventures.