Spurred by the death of original thought, the comic book movie has become almost as popular as sequels and remakes in Hollywood. In recent years, through generous helpings of CGI and angsty characters, the genre has matured from humble action-y flicks (Batman, Superman) to big budget blockbusters (Spiderman, Iron Man). And now, thanks to one dead Australian, they’ve even shed the anti-Academy Award shielding that has surrounded them for so long. Yes, comic book nerds have never been so openly proud.
But it wasn’t always this way… comic book movies have a sad history. Only a few decades back the genre was marked by campy outfits, laughable special effects and poor production values. Compare the Adam West era Batman movie to “The Dark Knight” and you’ll see why fans would like to forget the former ever existed… it’s hard taking Christian Bale’s frothy mouthed, ultra-brooding Batman completely serious after watching Batman use his exploding shark spray.
So here are four costumed offenders that can’t be swept under the rug fast enough to make way for their big budget reimagining.
Dr. Strange (1978)
Even the woman on the cover can’t believe she’s in this turd.
Perhaps you haven’t heard of this particular Marvel intellectual property, as it has yet to be shoehorned into an underwhelming summer blockbuster. Dr. Strange was a douchebag neurosurgeon who gets his hands ruined in an accident. His search for a cure takes him to a hermit who eventually teaches him the ways of the force… er… magic. He uses his powers and new outlook on life to fight his foe Baron Mordo and the evil demigod Dormammu.
Yeah, he can fight demons. No big deal.
In 1978, Dr. Strange was adapted into a TV movie. He was now a practising psychiatrist not a former surgeon, there’s no redemption and his badass villains are replaced by a witch who is kind of a jerk. You can guess how well this is explained in the trailer:
Like most good trailers, it takes about a full minute to provide any context and never really explains the premise of the film. Instead, our narrator with a speech impediment simply assures us that we’ll be headed into a “4th dimension” of adventure while we watch a psychiatric patient molest and then murder an old man.
The most harrowing part is that the film was developed to pitch the concept for a TV series. That’s right. The cheesy effects and uber-70’s look could have been beamed into the eyes of impressionable youths on a weekly basis. If you find yourself overcome by an urge to study the long term effects of such exposure, you can view the whole thing here.
The rights to a Dr. Strange movie have been bouncing between studios for over two decades, from Savoy to Columbia to Dimension to Miramax to Paramount, with several scripts written by very different scribes. Currently, a script is being written for Walt Disney Pictures, with no word on when production could begin.
Swamp Thing (1982)
That’s a pretty blatant boob stare. Guess there is some man left in him.
Swamp Thing, much like Man-Thing and The Heap, is a combination of man and plant. He’s had a few different origin stories, but the most contemporary is that he (as Alec Holland) was a scientist working to develop a mysterious formula that could make forests out of deserts. Naturally, he conducts his research in a swamp in Louisiana. One bomb detonation later, he’s covered in burning chemicals and careening into the mire. He eventually emerges as the titular plant hybrid.
In 1982, noted king of the slasher genre Wes Craven was hired to write and direct an adaptation of Swamp Thing for the big screen. And so it was:
Yes, master criminals… secret formulas… monsters and midgets. As you might have guessed, the plot was tweaked considerably for the silver screen. Holland is now looking to make a human-plant hybrid intentionally, a government agent (Alice Cable) is added as a love interest and the villains are a paramilitary group headed by “Dr. Arcane” who are trying to steal the formula. Naturally, this leads to climactic confrontation.
Move over Superman, Batman and Spiderman, America has a new favorite.
After that cinematic triumph, they even decided to make a sequel. In “The Return of Swamp Thing” the villain is resurrected through scientific bullshit, Heather Locklear phones in an incredibly embarrassing performance and the whole thing makes us want to kill ourselves and everyone around us. In fact, just watch:
Canadian director Vincenzo Natali, known for the “Cube” franchise and 2009’s Splice, is slated to pilot the remake in the indeterminate future. The only other concrete detail is that it will be shot in 3D.
The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988)
This is what entertainment was like before the Internet. Be grateful.
Chances are you’re already familiar with the Hulk’s backstory. If not, we’ll let the 1966 cartoon adaptation explain it to you:
As for Thor, the comic series is very loosely based on Norse mythology. Thor, son of the god Odin, is put on earth to learn some humility, and eventually discovers his powers when his is reunited with his magical hammer. Or, as weird singers from the sixties put it:
Between 1978 and 1982, CBS aired a television show based on the Incredible Hulk. The show became a cult classic and so, six years after it was cancelled, a number of TV movies were made using the same actors. “The Incredible Hulk Returns” saw the Hulk meet (and ultimately get into a poorly choreographed fight with) Thor:
Instead of being made a mortal man, the Thunder God is instead somehow tethered to a former student of Bruce Banner’s, Donald Blake. Blake calls on Thor using his trademark mystical hammer. Naturally enemies become friends as the Hulk and Thor must team up to save the only female character in the movie.
There have been several Incredible Hulk films in recent years (“Hulk” in 2003 and “The Incredible Hulk” in 2008) and now a live action Thor movie was being released May 6th, 2011 after bouncing around production hell since 1990.
Captain America (1979)
When we think “Captain America”, we don’t picture a scrawny guy with underwear on the outside.
In 1940, thanks to the wonders of comic book science, Steve Rogers is transformed from a artsy little nancy-boy into a super soldier as a part of a government project to fight the Nazis. He finds that he is now at the peak of human perfection in terms of strength and reflexes, and undergoes training in martial arts. He is given an indestructible shield and some snazzy tights and left to his devices to fight America’s enemies.
A made-for-TV movie called “Captain America” aired on CBS in 1979 (as well as sequel, “Captain America II: Death Too Far”, later that year). Rogers is now a retired Marine-turned-artist who is given experimental chemicals after a serious accident rather than, say, medical treatment. The “super-steroid” happens to save his life and give him his not-actual powers. This all takes place in present day, and the name Captain America comes from a nickname given to his father, who was a government agent in the ‘40s. All of this takes a backseat to terrible costumes and an unusual focus on vehicles:
For some reason, the entire thing is freely available on YouTube for your viewing… pleasure. As we mentioned, there was also a sequel that aired the same year. Christopher Lee is the new antagonist, bent on making people old using more comic book science:
Captain America was made into a theatrically released film in 1990 that is also being glossed over by Marvel in preparation for the big budget “Captain America: The First Avenger”, to be released July 22nd, 2011. It promises to hold much truer to the original comic character and story and have a costume that is at least 20% less ridiculous.
- – Dr. Strange (1978): http://application.denofgeek.com/images/gb/ca/drs.jpg
- – Swamp Thing (1982): http://img.filmlinks4u.net/2010/11/Swamp-Thing-1982-%E2%80%93-Hollywood-Movie-Watch-Online.jpg
- – The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988): http://www.comicsbulletin.com/foom/images/1009/Hulk%20Thor.jpg
- – Captain America (1979): http://www.internationalhero.co.uk/c/captainamerica1979.jpg