With Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice opening this coming weekend, I decided to do a ranking of the comic book based superhero movies. There are a few superhero movies that are original content and don’t find their source material in comic books or graphic novels (Darkman, Unbreakable, Hancock, Super, Chronicle). And there are also some comic books and graphic novels that do not involve superheroes (The Mask, Judge Dredd, From Hell, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). Some I just never got around to seeing, (The Punisher movies, Elektra, Catwoman, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Jonah Hex, Swamp Thing, etc.).
Basically, this list is personal and by no means comprehensive. Also, because it is personal, it is subjective. If you value one particular movie higher than I’ve placed it, good for you. Feel free to make your own list.
I’m going to start out with the absolute worst of the worst and build up to the best of the best. Since deciding what was the absolute worst was almost as interesting as figuring out the best of the best, I am going to count down to the worst, whereas the order will reverse for subsequent posts for the better movies. This list will run in opposite order of what the following posts will. On to the list!
43. Constantine (2005)
I don’t remember much about this movie, except for some decent supporting work by Tilda Swinton and some overacting by Peter Stormare. But it’s not great, either as a story or visually. And while I’ve never read the Constantine comics, I heard they changed him to suit Keanu when they cast him. I also remember feeling bad for Rachel Weisz that she was in this movie. Not memorable one way or another is not good, but given the movies lower on the list, being forgettable is the least offensive crime any movie on this list can commit, so it is the highest of the worst.
44. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
If I were making these rankings based on the pure love or disdain I had for a movie, this one would maybe be at the very bottom instead of here. Such a colossal misstep in the X-Men franchise and it was not made right until X-Men: Days of Future Past came out last year and they were able to change the timeline so that in effect this movie never happened. They completely bungled the Phoenix Saga storyline involving Jean. More egregiously, though, they killed off major characters for no reason. And let’s not forget that they ruined Juggernaut and had Vinnie Jones utter, “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” This film is infamous for another reason, in that Bryan Singer, director of the first two X-Men films decided to opt out of doing this one, and instead took over Superman Returns when Brett Ratner backed out of directing that movie, only for Ratner to end up being the person who replaced Singer as director in this movie. Thus, two films were harmed in the process.
45. Spawn (1997)
Spawn was one of those 90s creations that was more of a niche novelty than an outright popular brand. Considering Spawn first appeared in 1992, it’s surprising that Todd McFarlane’s creation appeared on the big screen a mere five years later. But the end result is not a good product. John Leguizamo is insufferable as Violator. Martin Sheen is the villain and he is doing some of the archest or arch acting here (this was less than two years before he would become President Bartlett on West Wing). On the plus side, the soundtrack had some heavy industrial metal and electronica collaborations between some popular artists at the time, it featured the first black comic book superhero on screen, and 1/3 of the budget was spent on the special effects (and it shows).
46. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Honest Trailers did a lot of my work for me here. I didn’t think it could get worse than The Last Stand with the X-Men franchise. And then this happened. What a disaster. Boring and inconsequential. And they ruined Deadpool and everybody had been clamoring for Gambit to appear in the X-Men movies for years, and then it was lame. Everything about this screamed disappointment.
47. Blade: Trinity (2004)
Blade: Trinity seemed like a logical next step in the Blade franchise, with Blade teaming up with a team of vampire hunters consisting of Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds. But they took it about 4 steps too far by adding Dracula to the mix as the big bad villain of the movie. Even worse, Dracula is called Drake and they cast Dominic Purcell, who doesn’t exactly scream “centuries old vampire” who is someone that can stand toe to toe with Wesley Snipes. Reynolds was fine, even HHH was fine. But little else worked. And poor Parker Posey picked the wrong movie to move to jump into the mainstream.
48. Green Lantern (2011)
It’s probably not a good sign for his overall career that Ryan Reynolds is in THREE of the worst dozen or so superhero movies ever made. Warner Bros and DC Comics were desperate to respond at the box office to all of the huge business that Marvel had been doing. Outside of Nolan’s Batman trilogy and a failed Superman reboot, DC had nothing going for it. Marvel had The X-Men, Spider-Man, and had even launched their own production company and was building toward a Avengers movie with Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, and Thor movies in various stages of production. DC countered with Green Lantern and poached Ryan Reynolds (who had appeared in two previous Marvel properties (Blade: Trinity and X-Men Origins: Wolverine) to be their lead. The cast Blake Lively, an up and coming “It” girl at the time, hoping it was her moment to make the jump from the small screen to big screen leading lady, and also brought in Peter Sarsgaard and Mark Strong and Tim Robbins for acting credibility. They also threw $200 million into the making of it. The movie was a disaster. It barely made back its production cost, and when you factor in what was spent on marketing, definitely did not break even. At least you could see that they spent $200 million making the movie.
49. Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
The original Kick-Ass in a way was the prototype for this year’s Deadpool, full of irreverent humor and making fun of the comic book genre while also embracing its tropes, but it wasn’t without its detractors. Kick-Ass 2 was everything that the detractors thought Kick-Ass was. A big step backward from the first movie to the sequel.
50. Fantastic Four (2005)
Aside from the writers and the director, the biggest culprit in this movie being so bad was the casting director. Whoever thought Ioan Gruffudd was a leading man had to be high as a kite. There’s hardly anything that works in this movie. The only minor redeeming quality is that it showed that Chris Evans had some charisma, was clearly having fun, and was a sign of things to come with him as Captain America.
51. Superman III (1983)
In fairness, this movie had some scenes that legit creeped me out as a kid. But then again, I was all of 6 years old. This movie is laughably bad. What Richard Pryor is doing in a Superman movie, I’ll never understand. I don’t even want to understand it. I haven’t seen the full movie since I was a little kid, but I do remember something about Superman somehow being split in two and fighting himself in a junkyard. And I remember a computer fortress in a mountain that the computer somehow comes alive and attacks Superman, wrapping him up in wires and whatnot. And it seemed like Margot Kidder got sidelined for the majority of the movie too. But for having one of the funniest men in the world, the movie is painfully unfunny.
52. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
How did this get a sequel!?!?!?!?!? Seriously, Ioan Gruffudd, people! Somehow worse than the first movie. They take one of the worst movie tropes of any kind, the body swap, and appropriate it for their own, resulting in superheroes swapping powers for a while. Because, why not? And they added Galactus to the mix and decided to make him a cosmic cloud.
53. Batman & Robin (1997)
A case can definitely be made for the worst comic book superhero movie ever, and maybe it is. I had initially had it listed at 50 on this list, but then I watched the trailer and realized that I had forgotten just how bad it truly was. What a mess of a movie. Clooney, O’Donnell, Arnold, Uma, Alicia. Nobody could save this movie from being pure camp and schlock. There is a basis for going for a certain level of camp with Batman, given the live action TV series and all, but there was absolutely no self-awareness here. And Arnold’s one-liners were groan-inducing. And last, but not least, Bat nipples. Yup, I went there. I remember going to this movie with my group of friends that I went to movies with in high school (Ryan, Shane, Scott, and Travis) and hearing on the radio just how bad it was. This was before we had Rotten Tomatoes to go by. I can’t remember another time when my sails were deflated going into a movie. It’s so bad, in fact that you deserve to see the trailer above and the Honest Trailer of it. Enjoy.
54. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
This is the worst. Hands down. One of the classic aspects of the 80s was making movies that had an overt, often ham-fisted political message as part of the plot. Rocky IV is the best and most effective example of this, making a statement about the Cold War. 2010: The Year We Make Contact co-opts the giant themes of 2001: A Space Odyssey for a sequel about nuclear disarmament. But Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is the worst attempt at an 80s “Movie With A Message.” Not only does it deal with nuclear disarmament and feature Superman rounding up all the nuclear warheads and throwing them into the sun, but this act somehow creates the villain of the movie, Nuclear Man. Add Jon Cryer as Lenny Luthor, Lex Luthor’s annoying nephew, and well, you can get the idea. Did I mention that Gene Hackman is an acting legend and movies that feature him have no business being this bad. And the “actor” who plays Nuclear Man, Mark Pillow, is not actually capable of, you know, acting. This movie, couple with Superman III, was so bad, that when they made Superman Returns as a sequel, they had it be a sequel to Superman II, pretending that these two movies never existed. That’s bad. As with Batman & Robin, here is the Honest Trailer to make the bad a bit more palatable.