The 10 worst comic book adaptations of all time

Forget Iron Man and The Dark Knight for a minute, and instead be frightened by 10 comic book adaptations that bring us out in a shudder...

“We are such things as dreams are made of.”

With million dollar opening weekends, massive DVD sales and hit TV series, in Hollywood it is profitable to like comics. The recent San-Diego Comic-Con has only served to raised slathering fanboy expectation worldwide, with talk of Captain America, Wonder Woman, Jonah Hex, Iron Man, The Green Hornet and countless other comic franchises in production.

So what better time to look into the murky and not too distant past at the purest wastes of talent, time and money, when comics on celluloid were in the cinematic hell which is now reserved for video games.

The Amazing Spiderman (TV Series – 1977-79)Watch how I squish this bug

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The late 70s was an exciting time in TV production and Marvel‘s witty, angst ridden, everyman superhero was ripe for live action adaptation. With that in mind, it’s hard to understand how the producer’s took a vibrant and exciting character and turned him into a farcical, Marcel Marceau knock off.

Written by someone who had clearly never read Spiderman, the series is far removed from the well known, wisecracking, web-slinging, super villain baiting/beating comic book character. For a start he is nearly always mute whilst in costume, which lessens the impact of a well timed witticism, his web-slinging too is impeded by stunts and special effects which, even by the standards of the day, are man-on-a-fishing-wire poor. His most challenging villains are basically goons, the most memorable being a cross-dressing coin thief. In fact. generally the show’s criminals just need a good talking too, if only Spidey could be more vocal through his cheap spandex and velco mask.

The main problem seems to be, that in costume Spidermanlooks like a dispossessed tramp in an technicolor romper suit, leering from wires at passers-by, desperately trying to spread his web over them. Stan Lee reportedly hated this bastardisation of his creation…nuff said.

Dr Strange (1978)“None of us is ever alone.

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Dr Strange is arguably the most underwritten character in comics and too often sidelined, despite his position as Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme. So the concept of a TV series about his exploits seemed an appealing way to increase his profile. John Holmes lookalike Peter Hooten, whom you won’t remember from the original Inglorious Bastards, is Dr Strange. His Merlin-lite mentor and co-star is Sir John Mills, whom you will remember as British acting royalty. 

Plot-wise, Strange is your average 70s playboy psychiatrist, with a mystical inheritance that means that he bears the ring of a sorcerer. Morgan La Fay, a sexy-yet-evil sorceress (aren’t they all?) hatches a plot to unleash demons on an unsuspecting world, so Mills and manservant Wong make him stop his womanising and start some wizarding.

Now imagine that, but with cod-psychedelic special effects, unbelievably poor acting, awful pseudo-new age dialogue and moustaches, lots and lots of moustaches. Originally intended as a series to showcase Dr Strange, it was never picked up and feels like a fever dream from which there is no escape, a selection of heavily edited, safe-for-work lowlights from the most bizarre porno flick you never wanted to see.

Captain America (1990) “You remain a clownish symbol that no one cares about.”

Marvel were keen to enter 1990 with a rival franchise to Batman, so to coincided with his 50th anniversary, they nominated Captain America for a big screen outing. They had a journeyman director, a prescient, eco-minded script and an all American action hero in the shape of Matt Salinger son of the infamous ‘JD‘. 

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Unfortunately, the director was a hack, the script was an astounding misstep and the leading man was an acting black hole, whose talent onscreen was as elusive as his father. Full of plot holes, idiotic dialogue, poorly staged violence, an Italian (?) Red Skull, a feeble Captain America (complete with rubber ears) and some of the lowest budget effects you‘ll see this side of The Fantastic Four (1994).

Release was delayed until 1991 due  to poor test-screenings and re-shoots. At the time the ever positive Stan Lee claimed they re-shot becauseeveryone kept clamouring for more”. Sadly, we can only speculate how bad that first cut was, but at least the completed film can serve as a 97 minute insult to Joe Simon, Jack Kirby and the entire history of Marvel comics.

The Fantastic Four (1994) “Flame off!”

Once in a lifetime a film transcends the celluloid upon which it is indelibly caught and becomes the stuff of legend. For many years this film was a myth, a spook story that directors would tell their kids at night: “Make a bad film and the Fantastic Four will get you!”

The reality is that it does exist, the movie was cheap and rushed (even by co-producer and schlock-horror deity Roger Corman standards), with a budget of $1.5 million and principal photography ending within a month. Despite the tiny production, unknown director and no-name stars it was soon ready for a nationwide release. What those involved didn’t know was that it had been made solely to maintain the film rights, with no intention that it would ever reach the cinema.

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This does make it easier to understand why the film is such a horrendous mess, but when trying to pinpoint faults, it’s less a case of what to single out, but rather where to stop. Maybe it’s Ben Grimm, who looks like a giant diseased toddler, Mr Fantastic’s terrible bendy arm on a string, the performance of The Jeweller (a bizarre, lumpen, scenery gnawing dwarf), or Dr Doom who remains indecipherable, due to the tightness of his mask. Whatever, the entire production is an epic bootleg farce, and an embarrassment of poverty from start to finish.

Batman & Robin (1997)“My rubber lips are immune to your charms.”

Director Joel Schumacher and writer Akiva Goldsman had two attempts at making a Batman sequel and it is difficult to decide which is worse. Undeniably, Batman Forever is an aberration, but with the utterance of two, now infamous words – Chris O‘Donnell bat nipples – it becomes clear that the nadir of their collaboration was Batman & Robin, which defied irony by being so-bad-it‘s…well, it‘s just really bad.

The catalogue of complaints is too long to list here but highlights include: a poor script, over casting, cringe worthy campness and a pantomimic sense of disastrous technicolor horror show. Most damningly of all they tried to kill off Alfred, the only character who wasn’t a total embarrassment to the franchise. It serves as a testament to the power of what too much money, an unlimited cast of characters and an unbridled lack of restraint/talent can achieve. 

This is a film so woeful that it tanked the franchise for nearly a decade, ruined careers, caused director and star to apologise and made far, far too much money. Interestingly, Goldsman went on to adapt The Da Vinci Code, proving that some people never learn.

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Justice League of America (TV movie – 1997) “I’ve got a lot of time on my hands these days.”

1997 was a bad year for DC. After the nightmare that was Batman & Robin they should have walked away from the live action genre, but the latter part of that same year they conceived and filmed what was intended as an epic TV series. It would unite DC’s greatest heroes in their fight against evil and use the zeitgeist bothering framework of a youthful League, with their everyday lives, to draw in the audience. Imagine Friends but with superpowers.

The result was a piece of TV history and an infamous pilot so bad it would never be shown on US network television. The plot is amateurish at best and hangs around a nefarious scheme by villain The Weathermanto create some really nasty hail, a dastardly mudslide and some evil rain. However, fripperies such as terrible plot, acting, SFX and the risible script are inconsequential, because The Justice League is so unbearably bad it transcends classification, becoming a deconstructive study in how not to entertain. The characters are played for laughs and brought to life as mid-20s, sub-dimensional, slacker goons. The Flash is tubby and unemployable, The Atom a reprobate idiot, Fire’s skill is her poor use of make-up and Green Lantern is…well, he’s just a total dick.

Justice League is astonishing, a zero budget work of anti-art, a failure on every level that will haunt your dreams and give credence to the reason why the team-up is rarely attempted.

Good luck, Smallville.

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Catwoman (2004)“Sorry is not nearly enough.”

There is school of thought that says, no good will ever come from a director who is represented by a single moniker: McG, Taz and, of course, Pitof, director of Catwoman. Arguably the most derided of all superhero adaptations, its faults are many. One of the most obvious being that it wildly deviates from its source material, managing to weave a plot that is by turns moronic, nonsensical and most astonishingly of all, took four whole writers to craft.

The one fantastical element on show is the crushingly poor acting of Halle Berry, who with all the CG in Hollywood is unable to look anything less than wooden. Her performance is so bad, that on release, one critic suggested she relinquish her Oscar as punishment.

With little else to offer, the film is heavily reliant on special effects. They come in two flavours, at best eye-strainingly awful, at worst a poorly animated shitstorm. A typical scene involves Catwoman leaping from roof to floor in a blur of CG accompanied by fitful editing and an ear popping R&B score. Upon landing Berry will say something uninspired, trite, and sometimes both: “Miaow” or perhaps “That’s purrrrfect” (she is a CAT-WOMAN…do you get it?). In a flash, Berry will kick a goon in the throat, gyrate across the floor and scrabble up a wall in a CG flurry.


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What grates the most, as with many films on this list, is how the makers have taken something good and turned it into a patronising, bland and soulless exercise which should have been left in the litter tray.

Elektra (2005)“I’m blind, and I see more than any of you, because I don’t look.”

Take one poor, yet not irredeemable, superhero franchise in the shape of Daredevil. What further money making opportunities (aside from an obvious sequel) could be shaken from its corpse? The next logical step, after a Bullseye movie, was to take the undeniably pretty Jennifer Garner and turn her exploits as Elektra into a fully functioning movie of its own. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.

Elektra comes across as a terrifically dull, one dimensional, pseudo-romance only made worse by embarrassing dialogue, acting and special effects. Quite an achievement for a film about a hot lady ninja and her crazy assassin friends.

Yes, it has all of the ingredients which could have made it a passable film: hot lady ninja, check. Crazy gang of assassins, check. Great back story, check. Unfortunately, you can also add: wafer thin plot which patronises its audience, check. Leaden dialogue, check. Poorly drawn characterisations, check. Terrance Stamp hamming more than a hog-roast, check. Infrequent and incoherent action, double check. You have to work hard to ruin a 90 minute movie about a hot lady ninja and her crazy assassin friends, but even Matt Murdock could see, Elektra is terrible.

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Spiderman 3 (2007)“Never wound what you cant kill.”

There is contention as to whether this movie deserves to be on the list. Sam Rami is a versatile director and with the first two Spiderman movies he built an effective, intelligent and entertaining blockbuster franchise. Spider-man 3 isn’t included because it killed that franchise for a few years, has inadequate SFX , or even terrible acting, but rather due to the weight of disappointment which comes along with it.

Expectations were high for the third in the series, but with a muddled plot, muddled direction and muddled casting this was the final straw. Sandman, whilst well portrayed by Thomas Hayden Church is superfluous, yet his story is given the bulk of screen time. Venom, a lifeless Topher Grace, could have been the perfect singular screen villain, but is given too little attention. The film shows similar symptoms to Batman & Robin, unresolved sub-plots, limp dialogue and, worst of all, an issue with its character overpopulation, which allows no single character room to breathe.

Of course, this doesn’t even take into consideration the plot holes (Harry Osborn’s convenient amnesia), pointless cameos (Gwen Stacey who?) and lest we forget, Emo-Spidey, bat nipples for the My Chemical Romance generation and one song and dance too far. The movie’s greatest crime is failing where it soared so high in past efforts and is proof that no great series is above a turgid fall.

Ghost Rider (2007)“Sorry, all out of mercy.”

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Mark Steven Johnson should have quit whilst he was ahead.  He almost missed the ignominy of inclusion on this list with Daredevil, but like a deal with Satan gone awry, he went and made Ghost Rider and sealed his fate.

It was always going to be difficult to translate to screen a comic where the main protagonist is an skinless flaming-skulled agent of Beelzebub, who’s transport is a…Hellcycle, because as one might imagine, it doesn’t have crossover appeal written all over it.

The choice of star is a nod to the need for acceptance, Nicolas Cage is Ghost Rider. Unfortunately he is also an actor whose continued success is a testament to quantity over quality. Wes Bentley (he of American Beauty) is Blackheart, son of the devil and from what is on show here, an acting protégé of Matt Salinger, proving that the lack of charisma shown in previous cinematic outingswasn’t a one off. Bentley’s attempts at evil incarnate are simple: maniacally laugh, whilst staring pallid faced at the camera, like a stiff-eyed dog that has just been shown a bone. 

The human element is not the only problem. As with Catwoman, a lack of decent script or discernable talent is more than made up for by bad CGI, as a bobble-head Ghost Rider races up buildings and stomps about like a grumpy teenager, ruining what is left of the movie by removing all that is tangible and real, creating a CG nightmare the likes of which haven’t been seen since Spawn.

Ghost Rider was once thought to be un-filmable, but after sitting through this, you’ll wish it had been.

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