In the past decade, the superhero has strode across our screens like a spandex-clad collossus, beating most other genres. The rise of superhero flicks has brought with it a flood of cinematic sewage, and here are the absolute worst.
Welcome back to Monday Hate, an irregular column in which we hate things because it's Monday.
So after we posted our brain-grindingly awful clip from Superbabies and implied that Batman And Robin and Supergirl were both among the worst superhero films in the history of the cinematic medium, we received some angry responses. Not just from defenders of Supergirl, no — there were also people who wanted to stick up for Batman And Robin, as a criminally underrated film. That's when we realized we had to set the record straight, once and for all.
Here are the absolute worst superhero films, from least horrendous to absolute worst.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It's really hard to believe that this movie almost didn't make the cut — I think we ended up with a "top 11" list instead of a top 10 list, because Wolverine really deserves to be on any list of the worst excesses of the superhero film. It's not just that it's stupid and full of characters who do stuff for no particular reason — it's also the fact that this film is incredibly dull. Hugh Jackman is a great actor, but here he's as engaging as a rice pudding, sulking his way through scene after scene of Wolverine being used by Stryker over and over again, until Stryker randomly decides to kill him. The film's central relationship, between Wolverine and Sabretooth, might as well be the conflict between a bowl of rice pudding and a jar of molasses. They don't even bother to put any verve into their frequent, and inconclusive, fight scenes. This is the fourth X-Men movie, which was two too many — but that's the thing about superhero movies. You can't have just two or three of each. They multiply like Wolverine's head-lice.
Fantastic Four: The Rise Of The Silver Surfer. I considered including Roger Corman's classic Fantastic Four movie, but since it never even appeared in theaters, it should probably get a free pass. Plus Corman's take on the FF is at least fun, and its main problem is cheapness. Not so with Silver Surfer, which I actually saw in theaters. Nobody would accuse this film of being fun but cheap — it's got the opposite problem. The Silver Surfer is one of comics' more compelling characters, forced to be the herald of the world-eating Galactus. But here, he's just sort of a bland guy who zooms around on his board for ages before getting pwned and then turning out to have a conscience. The real villain is either Galactus, who's just sort of a cloud, or Doctor Doom, who's a snarky misfit. It should be epic, but instead it's just sort of empty.
Elektra. Ben Affleck's Daredevil was bad enough, but did we actually need a PG-13 spin-off about the ninja assassin, based very very loosely on Frank Miller's classic comics from the 1980s? In which the ninja clan, the Hand, have tattoos that turn into animals and attack people? Or something? Elektra's hired to kill a man and his daughter, but it's just a setup to get her to bond with them, because Terence Stamp is a psycho. None of it makes any sense, but at least Jennifer Garner gets some cool outfits. That's right, it's an overlong, terrible Alias episode. Roger Ebert called it "a muddle in search of a rationalization."
X3: The Last Stand.I don't know how I managed to leave this one out originally — I realized it was a huge omission soon after I hit "publish." You don't even need to be an X-Men fan to see what's wrong with this movie's treatment of the mutant heroes. The disrespect for the characters is on every frame of the film, and it glares out of every scene featuring the messed up triangle between Professor X, Magneto and Jean Grey.
Spider-Man 3. This film still feels like a weird nightmare — like when you're excited about seeing the new Spider-Man film but then a few days before opening night, you dream that you're watching the movie, but it's all about Peter Parker getting weird hair and dancing. And Spider-Man becoming famous and a beloved hero, instead of hated and feared the way he always is. And then you wake up with a jolt, and realize it was just a nightmare, and there's no way the real movie could be that hideous. I have been waiting to wake up from the nightmare of Spider-Man 3 for three years, and it still hasn't happened yet.
Catwoman. A Catwoman movie based on the Brubaker/Cooke comics would be a beautiful thing, if it was done properly. But both of Catwoman's cinematic incarnations in the past couple of decades have been disappointing, and this was the absolute worst. Catwoman's CG buttocks are a thing of total horror, an abomination which make you go blind if you stare at them for long. The villain is Sharon Stone trying to do something or other with cosmetics. Evil cosmetics, though. Evil cosmetics. And Catwoman, at one point, uses her superpowers to get her neighbors to turn their damn music down. Those kids.
The Spirit. This Frank Miller project just sort of went off the rails, somewhere around the time that Miller decided to let Samuel L. Jackson do whatever he felt like, including smearing makeup all over his face and wearing weird fur outfits. At least the best thing you can say for The Spirit is that you could tell for months before it came out that it was going to be hideously awful — unlike some of these other films, which really could have been decent. But do those other films have Nazis killing kittens?
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. All you really need to know about this one is: It's a Superman film from the makers of The Apple. No, really. Production company Golan-Globus aka Cannon Films, who made shiny disco epic The Apple back in the late 1970s, got the rights to the Superman series of films in the late 1980s. (They also made Lifeforce and He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe around the same time.) So far, so good. But the bad news is, Cannon cut the film's budget in half at the last moment, leading to some great special effects, as you can see in this climactic fight scene. At one point, it looks like Superman's flight is represented by zooming in on a cardboard cut-out of Christopher Reeve. Oh, and Reeve had way too much input into the story, about Superman doing away with nuclear weapons.
Captain America. I actually have a soft spot for this one — it's made by low-budget auteur Albert Pyun, working with way too few resources. And it stars J.D. Salinger's son as Cap. (The whole movie is on Hulu.) It's pretty cheesy and low-budget, and the Red Skull is especially ridiculous looking (and mostly pretty comical, like when he asks Cap for English lessons while beating him up.) The film was reportedly a very troubled production, with lots of problems, but the basic story is also pretty terrible, with Cap waking up in the 1990s about halfway through and discovering that the Red Skull has teamed up with the "military-industrial complex" to oppose environmentalism — and the Red Skull also killed JFK and MLK, among others.
Batman And Robin. It's important to call out superhero films that are dull and joyless, like Wolverine or Fantastic Four 2. But the absolute worst films in the genre are the ones where the campiness and idiocy overwhelm the viewer, like a pantomime where everybody's taken too much angel dust. The whole thing, from the glittery excessive color scheme to George Clooney's giant rubber nipples to Arnold Schwarzenegger chewing huge chunks of scenery as Mr. Freeze — the whole thing is an offense to storytelling. If this movie hadn't come out, we'd probably be including the dreadful Batman Forever on this list, but such is the horrific power of Batman And Robin that it completely obscures its immediate predecessor. I have to confess, I've never actually sat through this film in one sitting — I'm pretty sure I've seen the whole thing, in five- or ten-minute chunks, but I've never been able to stand more than ten minutes of it without my skin starting to crawl.
Supergirl. And yet, I really do think this film is worse than Batman And Robin, even though I have been able to sit through it all the way through. It's just so flimsy and awful — featuring a villain even worse than Sharon Stone as a cosmetics company exec: Faye Dunaway's over-the-top witch, who uses magic and the "Omegahedron" to battle Supergirl for the love of a groundskeeper. The real reason why this film deserves the top spot, below Superbabies, is the fact that it combines the two great evils of bad superhero films: It's excessivly campy and it's joyless and dull. Helen Slater is great in other films, but here she has absolutely no conviction as Supergirl, and she seems sort of baffled when she's forced to fight a possessed tractor or stop a minor fire. Her battle against Dunaway's Wicked Witch character is cheesy and ridiculous, but also manages to be slow and dull. It's actually quite an achievement to be both campy and dull, so Supergirl deserves some props for that. And that raises another point: Has there never been a good movie about a female superhero? I mean, the first Charlie's Angels was quite good, and vaguely superheroic. But what is it with superheroines in Hollywood? Why do they fight cosmetics companies and lovestruck witches instead of real threats that matter? Why are they more concerned with wearing hot outfits and pouting than kicking some ass? I think I just answered my own question. Moving on...
Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. This is still the worst of all time, although to be fair it's not really representative of the superhero genre as a whole — it belongs more properly to the "talking babies and animals" genre. All you can really say about this film is that it shows how far the superhero memes and cliches have spread in pop culture, that they're so readily degraded and shredded by this film. We've already excoriated this disaster recently enough — so here's an anonymous Youtube review to provide more background.