These days, as a general rule at least, when a movie studio makes a comic book movie, it’s practically guaranteed to make a profit. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, for example, is the highest-grossing movie franchise of all time and even scrapped franchises like Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man made a hell of a lot of money at the box office. But it hasn’t always been that way.
Up until extremely recently, comic book movies have tended to struggle commercially. With the odd exceptions (namely Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Blade and so forth), the genre has performed modestly at best and, in some cases, ended up costing the studios who made them a hell of a lot of money.
In some cases, it’s to be expected. If a studio brought a movie out about an obscure comic book prior to the turn of the new millennium, nobody really thought it would do overly well at the box office (which makes the fact that Howard the Duck made even a modest $1 million profit in 1986 all the more odd) but, on the contrary, some that you would have thought would do well underperformed massively. This list contains a mixture of those that surprisingly underperformed and those that performed as badly as you would anticipate they would, but they all have one thing in common – they made a loss.
10. Dredd (2012) – $3.5 Million Loss
Arguably the best movie on this list, it was a real disappointment when Dredd flopped at the box office. Still, at least its loss was the smallest of all the others included here. Starring Karl Urban in the titular role, this 2012 offering was far superior to the version (called Judge Dredd) starring Sylvester Stallone in 1995 – and yet that version made a $43.4 profit on its $70 million budget.
This movie cost $45 million to make and only pulled in $41.5 million. It saw Urban’s Dredd going up against Lena Headey’s Ma-Ma – a former prostitute turned drug lord and criminal kingpin who revelled in dealing an addictive drug called Slo-Mo.
9. Captain America (1990) – $10.91 Million Loss
Captain America (no, not the Chris Evans version, which has obviously been a huge success) flopped in a massive way back in 1990 when Marvel Entertainment and the 21st Century Film Corporation attempted to make it to celebrate the character’s 50th anniversary.
However, it went unreleased for two years before finally getting a direct-to-video release, as well as a limited theatrical release internationally. This movie – which pitted the super-soldier against his old adversary Red Skull, just like the 2011 version, then saw him save the modern-day President of the United States after being thawed out from his icy sleep – pulled in just over $10,000 at the box office, having cost over $10 million to make.
8. Steel (1997) – $14.3 Million Loss
Whoever it was that first came up with the thought that casting basketball star Shaquille O’Neal as a B-list DC Comics superhero would be a good idea really needs to have their head examined. In 1997, however, that’s exactly what happened and the results were exactly what any sane person would have expected.
The movie was awful – pitting a very weak version of the character (in comparison to his comic book counterpart, at least) against fairly generic criminal gangs – and it bombed terribly, bringing in just $1.7 million, having cost $16 million to make. It is generally considered to be one of the worst comic book movies ever made.
7. Catwoman (2004) – $17.9 Million Loss
Catwoman is even closer to being the worst comic book movie ever made than Steel. The 2004 offering starred Halle Berry in the titular role – just three years after her Best Actress Oscar win for Monster’s Ball – but it couldn’t be further from the quality of her finest performances if it tried.
Although it was loosely based on the comic books, the Catwoman movie was nothing like the version seen on panel over the years. It granted the titular character cat-like powers of a supernatural origin and it pitted her against Sharon Stone‘s skin cream aficionado (yes, really) Laurel Hedare. The movie cost $100 million to make and grossed a poor and disappointing (but very deserving) $82.1 million at the box office.
6. Supergirl (1984) – $20.7 Million Loss
Although the Christopher Reeve Superman franchise was on the decline in 1984 (in terms of both quality and popularity), the fact is it was still in full swing and profitable, so when a spin-off movie involving the Man of Steel’s fellow Kryptonian Supergirl was released that year, you would have thought it would have done relatively well at the box office.
Sadly, it didn’t. It cost $35 million to make and pulled in just shy of $14.3 million. It pitted Supergirl (played by Helen Slater) against a witch named Selena – a character created specifically for the movie – and co-starred the likes of Peter O’Toole, Peter Cook and Mia Farrow.
5. Tank Girl (1995) – $20.9 Million Loss
Undoubtedly the most obscure movie on this list, Tank Girl is nowhere near the worst of them. Its problem was that the character was too little-known to mainstream audiences and the concept was simply far too wacky. Tank Girl resides in a tank in a post-apocalyptic world and lives as an outlaw, having fled from an organisation she was working for when they turned on her for her random acts of sex, violence and substance abuse. Her boyfriend is a mutated kangaroo.
Released in 1995, the movie starred Lori Petty in the titular role and the likes of Naomi Watts, Ice-T and Malcolm McDowell were amongst the supporting cast – but it still only earned $4.1 million at the box office, having cost $25 million to make.
4. Punisher: War Zone (2008) – $24.9 Million Loss
Officially, there have been three Punisher movies. The first one, in 1989, starred Dolph Lundgren and it was released straight to video. It got a limited international theatrical release and certainly made a loss on its $9 million budget, but the exact figures aren’t known for certain. A 2004 version, starring Thomas Jane, made a profit, having grossed $54.7 million from a $33 million budget.
In 2008, however, Ray Stevenson took on the role and his movie took a major financial hit. It grossed a mere $10.1 million, having cost $35 million to make. It saw the Punisher go up against Jigsaw – his arch-enemy from the comic books – and was pretty damn awful.
3. Son Of The Mask (2005) – $26.4 Million Loss
There have been a lot of pretty awful comic book movies in cinematic history and some of them are indeed on this list – but the fact that this is probably the worst of them all should really tell you everything you need to know about how bad it is.
Starring Jamie Kennedy in the lead role and Bob Hoskins and Alan Cumming in supporting roles, 2005’s Son of the Mask effectively killed Kennedy’s career – it was that horrendous. Although it was a sequel of sorts, it was totally unrelated to the movie starring Jim Carrey eleven years earlier and saw Loki sent to Earth by Odin to retrieve the Mask. It cost $84 million to make and grossed $57.6 million at the box office.
2. The Phantom (1996) – $27.7 Million Loss
The Phantom divided critics and audiences alike – some thought it was awful while others thought it was a visual masterpiece – but one thing that can’t be argued about is the fact that it lost a hell of a lot of money at the box office.
Starring Billy Zane in the titular role, this 1996 offering – which also starred Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kristy Swanson – was what prompted James Cameron to cast the actor in Titanic. It saw the hero attempting to stop Xander Drax from obtaining the dangerous and powerful items known as “the Skulls of Touganda.” It made $17.3 million, having cost $45 million to make.
1. Jonah Hex (2010) – $36.1 Million Loss
Jonah Hex is a prime example of what happens when Hollywood just doesn’t really try very hard. He’s a great wild western character and a movie starring him could have been fantastic, but this one was just lazy and lacked any real direction (it also gave Hex a ridiculous power to talk to the dead).
Josh Brolin took on the role in 2010 in a movie that also featured Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon, Wes Bentley and John Malkovich – the latter of whom played the main antagonist. It cost $47 million to make and made a measly $10.9 million at the box office – giving it the biggest loss of all the major comic book movies throughout history.