Comic book films are huge investments for Hollywood, and immense returns are expected. A movie like The Avengers, grossed over $600 million domestically and made over a billion dollars worldwide. Despite the successes of superhero films, they actually make more money overseas than they do in the domestic market. Guardians of the Galaxy is the only superhero film to hit the $300 million domestic mark this year, making it the highest grossing superhero film of 2014. For every Dark Knight or Iron Man, there’s a slew of superhero films that simply tank at the box office. Reasons could be because it’s a bad film with bad casting, or it faced too much competition. None of the films on this list were successful enough to spawn sequels, but because Hollywood likes to recycle everything, maybe some of these films will be remade.
Starring Rainn Wilson, Super technically isn’t a comic book adaptation, but it is about a made-up superhero named Crimson Bolt, who doesn’t exactly have the skills to fight crime. James Gunn, who directed the uber-successful Guardians of the Galaxy, wrote and helmed this 2011 indie. It opened on 11 screens and eventually grossed $327,715, but it didn’t come close to making back its $2 million budget.
Basketball player Shaquille O’Neal is a real life superhero, so it sort of made sense for him to portray one onscreen. It’s too bad it wasn’t a good movie, though. Based on a DC Comics character named John Henry Irons, Steel fights gangs, wearing a metal armor. The Warner Brothers film only stuck around in theaters for two weeks and grossed a measly $1,710,972 on a $16 million budget. That was Shaq’s first and last superhero/action film.
8. Barb Wire
Barbara Kopetski or Barb Wire, is a Dark Horse comic book character who appeared in a few comic issues in the mid-90s. The buxom Pamela Anderson played her in the 1996 film, and won herself a Golden Raspberry (Razzie) for her performance. In the action-packed film, Anderson wears a tight corset and plays a bounty hunter. A budget of approximately $9 million, the film grossed $3,794,000.
7. Tank Girl
A film adaptation of the British comic book of the same name, Tank Girl, the movie starred Lori Petty, who’s best-known for her performances in Point Break and A League of Their Own. Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz fame co-created the comic book but wasn’t involved in the film. Despite being a quirky film and Courtney Love curating the soundtrack, the movie seriously bombed at the box office: It only made back $4 million of its $25 million budget, and left theaters after two weekends.
There’s Superman, and then there’s Supergirl, which was DC Comic’s answer to a female Man of Steel. TriStar Pictures released the 1984 film starring unknown actress, Helen Slater as Supergirl. The $35 million-budget film opened number one at the box office but went on to only gross $14 million, which would be about $32 million today. Despite poor reviews and a poor box office showing, the film managed to play in theaters for almost 10 weeks. Recently, there’s been talk of resurrecting Supergirl as a TV show.
5. The Spirit
Famed comic book writer Frank Miller wrote and directed an adaptation of his comic book, starring an ensemble cast like Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Eva Mendes. Released in December 2008, the movie only grossed $39 million worldwide on a $60 million budget. This was surprising considering Miller’s Sin City was a mega hit. (Sin City‘s sequel, this year’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, also performed poorly at the box office.)
After the success of 2003’s Daredevil film featuring Garner as Elektra–and Garner’s future husband, Ben Affleck as Daredevil–the character headlined her own film, to mixed results. Based on the Marvel Comic character Frank Miller created, Elektra’s an assassin, who uses a weapon called a sai to combat evildoers. The film grossed $24 million domestically. At the time, it was the lowest grossing film in the past 10 years featuring a Marvel character. The movie ended up grossing $56 million worldwide, but it wasn’t good enough for a sequel.
3. Judge Dredd
Sly Stallone’s 1995 Dredd film was dead on arrival. With a $90 million budget, the film only grossed $34 million domestically, but it did gross about $79 million in foreign receipts ($113 million worldwide). Playing a law enforcement officer, Stallone’s performance was so bad he got nominated for a Razzie award. In 2012, a different version was made called Dredd. Like its predecessor, it also bombed: It grossed $13 million domestically.
2. The Shadow
Alec Baldwin could have been a big superhero star, but that was thwarted when The Shadow tanked at the box office. Based on a 1930s crime-fighting vigilante with psychic powers, The Shadow character has appeared in pulp books, on radio shows and in comic books. The film, written by Jurassic Park’s David Koepp, opened in July 1994 and got crushed at the saturated summer box office. It opened with a strong $11 million but quickly dropped out of theaters by the end of the month. The $40 million-budget film grossed $32 million domestically and $16 million foreign, with a worldwide gross of around $48 million. The performance was so disappointing, Universal canceled potential franchises and toy tie-ins.
Apparently, female-centric comic book films don’t perform well at the box office. Halle Berry donned a sexy catsuit, but the movie wasn’t a faithful adaptation of the comic book, which is one reason no one saw it. On a $100 million budget, Catwoman grossed $40 million domestically and $42 million in foreign box office, equaling a $82 million worldwide gross. The 2004 film got nominated for seven Razzie awards and won four, including Berry for Worst Actress. Luckily, Catwoman redeemed herself in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, when Anne Hathaway played a better version of the superhero.