What makes a great superhero movie? It’s pretty simple: Great characters, super story, lots of action, knockout costumes, and incredible special effects. What makes a bad superhero movie? The lack of any or all of the crucial elements of characters, story, action, costumes, and special effects. Even great franchises like Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman or Fantastic Four can turn out to be pretty bad movies.
Each year, the Golden Raspberry Awards (“Razzies”) and The Golden Schmoes nominate films and actors who they consider to be the worst of the year. There are quite a few Razzies and Golden Schmoes nominations and wins on this list. There are also IMDb ratings (out of 10) and Rotten Tomato ratings (out of 100 per cent). Both are pretty reliable indications of movies that just are not up to par. Again, a lot of the movies here were seen as, at best, average and, at worst, just plain out bad. But sometimes, even bad superhero movies make a lot of money at the box office. Here is our list of 13 superhero movies whose box office is way better than the movie deserves. In the case of the older movies on this list, we have adjusted the figure to take into account inflation.
13. Catwoman – 2004 ($82 million/adjusted $103 million)
In the movie, mild mannered graphic designer Patience Phillips, becomes the powerful enemy of evil, Catwoman. The movie makers even cast Halle Berry in the role. A sure fire winner, they thought. Halle may have won an Oscar, but not for this movie. She did get a Razzie for Worst Actress. Critics smashed the film, saying it was all about Berry’s beauty and sex appeal, with hardly a thought for a plot. But it was not a total loss. Adjusted for inflation, Catwoman raked in over $100 million, and that in spite of an abysmal Rotten Tomato rating of just 9%.
12. Spawn – 1997 ($90 million, $134 million adjusted)
A murdered assassin makes a deal with the devil and comes back to earth as Spawn, the leader of the Hell’s Army. The devil has an assistant (The Clown), who is intent on triggering Armageddon, so that Hell can attack Heaven. Hang on; now Spawn has to choose between Good and Evil. Did anybody care? Well, in spite of a ridiculous plot, some really naff costumes and make-up, and a place on just about every list of bad superhero movies, the adjusted box office was over $130 million.
11. Daredevil – 2003 ($179 million/$226 million adjusted)
And we quote from IMDb: “A man blinded by toxic waste, which also enhanced his remaining senses, fights crime as an acrobatic martial arts superhero.” That’s the bad news. The good news? The Daredevil himself, Ben Affleck, fell in love with co-star (and later wife) Jennifer Garner, who played female superhero Elektra, while making the film. Rotten Tomatoes called it dull and said Affleck was sporadically interesting. And Affleck got the Razzie for Worst Actor. In 2005, Garner went on to star in Elektra, another superhero movie turkey. But, between the two movies, the box office was around $300 million.
10. Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer – 2007 ($289 million/$366 million adjusted)
In Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the foursome, complete with Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman, battle against the powerful Silver Surfer and Galactus. Not one of the good guys, Galactus seems to spend a lot of time eating planets. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 37 percent rating, and said it was juvenile and simplistic. The movie was nominated as the Worst Film of the Year by an outfit called The Golden Schmoes. As we will see, it’s not the only Fantastic 4 film to be trashed.
9. Fantastic 4 – 2015 ($170 million)
This film made $170 million internationally. It also was nominated f0r and won a number of Razzies. Rated around 4 by IMDb, it was a disaster. It was dubbed ‘The Worst Marvel Movie’ of all time and got the Razzie for Worst Picture and Worst Director (Josh Trank), and all of this despite a new cast and a reworking of the story. Michael B. Jordan has said he would be happy to return as the Human Torch. He’s about the only one.
8. Green Lantern – 2011 ($220 million)
Rotten Tomatoes called it noisy and thinly written, and gave it a 26% rating. It also got all kinds of nods for the poor costumes and bad script. Ryan Reynolds, just about everybody’s favourite actor (after Deadpool), was not convincing in the title role of the cocky, womanizing Hal Jordan. Perhaps he has a little too much of the boy next door about him. But still, the film pulled in $220 million. While critics universally panned it, many Green Lantern fans stuck by the film. Still, the Golden Schmoes labeled it ‘The Biggest Disappointment of the Year’.
7. Batman and Robin ($238 million/$354 million adjusted)
Another contender for the worst superhero movie of all time, 1997’s Batman and Robin got everything wrong and still raked in hundreds of millions. To begin with, who thought George Clooney could make it as Batman? And the poor casting didn’t end at the top. There was also the comic book portrayal of Mr. Freeze by Arnold Schwarzenneger. The movie got an 11 percent rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and still the fans paid to see it. The later Batman films worked because Bruce Wayne/Batman had a darker side. This was the last of the clean cut, superhero Batman.
6. Ghost Rider – 2007 ($229 million/adjusted $264 million)
Robert Downey Jr. just worked as Iron Man. Not so with Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider. But as bad as the 2007 film was, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011) was even worse. Ghost Rider is essentially a supernatural superhero film, with spirit beings and the devil at every turn. And, quite often, the marriage of the supernatural with the superhero genre just does not work. And like Spawn, Ghost Rider tries to do just that. But, many fans stuck by the films. The production budgets for the 2007 film and Spirit of Vengeance was around $177 million, and the two films pulled in $378 million at the worldwide box office.
5. Eragon – 2006 ($250 million/$296 million adjusted)
The movie was based on a book written by a teenager (Christopher Paolini), and many panned the book and said the movie was doomed. Rachel Weisz gave life to the dragon Saphira, and heavy hitters such as Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich starred in the film. But Rotten Tomatoes hated it and gave it a rating of 16 percent. Some said there was no story, but just one action scene after another. But loyal fans bought tickets and the adjusted box office is nearly $300 million. Paolini’s books have a loyal fan following and it showed in the box office of this non-event of a movie.
4. The Last Airbender – 2010 ($320 million/$356 million adjusted)
Aang is a young Avatar who is fighting to stop the Fire Nation from taking over and enslaving the good guy Water Tribe,s and Earth Kingdom. While critics admired the “look” of the film, they criticized the story and inconsistencies in the plot. Many said the story was nonexistent. Rotten Tomatoes gave it an abysmal 6 percent. IMDb was a little kinder with a rating just over 4 (out of 10). But the loyalty of fans meant that its box office was healthy.
3. X-Men: Origins Wolverine – 2009 ($373 million/$415 million adjusted)
TV Guide said that some of the special effects were embarrassing, and other critics said it was loud and disappointing. Movies.com said, “you are going to be really underwhelmed”. Not even an all-star cast, including Hugh Jackman, could save the film. Origins was the fourth movie in the franchise series, and by the time it came out in 2009, there was a lot of fan loyalty out there. Reportedly, the production budget was around $150 million. In its opening weekend, it grabbed the #1 spot in many theaters. And at the end of the day, the worldwide box office of $373 million is more than healthy. Some say, way better than the film deserved.
2. Spider-Man 3 – 2007 ($890 million/$1 billion)
The general view was that it was satisfying, but average, and definitely not great. There was a lot to like: there was Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man and Kirsten Dunst as good old Mary Jane. There was just this feeling that it was merely alright, okay. But what’s the point of a superhero movie that doesn’t deliver the big punch? Again, the fans voted with their money and the film ended up raking in $1 billion in adjusted returns. Unlike other superhero movies, Spider-Man is a kind of message franchise preaching the advantages of character and the individual’s potential for greatness.
1. Transformers: Age of Extinction – 2014 ($1.1 billion)
We are in the really big money now, with a worldwide box office of over $1 billion. In spite of the fact that Rotten Tomatoes gave it a dismal 18 percent rating, fans voted with their money and went anyway. There was Optimus Prime and what is left of his gang, looming large over an all-star cast that included Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, and Kelsey Grammer. Empire sniffed that the film was relying on grown-ups who loved the Transformers when they were young and that blind loyalty couldn’t hide the fact there was little to see in the movie.