Marvel wasn’t always the cinematic power-house we know it as today. In fact, Marvel had made several attempts to get into cinema well before the comic book movies became the multi-billion dollar industry they are today.
In their earliest attempts the biggest issues they faced were technical; Hollywood simply didn’t have the technology to support the extraordinary powers their characters wield. Another issue was Marvel wasn’t as hands on as they are today and huge liberties were taken with their characters. These liberties would tend to misfire and didn’t sit well with fans of the comics.
Luckily for us movie-goers Marvel was able to rise above these discrepancies but before then we got a lot of throw-away pictures. Here are some of the best of the worst of the Marvel movies.
10. Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1998)
Before Samuel L. Jackson first took on the now iconic roll of Nick Fury in a post-credits sequence in 2008’s Iron Man, he was portrayed in a rather bland television movie by none other than David “the Hoff” Hasselhoff. There were a few characters included that we’ve seen in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) like antagonists Alexander Pierce (now portrayed by Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Professor Arnim Zola (now played by Toby Jones). Unfortunately we weren’t given current S.H.I.E.L.D. staples like Agent Phil Coulson and Maria Hill, both of whom have appeared in a number of current MCU films as well as televisions current incarnation of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Even with a script by David S. Goyer, this Agents flick didn’t have the flash, momentum, or budget to go up against the current product.
9. The Fantastic Four (1994)
You’ve probably never seen this Marvel stinker but don’t worry; you’re not out of the loop. Unless you were one of the lucky (unlucky?) few to grab a bootleg of this film at conventions past, then you’re in the same boat as everyone else. This film never saw the light of day.
This Roger Corman produced disaster was made at a time when Fox didn’t own the rights to the Fantastic Four (though if you look at their IMDb ratings, many could argue Fox has done a poor job with the property as well). The rights were once owned by Bernd Eichinger. A stipulation to these rights was that he would have to make a film. Eichinger made a film but it was solely to keep the licensing. The actors involved were left in the dark and thought they were making a proper release.
Marvel eventually bought the film from Eichinger so the property could be turned over to Fox. Eichinger would still help produce the subsequent films.
8. The Punisher (1989)
It’s actually a little surprising that this Dolph Lundgren action vehicle didn’t do well considering it’s 1980s release date. In that decade action flicks were king, so much so that The Expendables series of films capitalizes on an all-star cast of 80’s action stars (including Dolph Lundgren).
The film didn’t even come close to recouping its $9 million price tag. Critics generally pan it for bad acting, bad set pieces, poor fight sequences, and a complete lack of faithfulness to the source material. Marvel would go on to make two more attempts at a Punisher film only to face similar results.
7. The Punisher (2004)
Fifteen years after their first attempt, Marvel once again tried to bring The Punisher to the big screen…only to scrap it again and release Punisher: War Zone only four years later.
This installment seemed to have everything in place. It drew from stories that took place in The Punisher series of comics, Thomas Jane was in the lead role, Ben Foster in a supporting role, and John Travolta as the lead villain. It’s surprising this installment was so ill-received. Unfortunately cast and faithfulness to source material don’t make a great film. Director Jonathan Hensleigh only received a little more than half of the budget a movie of its kind required. This led to massive script edits and rewrites due to the budget restraints. It also didn’t help they were given under two months to film.
6. Hulk (2003)
This was one of Marvel’s first handful of attempts to make a serious effort towards bringing their properties to the big screen. The Ang Lee directed Hulk film pre-dates Marvel’s attempts at a cohesive universe full of their characters and it shows. Ang Lee took so many liberties with the origin of the character that in 2008 they would “erase” Lee’s origin story in the opening credits of 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. This second attempt would also fit into the scope of the MCU.
The U.S. opening weekend accounted for nearly half the U.S. gross sales. Theater goers didn’t continue filling seats once word got around that Hulk barely “smashed” much of anything. Ang Lee is a gifted filmmaker. While taking such a high brow approach is a wonderful way to look at a comic book, it probably isn’t the best avenue to take with some of these characters.
5. Generation X (1996)
This is technically the first of the X-Men films that Fox would produce. It was based on the Generation X series of comic books about a group of young mutant upstarts under the tutelage of Banshee and Emma Frost. The movie was meant as a pilot for a live-action series about teen superheroes. It can be imagined this was due to the success of Fox’s Power Rangers around this time.
The casting was on point in terms of appearance with the slight discrepancy of Jubilee not being Chinese-American. In terms of personality a few of the characters like Skin and Mondo were 180 degree counterparts. Most of the cast was lifted straight from the series butcharacters like Chamber and Penance were replaced with new characters Buff and Refrax to meet budget constraints.
4. Howard the Duck (1986)
Most folks that aren’t huge fans of comic books would never guess that Howard the Duck was a Marvel Comics property. Most people are just familiar with this 1980’s “disasterpiece” starring Lea Thompson and produced by none other than George Lucas, only three years off of the highly successful Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
There’s some irony behind Howard the Duck and Disney’s current ownership of Marvel: Back in the 1970s, Disney actually tried to sue Marvel stating that the character of Howard infringed on their Donald Duck character. Disney was even able to push Marvel to use a new design for Howard that they themselves would determine. Keep an eye open for Disney/Pixar’s untitled Donald Vs. Howard project! Er, just kidding.
3. Dr. Strange (1978)
Everything about this movie was pretty bad but it did star a pre-Arrested Development Jessica Walter. The bulk of the sorcery that Dr. Stephen Strange is known for is reserved for the last twenty minutes of the film which means you’ll need to prepare yourself for about sixty-seven minutes of next to nothing. The antagonists even have opportunities to kill Strange but for whatever reason they just decide to sit down and wait until the situation feels more climactic.
This TV movie was a backdoor pilot to a television series that was to air at a time when shows like The Amazing Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk were doing well. For it to fail should be a testament to how bad it is.
Stephen did get a name drop in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This adds credibility to the rumors of a new take on Dr. Strange in the near future.
2. Elektra (2005)
Fox thought that after crashing and burning with their take on the Daredevil character that movie-goers might respond to an Elektra spin-off. Both films only made money over their budget thanks to ticket sales over-seas.
Elektra is brought back from the dead specifically to learn a new form of martial arts but is then turned away by the very man that resurrects her because she isn’t worthy. Huh?
Luckily, Fox had the rights to these characters at the time so they were in no way incorporated into the MCU as we know it to day. Even more lucky: Marvel bought the characters back and plans to insert them into the MCU with a Netflix series.
1. Captain America (1990)
Many things made this movie the infamous laughing stock it is today. It definitely didn’t have much in the way of a budget and the special effects and casting suffered. It also fell victim to following the comics in all the wrong places and abandoned the source material with equal tact.
The filmmakers unnecessarily removed Dr. Erskine as creator of the super-soldier serum and replaced him with a character named Maria Vaselli. Then they try to stay faithful to the origin story and cram a World War II story, the Captain’s freezing, and then add a whole new story in the present day after he is thawed out.
To watch this against the current Captain America films is like night and day.