Hollywood looking to the comic book well for source material isn’t something new. But while top-end superheroes like Superman and Batman got all the love at first, now it seems like every B-rated adventurer has their own feature. Marvel and DC have improved their comic book movie formula over the years, and they’ve even managed to produce some blockbuster smashes.
In fact, five of the top-20 highest grossing movies of all time are based on comics. The Avengers, Dark Knight, Iron Man 3, Spider-Man and Dark Knight Rises all made blockbusting amount of money in the United States alone. These home runs are the exception, however, and not the rule. While the average quality of these films has increased since Marvel Studios took some of their properties back, there have still been quite a few false notes along the way.
In the spring of 2014, we received a new addition to the family of “stinkers.” After a ton of buildup and much fanfare, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 failed to live up to the expectations that it created for itself, landing – at the time of publishing – a ‘rotten’ score on the tomatometer of just over 50%. It doesn’t stand alone as a particularly bad comic-to-silver screen translation though. There are various examples of movies that simply missed the mark for various reasons.
A typical mistake by some directors is overproducing and relying on special effects without developing character. Some scripts take themselves too seriously, while a few questionable casting choices have doomed particular franchises from the start.
These productions could have been special. They were based on well-loved stories and popular characters that spoke volumes on the page. Instead, they fell flat and left audiences wondering if it was too late for a refund as the credits rolled…
An entire generation of movie-going teenagers had their idea of Elektra ruined by this 2005 production. All the pieces seemed to be in place for a strong flick. Elektra writer Frank Miller was involved on the scripting side, as was Zak Penn of X-Men fame.
Jennifer Garner was brought in at the peak of her popularity to play a sexy yet deadly assassin — a role that she had been fulfilling on televisions’ Alias for four years at the time of the shoot — and so Hollywood had itself a strong female lead in a comic book movie, a seemingly winning formula.
Perhaps it was all simply too good to be true right from the get-go.
It’s generally accepted that Miller penned some of the greatest superhero comics ever when he worked on Daredevil and Elektra. Yet somehow the movie managed to fall totally flat, taking itself much too seriously and overreaching for the popular dark/gritty feel. Paired with the failure of Daredevil on the silver screen, it’s not surprising that Hollywood hasn’t touched these characters since.
What could have been a launching pad for a successful string of movies turned into a flop. Elektra has a 4.8 rating on IMDB.com and a cringeworthy 10% on RottenTomatoes.com. Comic book lovers agree it would have been less disappointing if the source material hadn’t been so darn good, but the movie failed to tap into the emotion and melancholy that the original comics carried and, as such, fans raged against the movie.
4. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
See how miserable all the actors in this photo look? That’s what happens to your face when you are aware of the fact that you’re involved in one of the worst big-budget movies in this history of Hollywood. Even “Rodney Skinner” is grimacing, and he’s invisible during half the movie.
Something the rest of the actors are now no doubt jealous of.
The film adaptation of Alan Moore’s well-received late 90s comic book series was so awful that it disillusioned Sean Connery, derailing his otherwise stellar career. He has yet to appear in another feature, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was released in 2003. The 83-year-old actor has only done voice work for three productions since then.
Filming was a train wreck, with floods causing $7 million worth of damages to sets in Prague. Director Stephen Norrington struggled with the large scale of LXG, and created a poorly constructed, muddled mess as a result. Connery isn’t the only one that hasn’t worked in Hollywood since this disastrous re-creation of Alan Moore’s classic five-issue take on the League: Norrington hasn’t landed a directing gig since the release of this movie, adding another name to the list of casualties. With a paltry 17% on RottenTomatoes.com and 5.8 stars on IMDB, LXG struck out with just critics and audiences alike. The film had the potential to be a romp of a good time but was watered down to a soulless screen flop that ended more careers than it launched.
3. The Walking Dead
Odds are good that if you have cable or a subscription to Netflix, you’ve seen at least one season of AMC’s hit, The Walking Dead. In terms of generating revenue and drawing in viewers, it’s hard to top this comic book adaptation. The show’s popularity is staggering, with more than 15 million people tuning in to watch the season four finale.
TWD has a lot of buzz, and it seems to be one of television’s few true juggernauts. The show itself isn’t unequivocally awful like LXG or Elektra – indeed, it’s received plenty of positive feedback from TV critics and viewers alike – but many fans of the original comic book feel it fails to capture the constant intensity of the comics.
In the comic, the main characters are constantly in peril, and there’s danger around every corner. Read six or seven of them in one sitting and it’s likely that you’ll be dreaming in black and white for a few nights. Rick is conflicted but likable, much like the rest of the cast of the comics. No one on the show captures this perfect balance, a fact which means the TV show lacks what makes The Walking Dead special.
With a constant rotation of directors and writers, it’s not surprising that the tone of the television series is wildly inconsistent and sloppy. Let’s call it what it is: Beverly Hills 90210 with the occasional zombie attack.
It’s successful in its own right, but that doesn’t mean that it lives up to the comic book.
2. The Punisher
The Punisher is a character that should have been able to thrive on the big screen. While the creators of Spider-Man and X-Men do whatever they can to make every character in their movies edgy and dark, the Punisher is already edgy and dark. He was wearing all black and carrying around a small arsenal on his person long before it was cool.
In an industry that loves its guns and explosions, every rendition of the Punisher should be a hit. Bullets plus explosions plus grit equals success, right? That wasn’t the case for any big screen adaptation of one of Marvel’s grade-a antiheroes. The 2004 version featured every over-the-top action trope you can think of and resulted in the movie scoring an underwhelming 29% critics’ approval rate on rottentomatoes.com.
2008’s Punisher: War Zone wasn’t received any more positively – a 27% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 30 on metacritic – and the reboot of a reboot of a reboot likely doomed the character of Frank Castle to comic book film purgatory for good. To the credit of Lionsgate— the production studio responsible for both releases — they didn’t try to cram a rated-R story into a PG-13 film, but that couldn’t save a shallow script from itself.
1. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
It seems that the creators of the Spider-Man movies won’t ever learn their lesson. After Spider-Man 3 was critically panned because of (among other reasons) over-saturation of characters, Marvel rebooted the popular movie and cast Andrew Garfield as the new Peter Parker.
While the first installment of The Amazing Spider-Man was solid, critics felt the story went off the tracks with the most recent release. Spider-Man 3 was weighed down by a plethora of super villains all clamoring for screen time. There wasn’t enough space given to Venom, Sandman or Green Goblin in that film and none of them possessed any depth. All three characters are interesting enough to carry their own weight in a Spider-Man film, but they were shoehorned into an extravagant mess.
The same sickness plagues The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Instead of taking the time to develop interesting people on screen, director Marc Webb attempts to rush as much action and forward motion as possible into every second of the movie. Again, a series of interesting characters are watered down in the name of action, and the $200 million movie comes off flat as a result. Atlantic critic Christopher Orr wrote of this latest attempt that “the best thing one can say about this fiasco is that Webb has taken only two films to reach the same exhausted, exhausting endpoint that Raimi required three to achieve.”
When the Spider-Man books are at their best, it’s because there’s an intriguing villain opposing the hero. When the baddies are thin, the stories shrivel as a result.
It shouldn’t be a struggle to create a relatable Spider-Man. His relatability is the key to this popular comic book character, and audiences expect that to transfer to the flicks without much of an issue. They’ll get this story right eventually, but it looks set to take another reboot for that to happen.
Not that Marvel has an issue with that, considering the movie made more than $90 million in its first 24 hours alone.