It has been said on many internet forums that when it comes to adapting their comic book properties to live-action, Marvel seems to perform strongly in cinema and less so in television. Marvel’s biggest competitor, DC Comics, has a track record of performing strongly in television but less so in cinema.
DC has had some major hits with television. The most notable being Smallville, a television show starring Tom Welling in the role of a young Superman dealing with typical teenage problems and struggling to learn to use his alien powers for a greater common good. Smallville was a huge success for DC and Warner Brothers and ran for a solid ten seasons. DC followed Smallville with Arrow, a show that similarly follows the trials and tribulations of a young hero trying to balance out the drama of his normal life with that of his superhero alter-ego. Arrow is going into a third season full steam ahead. It’s even already birthed a spin-off series called The Flash. Outside of these series that air on the CW, positive buzz is generating around DC’s NBC offering of Constantine, and their FOX offering of Gotham.
Meanwhile, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series on ABC opened to mixed reviews and just seemed to barely save itself with a powerful second quarter to its first season. ABC’s announcement of Agent Carter as a spin-off to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has faced mixed buzz and the announcement seems to be regarded as premature. Marvel may be able to balance the television scales with their line-up of Netflix exclusive series.
Now, in the land of cinema Marvel has reigned supreme over DC (but only recently) due largely to the shared cinematic universe of their characters. With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and some past success with Batman in the hands of other directors, DC largely sat by and watched Marvel steal their thunder when it came to adapting their characters to the big screen. Even the highly revered Christopher Reeve Superman films of the 70’s and 80’s only offered two installments out of five that critics and viewers seemed to enjoy.
Who knows why DC took so long to get on the ball and compete with Marvel in the world of cinema? Even when the Nolan Batman films were some of the biggest movies in the world, they were adamant about not putting Batman into a shared universe with their other superheroes. It’s only been after the success of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel that DC decided to go forward with other superhero properties in their library and stick them into a shared universe. That being said, DC had the right to be fearful; they’ve had a number of box office flops and critically panned failures on their hands. Let’s take a look at some of the cinematic misfires experienced by DC, and let’s hope their recently announced future films are better than these.
10. Constantine – Rotten Tomatoes Score: 46% Rotten
Constantine wasn’t an entirely bad film and it’s certainly the highest rated of the films appearing on this list. Many felt that the film only loosely drew from the comic book source material. The most notable change was turning the titular blonde Brit into a raven-haired American.
Viewers were also made privy to the fact that Bush front-man Gavin Rossdale most definitely can’t act.
DC must have been unhappy with the final product as well. Constantine is being rebooted as a television show airing this fall on NBC.
9. The Return of Swamp Thing – Rotten Tomatoes Score: 33% Rotten
This film decided to take Wes Craven’s horror send-up of the character and turn it into something more comedic in tone. It was described in the New York Times as “it means to be funnier than it ever is” which isn’t good for a comedy. When the films were extended into a television program, DC decided to take it back to the darker roots established in the first installment of Swamp Thing.
Heather Locklear “won” a Razzie Award for Worst Actress for her role in the film as Abby Arcane.
8. Green Lantern – Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26% Rotten
There are a number of reasons fans of the character didn’t flock to see this film. Many were upset with the decision to cast Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, and some were even upset to see Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern at all. Thanks to DC and their quality television programming, most children and parents were more familiar with John Stewart as Green Lantern as he was used in the Justice League cartoons. Some felt that a black character was being re-cast as white.
Many also blamed a gross over-use of CGI that was hard on the eyes and made the film nearly unwatchable.
DC was only able to recoup the budget thanks to overseas ticket sales, and by just under $20 million. This was very disappointing for what was to be the next big superhero blockbuster.
7. Superman III – Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26% Rotten
This is just one of many misfires in the Christopher Reeve Superman film series after Richard Donner had left on relatively bad terms during Superman II. Much like with Swamp Thing, DC decided to shift the tone towards camp and comedy and cast Richard Pryor alongside Reeve.
One of the strangest moments in the film features Superman binge drinking after his mind was altered by nicotine infused kryptonite.
6. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Rotten Tomatoes Score: 17% Rotten
This was a silly interpretation of a rather dark and gritty comic by Alan Moore. Moore has had many issues with the film interpretations of his work with DC, going so far as to having his name removed from the credits of some of the films.
The film shared so little in common with the source material that it was used as a basis for a plagiarism lawsuit, saying FOX bought the rights to the comic as a smoke screen to plagiarize a script written by Larry Cohen and Martin Poll.
5. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace – Rotten Tomatoes Score: 12% Rotten
This would be the final nail in the coffin for the first string of Superman films. When Bryan Singer would attempt (and fail) to resurrect the character for cinema, he tailored his film to be a direct sequel to the first film by Richard Donner, effectively “erasing” the last three Superman films out of continuity.
Christopher Reeve cited Superman IV as “a disaster from start to finish” and a “blow to his career.”
4. Steel – Rotten Tomatoes Score: 12% Rotten
Back in the 1990’s someone decided that Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t just a basketball player. He appeared in films with lead roles, he had his own video game, and even had a stint as a rapper.
During this time, Shaquille O’Neal shared that he was a big Superman fan so he seemed a shoe-in to play the character that first appeared in the Superman comics. The film did not place itself in the Superman continuity, possibly as an attempt to not get lumped in with the other Superman films on this list.
O’Neal was nominated for a Razzie for his role as Steel. The film also seems to be a marker for where his career as a lead actor ended.
3. Jonah Hex – Rotten Tomatoes Score: 12% Rotten
This film lost over $30 million at the box office. DC had some stones to put a fantasy/western about a virtually unknown character up against Toy Story 3. The only positive thing critics could say was “Josh Brolin gives it his best shot.”
The film won two Razzies: Worst Actress for Megan Fox and Worst Screen Couple for Brolin and Fox.
2. Catwoman – Rotten Tomatoes Score: 9% Rotten
For some reason DC decided to make a Catwoman movie without the inclusion of the Batman mythos. The experiment ended in disaster.
Halle Berry won a Razzie for her role as the titular character and even publicly denounced the film by saying, “Thank you [Warner Brothers] for putting me in a piece of sh**, god awful movie.”
1. Supergirl – Rotten Tomatoes Score: 8% Rotten
Despite opening at #1 in the box office, this film bottomed out at only around $14 million. Word must have traveled fast that this wasn’t something to see.
Faye Dunaway certainly looked the part but was nominated for a Worst Actress Razzie while the male lead, Peter O’Toole, was nominated for a Worst Actor Razzie for the film.
It’s still amazing that after both Superman III and Supergirl performed so poorly, that DC still went ahead with Superman IV.
It’s also interesting to note that this is the sixth film from the Superman mythos on the list.
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