Comic books are currently a big business in Hollywood. Thanks to Disney and Marvel, adapting comics to the big screen has become a major operation and studios are now jumping to get as many properties as they can. Marvel is, of course, the largest with Disney presenting the majority of hero-movies, while Fox has the X-Men franchise and Deadpool, both huge hits. Warner Bros is trying to start their own cinematic universe with Batman v Superman, The Justice League and other books getting a shot.
They superhero material doesn't just dominate on the big screen. Many television networks are trying their hand, like the CW’s “Arrowverse” and AMC’s Preacher. The big screen still means more when it comes to comic book adaptations because it generally means a bigger profit for those involved.
However, not all comic book properties are automatic winners. With big budgets come the need for big spectacles to get attention and promote the films. Some films try to go for a smaller budget to offset things, but it sometimes doesn’t help. This has lead to quite a few mega-bombs and failures although sometimes, a movie can break even and make a profit on a smaller budget. On this list, several movies deserved the fate of flopping because of how terrible they were. Others were quite good and should have become hits but, for some reason, didn’t.
Now, going by just comic book movies is one thing, but sticking to the superhero films shows an amazing mix of flops. True, some have been salvaged only by an international take, but they still weren't "successful". To go by the “current era” (meaning when X-Men really helped kick-start Marvel adaptations in 2000), you see a lot of entries. Also, cutting it down to just superhero films was tricky - no Sin City or 300.
Here are the fifteen least grossing superhero flicks that prove just how tricky it can be to make a successful comic book film.
15 Watchmen - $185 million
It took decades of various starts and stops to finally adapt Alan Moore’s masterpiece to the big screen. The reaction to this film is divisive among fans, as some think it’s an ugly mess that fails to capture the heart of the original story. Others, however, praise Zack Snyder for doing far better justice to the comic than others. To Snyder's credit, several scenes literally looked like the comic panels brought to life.
The cast was good, with the best being Jackie Earl Haley, who stole the show as the twisted vigilante Rorschach. Viewers were a bit turned off by the adult aspects, like the nude Dr. Manhattan and the laughable love scene of Malin Akerman. The unique replication of an alternate 1985 and keeping to the comic’s bittersweet ending earned it respect.
Its take was low due to its high budget of $130 million. It’s really a “love it or hate it” movie among comic book fans, but still a success in terms of bringing this epic to the big screen at all.
14 Daredevil - $179.2 million
The consensus on this movie depends on which version you watch. The original 2003 theatrical cut has been slammed for some camp aspects, Ben Affleck's portrayal of Matt Murdock, a muddled plot, and Jennifer Garner simply being on the scene as eye candy. However, the director’s cut, restoring nearly a half hour of footage, has been hailed as far better for its darker tone and deeper characters, both of which are more in tune with the comic book.
Whatever the case, this was the first major release of a Marvel movie following the mega-success of Spider-Man, so expectations were high. The villains were cited as highlights, with Colin Farrell as the psychotic Bullseye and Michael Clarke Duncan as an effective Kingpin. With its star power and early February release, the movie became a success, but it took the release of the director’s cut for it to attain more respect. While the Netflix series is a success, many remember this whenever Daredevil is mentioned.
13 Fantastic Four (2015) - $167.9 million
There are arguments about just who is to blame for the disaster that is this movie. Many put the blame on Fox for demanding multiple reshoots, wiping out much of director Josh Trank’s original work and warping the movie into a terrible mess.
Others claim Trank is hardly blameless, as his idea of a “grounded” approach to a property known for its great adventures, refusing to let the actors read the comics and turning Doctor Doom (one of the greatest comic book villains ever) into a blogger with a bad attitude were what doomed this film. Whatever the case, the film was worse than anyone could have imagined. It was needlessly dark and wasted over half its screen time on setup before they even gained their powers.
Ripped to shreds by both critics and fans alike, the $120 million film was one of the bigger flops of 2015, barely making $54 million in the US, and fading fast internationally. In fact, it was such a bomb that fans were begging for Marvel Studios to get the property back from Fox. There’s debate on how this film turned out so bad, but the end result is a film hardly fantastic at all.
12 Hellboy II - $160 million
After the first movie became a huge hit, a sequel was inevitable and, thankfully, Guillermo del Toro returned as writer and director. For this film, del Toro tackled much more fantasy in the film, as a race of elves began a war on mankind, wanting to take back the world that was once theirs. The gorgeous but deadly creatures wowed moviegoers.
At the same time, there was the plotline of Hellboy (Ron Pearlman) having his existence revealed to the world. He is, at first, happy to be famous, but then realizes how people fear him.
Backed by Selma Blair and Toby Jones as his aides, Hellboy took to the bad guys in some fantastic set pieces, with a style and texture only del Toro could deliver. Critics adored the movie’s presentation and hailed its visuals.
Even in a summer with Iron Man, this ended up being a great hit off the $85 million budget. While there sadly hasn’t been a follow-up, this still ranks high as both a superhero and a fantasy picture that entertains fans.
11 Blade II - $155 million
Before the X-Men, Spider-Man or Avengers franchises, Blade was the first movie to prove Marvel characters could work on the big screen. Wesley Snipes was perfectly cast as the title character, a half-vampire hunting his own kind. Critics adored the film’s fun vibe and exciting action.
A sequel was a natural decision, and also a good decision thanks to one of the first mainstream projects of Guillermo del Toro. He gave the film a cool vibe, aided by CGI, as Blade actually allies himself with vampires to face an even greater threat.
The movie had better action and a great supporting cast, especially Ron Pearlman as an uneasy ally. Del Toro’s direction gave it a sleek edge that elevated it above other comic book projects.
Made for just $54 million, it more than made back its budget. It's the most successful of the Blade movies and a rare beast of a sequel better than the original.
10 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance - $132 million
Many mock Nicolas Cage’s rather bizarre career choices, but he actually made a good one with the first Ghost Rider film. Adapted from the hit comic book, the movie was a huge smash, despite critical barbs. A sequel was obvious.
The producers decided that rather than go for 'bigger is better', they’d cut back. The budget was about $40 million less than the first movie and the film shot in Romania. The storyline was a rough one as Cage’s Johnny Blaze protected a child. Scenes were also rough, like the one in which Rider is shown “pissing” fire.
Utterly laughable, it was ripped apart by critics, and even those who liked the first film found it stupid. Amazingly, it still made a pretty hefty profit, but Cage declared he was done with the franchise after this. A movie so bad that Cage gets tired of the role? That’s one epic feat.
9 Blade Trinity - $128 million
The first two films had been good but, sadly, the final Blade entry was more style over substance. A key problem was that much of the film focused less on Blade himself and more on two new characters: Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds), a former vampire fighting his kind and Abigail Whistler (Jessica Biel), daughter of Blade’s old partner.
David Goyer’s script was as rough as his direction. The action scenes were good, but the storyline involving the ancient vampire Drake was confusing. Parker Posey and Triple H wasted as the secondary villains. The ending just screamed out for a new franchise, which never came to be, and was critically ravaged as the worst of the lot.
It did make back twice its budget, thanks to promotion, but faded quickly after a strong opening. This sadly stands as yet another example of how the third movie is often the worst of a series.
8 Hellboy - $99.3 million
Long a cult favorite among comic book fans, the character seemed a rough fit for the screen.
As a demon summoned by Nazis, he was adopted by a kind scientist to lead a secret war against the supernatural. Guillermo del Toro, a longtime fan of the character, did it fantastic justice. He directed Mike Mignola’s comic straight off the page with his own unique style. Ron Pearlman was perfectly cast as the title character, rough and tough, but also with some heart. Selma Blair was cast as his fire-controlling love and Ian Holm as his kindly mentor. The storyline, which mixed Nazis with demons and the search for Hellboy’s origins, was well done.
The film won over critics with its well-done textures and Pearlman’s performance. Off a $66 million budget, it made a pretty good profit and did even better on home video.
7 Kick-Ass - $91.6 million
Here’s a good case of a movie whose "low" box office performance was offset by a low budget. Thanks to the low budget, this film was considered a hit.
Based on Mark Millar’s book, it told the story of Dave (Aaron Johnson) as he tries to become a real crime-fighter and faces challenges. What made the movie really work was Nicolas Cage’s fantastic performance as Big Daddy, matched by Chloe Grace Moertz in her star-making role as his near-psycho daughter, Hit Girl.
The movie’s ultra-violence and profane language set it apart, as did Matthew Vaughn’s imaginative direction. The film overcame some controversy to win over audiences. Off a $30 million budget, its take was a terrific profit, and that was even before it found a huge cult audience on home video.
Its sequel may have faltered but this remains one of the raunchiest superhero movies ever, and one that lives up to its title wonderfully.
6 Catwoman - $82.1 million
It’s no surprise to find this movie on the list. Of all the crazy ideas Warner Bros has had with DC properties, this might top it all.
DC decided to make a movie about Catwoman that utilized none of the character’s background, no Selina Kyle at all, but rather the idea of “The Cat Spirit” able to turn anyone into a crime-fighter (not a thief). Halle Berry was the unlucky actress to be cast as the lead. As hot as she was in that torn costume, it didn’t make up for the sight of this Oscar-winning actress crawling around, drinking milk and putting up with some horrific CGI. Sharon Stone was surprisingly flat as the villain and the script a complete mess.
Ripped to shreds by critics in 2004, it’s no surprise it fell flat at the box office, earning its spot as one of the worst comic book movies ever. Berry proved herself a great sport about it, accepting her Razzie award for the film in person and brushing off what remains a low point for the Batman franchise.
5 Elektra - $56.6 million
On paper, this should have worked. Even with some critical slams, the Daredevil movie had some support and Jennifer Garner was riding high with her hit TV show Alias.
Having her character resurrected for a spin-off seemed like a terrific idea. Sadly, the movie faltered from the start, as having a character as a master assassin in a PG-13 film didn’t seem right. The storyline was also rough, and Garner’s performance as Elektra contained none of the energy and pathos the comic book character had. On top of this, the idea of her protecting, instead of killing, a target seemed off.
The movie was ripped apart by critics and, despite some bits that intrigued, like Terrance Stamp’s role as mentor Stick, it was a big failure for fans and at the box office. It ranks among the worst entries of a Marvel movie. Maybe Elektra should have stayed dead after all.
4 The Punisher - $54 million
After success with various properties on a big budget, Marvel decided to try their hand with a smaller budget for the long-popular vigilante.
Thomas Jane was well cast in the lead and having John Travolta as the villain seemed a good idea as well. The supporting cast had turns, like Rebecca Romijin as a neighbor and Kevin Nash as the brutal “Russian” warrior, but the beats seemed a bit too upbeat for the moody crime-fighter.
Also, fans were annoyed that rather than just blowing away the mob, Frank Castle played complicated games to take them down - a bit too cerebral for the soldier. Thanks to its low budget of $33 million, its take managed to eke out a profit, although not as large as was hoped for.
Many believe it’s a forgotten gem of the Marvel movies (its unrated cut much darker) and far better than its ill-fated sequel. It seems, though, that the Punisher is better suited for TV stardom today.
3 The Spirit - $39 million
Will Eisner is not just a legend, but an icon in the comic book industry. He set the standard for storytelling with his work, to the point that the Eisner Award is the highest honor of the industry.
The Spirit was his pride and joy. It's the tale of a cop brought back to life, who fights crime in a suit and mask. The fun adventure tale had inventive methods that would go on to influence generations of comic book artists. Frank Miller took all that and turned it into a lame Sin City rip-off, ruining all the potential in Eisner’s tale.
The over-dramatic lighting, the violence and the ridiculous dialogue were massive turn-offs, along with the constant green-screen action. The Octopus (who, in the comic, was never actually seen) was played by Samuel L. Jackson in one of his worst performances, a nutty role that had him even dressed as a Nazi. Even the bevy of gorgeous ladies (Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Stana Katic) couldn’t save it and the critical reception was far less harsh than the reception from fanboys who felt Eisner was turning in his grave over this.
This was one of the absolute worst adaptations ever, both harming the good name of Eisner and proving how badly Miller has fallen from grace. It was completely deserving of its horrible box office fate.
2 Kick-Ass 2 - $38.6 million
After the first film became a hit, a sequel was only natural. Most of the cast returned, as Aaron-Taylor Johnson was back as the title hero, and Chloe Grace Moertz continued her star-making performance as the wild Hit Girl. The supporting cast was also good with Jim Carrey as the would-be hero Colonel Stars and Stripes.
Expectations were high, but then, Carrey slammed the movie’s violence and refused to promote it. The reviews were harsh, many noting the fun of the first film seemed to have been sucked away. The lack of Nicolas Cage (whose gonzo performance had been the highlight of the original) also hurt the film, which got lost in the mix of blockbusters.
Instead of a new hit for the franchise, it pretty much killed it dead. Even a satire of comic book heroes can face a hard fight.
1 Punisher War Zone - $10.1 million
After the first Punisher movie failed to meet expectations, Marvel decided a reboot was needed. Thus, War Zone was created to take on the complaints of the Punisher being too tame. War Zone recast the lead with Ray Stevenson and avoided the origin of thr Punisher.
Despite these efforts, concerns grew over the storyline and the movie soon found itself opening in December of 2008, not quite the place for a blockbuster or an action flick. The critics were very harsh, most thought the violence too off-putting and even those who enjoyed the first movie were a bit turned off by the incredibly harsh violence.
It had a weak $4 million opening weekend and it is historically the lowest-grossing Marvel film ever. Yes, even more than Howard the Duck.