Why is it that so much excitement is generated by the announcements of films concerning super-heroes? As somebody that grew up in an era where super-heroes were rarely explored on the big screen, the concept of watching super-hero movies might have seemed fantastic. However, the inexplicably high volume of super-hero vehicles that saturate the multiplexes and screens of Europe and the US is inescapable, such that nothing new is being discovered or explored by any new movie that ventures down this popular path.
1978 saw the release of Richard Donner’s ‘Superman’. A movie that took advantage of high production values in the effective use of blue-screen compositing technology. ‘Superman’ was made in an era where the comic houses, DC and Marvel were reluctant to permit the movie studios options on their intellectual property, so ‘Superman’ was not followed by a particularly large swathe of other hero movies. Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk did get the TV treatment, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, just as Batman had had it’s moment in the 1960’s. However, beyond Superman sequels, Hollywood had little hero output. Various Saturday morning TV cartoons explored many other hero characters, but on the big screen, it wasn’t really until 1989’s release of Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ that a big budget adaptation was to be made again. A bold move indeed, considering the 1987 release, ‘Superman IV – The Quest for Peace’ just two years previously. Superman IV made $15 million at the box office. Unfortunately, it cost $17 million, so it seemed to represent the end of the line for hero movies. ‘Batman’ on the other hand had double the budget of S4, but raked in over $400 million, so suddenly, the attentions of Hollywood and the comic industry were raised to the business sense of making movies about rubber-clad vigilantes. Finally, by the time that 3d computer-generated imagery had become the defacto standard in movie special effects, the comic houses began to have faith in Hollywood’s ability to faithfully render their brands onto the big screen, and so the floodgates were fully opened in the 1990’s for a torrent of super-hero movies.
1 – Superman IV: The Quest for Peace 
Lost $2 million dollars at the box office, and set the first benchmark for crap super-hero films, just as the first Superman film set the precedent for good ones. A mixture of self-righteous anti-nuclear wisdom and a master-class in how to completely fail in video-compositing make this film both puzzling, intriguing and flabbergastingly weak. Twenty-five years later, Hollywood is still manufacturing super-hero related tripe.
2 – John Carter 
Movie based on an Edgar Rice Burrough’s character that was deemed to be inferior to Tarzan, which says it all. Cost $240 million to make and resulted in a $160 million write-down in the operating capital of Disney’s entertainment division. Possibly one of the biggest commercial movie disasters of all time, although it has since broken even. Didn’t see it, but why would I want to? First of a trilogy apparently…
3 – X-Men: The Last Stand 
Dire, explosion-packed finalé to the disappointing X-Men trilogy. This film was so bad that it did me a huge favour. It made me realise how crap super-hero movies tended to be, and I became way more wary about getting my wallet out to finance future cinema trips.
4 – X-Men Origins: Wolverine 
Clearly not wary enough, but at least this film managed to confirm my suspicions. This spin-off movie about Wolverine was jaw-droppingly dumb. I was literally hooting out loud in the spirit of schadenfreude as Hugh Jackman has a truly rubbish fight-off with Logan on top of a cooling tower, in a scene that may have been pre-visualised by a bunch of six year old slow-learners being encouraged to stimulate their imaginations in a group therapy session. Next time a movie this bad is in production, the plot development team should require a Blue Peter badge at the very least.
5 – Catwoman 
After an oscar-winning performance in ‘Monster’s Ball’ in 2001, the casting of Halle Berry as the feline heroine seemed like a no-brainer. However, ‘no brains’ was more of a description of the results of the script-writing team after this utter turkey lost almost $20 million at the box-office.
6 – Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 
It seems a bit unfair to put this film in, as I haven’t even seen it, but sometimes you just get a feeling that a movie is an absolute stinker. The consistently mediocre Cage does his thing as a scary, skelington-faced biker again. The first movie would have made this list had it not been for this inferior sequel, which one critic (@JHoffman6) claimed was so bad that it made the first film look like ‘The Dark Knight’.
7 – Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 
In the spirit of shaming films I haven’t seen, this movie continues the trend. The first film was so weak that I wasn’t even prepared to pay for a single kernel of popcorn if it meant that I had to lose two hours of my life continuing to financially support this terrible franchise.
8 – Batman & Robin 
This camp classic has Joel Schumacher pulling out all the stops in a celebration of cheese and bad taste. Arnold Schwarzenegger puts in a stand-out, comedic performance as Mr Freeze, hand-in-hand with plenty of terrible ice-related puns, while George Clooney is inexplicably cast as the Dark Knight in what is possibly a career low for the esteemed dream-boat.
9 – Superman Returns 
One of the most boring films I have ever seen. With a dull choice of casting for Superman in the form of Brandon Routh (who???) and a poor performance by the usually charismatic Kevin Spacey. There’s nothing to see here that would be preferential to taking a month off work to scrub clean Leicester Square with a toothbrush and a bottle of vim, whilst wearing a t-shirt bearing the slogan ‘Superman is the dullest super-hero of them all, and now I’m paying the price’. Extra crap points go to Spacey with his cringe-worthy Doctor Evil impression as Lex Luthor.
10 – Barb Wire 
A film based on the cynical conceit that men would pay good money to watch a movie starring a woman with an over-sized silicon-filled chest, almost fall out of her tight, black, leather super-heroine costume. That very concept was defeated by the wide availability of alternative material featuring pay-off scenes that reached a greater level of pornographic explicitness, and probably featured a higher standard of acting talent.
There were so many films to choose from, that I was spoilt for choice when it came to making this list. The following deserve a mention simply because they completely fit in well with the spirit of this post, despite the fact that I can’t be bothered spending any more time elaborating on the finer details that make these mediocre films shame an entire genre with displays of inept film-making and incompetent script-writing:
- The Green Lantern
- Spiderman 3
- Blade Trinity
- The Punisher
- Tank Girl
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
- The Shadow
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
- Hellboy 2
Why potentially intelligent modern day society seems to be so hypnotised and excited by the super-hero genre is totally beyond me. The formula is so incredibly derivative.
- origin – the hero/villain begins/rebegins/comes out of retirement
- trouble – something happens that threatens mankind, maybe a famous world monument is destroyed
- look at me – the hero/heroine starts kicking some ass
- now you’ve done it – the villain gets pissed, starts taking evil-doing/destruction to a whole new level
- broken – the hero is almost destroyed and has to regroup
- taxi please – the good guy and bad guy face off on a city street, ripping up street furniture and throwing taxi cabs at each other
- triumphant – pat on the back, the hero signs off all glorious
The notion that people haven’t woken up to exactly how terrible this repetitive formula is goes beyond my understanding. ‘The Avengers’  follows exactly the same pattern as movies made 20 years ago, but with a monstrously over-bloated budget. Hollywood has lowered people’s expectations of quality in their cinema-going experience, and yet people are still happy to sign up to watch formulaic output. Why grown men have a desire to see movies aimed at the 14 year old boy market seems absurd. Equally inexplicable is how receptive cinema-goers are to constant franchise reboots. Did Spiderman really need a reboot? It’s hard to understand how the Spiderman franchise, so soon after having been canned following the mediocre and incomprehensible ‘Spiderman 3’  was ready for a reinvention in the form of ‘The Incredible Spiderman’ . The lack of desire to be intellectually stimulated by film is dissipating in place of a compulsion to be entertained by juvenile tales of rubber-clad vigilantes. A worrying state of affairs for anyone who likes to watch great movies.