Nobody enjoys a bad movie. But there’s something uniquely depressing about seeing a bad movie about a character you already love, a character who's now immortalized as the star of one of the worst superhero movies ever made.
It has happened to me. It can happen to you (yes, even you, Iron Man fans). You will go through every stage of grief. Anger. Bargaining. Denial is the toughest: “Actually,” you’ll say, “the movie was good, and only uppity critics in the FAKE NEWS MEDIA hated it.”
In fact, you’re pretty sure the critics just want DC to fail and Marvel to succeed, though you’re not quite sure why this would make sense. But eventually, my friend, you'll arrive at acceptance.
Now take my hand, and let us walk together through the graveyard of our hopes and dreams. These are the worst superhero movies ever made.
Disagree with my picks? Let me know in the comments below, then check out my list of the best superhero movies of all time to find even more to argue with me about!
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Here is a real scene from Spider-Man 3:
That is all I have to say about this movie. Thank you for your time.
Batman and Robin (1997)
“Ah,” you say, “I have just the movie for this list. What’s that one Batman movie that stinks?” Well, I say, there were two that were pretty rough in the 1990s.
“Yeah,” you say, “It was one of those. Which one had Robin in it?” Well, they both did, actually. “Okay, wait. It was the one with—ah, I can’t remember if it was George Clooney or Val Kilmer. And Jim Carey was weirdly off-key as the Riddler—no, shoot, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger who was weirdly off-key as Mr. Freeze.”
Or was it? The two movies keep blending together in your mind! There must be something memorable that set the worse one apart, right? “Oh!” you say, as you remember. “Which one was the one where the Batsuit had nipples?”
You are speaking, my friend, of Batman and Robin.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
These movies came out ten years apart and feature totally different casts and plots. And yet they're so forgettable that I still have trouble remembering which one is which. Anyway, they're both terrible.
Dark Phoenix (2019)
The X-Men franchise had turned out bad movies before (see above), but in a sort of sad and forgettable way. Dark Phoenix, on the other hand, is a true stinker: a relentlessly bad movie that blows past previous lows to establish the franchise's rock bottom.
Dark Phoenix is devoid of joy — or any other emotion, really. It's a dull and soulless plod from beginning to merciful end.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
There was a time, long ago, when Superman movies were good. They embraced the goofy positivity of their title character by balancing a touch of pure naivety with inner strength and outer power.
Richard Donner made these movies, which starred Christopher Reeve and have been cited by director Patti Jenkins as a major inspiration for 2017’s Wonder Woman.
Then Warner Bros. fired Richard Donner halfway through Superman II and ruined everything. The studio went on to churn out Superman III, which was bad, Supergirl, which was also bad, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which was so bad that they really should have called it The Quest to Get Your Money Back from the Box Office.
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Superman III (1983)
Superman III is by no means as bad as Superman IV, which remains the gold standard in bad Superman movies (which there are enough of to fill a list of their own).
But it’s worth mentioning Superman III separately here because it was the first of the bad movies in the original Superman series. It kicked off an unbelievable losing streak with critics for the Man of Steel, and it’s also arguably the first big silver screen letdown for superhero fans. Decades later, we’re still seeing other superheroes in their own cinematic face-plants — their own Superman IIIs, if you will.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
In a vacuum, Thor: The Dark World is not a bad movie. It’s the worst Marvel Comics Universe film, but there aren’t really any terrible MCU films. Thor: The Dark World is an okay movie, which — under normal circumstances — should not mean that it ends up in an article about the worst films in a genre.
But what bums me out about Thor: The Dark World is bigger than the movie itself. I'm going to talk about two things here, and I'm going to talk about them both more briefly than they deserve.
The first thing is Marvel Studios, which revolutionized popular filmmaking by creating an interconnected web of films that worked together to build great characters, advance each other's plots, and (of course) get people to see about 800 of them.
The Marvel Studios model limits directors in some ways, and arguably keeps good films from being great. But some of the best directors of Marvel films have found ways to keep their movies feeling unique and fun while still toeing the company line, and the limitations of the Marvel Studios model also (in theory, anyway) make sure that movies aren’t really bad, even if they’re not exactly great.
Which brings us to the other part of this equation, which is Rotten Tomatoes. Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregations reward films that get more “good” reviews than “bad” ones, a binary that tends to reward inoffensive, unadventurous just-okay movies. It rewards really good movies, too, but it lets some very, very forgettable movies get a stamp of approval.
At the intersection of these two safety nets is the entirely forgettable Thor: The Dark World, a movie that virtually everyone one the planet agrees is okay and that nobody alive thinks is actually good.
It is the movie equivalent of reading an okay article in a dentist’s waiting room; it is too decent to be interesting and too uninteresting to be any good at all. It did not please or displease anyone, but it made money. So help us, they will make more of these.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Stare into the eyes of $125 million dollars worth of gritty CGI ninja turtles:
I guess all of that pizza was part of some kind of dirty bulk cycle, because those are some very ripped turtles. Note the attention to detail in the skin texture. When you’re making a movie about mutated turtles who are trained in martial arts by a rat, it’s essential to give the audience a sense of realism.
There are movies on this list that are so spectacularly bad that they turn into very watchable unintentional comedies. Somehow, this absurdly ill-advised hyper-realistic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is not one of them. I don’t know how this happened.
By all rights, this movie should be fun to laugh at. But it’s not. It’s just a bland superhero movie with really, really ugly turtles.
Man of Steel (2013)
Man of Steel is the first film in the DC Extended Universe. The DCEU is DC's effort to do what Marvel Studios did with its Marvel Cinematic Universe — namely, stick all of its beloved heroes in the same continuity. DC presumably did this because Marvel Studios was making gads of money with this strategy.
But what works for Marvel doesn't have to work for DC — and man, it has not. The only surprising thing about that is that more people didn’t see it coming. Prior to 2013, films featuring DC's two biggest characters — Superman and Batman — could hardly have been more different.
Superman's fun and uplifting films (like 1978's Superman: The Movie) were nothing like Batman's movies, which tended to be bizarre and dark (Batman Returns) or serious and, well, also dark (The Dark Knight).
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Batman had been making much more money for DC, which is probably why the DCEU has gone with green-tinted filters, moody lighting, and faded costume colors galore.
All of this makes for a Superman movie that feels genuinely depressing at times. Worst of all, the filmmakers decided to — spoiler alert — have Superman kill the bad guy in this movie, which is very explicitly a thing that Superman never does.
It’s genuinely hard to tell who a movie like this is for, other than for the most self-serious sort of Batman movie who might have accidentally wandered into Superman’s theater.
Suicide Squad (2016)
There's one good thing that you can say about Suicide Squad: It's a DC movie that doesn't act like it needs to be serious or realistic. But that's about all the good that you can say about it, because Suicide Squad remains as dark, dumb, and fundamentally antagonistic to joy as any of the DC murder-verse flicks.
The only thing that has changed is that the plot makes spectacularly little sense. Here is the premise of Suicide Squad: the government decides to create a task force comprising the most dangerously insane villains on the planet, to be used in high-risk missions when the government doesn't want to risk soldiers or FBI agents or other non-supervillians. Again, the government is bringing together a super-team of villains on purpose. That's the plot.
Which, again, should be fine. It’s just a fun, dumb movie. But DC had to go all DC on it, and suddenly you find yourself watching a torture scene in a movie that should be over-the-top silly, and you wonder if maybe it’s you, really, who are being tortured. In a way, you are.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)
“Oh,” you say, laughing, “I remember this! This was before Robert Downey Jr. starred in Iron Man, back when Marvel Studios was still churning out total jokes. Nicholas Cage as Ghost Rider! I can’t believe they ever made that movie.”
But no, you don’t understand. This is the second one. They made a second one.
Yes, you may have forgotten that there were two of these. Allow me to remind you: this is the film that made the first Ghost Rider “look like The Dark Knight,” according to one critic. But it isn’t all bad! This film did manage to indefinitely postpone the arrival of a third Ghost Rider film, and for that, at least, we should be grateful.
I saw Elektra on my family’s old tube TV (it was 2005, but my parents hate technology). We had rented the DVD. I remember nothing about it except that it felt like it was several hours long. I just looked it up, and it was only 97 minutes long!
I could watch it again for research purposes, but I refuse to do so until The Portalist institutes a hazard pay policy. So instead, please accept this line from Tim Robey’s very British review of Elektra in the UK’s Daily Telegraph:
Studio dross of the lowest grade.
Hmm, yes, quite.
Okay, let’s do it. Let’s talk about Catwoman and its impressive commitment to being as breathtakingly terrible as possible in every way imaginable.
In the comics, Catwoman’s real name is Selina Kyle. She has no superpowers, but she is an expert cat burglar of questionable ethics and unquestionable coolness.
Not in this movie, though! Meet the new Catwoman, whose name is Patience Phillips (really!) and who works for a cosmetics company (really!), at least until she accidentally finds out that the company is going to deliberately release products that melt people’s faces (WHY?), and the bad guys FLUSH HER DOWN A PIPE and she DIES, after which she is mysteriously brought back to life by a cat and gains cat-related superpowers.
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I cannot emphasize enough that this is really and truly the plot of Catwoman, a movie that cost $100,000,000 to make and starred Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry.
You can find Catwoman on the Wikipedia list page “List of films considered the worst,” where the movie is immortalized between Daniel–Der Zauberer (2004) and Sex Lives of the Potato Men (2004).
Batman V. Superman (2016)
If you were an alien who landed on Earth (no, you’re not Superman, I’m going a different direction with this) and you’d never heard of any of our superheroes, and I asked you to make this list, you might rank Elektra or Catwoman at number one.
But to those of us who are familiar with Earth culture, the stakes of a movie matter. And the stakes were never higher than with this film, which features arguably the top two superheroes of all time (in some order, and Spider-Man is great, too, and listen, let’s not do this right now). And boy, they blew it.
If you haven’t seen Batman V. Superman, then first of all: congratulations! Second of all, close up this article or else prepare for big spoilers. Here we go.
At the beginning of this movie, Lois Lane and a guy that you think maybe is Jimmy Olsen (he has red hair and a camera) are doing some investigative reporting in Africa.
The bad guys then shoot the redheaded dude through his camera, right in the face. “Oh,” you think, “jeez. Well, I guess that wasn’t Jimmy Olsen.” Only it was, and director Zack Snyder thought having him star in a quick snuff scene was a cool way to “have fun with him.” Zack, man, Jesus, no! It was not!
It doesn’t get much better from there. Lex Luthor is a young Mark Zuckerberg-type figure for some reason. Batman shoots guns a lot. Superman literally dies. He is not alone. A lot of people die in this movie. The only thing this movie has more of than murders is plot holes.
I have this movie so, so much. I hate it because it gave me the feeling that can only come with seeing your favorite superheroes in a total train wreck. But take heart, friends. Batman won Batman V. Superman, but it must be us who wins Batman V. Superman V. its own audience.
Hold onto your fandom. Keep the faith. Someday, it will be rewarded.
Featured still from "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" via Paramount Pictures.