Super-zeros: Film’s worst caped crusaders

So there’s this film coming out this weekend based on a superhero that perhaps no one has ever heard of. “Jonah Hex,” which is based on a western-themed DC comic from the 70s following a scarred, surly gunslinger, stars Josh Brolin as the eponymous bounty hunter, Megan Fox as a gold-hearted hooker and John Malkovich as the heavy. It is the latest in a long line of comic-to-film releases to make it to the big screen. It has been sent back for extensive reshoots, was not available to critics for a test screening, and has changed directors – all never good signs for a big summer blockbuster.
But seriously, how bad can it be?
For some perspective into the matter, I’ve slipped on the spandex, strapped on the utility belt and went in search for the most heinous superheroic crimes committed to the big screen. Herein, a list of super-duds that somehow managed to use their powers to convince studios to let them see the light of day.

10) Barb Wire (1996): When you set out to remake “Casablanca” (always a great idea, mind you), who’s the first name that comes to mind to star? Pamela Anderson, of course. Somewhere between “Baywatch,” and “Dancing with the Stars,” Anderson took time from her busy sex-tape-strewn life to star in this film based on the Dark Horse comic series.

9) The Phantom (1996): In the very same year, Billy Zane thought that donning purple leotards would be an awesome career move. He took over as the lead in the adaptation of the long-running comic strip that was to be the first in a trilogy. But after the $45 million film grossed barely one third of that in its entire run, “The Phantom” vanished.

8) Steel (1997): Perhaps the only film that could cause one to long for the days of “Kazaam!”, Shaquille O’Neal took on the role of John Henry Irons, a character who first appeared in the “Superman” comic books in 1993. Think of it as “Iron Man” without the budget…or wit… or acting…or plot…or humor.. or…

7) Judge Dredd (1995):Based on the long-running 1970s comic, this film serves to answer the question: Can there be a worse pairing of Rob Schneider and Jean-Claude Van Damme in “Knock Off”? The answer was in every frame the comic shared with Sylvester Stallone in this film from the waning days of his box office draw. “Dredd” did make money, thanks to the international popularity of its star, but in U.S. Audiences ruled against it, and sent it away for a long, long time.

6) Daredevil/ Electra (2003/2004): It was the blind leading the bland in this sight-challenged superheroes attempt at box office bona fides and it’s spin-off. The latter film was made bearable only for the vision of seeing Jennifer Garner in leather for a long stretch of time.

5) Catwoman (2004) And speaking of leather, no one looked better than Halle Berrry when she squeezed into the skintight suit for this movie mistake. Armed with feline abilities and a $100 million budget, none of these elements could keep this flick from the litterbox.

4) Sheena (1984): Tanya Roberts must have longed for her “Beastmaster” loincloth, as she once again took to the wild in this take on the Marvel Comics character. And while she may have powers to summons the beasts of the wild at her command, she could not do the same for filmgoers who neglected this one like a Detroit safari.

3) Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987): In this outing, Clark Kent’s newspaper “The Daily Planet” ran the headline “Is Superman Dead?” Yup. Almost everyone involved in this one has since admitted what a failure they knew it would be before its release. Even Christopher Reeve wrote a lengthy “apology” in his biography about this piece of kryptonite.

2) Meteor Man (1993): This may be a bit of a cheat on this list, since the comic and film were released simultaneously, but that did not make either suck any less. Director/star Robert Townsend, who managed to dry up any good will he had left over from his biting, hysterical “Hollywood Shuffle” just six years prior. Crashing along with this “Meteor” were costars Bill Cosby, Eddie Griffin, Luther Vandross, Don Cheadle and Big Daddy Kane.

1) The Spirit (2008): Will Eisner, perhaps one of the most influential cartoonists in the mainstream history of the medium, was perhaps best known for this series, which got its start in 1940, and has since survived its comic form through many different incarnations. Frank Miller, the “it boy”of comics to films of late (with both his “Sin City” and “300” making splashes on the big screen) decided he would be a great candidate to direct the live-action film based on Eisner’s work. I believe Roger Ebert summed up the result best when he said “to call the characters cardboard would be an insult to a useful packing material.”

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6 Comments

  1. In Sheena, the movie gold was found elsewhere in other aspects of the movie I have to say ;). The gal was rocking the body all day long in that movie like she never had before. Though whenever they play the movie on regular broadcast TV they edit heavily and the true essence of the movie is lost. 😀

    • Of couse, none compared to Sheena Easton’s ‘Sugar Walls.’

  2. Good call on JUDGE DREDD and THE SPIRIT – two films I had very high hopes for and were utterly ruined by their respective ego maniacs (Sly and F. Miller) who thought that they could do better with their own visions instead of following the already inherently cinematic comic book source material.

    • For Stallone, I think he may have thought that he was a bigger draw than his character, and I guess Miller fancied himself a director after helping Rodriguez in Sin City.

  3. To play devil’s advocate for “Barb Wire”, it was admittedly the last time Pam Anderson was hot, so that should count for something.

    Also, I shall defend “Superman IV” to my dying days! Although not as good as the other three, it was still enjoyable and it had a good heart to it. Watching the Superman films in order, I don’t really think the quality drops THAT far between the third and fourth, especially given that ALL the Superman films were never really high art to begin with.

    Also, “Judge Dredd” had a bad story, and it had the anti-Christ of comedy, Rob Schneider, but I still liked it. I certainly appreciated the Blade Runner-ish art decoration, and Arman Assante is always great to watch.

    About Jonah Hex, I never knew about this character until the “Batman: Brave and the Bold” cartoon series recently. To be fair, DC doesn’t really have anyone to ake movies about except Batman, Superman, and maybe Wonder Woman. Beyond that they’re scraping the bottom already. Their fault for being so stuck up through-out their history on making real and deep characters like Marvel did.

    • I’ll give you “Barb,” but I’ve always had an ironic “soft spot” for Pam, if only because she’s always seemed in on her own joke. Plus, she fights for some good causes.

      Superman IV? Never has a Roman numeral seemed so fitting, as the film felt as thought it was on an IV, gasping, straining for relevance, budget be damned.

      It’s curious, as I understand the whole “built-in audience” factor of remakes and comics-to-film, but at what point does it justify a major release? I mean, how many Jonah Hex fans have be vociferously pushing this?


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