Worst. Superhero Movie. Ever.
I watched 16 of the worst superhero movies for this article. And to really rub salt in the wound, I volunteered. Don’t worry — I didn’t watch them all at once. Some of these I watched when they first came out, and they are so bad, I only need a five minute clip for traumatic flashbacks. Why would I do this? In part because I love my superhero movies almost as much as I love superhero comics. Even the bad ones can still capture something from the canon material — enough to work through the pain and find some pleasure. But there are some absolute flaming train wrecks filled with shit and then shaped into the worst superhero movies ever. I mean, steaming piles of shit. You know I’m right. And now that I have catalogued the worst of the worst here, I’m saving you the pain of watching them yourself. Consider this my civil service. Unless you’re into bad superhero movies. Then here’s your dream list. #NoKinkShaming
You may ask, “How did you choose the worst of the worst superhero movies?” Well, beyond plucking my eyeballs out of my head to throw at the screen, I applied a rather objective process with criteria to rate said movies.
- Did you even read the source material?
- The Soul of a Character
- The Weight of a Villain
Before we jump into the list, let me just point out that a superhero movie does not have to be based on a comic book. There are many superheroes out there who never originated in comics. Superheroes can be found in computer games and general literary fiction as well. However, the most recent generation of superhero movies have tended to spawn from comics, thanks to accessible canon and ease of transferring to the big screen — or so you would think. Let’s have a look at the ones that…didn’t.
A Super Bad Movie
The original Superman movie is an absolute classic. But the dude should have stopped at Superman III. That was bad enough. Superman IV is so much worse. Luthor clones Superman from a single hair strand to create Nuclear Man. At the same time, Supes is desperate to show the world how cool it is to be peaceful. Reeves looks tired, the script sounds tired, and as for the bad guy, I don’t even know what was happening with him. It’s just really uncomfortable to watch, highlighting a certain monotonous disinterest with Superman for years to come.
I’m also not a fan of Superman Returns or Man of Steel, feeling like the storylines dragged in these as well. However, their saving grace comes from leading actors, both of whom gave their best with scripts that never really touched on the canon of the comics or the spirit of the character.
Bat Shit Films
Batman is one of the favourites in Hollywood. He’s like a never-ending cash machine, and the fans love it — except for Batman & Robin (1997). Nobody wants to talk about that one. It starts with the nipple suits. How can you call yourself the Dark Knight with your headlights set to the high beam? The biggest disappointment comes from Batgirl and the complete do-over of her history. It wasn’t even enjoyable to rewatch as a joke.
Honourable mentions for The Batman (2022) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). I fell asleep during The Batman; it dragged. Like a face on the bitumen. DoJ was haphazard, feeling like a music video piecing together a bunch of memes with a star cameo that was reduced to a male-gaze camera shot up her skirt. Just ick.
So Bad, They Screwed It Up Twice
This one is a double-hitter because Fox Studios tried to make the Dark Phoenix Saga twice and made two movies that both qualify for Worst Superhero Movie Ever. X-Men: Last Stand (2006) was the third in the X-Men movie series. A “cure” for mutations is created, and opens the debate on whether mutants need to be “cured.” It should be a great opportunity to talk about the autonomy of mutants as part of their self-determination and access to basic rights. But instead, they bring in two old white guys fighting over the new-and-improved Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix. It wasn’t enough to ignore any character development with the rest of cast; they had to go and mess with the “special star” as well.
Rebooting the X-Men movie series gave Dark Phoenix (2019) the opportunity to fix X3’s legacy. It was only marginally better, in part because it finally gave Jean Grey some agency over her story by the end of the film. It was simply a long slog to reach that moment, and by then, it was a little anti-climatic. While Jean spends most of the film fighting against those trying to contain her, the movie could really have done with a bit of release itself. This is one of the most powerful mutants in one of the most iconic story arcs, and it feels like you reduced it to two guys fighting over a girl. Again.
Super Mario Nightmares
I actually don’t mind Super Mario Bros (1993). Oh, it’s bad. Like, really bad. Lead actors Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo would get drunk before filming each day and continue to drink between takes. Personally, I think that may help with watching it as well. However, I’m not sure it would have helped with the Goombas. Somehow, despite the horrifying make-up, the movie has hit cult status. Thirty years later, The Super Mario Bros Movie might be able to finally shake off the bad rep of its predecessor. I’d settle for a movie that doesn’t make my skin crawl.
Did Supergirl Do It Better?
Speaking of drinking movies, Supergirl (1984) definitely looks like the entire cast is drinking throughout the film. Kara travels from Argo City through Inner Space to Earth to retrieve the Omegahedron and save her home. Helen Slater is unfortunately quite forgettable as Supergirl/Kara, overshadowed by Faye Dunaway embracing her New-Age horny witch and Peter O’Toole embracing his drunk uncle figure. I loved this film as a kid, especially since it was the first superhero film featuring a female main character. Am I sharing it with my 9-year-old daughter? Nope. Rewatching it recently, I realised how demeaning the dialogue was towards the female characters and the need for consent. Like a cheap knock-off wine, it has not aged well.
The Ghost Who Walks Right Out of the Cinema
Do you even know about The Phantom (1996)? Don’t fret, not many people do. Despite casting some big stars from the 1990s (Billy Zane, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kristy Swanson), the movie simply sank into the shadows. The storyline is set in the 1920s, and the choreography seems stuck there too. While Zane looks like he is having fun on set, he is let down by the scriptwriting and horribly outdated puns. The movie, unfortunately, rests on racist and sexist stereotypes, whilst simultaneously calling itself nostalgic and good ol’fashion fun.
Nothing Fantastic About This
The Fantastic Four are Marvel’s First Family. They are supposed to be the cream of the crop, with powerful super-enhancements, volatile family dynamics, and one of the best super-villains in the history of villainy (a hill I am willing to die on). The first two movies were quirky, but not terrible. They were at least fun to watch, even if they weren’t consistent. Maybe that gave false hope to Fox Studios and the attempted reboot with Fantastic Four (2015). Just because you slapped a 4 on the poster does not mean you can start printing money. While most of the casting criticism came from racist fanboys, trailers soon showed a story lacking in any charisma despite the efforts of the stars. By the time the movie released in cinemas, nobody wanted to see it. There was absolutely no appeal or entertainment felt in any of the promotion. Essentially, all the hope was sucked out of the movie itself. This is possibly the most boring movie ever, which is NOT what you want from a superhero movie.
Elektra: All About the Money
Daredevil (2003) was not a great film. It doesn’t qualify as Worst Superhero Movie Ever, but it definitely did not deserve a sequel. Yet, a sequel/spin-off was made. Jennifer Garner tried to make the most of it. She really did. Fresh from her Alias days, Garner puts some serious effort into her fight scenes — not that you can tell with the constant “slow down” effect with camera work. The movie is further weighed down by dry heavy dialogue and repetitive flashbacks that pull away from the characters. The only good thing about Elektra (2005) is that it was so bad, Fox finally gave up on the entire Daredevil/Elektra franchise and released the rights to both characters back to Marvel. Without this train wreck, we would never have had Netflix’s Daredevil series.
DC Team-Ups are the Worst
I won a Blu-Ray copy of Suicide Squad (2016) in a competition, and it’s not even worth using the disc as a coaster. There was a spark of joy with the casting, or at least with Margot Robbie. All of that went flying out the window with the lack of story, the haphazard filming, and the complete and utter mess that was Jared Leto’s Joker. Or maybe just Jared Leto. I am stunned they still went ahead with The Suicide Squad (2021), but if we’re being honest with ourselves, we all know Robbie is the true hero of this story. Without Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), there would never have been any faith in making a sequel to Suicide Squad.
Arguably, Suicide Squad isn’t the worst of the DC movies. That honour can be shared with Justice League (2017). While it could be given a hall pass due to the tragic interruption during the making of the movie, it’s not like the original material was stellar to begin with. If Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice was Snyder’s starting point, then maybe Warner Bros needs to revisit the comic books and consider what makes a superhero (hint: It’s not the CGI).
Not Even My Kids Could Stomach This
A final special mention goes to The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (2005). This film has become the benchmark for Worst Superhero Movie Ever in our house. I don’t even remember when we initially watched it on TV, but I do remember our then 3-year-old and 6-year-old sons asking us to turn the TV off. In their words, “This is so bad, the TV needs a time-out.” The initial concept is sweet: Max escapes his bullied reality by creating superheroes Lavagirl and Sharkboy. Then the characters come to life, in need of Max’s help to save their own world. It then becomes too sweet, sugarcoating the emotional impact of the storyline and making the characters shallow 2D copies of themselves — which is ironic, considering how much push this had for 3D viewing in cinemas. The movie is so dependent on the 3D SFX, every motivational speech feels tacked on with toffee. The characters attained some level of redemption, with Lavagirl’s cameo in We Can Be Heroes (2020) — another sweet kids’ film, with marginally more substance than its predecessor.
This is in no way a definitive list, though they are definitely some of the worst superhero movies ever. What’s really frustrating about this list is the repetition of why the movies are so bad. So many superhero storylines have multiple attempts at making them into good movies, only to result in the same mistakes over and over again. It’s almost like movie producers are only interested in quick formulas for the same money reward. If you really want to be a moneymaker, take a step away from the standard superhero adaptations and have a good look at your source material. There are so many fantastic creators out there with fresh ideas to blow your mind. Check out Caitlin’s list of suggestions here. And to see what makes a good comic book adaptation, read about Nicola Scott and Tom Taylor’s ideas here.
List of Worst Superhero Movies Ever
- Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
- Superman Returns
- Man of Steel
- Batman & Robin
- The Batman
- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
- X-Men: Last Stand (X3)
- Dark Phoenix
- Super Mario Bros
- The Phantom
- Fantastic Four
- Suicide Squad
- Justice League
- The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl