With the latest news that the seemingly cursed “The Flash” movie has been delayed a year (once again), and the future of the DCEU remains uncertain with the recent Discovery acquisition of WB, I figured it would be an appropriate time to take a look back at some of the more turbulent entries of DC movies past…
15. BATMAN FOREVER (1995)
While I enjoyed this movie as a kid (it was the first comic book movie I saw in theaters), “Batman Forever” was a pretty sharp turn into camp following Tim Burton’s dark and twisted take on Gotham in ‘Batman Returns’. While it tries to be a sequel in the same franchise, it really feels more like a soft reboot.
Everything about this one feels like an overcorrection from the tone of the previous movies. The city gets a downgrade, the Batmobile glows in the dark, Batman cracks jokes, Commisioner Gordon is useless, the plot makes no sense, and the movie ultimately feels more like a cartoon than the animated series (which is *still* great by the way). While it does have it’s redeeming qualities – like an updated origin story for Robin, some fun (if baffling) riddles from “The Riddler” (Jim Carrey in spandex), and a few cool visual effects and sequences, it still falls short of the bar set by the original ’89 Batman.
Val Kilmer does a fine job as Batman, but his Bruce Wayne is somewhat stiff, which might be because he’s paired against 90’s Jim Carrey at the height of his goofyness. And for some confounding reason Billie Dee Williams’s Harvey Dent was recast as Tommy Lee Jones’s “Two-Face”, in a misguided performance that’s more reminiscent of a bargain bin version of Jack Nicholson’s Joker!
It’s a fun turn your brain off action movie, but it’s not a good Batman movie.
14. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
Full disclosure: I loved this movie when it first came out, and that’s for two reasons: it was the end of Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight still totally hold up ya’ll), and Tom Hardy’s Bane is perhaps one of the best comic book movie villains of all time. That said, this one kinda dropped the ball.
Don’t get me wrong, “The Dark Knight Rises” has some major redeeming qualities (mostly Bane), but it also barely works as a Batman movie. It’s nearly 3 hours, Bruce suits up as Batman for less than 10 minutes of screen time, and the movie’s pacing dies about halfway through. And even though Anne Hathaway does a solid job as Catwoman, her character feels kinda wasted. It also doesn’t help that the last 5 minutes of the ending felt like producer notes after a poor test screening.
While I like a lot of the concepts that Nolan was going for with this one, even as a huge fan of his movies, I have to admit that he didn’t quite stick the landing. (Once again though, everything about Tom Hardy as Bane was awesome.)
13. SUICIDE SQUAD (2016)
It’s no secret that the DCEU got off to a rocky start in their desperate attempt to catch up to the MCU’s unprecedented success, and a big part of that negative perception was thanks to this movie, following on the heels of the equally divisive ‘Batman v Superman’ (more on that later). 2016’s “Suicide Squad” directed by David Ayer (not to be confused with it’s incredible sequel, “The Suicide Squad”) stars Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Will Smith as Deadshot (not to be confused with Edris Elba’s Blood Sport), Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang, and a dozen other C-list characters barely worth mentioning. (Katana was awesome, but was barely in the movie.)
This one is widely considered to be a mess, and it’s difficult to pin down exactly what went wrong, but at times it does feel like a very rough edit of what could have been a really cool movie. The rumor is that after the unparalleled success of “Guardians of the Galaxy”, the producers at WB decided to change the tone and style of this one in post-production.
However, by far it’s biggest flaw was putting The Joker in this one without making him the surprise main villain! I didn’t hate Jared Leto’s radically different take on the Clown Prince of Crime, but he honestly didn’t get enough screentime to really shine. Speaking of, the two best scenes of the movie feature Ben Affleck’s Batman, who was also criminally underused in these movies. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn of course steals the show and has gone on to become one of the best characters in the DCEU thanks to “Birds of Prey” and James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad”.
And while I can enjoy this movie for what it is, it’s not good… (still, it does have one of the best movie trailers ever edited, thanks in part to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody)
12. GREEN LANTERN (2011)
I don’t think it’s controversial to say that the 2011 “Green Lantern” movie starring Ryan Reynolds was… not great. As a fan of Geoff Johns’s Green Lantern comics, I had a lot of conflicted feelings about this one. While it was kinda cool to see characters like Hal Jordan, Killowag, Sinestro, and Parallax brought to life, the movie around them wasn’t what it could have been, what it should have been. And at least they were true to the mythos with the whole willpower can overcome fear metaphor.
In some ways this is still a fun, run of the mill, superhero origin story, but its also loaded down with heavy exposition dumps, poorly explained lore through awkwardly delivered dialogue, odd comedic choices, distractingly bad special effects, and some of the worst on-screen uses of a super power. And it’s all so baffling when you consider that it was directed by Martin Campbell who gave us two of the best Bond movies ever: “Goldeneye” *and* “Casino Royale”! That said, Ryan Reynolds absolutely delivers, whether the script deserves him or not, and perhaps this was a blessing in disguise, because in a way it led to us getting the best possible version of a “Deadpool” movie!
If you do decide to give this one a watch, I highly recommend the extended cut, because even though it’s longer, it does include some good character moments that were cut from the theatrical version. And hopefully they can finally get it right once and for all with the all new live-action Green Lantern Corps series coming to HBO Max! But in the meantime, if you want to watch a good Green Lantern animated movie, check out “Emerald Knights”.
11. SUPERMAN RETURNS (2005)
Ah yes, another superhero movie that I loved the first few times I saw it, but with every subsequent rewatch that followed, it became clear that this one really missed the mark. “Superman Returns” isn’t nearly as bad as some of the other Superman sequels (as we’ll get to soon enough), but it was a misguided attempt to recapture the spirit and magic of the 70’s Christopher Reeve classic, in a post-911 world.
Directed by Bryan Singer (of X-Men fame), this one featured Brandon Routh as Clark Kent / Kal-El and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor (both great casting choices, despite some more recent controversies concerning the later). It had a lot of potential, but unfortunately despite some great looking sequences, the story just falls flat by the end, especially the subplot about Superman’s baby mama drama. It could have used an appearance by Metallo or Parasite, or just anything at all for Superman to punch. Instead, the climax of the movie is Superman flying a giant kryptonite chunk into orbit, somehow…?
That said, the main reason this one doesn’t hold up to scrutiny looking back is that it commits one of the worst sins a comic book movie can make: it’s kinda boring. At least Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” finally put the action back in Action Comics.
10. BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE – Theatrical Cut (2016)
Speaking of Zack Snyder, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” – the sequel to “Man of Steel” (see my Top 15 list) ended up being the low point of Snyder’s trilogy, and quickly became synonymous for everything ‘wrong’ with the DCEU. While the 3-hour director’s cut was an improvement, there’s no denying that it’s still a convoluted mess.
I wrote extensively about my in-depth thoughts about BvS in Part 2 of my Snyder DC Trilogy series, but to try and sum it up: it’s a train wreck of a movie with some really awesome moments spread out between some really disjointed scenes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck are both amazing as Superman and Batman.
BvS took what should have been a fun fast-paced popcorn movie, and instead gave us a dark, cynical, and edgy take that divided the fanbase. I spent a lot of time early on defending this movie, because even though “Dawn of Justice” didn’t live up to it’s potential, and it was drastically uneven, with too much crammed into one movie, there were still some truly great action sequences in it (especially the fight at the end between Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Doomsday), but in subsequent re-watches, it really pales in comparison to all the DC movies that have come since, except for the next one on the list…
9. JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017 – *Joss Whedon Theatrical Cut specifically*)
The version of “Justice League” that was (somehow) released in theaters in 2017 felt like an unfinished film with a bad paint job, and that’s because it was. After filming most of the movie, Zack Snyder was forced to step away from the project after suffering a heartbreaking personal tragedy. Unfortunately, instead of pushing the date back and taking their time to get the movie right, they brought in Joss Whedon (who has a very different and distinct style from Snyder) to put his lighter, campier spin on it, and rush it out before the CG was even finished rendering!
The result was a hollow frankenstiened edit that (as we would come to learn later) completely changed the tone, style, dialogue, story, and character arcs that Snyder had so painstakingly orchestrated. But the worst part is that Whedon nerfed nearly every character, sacrificed pathos for jokey one liners, and practically cut Cyborg’s entire storyline from the movie – which turned out to be one of the best aspects of the Snyder Cut!
Of course at the time, we had no idea that we would eventually get Zack Snyder’s Justice League in 2021, and many of us were blown away by just how good it was, considering just how bad this version is! Seriously, I get angry every time I think about this one. It’s no wonder that so many fans have had a hard time trusting WB ever since this debacle.
8. JONAH HEX (2010)
Right away, Jonah Hex is a tough character to pull off. Josh Brolin (Thanos, Cable, etc) does what he can with the script, but it’s not at all what it could have been, should have been.
Their first mistake was not making it a hard R, their second mistake was approaching it like a typical popcorn summer movie, and their fatal error was going half ass on the character’s fucked up face. If you’re going to do Jonah Hex, it should feel like a Clint Eastwood movie with Mortal Kombat levels of violence.
Maybe one day…
7. SUPERGIRL (1984)
While CW’s Supergirl series starring Melissa Benoist had a rocky start, but got significantly better with every season, the original “Supergirl” movie starring Helen Slater is… just not good.
Instead of taking on any number of actual supervillains from her rogue’s gallery in the comics, this version of Kara Zor-El faces off against… a witch?!
On one hand, it’s awesome that they at least *tried* to make a female led superhero movie so early on, on the otherhand, they didn’t try hard enough. For whatever bullshit patriarchy reason, until more recently filmmakers tended to treat strong female leads like second hand knockoffs, like “Elektra” or “Catwoman” (stay tuned). We unfortunately didn’t really get a legit *good* female-led solo superhero movie until Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman movie in 2017 (which was really good btw).
Actually, the less said about this one, the better…
6. THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING (1989)
Unlike the charming, low-budget 1982 Wes Craven B-movie classic (Swamp Thing), the sequel, “The Return of Swamp Thing” was a forgettable, cheap, cash grab that didn’t age well at all. Not really much to say about this one, it’s pretty unwatchable. That said, at least it wasn’t aggressively bad like the last 5 entries on the list…
5. SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987)
“Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” is without a doubt one of the worst superhero movies ever made, and it’s just unfortunate that it was also Christopher Reeve’s last time in the cape. When I was a kid, I loved the first two Superman movies and remember seeing the VHS cover for this one at Hollywood Video – the poster was captivating: Superman flying out of a nuclear missile silo with a warhead in tow and the tagline: “Nuclear Power. In the best hands, it is dangerous. In the hands of Lex Luthor, it is pure evil. This is Superman’s greatest battle. And it is for all of us.” Suffice it to say, the movie did not deliver on the whole ‘greatest battle’ promise.
This is one of the shlockiest, low-budget, big name superhero movies ever made. The special effects are laughable, the fight scenes are hilarious, and I’m pretty sure you can see the strings as Superman flies. While the basic premise of Superman wanting to single-handedly de-escalate the Cold War was an inspired one, Lex Luthor’s latest revenge scheme against Superman is utter nonsense. The main villain is an evil clone of Kal-El called “The Nuclear Man” whose basically just Bizarro channeling Dolph Lundgren in a disco outfit. This movie has it all: a cheesy slow motion fight on the moon, Lex Luthor’s aggressively 80’s teenage nephew, and Superman’s most random new power yet: repair-the-Great-Wall-of-China-vision!
It was the last Superman movie for nearly 20 years, but it’s still not the worst one on the list…
4. CATWOMAN (2004)
Oh man, where to start…
Catwoman is an iconic character who first appeared in 1940’s Batman #1 (the very same issue that also introduced The Joker), and in that time we’ve had a lot of different on screen interpretations of the character. From the campy 60’s Batman series with the likes of Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Meriwether to the darker, more modern Batman films where she’s been portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer (Batman Returns), Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises), and more recently, Zoë Kravitz (in this year’s “The Batman”). While the best Catwoman is still up for debate, most people agree that Halle Berry’s iteration is by far the worst.
“Catwoman” is a terrible movie, but Halle Berry’s performance is only partly to blame. It’s got a nonsense script, chock full of wooden characters, a poorly thought out plot, and cheesy dialogue to boot. All of which is only made worse when you learn that originally there were plans to bring Michelle Pfeiffer back as Selina Kyle in her own solo film (following the tease at the end of Batman Returns) – which was all scrapped to make way for this disappointing snooze fest that barely resembled the source material.
3. STEEL (1997)
Ok so I love Shaquille O’Neal, he’s a charming dude, and an amazing athlete, but unfortunately acting is not his calling. “Steel” is a dumpster fire. While it’s easy to lay the blame on Shaq for this trainwreck, it’s worth pointing out that this project was doomed from the beggening. A low-budget take on a lesser known Superman sidekick, without the Superman connections?
That’s not to say that Steel himself isn’t a great character, in the 90’s John Henry Irons was one of the coolest new DC characters in the wake of the Death of Superman storyline, and as a kid, I would have been all for a movie, but… not like this… not like this…
Even if they had the money, this was 1997 – a full 11 years before “Iron Man”, so I’m not sure they could have effectively pulled off the effects for a guy in a metal suit without making it look ridiculous, but holy shit, they really double downed on that shinny foam rubber suit. (There’s a reason he’s not wearing the mask on the poster.) It’s unfortunate too because if it was good, Steel could have really pushed African American superheroes ahead a few years earlier, but at least we got Wesley Snipes in “Blade” 2 years later…
2. SUPERMAN III (1983)
You know, it’s really unfortunate that so many of the movies on this list just so happen to have Superman in the title. And that’s not me being biased, I’m actually a pretty huge Superman fan (and have the tattoo to prove it), but it just so happens that the granddaddy of all superheroes also has some of the absolute worst superhero sequels ever.
While “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” was just plain bad, “Superman III” is straight up insulting to comic book fans, movie fans, and especially comic book movie fans! It’s horrendous, and that feels like an understatement. This should have been great, this was the follow up to Superman II where he had to fight General Zod! This should have been a Superman vs Brainiac movie! Instead we get a bargain bin Lex Luthor with an evil plot involving a weather machines, coffee imports, and Richard Pryor…
It would be one thing if it was just the bad special effects, weird acting choices, ridiculous plot, and terrible pacing – while yes, it does have all those things, and more, but the real reason this movie doesn’t work as a Superman movie, or even a movie for that matter is because the entire movie revolves around Richard Pryor’a character… who is basically just Richard Pryor, doing a standup routine about computers or something. Don’t get me wrong, Richard Pryor is a comedy legend, but the entire movie feels like it would have been better as a 3-minute SNL skit and not a feature length film.
Oh and did I mention that there’s a synthetic version of Kryptonite laced with nicotine that turns Superman into a drunk asshole? Because that’s a thing that happens in this movie.
So yeah, Superman III is definitely a candidate for one of the worst superhero movies ever made, but it’s *still* nowhere near as bad as the final one on the list…
1. BATMAN & ROBIN (1997)
It’s hard to imagine a better example of a franchise going completely off the rails before crashing and burning into a fiery heap of garbage. Sure you’ve got “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation”, “Attack of the Clones”, and “Die Another Day”, (all of which we’ve also covered on Podcasters Assemble), but none of them are quite as offensive as “Batman & Robin”.
It’s hard to explain just how bad this movie is without just experiencing it for yourself (preferably with a bottle of hard liquor). Every step of the way, nearly every decision in the making of this movie was a mistake: from the baffling casting, to the terrible acting, to the most ham-fisted, pun-filled dialogue, to some of the crappiest special effects of the 90’s! This dumpster fire is the result of producers doubling down on everything that went wrong with ‘Batman Forever’ and just seeing it as an opportunity to sell more toys.
In my book, this isn’t just the worst Batman movie, it’s not only the worst DC movie (which it most certainly is), this is by far one of the worst superhero movies ever made! I could go on and on about Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, the worst Batmobile ever made, and the single dumbest moment in comic book movie history (the bat credit card *shudders*), but we kinda already did that on the latest season of Podcasters Assemble! (listen to us tear it a new one here!)