The Hollywood studios have been making movies based on comic book superheroes since the Golden Age. For the most part, I’ll give a pass to the old 1940s serials and George Reeves on TV as Superman, considering these were primarily geared toward kids.
Still, it took Hollywood until the 21st century to actually figure out how to make a decent superhero movie. Starting with X-Men in 2000 (and bolstered by Spider-Man in 2002), Hollywood started to get it right. While they don’t make as many of the same mistakes they used to in the dark days of the 70s, 80s and 90s, they will occasionally stumble.
With this summer being a powerhouse season of superhero movies, featuring Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and The Dark Knight, we thought it would be fun to take a look back at earlier superhero movies and the biggest mistakes that Hollywood kept making over the years.
10. Overblown set design (e.g., Batman & Robin)
It’s one thing to strive to give a unique look to a film, and it’s also acceptable to emulate a comic book quality to the sets. However, when the film becomes more about the background than the characters, it becomes a problem.
9. Overblown special effects (e.g., Spider-Man 3 and Superman Returns)
Sure, digital effects have opened the world of superheroes to the silver screen like never before. They’ve also given filmmakers too much control. If the title character exists more often as a digital effect than an actor in a suit, it just won’t look right.
8. Fake rubber muscles (e.g., all the old Batman films)
I understand that it is more realistic for Batman to have body armor rather than gray spandex, but the bulky rubber suit was too much. And don’t get me started on the nipples!
7. Not-so-secret identities (e.g., Batman and Superman II)
What is the point of a secret identity for Batman if Alfred’s going to escort Vicki Vale into the Batcave? And why does Superman have to lose his powers just to get into Lois Lane’s pants? How can these heroes have secret identities for more than half a century in the comic books, but filmmakers want to blurt it out by the second act of a feature film?
6. Misplaced star power (e.g., Superman III)
Whose brilliant idea was it to wrap a Man of Steel story around Richard Pryor? And why was it necessary to get Marlon Brando to play Jor-El? Isn’t Superman enough of a name to get people’s attention?
5. Idiot directors (e.g., Joel Schumacher)
If Joel Schumacher is going to have a legacy, it will be how he drove the Batman franchise into the ground. Likewise, Tim Burton may have been too trendy to really make a perfect film. At least we’ve kept the films out of the hands of the likes of McG.
4. Unnecessary origin stories (e.g., Ang Lee’s Hulk, Superman and pretty much everything else)
I understand the need for an origin story for a lesser-known hero like the Punisher, or even Iron Man. But seriously, who doesn’t know how Spider-Man, Superman, Batman and the Hulk came about?
3. Penis envy (e.g., Batman Begins and Superman Returns)
I know it’s Hollywood, but bigger isn’t always better. Did Superman Returns deserve its reported $270 million budget to develop? And why did Batman Begins – a well-crafted character study of Bruce Wayne – have to climax with a train exploding in downtown Gotham?
2. Ignoring the comic book mythos (e.g., Catwoman and Batman & Robin)
Sometimes a change can be good when adapting to the big screen. The organic webbing for Spider-Man worked very well, and I’ll even admit that Doctor Doom in the Fantastic Four films was easier to digest than his complex story from the comics. But Catwoman can barely even be considered a comic book movie, and the treatment of Bane in Batman & Robin was a total travesty.
1. Too many villains (e.g., Batman Forever, Batman & Robin and Spider-Man 3)
Why can’t Hollywood understand that too many characters clutter a plot? The Joker was the only villain in Tim Burton’s Batman, but by the time Joel Schumacher got his hands on the franchise, there were too many villains and heroes to fit on the poster. Ditto goes to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, which really should have either been about Venom or the Sandman, but not both.