?We don’t need to tell you guys that comic book movies are big business. They’re consistently top grossers, inspire people to read comics, and have a definite impact on pop culture. Even little books with low public awareness get made into big budget films (Whiteout, 30 Days of Night, American Splendor) and people eat them up. Where would we be without The Dark Knight? I wouldn’t want to live in that world.
Personally, I tag the resurgence of comic book films with the first X-Men movie, which, while clunky in dialogue, plot, and acting, opened the door for pretty much everything that’s come afterwards. But before then, there were… other films. The comic book movies that were only seen by a select few. Some were made just for TV, some went straight to video, and many of them nowadays can only be found from bootleggers. Films that were terrible, and don’t especially deserve to be remembered today. These films.
Oh, for the record, Roger Corman’s legendarily awful 1994 Fantastic Four atrocity isn’t included, because it was never actually legitimately released. So I didn’t forget. It’s just there are more than enough awful, forgotten comic books movie that actually made it to theaters, TVs and video shelves.
10) The Punisher
Other than his origin and his name, this 1989 Dolph Lundgren star vehicle had little to do with the Marvel comic. No skull shirt means… well, it’s just Dolph Lungren with a gun and extremely tight leather pants. It’s been panned by nearly everyone for laughable dialogue and went straight to video in the U.S. But, it’s one of the higher-profile Lundgren films, and it contains some action if you’re into that kind of thing. For completionists only, Punisher fans are better served with the 2004 and 2008 reboots.
9) Generation X
Coming in the mid-’90s “anything with tons of flashy action in it must be cool” comic boom, Generation X provided action but failed to be cool. Arriving in 1996, roughly a year and a half after the Generation X comic series debuted (which makes you wonder how much planning went into it, since there was virtually no existing content to base it on), this tale of teen mutants perfectly summed up ’90s comics: dark with goofy splashes of color. White Queen and Banshee were there, as well as a white Jubilee, Mondo, Skin and M, but so were new characters “Buff” and “Refrax,” which sound like Power Rangers villains. The only high point was villain Matthew Frewer because, damn, that guy makes anything crazy.
8) Captain America
With a plot that was later stolen for the Mel Gibson film Forever Young, the 1990 Captain America movie was not very good. Cap, played by Matthew Salinger (J.D. Salinger’s son, and Revenge of the Nerds alum) stayed out of costume for most of the film, hanging out with the likes of Ned Beatty. The Red Skull appears in about one minute of film, before exiting the film to have plastic surgery so we didn’t have to look at the awful rubber mask for the entire hour and a half. Plus Cap decapitates a woman, pushes the Red Skull off a cliff, and pretends to be sick a whole lot so he can steal cars. Aaaaand his costume had rubber ears. Ha ha.
7) The Other Captain America
When I was a kid I heard about a Captain America movie starring Christopher Lee as the bad guy, and I flipped my shit (kids love Christopher Lee). Then I saw the box cover and Cap in his motorcycle helmet and all interest I had in the film disappeared. It’s actually two made-for-TV action movies from the late ’70s, both of which owe more to Evel Knievel than to Simon and Kirby. Space Mutiny’s Reb Brown plays Cap, which works kind of well since Reb’s a good-natured, dopey white guy with a bunch of muscles. His costume, though, had red and white suspenders and the shield was transparent so he could use it as a windshield for his motorcycle. It was all-around bad.
Did anyone watch this? Was it released in theaters, or premiere on TV, or just slouch onto DVD back in ’05? I first learned of it by walking through a Blockbuster Video and seeing the lone DVD for it. I still haven’t seen it, but I read the plot and it seems to be Swamp Thing + Native American bullshit. Maybe if they had advertised it as “Giant-Size” it would have done better. Ugh, that joke is so lame, but it has to be said every time you mention “Man-Thing.” Seriously, it’s like cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving dinner: it’s always there, despite your family never finishing the whole thing.
5) The Spirit
No, not the Frank Miller nonsense — I’m pretty sure few comic fans have forgotten that one (yet). In this 1987 TV movie, Flash Gordon’s Sam J. Jones wore the domino mask 21 years before Frank Miller put it on Gabriel Macht. In what basically amounted to a 74-minute pilot for a TV show, the Spirit mythos is brought to life, in a sense. In fact, if you’re comparing to the original Eisner comics, this version is truer; Ebony White is in it, and the villain is P’Gell, rather than the Octopus (who we’re never supposed to see, dammit). But while it had dames and action aplenty, there was no way it could escape the void of ’80s production values, and this Spirit got buried.
4) Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D
Yeah, this came from the mind of The Dark Knight screenwriter David Goyer in 1998. And it starred David Hasselhoff and Lisa Rinna before he was filmed eating a hamburger on the floor of his closet and before she had her lips removed and replaced with Swedish fish. All the classic elements are there, from HYDRA to Baron Strucker, from the Howling Commandos to the Strucker siblings. But sitting through two hours of Hasselhoff was more than most could handle, and this one also got shipped to the $1.99 DVD bucket at Wal-Mart.
The tagline of this 1984 masterfail was “She alone has the power to save paradise.” Alas, she didn’t do anything to save any of the $25,000,000 that was flushed down the toilet to make this load of dung. Booby-licious Tanya Roberts (less booby-licious on That ’70s Show, but still fairly booby-licious) starred as the jungle girl title character but failed to draw any interest from comic fans, movie fans, or fans of movies about jungle animals. In a telling move, Sheena can be found on a combo DVD pack with Princess Cariboo.
If you’re looking for a flesh-tacular double feature with Sheena, you can’t go wrong with the direct-to-video 1996 Vampirella feature. Well, you can, because Vampirella also got savagely torn apart by critics, but for the skin value alone, you can’t go wrong. We can lay the blame on two Rogers for this failure, Rogers Corman and Daltrey. Corman exec produced (and if you don’t know Corman’s track record, I suggest you look it up right now), and Daltrey was the king of the vampires. He’s never been known for taking strong roles, but king of the vampires? Really, Roger? You thought you could pull that off?
1) Dr. Strange
And once again, the ’70s failed to produce a television series based on a movie-long pilot. Dr. Strange, as I am often told, held the attention of kids in the ’60s and ’70s because they were doing dope and the stories got extra awesome then. ’70s live-action drama TV wasn’t conducive to dope, although you could make a case that H.R. Pufnstuf was a drama. Strange, played by white-guy-afro-sporting Peter Hooten, faced off against Morgan Le Fay, played by long-before-she-was-awesome-on-Arrested-Development-and-Archer Jessica Walter. Costumes were silly, magic was silly, and Dr. Strange was a psychiatrist. Thank you, America, for saying no to this pitch for a series.