While there’s news going around that Marvel comic books are selling at a current low, Marvel isn’t exactly hurting for money. Marvel is hardly just a comic book publisher these days. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is one of the single biggest things in the world right now. It is not just one of the biggest film franchises, but one of the biggest “anythings.” Marvel could make a Great Lakes Avengers movie right now and it will probably make at least half of a billion dollars. Marvel could make a Netflix series about Mary Jane before she ever met Peter Parker and it would be a major success. Everything they touch is gold. Unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case.
Marvel has traveled a long hard road to get where they are today. There have been a lot of hits and misses spanning almost fifty years of adapting their properties to different media. You probably remember the 1990s X-Men cartoon, but how about the 1980s X-Men cartoon? Did you know there was a live-action Spider-Man TV show? Did you know David Hasselhoff played Nick Fury and that Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is the second attempt at a live-action SHIELD series?
There is a good lesson to be learned here. You don’t find success without a few failures. Keep reading and have a gander at some of Marvel’s major misses on their journey to becoming a powerhouse on the screen.
15. Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD (1998)
FOX and Marvel had a pretty strong relationship in the ’90s. FOX made a number of successful animated shows based on Marvel’s properties such as X-Men and Spider-Man. It seemed like a good idea to venture into live-action using some of these characters. Effects at that time, especially in television, weren’t amazing. Anything that was less focused on incredible super-powers would probably be easier to adapt. This might be why FOX went with Nick Fury. At the time Fury was not a house hold name. That would come after the success of the MCU and Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of the character.
Unfortunately, this pilot movie didn’t see a series. Fury was too obscure at the time and the pilot was, well, pretty bad. Of course, it didn’t have several box office hits to set it up for the success it currently experiences with the popular main character Phil Coulson. Our current SHIELD series probably would have suffered the same fate had it not been for the MCU.
14. Generation X (1996)
Imagine you’re FOX. You’ve had some major success with the X-Men animated series. You took a gamble on The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and they blew up. What to do next? You kill two birds with one stone. You make a pilot for a live-action X-Men series that features a crew of hip teenagers. Seems like a recipe for success.
Everything about this series worked on paper. Jeremy Ratchford played Banshee in both the pilot and the animated series. Finola Hughes was a great White Queen. Heather McComb didn’t quite capture Jubilee but she looked the part. The building they used as the X-Mansion ended up being the X-Mansion in all the future films – so locations were on point. They even had an actor like Matt Frewer playing the villain. Unfortunately, the final product just didn’t work.
13. Dr. Strange (1978)
After the success of the live-action Incredible Hulk series that ran in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Marvel tried to push pilots for a number of live-action series. One of these series was Dr. Strange.
In those days, Marvel didn’t wield the cinematic power they do now. They couldn’t dip into their deep library and make a surefire hit as easily as they can these days. While Marvel has always had a degree of success in animation throughout the decades, live-action was another story.
The Dr. Strange pilot might be one of the worst of Marvel’s live-action attempts that wasn’t The Incredible Hulk (prior to the MCU of course). Not only was the pilot itself just bad, but it wasn’t really in keeping with the type of programming that was popular at the time.
12. The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988)
You’ve probably been seeing a lot more of this TV-movie since the Thor: Ragnarok trailer dropped. The soon-to-be-released film features Chris Hemsworth’s Thor going up against Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk in a battle arena.
At the beginning of the series, Banner has been working under a false identity on a gamma related project that should cure him of becoming the Hulk. In fact, Banner has kept his “condition” at bay for two years. This series used the old Donald Blake/Thor identity, however, instead of turning into Thor, Thor is forced to serve Blake. Blake realizes who Banner is and calls in Thor to destroy Banner’s work, just to see Banner transform. What. A. Dick.
The series was supposed to be a pilot for a Thor series. The ratings were actually pretty great, but viewers seemed to like it more as a reunion vehicle for The Incredible Hulk series. This iteration of Thor, which even lacked the “worthiness” enchantment on the hammer, just didn’t seem to respond with viewers.
11. Captain America (1990)
The original 1990 Captain America movie isn’t just a bad Marvel flick, but it could be a solid contender for worst movie ever made. It’s almost like two different terrible movies were combined to make a terrible movie Megazord.
The first 45 minutes could be compared to Captain America: The First Avenger. Cap goes up against the Red Skull in Nazi Germany during World War II. Sticking with this premise for the whole movie might have worked, but filmmakers wanted to include Cap living in the present day. Instead of saving this for a sequel they went ahead and just slapped it on as a second half. What you end up with is a movie that feels like two episodes of a television show.
The costume was clearly made of rubber. It looked like the costume designer just ripped some holes where the actor’s ears stick out. The shield is clearly plastic. The whole production looks like it was made using a child’s weekly allowance as the budget.
10. Hulk (2003)
What can be said about this abomination (see what we did there?) Ang Lee’s Hulk came out before Marvel had decided to link all their movies together into one cinematic universe. At the time, everyone was just looking for another superhero movie that would perform as well as X-Men or Spider-Man.
There were some cool visual elements to the movie, such as breaking scenes up into “panels” to look like a comic book, but for every good thing about this movie there were a hundred bad things – and I just named the only good thing.
From a gamma radiated Hulk poodle to the villain being Banner’s own father experimenting on Bruce as a kid, the whole production was a total misfire.
9. The Amazing Spider-Man (1978)
People have a lot of opinions about Spider-Man on film and television, especially since there have been three different iterations of Spidey on the big-screen in the last fifteen years. There’s been a large number of animated Spider-Man series over the years that also seemed to fluctuate in quality that garnered clashing opinions among fans. The one thing most of us don’t talk about, and Marvel probably prefers it this way, is the live action Amazing Spider-Man series from the late 1970s.
The effects were terrible. Spidey shot full nets out as webbing. His web-shooters were bulky and ridiculous. They couldn’t show him truly web-slinging, so he would just crawl up buildings. At the speed a normal human crawls, it probably would have taken an hour to get to the top of the Empire State building. Watching a guy slowly crawl up a building didn’t make for very exciting action.
8. The Fantastic Four (1994)
Marvel or FOX should probably make an effort to officially release this film. It’s so unbelievably bad that it almost becomes good. Seriously, it’s probably the best Fantastic Four movie to date (outside of The Incredibles). It needs to be released if for no other reason other than to let the guys at RiffTrax take a stab at skewering it.
The feature was only made to hold on to the rights of the property. There was a contractual obligation to make a film within a certain amount of time or the film rights would turn back to Marvel. Very little effort and money was put into the Roger Corman production. Unfortunately, the cast thought they were making a real movie and were a little upset when they learned the whole thing was more or less a ruse. Corman being a part of the feature should have been a dead give-away that this was not going to be box office gold – even if it had been released.
7. Mutant X (2001)
Mutant X came out around the same time as the first X-Men film. The series was produced by Marvel and created by Avi Arad. It had “X” in the title. It was about mutants – otherwise normal humans that had fantastic superpowers. Despite all of these things, this had very little to do with the X-Men comics or films outside of a few similar ideas.
How this show lasted three seasons is mind-boggling. It was a cheesy syndicated series in the same vein as the Kevin Sorbo Hercules series or the Lucy Lawless Xena: Warrior Princess. This type of show is more or less disappearing so that particular brand of programming looks extremely dated and rather bad when you revisit it.
Since Marvel has some very strong brands now, a show like Mutant X is a blemish. Now that X-properties like Deadpool and Logan have done so well with both fans and critics, a show like Mutant X that’s so far removed from the source material looks like a missed opportunity.
6. The Punisher (1989)
Here we have another entry, like Fantastic Four, that’s so bad it’s good. Some of the sets look like cardboard. Perhaps this was to give a 2D “comic book panel” affect but it really just came off looking like someone was trying to save money on set-pieces.
Dolph Lundgren plays Frank Castle. His dye job is so bad you’re waiting to see if the dark color starts dripping down his face.
While the ’80s Punisher movie is pretty bad, it’s hard to blame anyone specifically. For whatever reason the character was difficult to adapt to the screen. It took Marvel three movies and a television show before they created a Punisher that viewers wanted to get behind.
5. Howard the Duck (1986)
Howard the Duck gets a bad rep. It was pretty far removed from the source material but we’re still talking about the film and the character to this day. Granted, no one is saying anything good about the film, but something about it has kept it in the collective consciousness of pop culture enthusiasts for over thirty years. There isn’t a single cinema or comic book site out there that hasn’t written at least one article on the film, for better or for worse.
That being said, the market for Howard has actually grown thanks to properties like Guardians of the Galaxy and Marvel’s practice of publishing books that are more or less just there for laughs. If Marvel were to move forward with the character in a big way, they’ll want you to forget the ’80s film ever happened.
4. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
It is no secret that the third film in the main X-men franchise, The Last Stand, is one of the most reviled comic book movies of all time. We look back on films like Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher or Howard the Duck and we have a laugh. Overall, we aren’t to harsh on them, understanding they’re a cheesy product of another time. That is not the case with X-Men: The Last Stand.
The movie left such a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, along with Wolverine: Origins, that FOX did a soft reboot of the whole franchise by making a series that takes place in the ’70s that followed a young Charles Xavier. The next film, Days of Future Past, would show that the old movies haven’t been “erased,” but they used time travel in a way that would essentially eliminate the events of Origins and Last Stand. FOX and Marvel brilliantly “made the bad-man go away.”
3. NightMan (1997)
You’re probably wondering who NightMan is. Well, NightMan was actually from a rival comic book company known as Malibu Comics. Some very bad things were going down in the comic book industry in the ’90s and a lot of smaller publishers were having to close up shop or sell themselves to The Big Two. Marvel bought up Malibu and all their characters. Very little was done with these characters. Perhaps Marvel was just trying to eliminate a competitor. Perhaps some attempts to keep publishing weren’t working out with readers. While things weren’t working out for the Malibu characters on the page, Marvel decided to move forward with a NightMan television show.
It was your typical syndicated garbage that is slowly dying out (thankfully). If you can imagine something worse than DC’s syndicated Birds of Prey (that’s harsh, I know) you might be able to understand how bad NightMan was. The character himself isn’t even cool. A saxophonist gets struck by lightning and he gets “tuned” to the “frequency of evil.” Ugh. Imagine a dime-store version of Batman that didn’t need detective skills because he just sorta “knows” where evil is. It’s no wonder Marvel has stopped using the Malibu characters.
2. Blade: The Series (2006)
The Blade series on Spike TV was supposed to be a direct continuation of Marvel’s popular film franchise – to the point where Wesley Snipes was supposed to stay in the role and it was going to be produced by and air on Showtime. Unfortunately, Snipes backed out of the role due to a lawsuit with New Line. Showtime then dropped out as a result, and things fell apart from there.
Blade was recast with Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones. Jones was a rapper in the group Onyx but had quite a good resume in film and television at the time (and he continues to do so). He wasn’t a Snipes level star, but he certainly wasn’t a slouch. David S. Goyer came back on to write the pilot movie, along with Geoff Johns, a highly regarded writer in comic books. There was a genuine effort to maintain the tone of the films and move forward in the same world with as much of the same creative talent as possible.
Unfortunately, Spike TV was a very young network and they just couldn’t afford to maintain such an endeavour. Not to mention the fact that most cable shows were getting excellent numbers at the time. Blade was no exception but that made it just another fish in the pond. The series never made it past 12 episodes and Marvel seems to prefer the idea of rebooting the franchise entirely if they were to move forward with Blade in the future. They probably wish they had just made a fourth film.
1. Man-Thing (2005)
Fans of the Sharknado films and similar Syfy original movies might want to check this one out even though Marvel probably wishes you wouldn’t.
At the time, Syfy was still called the Sci-Fi Channel, and it was at least attempting to make quality television movies. Man-Thing wasn’t going to be a quality television movie. Not only do critics, fans, and viewers alike regard it as the worst Marvel movie ever made, but many regarded Man-Thing as the worst film ever made. Period.
The flick wasn’t set in the MCU as we know it today. In fact, it predates the MCU by three years. Why Marvel thought Man-Thing was going to be their ticket to a big franchise is perplexing, especially when you consider Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk came out a mere three years later.
Marvel felt positively enough about Man-Thing it even had a limited theatrical release that bombed – not even bringing in a $1 million. So much for positive thinking.
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