Comic book films are cash cows in Hollywood and have been for years. The larger than life tales of ordinary people possessing supernatural abilities and saving the world has always been a concept that’s attracted the general public. Who wouldn’t want to be a superhero? Who wouldn’t want superpowers? One of the biggest companies producing these tales is Marvel. After all the success with titles associated with characters such as Spider-Man, X-Men, and Iron Man, there were some also some titles that weren’t nearly as profitable. With the recent surprise success of Guardians of the Galaxy, a Marvel comic that is unknown to most of the general public, let’s take the time to reflect on those films that Marvel probably wants us to forget ever existed.
The Punisher (1989)
In 2004, an eponymous movie based on The Punisher, the one-man vigilante seeking revenge for his murdered family, was released. Thomas Jane portrayed Frank Castle while John Travolta assumed the role of the villainous Howard Saint. The film wasn’t very well received (damn Travolta!) but most people associate this with being the cinematic debut of the popular Marvel character. Actually, The Punisher’s debut dates back to 1989 when none other than Dolph Lundgren took the reigns as Castle in a feature film.
Other than the names Frank Castle and Punisher, this film has virtually nothing in common with the original source material at all. In fact, the trademark Punisher skull symbol is nowhere to be seen in the movie or its promotional materials which is odd since that would have drawn more money from the fanboys of the original comics who’d instantly recognize it. The (one dimensional) story here is Frank Castle battles feared Japanese gang, the Yakuza, and the Russian mob with big guns and a bad attitude, man.
This was just another generic action flick with the Punisher named slapped on. While watching, you can see why people choose not to acknowledge it, it’s pretty bad.
Captain America (1990)
Man, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was such a terrific film, wasn’t it? Well, Captain America wasn’t always the huge cinematic money pit it is today. In 1990, a Captain America film that was so horrendous that it’s pretty much forgotten in the Marvel universe was unveiled to the world.
Deciding to make a motion picture based on Captain America seems like a no-brainer. Popular superhero, cool costume, patriotic, and strong. After all, he WAS the original Avenger so what could go wrong? Everything. I actually briefly brought this film up before in my Avengers article. J.D. Salinger’s, famed author of The Catcher In The Rye, son, Matt Salinger, stars as Steve Rogers, the shield-wielding, masked all-American hero. Let’s just say that Salinger… ahem… wasn’t the greatest actor. The Red Skull’s origin story is actually modified here as he’s painted as an Italian fascist rather than a German Nazi.
Even though it was filmed in 1990, the response was so terrible that it was delayed for over two years before finally being released straight-to-video two years later. I’ve seen it and it is indeed a mess of a movie.
Fantastic Four (1994)
Not only does Marvel not want you to know this film ever existed, it was never commercially released. Independent film producer, Roger Corman, actually assisted in making a low-budget feature based on the popular Marvel superhero team in 1994. It was set to be released in theaters only for it to be shelved at the very last minute and never mentioned again.
The widely believed story of the team of Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, Invisible Woman, and the Thing, never making it to the big screen is because co-producer Bernd Eichinger created the movie for the sole purpose of maintaining the rights to the characters with the intention to make a bigger budget film later on. A conflicting report states that Marvel didn’t want a B film based on one of its most popular teams to be released and potentially ruining the credibility and merchandise sales of the Fantastic Four property. I didn’t learn of this movie’s existence until way into my teens so when someone informed me that this happened, I immediately and unsuccessfully, seeked it out.
With that being said, copies of the film have circulated online… and it’s pretty bad. Don’t take my word for it though as the general feedback towards Fantastic Four has not been positive. A proper big-budgeted, theatrically released movie was to soon follow but it would be over 10 years before we got it.
Really though, was this any worse than the 2005 film we got?
When the movie based on Daredevil, the Marvel comic about a blind lawyer named turned acrobatic superhero, was released into theaters in 2003, reviews were very mixed. A lot of people hated it and a lot of people liked it. I didn’t think it was bad but it was pretty forgettable in the long run. The film was a financial success though, and producers thought that one of the feature’s shining moments was Jennifer Garner as Elektra Natchios, a Greek-American crime fighter who romances Daredevil himself. Marvel saw money in a standalone Elektra film and in 2005, the internet groaned in uproar as the self-titled film was released.
Now, I want to preface this by saying that I have absolutely no problem with female comic book characters getting their own films. Hell, I’m all for it. If The Black Widow got her own spin-off, I’d be all eyes. Silk Spectre? Go for it. Catowman? Hell ye… well, maybe not that one. Elektra, however, wasn’t properly developed in Daredevil well enough and was saddled with an awful script and even worse directing in her spin-off. Also, it’s doesn’t help that most female superhero flicks are universally terrible such as the aforementioned Catwoman flick, Barbed Wire starring Pamela Anderson, that terrible Supergirl film from the 80’s, etc. The $43 million budgeted movie only made a measly $56M at the box office which pretty much sealed the fate and halted any further movies on Elektra.
While the film isn’t looked at fondly today, there is a planned Netflix series based on Daredevil coming in 2015. Will we see Elektra redeemed? Only time will tell.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)
Mark Steven Johnson who directed Daredevil also helmed the original Ghost Rider flick. Ghost Rider, a stunt biker who clashes with the underworld, actually garnered a bit of cash at the box office despite it’s poor quality. This was enough to warrant a sequel. Nobody was exactly clamoring for a Ghost Rider sequel and quite frankly, the world at that point was sick and tired of Nicolas Cage. Sure, it’s cool to love the guy with his overacting, wacky facial expressions, unintentional hilarity, and meme-ready theatrics, but the guy was seemingly popping up everywhere. From 2010-2012, he starred in over 10 theatrical releases, a big overkill for Cage. Despite that, a sequel was created in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
This time the movie pitted Johnny Blaze against the destructive Blackout. The film’s budget was half of what its predecessor was but still managed to earned twice that amount at the box office with the help of overseas sales. Still though, it was even more critically panned than the first.
I remember hearing and reading nothing about it until the first trailer was released and seeing that it came and went in theaters. I think fans and Marvel agree that we won’t be seeing any Ghost Rider flicks in the foreseeable future for everyone’s sake.