12 Most Underwhelming Superhero Movies Ever

12 Most Underwhelming Superhero Movies Ever
Image credit: Legion-Media, globallookpress, Warner Bros.

And it's not so-called "superhero fatigue" that's to blame.

1. Howard the Duck (1986)

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This Marvel adaptation was an ambitious venture into the absurd. Howard the Duck featured an anthropomorphic duck from outer space trying to find his way back home while battling evil aliens. It was as ludicrous as it sounds. The film was a commercial disaster, grossing only $38 million against a $37 million budget. With a 14% Rotten Tomatoes rating, it became a notorious example of how comic book adaptations can go horribly wrong.

2. Steel (1997)

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Shaquille O'Neal's attempt to transition from basketball to superhero cinema in Steel was a free throw that hit the rim. Shaq portrayed John Henry Irons, a weapons designer who creates a suit of armor to fight crime. Hindered by a poor script, cheesy dialogues, and Shaq's underwhelming acting, the film barely managed to make a blip on the superhero radar. Its Rotten Tomatoes score stands at a dismal 12%, and it made only $1.7 million against a $16 million budget.

3. Elektra (2005)

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As a spin-off of the lackluster Daredevil (2003), Elektra had a mountain to climb. Unfortunately, it didn't even manage to get to base camp. Despite Jennifer Garner's earnest performance, the movie suffered from a confusing plot and an overall lack of excitement. Elektra's battle against the Hand, a powerful, villainous organization, felt undercooked. The film was widely panned, receiving a 10% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and grossed only $56.7 million against a $43 million budget.

4. The Phantom (1996)

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The Phantom, featuring Billy Zane in a purple spandex suit, was meant to be a throwback to classic pulp heroes. The plot involved the Phantom trying to prevent a wealthy criminal from obtaining a mystical skull. However, its hokey script and lackluster action sequences failed to resonate with modern audiences. Despite its campy charm, the film was a box office flop, earning just over $17 million domestically against a $45 million budget. It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 43%.

5. The Spirit (2008)

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The film was directed by comic book writer Frank Miller, who attempted to recreate the success he had with Sin City but missed the mark. The Spirit was centered around a cop who returns from the dead to fight crime in Central City. Despite a high-profile cast including Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson, the film was criticized for its over-stylized visuals and lack of compelling narrative. In the end, it grossed just under $39 million against a $60 million budget.

6. Batman & Robin (1997)

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With a 12% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Batman & Robin is often remembered as one of the most underwhelming superhero movies ever made. It's hard to believe that a film with an all-star cast of George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Uma Thurman could turn out so poorly. Schwarzenegger's barrage of ice puns as Mr. Freeze still sends shivers down the spines of the viewers.

The plot revolved around Batman and Robin's attempts to stop Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy from freezing Gotham City, a storyline that was, let's say, less than thrilling. With its over-reliance on campy humor and neon visuals, the film was a critical and commercial disaster, barely recouping its $125 million budget.

7. Catwoman (2004)

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Halle Berry might be an Oscar-winning actress, but even her prowess couldn't save Catwoman from becoming a catastrophe. After being killed for discovering a dark secret about a cosmetic product, Berry's character is mysteriously revived by an Egyptian Mau and takes on the Catwoman persona.

While the concept could have potentially worked, the execution was a mess. Plagued by a convoluted plot, cheesy dialogue, and questionable CGI, it ended up being a box office bomb, earning only $82 million worldwide against a $100 million budget. Its Rotten Tomatoes score stands at an abysmal 9%.

8. Green Lantern (2011)

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Ryan Reynolds' stint as the Green Lantern was not exactly his finest hour in the superhero universe. A storyline that involved fear-sucking aliens, a giant yellow cloud of destruction (Parallax), and a confusing ring-powered alternate reality left audiences more perplexed than exhilarated. The film's excessive use of CGI – including a super suit that looked more like a neon body paint job – didn't help either. The film, costing around $200 million, only managed a global box office gross of $219 million.

9. Fantastic Four (2015)

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Fantastic Four (2015) had an unenviable task – to erase the memory of its 2005 predecessor and offer something fresh. But it turned out to be a colossal misfire. The film suffered from a tonal imbalance, an uninspiring plot that involved inter-dimensional travel, and lackluster character development. This left audiences and critics unimpressed, earning it a Rotten Tomatoes score of 9%.

Director Josh Trank famously distanced himself from the film, citing studio interference. It only managed to recoup $167.9 million against a $120 million budget. Maybe now the MCU's attempt at breaking Fantastic Four curse will be more successful, but judging by the current state of the franchise, it's not that likely.

10. Daredevil (2003)

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Daredevil promised so much but delivered so little. Ben Affleck starred as Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer who transforms into the vigilante Daredevil by night. The movie's main downfall was its lackluster plot, which centered around Daredevil's fight against Kingpin and Bullseye. Critics took issue with the lack of character depth and the film's over-reliance on style over substance. Despite this, it managed a relatively healthy box office return of $179.2 million against a budget of $78 million.

11. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

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Hugh Jackman's first solo outing as Wolverine ended up being a major letdown. The film attempted to dive into Wolverine's complex backstory, but it was bogged down by a convoluted plot and a poor depiction of fan-favorite character Deadpool.

In a film that served more as a conveyor belt of poorly depicted mutant introductions than a solid origin story, even Jackman's committed performance couldn't save it. It was panned by critics and fans alike, earning a 37% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the negative reception, it made $373.1 million against a $150 million budget.

12. Supergirl (1984)

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A spin-off of the successful Superman franchise, Supergirl was anything but successful. Helen Slater donned the cape as Superman's cousin, Kara, who comes to Earth in search of a powerful orb. The film had a nonsensical plot that included an evil witch played by Faye Dunaway and a lovesick landscaper. Despite its strong ties to the Superman universe, the movie failed to charm the critics or the audience, resulting in a weak 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. With a budget of $35 million, it only raked in $14.3 million at the box office.