With Marvel movies continually proving to be a huge hit with audiences, it’s easy to forget there was a time when this simply wasn’t the case. Cast your mind back to the 20th Century and you might recall that the majority of Marvel films were appalling.
Long before New Line released Blade (1998), 20th Century Fox released X-Men (2000), Sony released Spider-Man (2002) or Marvel Studios released Iron Man (2008), Marvel movies were pretty bad. And that’s being kind.
From Captain America to Fantastic Four, let’s take a look at the worst Marvel movies.
Prior to Chris Evans taking on the role of Marvel’s star-spangled Avenger, three actors played the role of Captain America: Dick Purcell, Reb Brown and Matt Salinger.
Purcell was the star of a black-and-white 1944 seriel; Brown played the role for two 1979 TV movies – Captain America & Captain America II: Death Too Soon; and Salinger took on the part for the low budget 1990 movie, Captain America. And all these movies were shit. Seriously shit.
A severe lack of budget, as well as various changes to the character, derailed every project. None of these movies are worth revisiting.
Howard the Duck
In 2014, Howard the Duck popped up in a cameo role for Guardians of the Galaxy – the 10th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, back in 1986 Howard was the star of his own movie courtesy of Universal Pictures and Lucasfilm.
The movie has a cult following today, but it is nowhere near the movie it could have been and the effects don’t stand up so well.
In 1996, Generation X hit TV screens to become the first official live-action adaptation of the X-Men. Yep, four years before Fox brought the X-Men to movie theatres, Generation X (a comic book spinoff) got its own TV movie – and it was bad.
With the exception of the White Queen and Jubilee – who were just about passable – the rest of the characters were paper thin and the movie adaptation of Generation X was cheap and very dull.
Over the years, The Punisher has become one of Marvel’s most adaptable characters with three live-action movies and a TV series under his belt. The first of these movies was the 1989 Dolph Lundgren-starring action film simply titled The Punisher.
Released the same year as Tim Burton’s Batman, The Punisher was a poor adaptation of the Marvel Comics character which was barely connected to the original source material and instead was nothing more than a generic action flick.
During the late 1970s, Spider-Man cropped up in a short-lived TV show from CBS comprising 13 episodes. If you’ve never watched the ’70s Spider-Man show, then don’t – it’s all pretty bad and better best forgotten (and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise).
Anyway… a handful of episodes of the show were edited together to form three ‘movies’. And all of these movies highlight the fact that if you want to make a Spidey movie, you need to spend the cash.
The Japanese Spider-Man
CBS weren’t the only ones to produce a Spider-Man TV series during the 1970s, over in Japan the Toei Company created its own Spidey series which ran for 41 episodes.
Although the character was called Spider-Man and wore the same costume as Marvel’s mighty wall-crawler, the series bared no resemblance to the character and was more in-keeping with Super Sentai shows. For example, Spider-Man had a giant robot called Leopardon – something created specifically for the show.
So, why does this Spidey show make this list of movies? Because one of the episodes was released theatrically in Japan… which counts as a movie.
The Incredible Hulk TV movies
Prior to the release of Blade in 1998, Marvel’s only real on-screen success with its characters came during the late 1970s with the arrival of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno-starring TV series, The Incredible Hulk – a genuinely brilliant (and sorely missed) Marvel television series.
When the show concluded its run in 1982, audiences weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to Marvel’s jade giant. Step forward three Incredible Hulk TV movies: The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988), The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989) and The Death of the Incredible Hulk (1990).
Two of these movies introduced other Marvel heroes: Thor (The Incredible Hulk Returns) and Daredevil (The Trial of the Incredible Hulk), but sadly none of them were very good. The characters depicted in these movies were miles away from what we would later get in the MCU and the quality of each film was nowhere near the same as the show.
The 1970s was a busy era for TV superheroes and this meant that even Doctor Strange got his own TV movie! But don’t get too excited, because yes, you guessed it, the movie was utter tosh.
The film (which is boring beyond belief) starred Peter Hooten and aired on CBS in 1978. Doctor Strange was designed as a pilot for a potential TV series, but as it pretty much sucked (and I’m using the phrase “pretty much sucked” very lightly) the series never materialised.
Be very thankful for this.
Another TV movie and another watered down version of a Marvel Comics character, this time starring David Hasselhoff as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most famous agent, Nick Fury.
Broadcast on Fox in 1998, both critics and audiences hated Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D and it quickly faded away into obscurity.
Thankfully, Hasselhoff’s turn as Nick Fury didn’t put Samuel L. Jackson off from appearing as the character in Iron Man (and beyond), and we now have a Fury to be proud of!
The Fantastic Four
And finally, the most famous (or infamous) movie on this list is 1994’s The Fantastic Four – a film that to this day has still never been released in any official capacity.
The Fantastic Four was produced on a minimal budget and was allegedly conceived as a way for the studio to retain the rights to the FF, so a bigger and better movie could be made further down the line. That movie – aka 2005’s Fantastic Four – didn’t come for over a decade, and in the mean time this ‘94 offering found its way onto the convention circuit, where it popped up in the form of bootleg VHS tapes and DVDs.
Much has been said and written about 1994’s The Fantastic Four (there’s even a documentary about the film), but it doesn’t change the fact that it is very, very bad. You have been warned.
So there you have it – the worst Marvel movies!
For this list I stuck to 20th Century Marvel movies, so I didn’t mention any of the 21st Century disappointments; but that doesn’t mean the likes of Man-Thing (2005), Elektra (2005), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012), or Morbius (2022) are off the hook – they’re bloody awful too. So, if you’re trying to avoid real stinkers all-round, you should also give these four a hard pass!
Anyway, the next time you sit down to watch Spider-Man: No Way Home, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Blade II or one of the many good Marvel films, just imagine what the landscape could have been like, if the Marvel films/TV movies listed above had been a little more successful. We could have had endless ‘70s-style Doctor Strange movies…
…and what a terrible thing that would have been.
Thank you for stopping by to read this post about terrible Marvel movies. For more Marvel posts, be sure to check out the recommended reads below.