Nowadays, studios often see superhero films as surefire box office smashes. However, not every hero has been as fortunate as the ones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has yet to generate a bonafide flop. In fact, some superhero epics are so embarrassing that they are responsible for essentially crushing interest in subsequent installments.
As any fan knows, no one is ever really dead in comic books, but here are five films that put a premature end to their respective superhero franchises, at least for a while.
1. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
After playing Superman for three films, Christopher Reeve returned for this fourth installment and even receives a “story by” credit, as the Man of Steel puts an end to nuclear weaponry across the globe. Naturally, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) creates the embodiment of that threat, Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow), and sends his new henchman to battle with his arch-nemesis.
Unlike previous entries (especially the first two), Superman IV — the first and only film in the series produced by Cannon Films — lacked any of the heart or fun of the original, coming across as a lazy cash-in. Superman would subsequently mount a big-screen return in 2006 but wouldn’t secure a new franchise run until the 2013 release of Man of Steel.
2. Batman and Robin (1997)
Notorious as being one of the worst films of all-time, this fourth film in the original big-screen Batman franchise amped up the silly to ridiculous levels, with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pun-happy Mr. Freeze and a listless George Clooney trying desperately to hold it together.
Director Joel Schumacher has since become a pariah in the comic book community for this film, which makes his divisive Batman Forever look like the Citizen Kane of comic book films. The dreadful script of Batman and Robin certainly isn’t helped by the subpar performances of all involved or the cartoony visuals.
Thankfully, Christopher Nolan came around eight years later and resurrected the Caped Crusader with Batman Begins and its sequels.
3. Blade: Trinity (2004)
In 1998, director Stephen Norrington took a B-list Marvel hero and made him a household name with Blade, the first legitimate big-screen hit based on a Marvel character. Guillermo del Toro’s 2002 sequel took the character to new heights, but this third film from David S. Goyer — who wrote all three Blade films — essentially torpedoed the franchise’s future.
Reports have run rampant about the on-set tension between Goyer and star Wesley Snipes, and it’s easy to see why, if the finished film is any indication of the creative differences. New additions, like Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds, don’t help the matter, making the film feel disjointed from its predecessors, and though Blade has yet to make a return, it’s just a matter of time.
4. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films stand among the best superhero films ever made, and following the cliffhanger ending of Spider-Man 2, anticipation was high for what would happen in the sequel. Sadly, that excitement soon gave way to embarrassing scenes like an emo Peter Parker, a much-maligned take on fan-favorite villain Venom and a ludicrous amnesia subplot that is torn right out of a cheesy soap opera.
Reportedly, the film’s over-stuffed narrative — which features three major villains — was the product of creative differences behind-the-scenes, but whoever is to blame, Raimi’s planned fourth film ultimately fell apart, leading Sony to reboot the character in its ill-fated The Amazing Spider-Man series.
5. Green Lantern (2011)
Ah, Green Lantern. After playing Marvel heroes in disappointing films like Blade: Trinity and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Reynolds switched over to DC Entertainment to bring Hal Jordan to life in this sci-fi adventure from director Martin Campbell. Unfortunately, the actor found himself trapped in perhaps the worst superhero film since Batman and Robin.
The concept of an intergalactic law enforcement agency should have paved the way for escapist excitement in line with Guardians of the Galaxy, but instead, viewers were “treated” to a fake-looking, poorly written effort that focused on all the wrong aspects of what made Green Lantern an iconic hero.
Luckily, Warner Bros. is taking another shot with Green Lantern Corps. in 2020.
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