Thanks to directors like Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder, movies based on #DC comics are now synonymous with darkness and grit. Before DC and Warner Brothers joined forces to combat Marvel's powerful shared universe by creating the DC Extended Universe (#DCEU), DC was known for unintentionally funny superhero movies and way too many Batman and/or Superman movies.
With the #DCEU's first major heroic cinematic team-up just a number of months away, here's a look back at DC's first attempts to make great superhero movies.
11. The Other (Wonder) Woman
- Movie: Wonder Woman
- Director: Vincent McEveety
- Year Of Release: 1974
When people reminisce about Wonder Woman, they fondly look back at the days of Lynda Carter's TV adventures. However, Carter wasn't the first person to bear the name of Wonder Woman onscreen. That honor goes to pro-tennis player-turned-actress Cathy Lee Crosby.
In 1974, Warner Brothers tried to introduce Wonder Woman to audiences by giving the Amazing Amazon a modern update. Instead of being a skilled warrior from ancient times, this Wonder Woman was an athletic secret agent who looked like a Charlie's Angels reject. Like many comic adaptations of the time, the titular character barely appeared in costume for a majority of the movie.
Interestingly, Carter actually auditioned for this version of Wonder Woman before producers chose Crosby over her. Carter would return a year later in the more successful Wonder Woman TV show that people know and love today.
- Movies: Superman, Superman II, Superman III
- Directors: Richard Donner, Richard Lester and Richard Donner (uncredited), Richard Lester
- Years Of Release: 1978, 1980, 1983
Christopher Reeves' time as Superman is universally considered to be the definitive version of the iconic character, but people forget that this was also the time when Superman's callous abuse of power was accidentally glorified.
Superman ended with the titular hero using his powers to turn back time to save one person (i.e. Lois Lane) from death instead of addressing more pressing global concerns, or ever using them again in future movies. In Superman II, the first thing Superman does after regaining his powers is exact vengeance on a random trucker named "Rocky" who bullied him out of a chair, right before throwing Zod (Terrence Stamp) and his cohorts into the arctic abyss. Then there was that one time Superman had to fight his evil, sex starved twin who only came to be after the Man Of Steel was infected by Kryptonite laced tobacco in Superman III.
And to think people described Zack Snyder's take on Superman as "petty."
9. Swamp Cheese
- Movie: Swamp Thing
- Director: Wes Craven
- Year Of Release: 1982
When people hear the name Swamp Thing today, the first thing that often comes to mind is Alan Moore's existentialist reinvention of the character. The last thing some would expect from Swamp Thing would be a cheesy movie featuring a guy in a rubber suit as the titular character who fights other dudes in rubber suits. Yet, that is an accurate description of Wes Craven's Swamp Thing.
Rather than follow Moore's psychological vision, director Wes Craven instead opted to use the Swamp Thing's original lore where Doctor Alec Holland (Ray Wise) transforms into the plant-like creature after falling into a chemically contaminated swamp. Thus, Swamp Thing became a B-grade monster movie that had a romantic subplot, similar to a Frankenstein movie that was directed by the guy behind A Nightmare On Elm Street.
8. The Forgotten Shared Universe
- Movie: Supergirl
- Director: Jeannot Szwarc
- Year Of Release: 1984
Before the hit TV show that's currently enjoying strong ratings and popularity, Supergirl starred in her own movie. However, there's a good reason why Supergirl fans act like this particular movie never existed.
Supergirl was filled with inconsistencies, overacting, and childish interpretations of female empowerment. Case in point, Supergirl's heat vision makes flowers bloom and her main conflict revolves around an unwanted love interest after she literally forgets about saving her home planet from imminent doom. Supergirl is just as silly as it sounds.
What makes Supergirl special in its own way is the fact that it was actually made to connect to the Superman movies, since the titular character is Superman's cousin. Yet despite being connected to the Superman movies, Christopher Reeves' only cameo in Supergirl was through a poster Supergirl (Helen Slater) spots in in the film. Apparently, even Superman himself didn't feel like wasting his time in Supergirl.
7. Superman V Cold War
- Movie: Superman IV: The Quest For Peace
- Director: Sidney J. Furie
- Year Of Release: 1987
While comic scribes like Frank Miller turned to graphic novels (i.e. The Dark Knight Returns) to channel their disdain of the tense political climate during the '80s, people like Christopher Reeve opted to punch nuclear war (i.e. Nuclear Man in Superman IV) in the face via movie magic.
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is infamous for not only being painfully low-budget production, but for allowing Reeves to basically stand on a soapbox (in full Superman costume, no less) and berate people about the dangers of nuclear weapons and power. This only happened because Reeves demanded that he be given writing capabilities to express his anti-nuke stance, or else he wouldn't reprise his famous role.
Superman IV is more of a public service announcement than a superhero movie. This, among other reasons, caused the film to tank at the box office and doomed the Superman movie franchise into obscurity for nearly two decades. Still, it's something that has to be seen to be believed.
6. Bat-S*** Ice Puns
- Movie: Batman And Robin
- Director: Joel Schumacher
- Year Of Release: 1997
Batman And Robin is a classic example of everything just going wrong, including: one-liners, superhero story cliches, questionable costume choices (i.e. Bat Nipples) and plain dumb Bat-gadgets (i.e. Bat Credit Card). However, of all of the atrocities committed by Batman And Robin, the one thing that stands out is its incredibly miscast cast of characters, with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the ice-pun loving Mr. Freeze towering above everyone.
Schwarzenegger's cartoonish portrayal of the supposedly tragic Mr. Freeze became the stuff of legends - but for all of the wrong reasons. While Schwarzenegger is already campy on his own, it seems that Mr. Freeze unleashed his crazy side, a side which audiences never thought possible.
There's a good reason why people still quote Batman And Robin today, even if the only lines they say are the corny Mr. Freeze puns.
5. Shaq Of Steel
- Movie: Steel
- Director: Kenneth Johnson
- Year Of Release: 1997
Due to his popularity as an NBA superstar, Shaquille O'Neal felt that he could do just about anything, including being a movie star. This poorly advised move resulted in a pair of failed cash-grabs that tried to capitalize on Shaq's NBA stardom.
The second of these movies was Steel, a film adaptation of the DC Comics superhero of the same name. Given how Steel was released a few months after the abysmal Batman And Robin, Shaq's time as the hammer wielding armored soldier is often considered to be the death knell of DC movies in the '90s. Steel features: an arms-dealing game developer, outdated "hood" talk , Shaq's stiff acting, exaggerated showcases of Shaq's strength, and Shaq's armor that also has a magnetic butt flap -- and all these are just a small serving of the silliness that makes up Steel.
If you liked Kazaam because of the unintentional laughs, Steel is definitely up your alley.
4. An Epic Cat-Tastrophe
- Movie: Catwoman
- Director: Pitof
- Year Of Release: 2004
Like Batman And Robin, Catwoman is often considered to not only be one of the worst superhero movies ever made, but one of the worst movies ever made. From a narrative that has literally nothing to do with the character of Catwoman to a one-sided and simplistic take on feminist themes, Catwoman remains a strong reminder why Hollywood almost gave up on the superhero genre.
The only good thing to come out of this disaster of a movie that's responsible for tanking Halle Berry's career was her humorous and self-aware acceptance speech for the Razzie for Worst Actress (check it out in the video above) - just one of the seven Razzies that Catwoman received. She even thanked Warner Brothers, her manager and all of the films' crew for putting her in a "piece of shit, god-awful movie."
(Check out that infamous basketball scene in the below video if you need a reminder.)
3. Superman V Real Estate Titan
- Movie: Superman Returns
- Director: Bryan Singer
- Year Of Release: 2006
Signature X-Men director Bryan Singer skipped X-Men: The Last Stand to direct the original Superman reboot, Superman Returns, when the opportunity presented itself. It was a decision he and many others would come to regret.
One thing the movie got right was the casting of Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. Spacey achieved the perfect balance of Luthor's vanity and theatricality, but this was almost wasted when his character's nefarious plans for real estate were revealed. Granted, Luthor's efforts to get as much land as possible makes more sense than Nuclear Man, but a villain rambling about the joys of land-grabbing for an hour is the last thing anyone watching a superhero movie would want or expect.
It may be easy to forget about Superman Returns, but it's hard to forget Spacey's time as one of DC's most iconic villains.
2. Crazy Weapons And A Fistful Of Ugly
- Movie: Jonah Hex
- Director: Jimmy Hayward
- Year Of Release: 2010
Jonah Hex was so bad that it's star Josh Brolin has gone on record to express how much he hates it. Even he agrees that DC's resident scarred bounty hunter deserves a better break than this.
What Jonah Hex had in its favor is a cast of talented names such as Brolin, John Malkovich and Michael Fassbender doing their best in an otherwise corny production. Jonah Hex also featured Megan Fox at the height of her popularity, so take from that what you will.
For those who like both good and bad Westerns, Jonah Hex is a dumb yet fun watch that's perfect for an uneventful weekend. It's no Sergio Leone epic, but one thing it has over any classic Spaghetti Western is a ton of crazy weaponry including a flamethrower, horse mounted Gatling guns (above), handheld crossbows that shoot sticks of dynamite and a fully armed, ironclad battleship.
1. Green Eyed Shame
- Movie: Green Lantern
- Director: Martin Campbell
- Year Of Release: 2010
If Batman And Robin's writing and Catwoman's financial luck were put into a multi-million dollar blender, Green Lantern would be the outcome. Green Lantern is so infamous that DC has pretty much exiled the character into obscurity. It's also been rumored that DC banned jokes and humor in its future movies for fear of repeating Green Lantern's mistakes.
Like many of the bad superhero movies from the 2000's, Green Lantern starred otherwise talented names trying their best to salvage a movie that didn't even have a script during the auditions and casting calls. However, it is because of these exact reasons that Green Lantern a great guilty pleasure.
The best thing to come out of this emerald mess was the fact that its star, Ryan Reynolds, used his time on Green Lantern as a learning experience for roles in future superhero movies. That, and Green Lantern provided the already hilarious Deadpool with even more material to mock (see the image above).
Honorable Mentions: The Great Dividers
- Movies: Constantine, V For Vendetta, Watchmen, The Losers, RED
- Directors: Francis Lawrence, James McTeigue, Zack Snyder, Sylvain White, Robert Schwentke
- Years Of Release: 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2010
Before DC and its partner film studios tried their luck with superhero movies during the 2000's, they first ventured into the darker and grittier world of DC's more adult-oriented imprints, like Vertigo and Wildstorm.
Depending on who you ask, movies like The Losers and RED are either great reinterpretations of memorable graphic novels, or they're watered down adaptations of provocative titles such as Constantine, V For Vendetta and Watchmen. The fact remains that these five adaptations are all good standalone action movies - which is something that can not be said for many of the movies in this list (don't bother with RED 2, though).
Some hardcore fans may not appreciate the cinematic changes implemented in films like Watchmen (long story short, there are no aliens). But for the casual moviegoer and comic fan, these movies are more than worth the time.
The DCEU may be suffering from a rocky start, but that's not to say that the comic giant should be counted out of the game just yet. As we wait for the next big DCEU movie that will hopefully restore peoples' faith in the brand, there's a lot more to the DC name beyond gritty reinterpretations of popular heroes waiting to be explored - but not every one of them is as good as a Batman movie from Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan.
Fans have jokingly suggested that it would be best for DC movies to lighten up, and there's no better way to do so by having a good laugh from DC's first attempts at the art of movie making. After all, the DCEU and the undeniable cinematic presence of Batman would never have become today's reality if not for yesterday's ice related puns.
For the other side of the front, check out this list of Marvel's best guilty pleasure moments.