In the original 1966 Batman, there’s a great scene in which Adam West’s Dark Knight finds himself trying to dispose of a cartoon-style bomb but finds himself thwarted innocent bystanders at every turn. Nuns, schoolchildren, and even a flock of baby ducks all serve as obstacles as the Caped Crusader in a fit of frustration lamented “Some days you can’t get rid of a bomb.”
It’s true… in the past decade DC comics has achieved a less than stellar reputation for big screen adaptations that is just now recovering thanks to movies like “Batman Begins” and “V for Vendetta.” The legacies of films like “Batman & Robin” and “Supergirl” still linger over any DC based films. Logically one would assume that being joined at the hip with the Time Warner empire would mean that the folks at DC would have much easier time adapting their characters to the big screen than Marvel, which has to negotiate with multiple studios. Alas over the years it’s abundantly clear that many directors and producers working for Warner Brothers never quite the appeal of their own characters leading to a series of misguided productions. From the Schumaker Batman movies, to later Superman films, too even the last two seasons of the television show “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” there is a long pattern of studio executives trying to make the product “campy” without really understanding what made the 60s Batman television so enjoyable. Adam West’s Batman series was hilarious not just because it was over the top, but it was aided by a gleeful self-aware tone, witty fast-paced scripts, and a never ending stream of guest comedians gleefully hamming it up. All qualities that would be missing from the films that tried to emulate it.
So inspired by recent discussion in Mathan’s Who’s Who in the DCU column, I felt it fitting to look back at the worst cinematic adaptations DC has to offer. Oh and I’m not Roger Ebert, so I haven’t seen every single DC film ever made so if you honestly think I’ve omitted something or that Catwoman really is the worst drop me a line.
5. Supergirl (1984)
What It’s About: Superman’s cousin Kara (Helen Slater) comes to earth to recover a device called the “Omegaheadron” which she was playing with. As luck would have it the doohickey has fallen into the hands of a would-be sorceress named Selena (Faye Dunaway) who wants to take over the world. The Omegaheadron more or less allows Selena to do anything she wants, except when the script says it can’t leading to a wacky subplot where she tries to make a hunky gardener named Ethan (Hart Bochner) fall in love with her, but accidentally makes him fall for Supergirl’s secret identity Linda Lee instead.
What It Gets Right: The photography is nice, the flying sequences are well done and Helen Slater certainly is easy on the eyes.
What It Gets Wrong: Helen Slater’s Supergirl alas takes a backseat to Faye Dunaway who relishes her role so much that she engages in a completely over-the-top scenery chewing performance that made her acting in Mommie Dearest look subtle and refined in comparison. Alas Slater spends more time on screen caught in comedic subplots and a dopey romance than actually engaging in super heroics. Selena’s plot for world domination alas makes no real sense and the final fight scene is pretty much impossible to follow.
Dubious Dialog: “I need you like an Eskimo needs a lawnmower kiddo!” — Selena
The Critics Speak: “Slater’s adorable, but the movie is an ungainly mess”– James Sanford, KALAMAZOO GAZETTE
Fun Fact: There’s an ultra-rare 2-disc special edition DVD limited to only 50,000 copies with a 140-minute directors cut. I actually found one for $7.50 at K-Mart.
4. Catwoman (2004)
What It’s About: Meek, timid advertising designer Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) stumbles onto a plot by her employer to distribute a beauty cream with horrifying side-effects. (Not to be confused with the skin cream with horrifying side-effects from the “Feat of Clay” episode of Batman The Animated Series.) Seemingly killed by hired goons, Patience finds herself revived by some badly animated CGI cats and given feline powers. After a jewel heist, she decides to fight back against Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone) who has murdered her own husband as part of a plot to take over his company, and get the evil skin cream of doom onto the market.
What It Gets Right: In a just world, a well made Catwoman film really would have given Berry a fun opportunity to show off her academy award winning acting chops after fan boys complained she lacked the gravitas to play Storm in the X-Men movies. I mean really, Berry has gotten the short end of the stick in that franchise. Patrick Stewart gets the big speeches, Hugh Jackmen gets the subplots, and what does Berry get? The “what happens when a toad gets struck by lightening” line. To the film’s credit there are a few kind of funny moments, such as the scene where Berry orders a saucer of milk at a club, and French director Pitof shows a keen eye for cinematography.
What It Gets Wrong : Even if you were able to forgive the fact that the character bears very little resemblance to any comic book incarnation of the character, the film suffers from some real crippling flaws. For starters costume worn by Halle Berry is an absolute eyesore resembling something of Hello Kitty dominatrix outfit. The CGI effects are clunky, the fight scenes are clumsily choreographed, and the plot is riddled with holes and character inconsistencies. Patience’s jewel robbery scene seems to go completely against what little is established about her personality. Worse yet Berry is subject to a series of allegedly “comedic” humiliating scenes that no actress should be forced to go through as we see her sleeping on a shelf, devouring raw tuna, pouncing on a spider and getting hopped up on catnip. Meanwhile Sharon Stone’s villainess is a one note caricature whose sole motivation is that she’s bitter because she’s no longer the sexiest woman in the world. (Something that Stone perhaps might be able to relate to.)
Dubious Dialog : “Amateurs! You boys thought you could come in here and steal all these beautiful things? What a purrrfect idea!” — Catwoman doing her best Ertha Kitt impression.
The Critics Speak: “Catwoman doesn’t belong on the big screen. It belongs in the litter box or to be scraped off the bottom of our shoes as we head quickly for another theater.” — Connie Ogle, MIAMI HERALD
Fun Fact: Halle Barry’s stunts were performed by a 29-year-old Hawaiian man named Nito Larioza. Also Halle actually liked a 13 pound Bengal cat used in the film so much that she adopted it.
3. Batman & Robin (1997)
What It’s About: Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) alternates between plots to cure his wife, stealing diamonds and burying Gotham City in a glacier. Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred (Michael Gough )has contacted a lethal disease, while his side-kick Robin is suffering through growing pains. Alfred’s niece (?!) Barbara Wilson (Alicia Silverstone) is introduced and she decides to become Batgirl. Meanwhile two more new villains arrive in town; Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) and her dim-witted monosyllabic side-kick Bane (Jeep Swenson) arrive and team-up with Mr. Freeze. Oh and Batman’s somewhere in this plot… I think.
What It Gets Right: Michael Gough brings a lot of class to his role as Alfred, bringing a lot more dignity to his scenes than the film deserves… making a silk’s purse out of a sow’s ear: at least until they turn him into Max Headroom. The special effects are well done on a technical level for the most part.
What It Gets Wrong: Imagine what the 60s Batman television series would be like if it was cast with people who had absolutely no sense of comic timing who had nothing funny to say in a plot that literally makes no sense. Now imagine all of this was occurring on some of the garishly colored hideously designed sets ever made. Imagine the most ridiculous costumes being worn by the cast, as well as dozens of extras in nearly every scene. Imagine fight scene, after fight scene so poorly choreographed that it makes the original Batman TV show look like Ong-Bak in comparison. Batman & Robin is the kind of bad movie with a bizarre grandeur to it. It’s a grotesque spectacle in which you the viewer can see precisely where every penny of it’s $125,000,000 budget went on screen.
Dubious Dialog: “I will blanket the city in endless winter. First Gotham, and then the world.” — Mr. Freeze
“Just what I had in mind. Everything dead on earth, except us. A chance for Mother Nature to start again. Behold, the dawn of a new age. My mutant plants have the strength of the deadliest animals. Once you have frozen mankind, these babies will overrun the globe, and we shall rule them, for we will be the only two people left in the world.” — Poison Ivy
“Adam and Evil!” — Mr. Freeze
The Critics Speak: “This… length of celluloid is an example of the worst type of corporate moviemaking — throw in a bunch of “stars” (not actors) to play a pile of villains and heroes, pay ’em tons, and you can dispense with characterization and a coherent script.” — MaryAnn Johanson , FLICKFILOSPHER.COM
Fun Fact: The Mr. Freeze costume weighted 75 pounds. Watch real carefully and you can see just how painful the experience was for Arnold.
2. Return of Swamp Thing: (1989)
What It’s About: Swamp Thing (Dick Durock) resumes his battle against Dr. Arcane (Louise Jordan) while romancing his daughter (Heather Locklear.)
What It Gets Right: The opening sequence feature a loving montage of Swamp Thing comic covers, set to John Forgery’s rockin’ “Born on the Bayou.”
What It Gets Wrong: Wes Craven’s 1982 Swamp Thing film wasn’t exactly classic cinema, but it was a lot of fun in a Saturday matinee kind of way. Jim Wynorski’s sequel meanwhile plays the premise for pure camp, and fails dramatically at every single comedic attempt particularly when the monstrous hero has to look after two painfully annoying children. Look closely and you might be able to see the zipper on Swampy’s costume. A complete waste of time for everyone involved.
Dubious Dialog: “Me? Your Boyfriend? ” — Swamp Thing
“Why not? ” — Abby Arcane
“You said it yourself: I’m a plant.” — Swamp Thing
That’s okay, I’m a vegetarian. — Abby Arcane
The Critics Speak: “The film is cheaply and cartoonishly made. Wynorski had a really witless sense of humor…” – Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Database
Fun Fact: Oh and did I mention that some of the covers from the opening credits are from Alan Moore’s run? No wonder the guy hates DC so much.
1. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987)
What It’s About: After receiving a letter from a young boy, Superman (Christopher Reeves) decides to go on a crusade against nuclear weapons. While this would cause much debate and outrage in the real world, everyone in the movie seems happy with this decision except Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) who teams up with his wacky nephew Lenny (Jon Cryer.) Superman gathers up all of the world’s nuclear weapons into a giant hefty bag and throws it into the sun. Lex and Lenny meanwhile steal a sample of Superman’s hair and sets it in a rocket off into the sun thus causing a villain named Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow) to somehow be created. In our dubious comic-relief subplot a man by the name of David Warfield buys out the Daily Planet and places his daughter Lacy (Mariel Hemingway) in charge of turning the paper into a tabloid. Later when Nuclear Man kidnaps Lacy and takes her to the moon we learn she is somehow capable of breathing in the vacuum of space.
What It Gets Right: Gene Hackman and Christopher Reeves do their best with what flimsy material they’re given. That’s about it.
What It Gets Wrong: Following the disappointing box-office returns of Superman III, the rights to the Superman franchise was transferred from the father & son production team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind to Isreali schlock-meisters Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus whose Cannon Films gr were well known for cheap, profitable exploitation films such as Invasion USA, and Death Wish IV. Though they dabbled in serious movies (Otello, Barfly) as well, the studio’s attempts at big budget fare such as Masters of the Universe, and Tobe Hooper’s LifeForce proved to be their undoing. Superman III director Richard Lester was dropped in favor of B-movie director Sidney J. Furie. Reportedly much of the film’s was actually sent to other films Canon was making at the time, and it shows. Everything about the film screams of cheapness as the special effects are god-awful, the script seems half-written, and the editing is baffling at times. There’s really no polite way to say it. Despite it’s well intentioned (and ineptly delivered) social message, Superman IV is a rip-off. A cheap, unfinished product rushed into theaters in hopes of making a few bucks off of the franchise’s name.
Dubious Dialog: “And there will be peace. There will be peace when the people of the world, want it so badly, that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them. I just wish you could all see the Earth the way that I see it. Because when you really look at it, it’s just one world.” — Superman
The Critics Speak: ” “Should have been a quest for a better script. Ridiculous, tedious, and lifeless. Characters a shadow of their former selves. A sad note for the franchise to end on.” — Brian Mckay, EFILMCRITIC.COM
Fun Fact: Following a disastrous preview screening in Orange County California, 50 minutes of the film was edited out, and the film was released before the footage could be re-shot. If given the “special edition” treatment, it could make an interesting DVD for the production’s train wreck quality.