Top 10 Worst Comics to Film Adaptations

A column article, Top Ten by: The Comics Bulletin All-Stars

In honor of the release this weekend of Kick Ass and next week of The Losers, this seemed to be a perfect time for CB's ace reviewers to get together and throw darts at some of the worst comics to film adaptations in movie history. Agree or disagree, you'll likely think at least some of these are great choices. 

Honorable Mention: The Dark Knight
by Shawn Hill

This film is relentless. Heath Ledger consumes the screen, completely overshadowing Christian Bale's mannered, one-note performance. Ledger's improvised monologist expects the worst from his fellow man, and he demands everyone else join his nihilism. "You complete me," he giggles to Batman, and it's another bad joke from a humorless predator. The whole movie falls into Ledger's lipstick smear of a gaping maw. It might have worked had he been the only villain, but Batman films aren't content with one of those anymore. The Two-Face subplot renders Batman a cipher in his own film. Aaron Eckhart's trapped-rat Harvey Dent had me longing for the Tommie Lee Jones version. At least Tommie Lee's Two-Face could smile (hard not to with Jim Carrey preening around in a green leotard). Dent is caught in an impossible (and redundant) role as Gotham's "White Knight." Everyone (Batman included) sings his praises while his inevitable fall is glaringly evident in every frame. This abattoir Gotham is no place for a normal human to thrive.

Not that you could tell it was Gotham without the script. The grim but fantastically ornate urban environment, full of ports and ferries, towers and tunnels, stairways and sedans, is absent the Wayne Industries imprint and all of those elegant elevated trains from the last film. The art direction must have been very simple: gunmetal gray skies, orange booms, and try to match Joker's lipstick. At one point the plot veers to China, to no noticeable change of scenery. It's all cold sleek walls of blank glass, waiting to be shattered by concussive booms.

Gotham needs to look like a place worth saving. It may even need to be a city where saving an orphan whose aerialist parents were murdered could give a dark knight a reason to live.

 


 


10 (tie). From Hell
by Danny Djeljosevic

Say what you will about the other Alan Moore adaptations, but at least they kind of understand the source material, even if only on a surface level. V for Vendetta pretty much follows the plot of the book while throwing out any anarchist rhetoric in favor of Bush Administration-era Hollywood liberalism and League of Extraordinary Gentleman at least understands the literary mash-up adventure story Moore and Kevin O’Neill were going for even though the final product, when it isn’t being surprisingly boring, is incredibly stupid.

However, with From Hell the Hughes Brothers may as well have made their own Ripper movie. And probably should have.

It’s fine to change around an adaptation if one can see the film as being somehow in dialogue with the source material (see: Starship Troopers), but From Hell completely changes the point-of-view of the piece and thus the point of the entire story. What was originally a piece about the psychology of Jack the Ripper and the effects he had on the impending Twentieth Century (among dozens of other things) became a by-the-numbers whodunit not for artistic reasons, but to more easily sell the movie. Because in Hollywood, there’s a right way and a wrong way to make a movie about a serial killer who cuts up prostitutes’ ladyparts.

The script by Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias not only (unsurprisingly) removes the nastier bits from Moore and Eddie Campbell’s dense work, but also excises all its thoughtfulness and ambition -- because, y’know, a period piece is boring enough without putting in things like ideas or theory. Curiously, they also downplay the story’s supernatural elements save for that Inspector Abberline now gets psychic visions from smoking opium. Maybe it’s better that Alan Moore doesn’t watch movies.

On its own, I suppose the film is about as accurate as one could ever hope a Ripper adaptation to get (thanks to the meticulously researched source material). The film is also a huge step in scope for the Hughes Brothers, previously known for gritty, socially conscious films like Menace II Society and Dead Presidents.

If only they were ambitious enough to do justice to the book.

 


 


10 (tie). Watchmen
by Maxwell Yezpitelok

A three hour commercial for the comic by the director's own admission, the film "adaptation" of Watchmen doesn't really adapt anything. I merely translates. It's ironic that such a cerebral comic should result in a film with a lot of heart but barely any thought involved. Director Zack Snyder decided Alan Moore had already done all the thinking for him, so he focused all his creative energy on the sets, the wardrobes, and the effects. There's no vision here, only a very detailed stylistic proposal. The worst part is that Snyder's flashy style isn't really compatible with the source material. Where the text calls for subtlety, he delivers extreme close ups on things that should be background details, soap-esque acting that makes the lines sound like pretentious drivel, and a hideous soft rock score under it all. What is this, Smallville?

Yes, the opening sequence was an inspired idea, and yes, the ending makes a lot more sense than the one in the comic (for what it's worth), but everything in between feels like "Watchmen for Dummies". Nothing could be further away from the innovative spirit of the original. By trying to be too faithful, they ended going on the exact opposite direction and losing everything that made the comic such an influential work. Part of it is a misguided sense of reverence, but there's also an overall feeling that Snyder was afraid to tweak the material because he didn't really understand a whole lot of it.

And seriously, those guitar riffs in the background of every "intimate" scene are EVIL.

 


 


9. Wanted
by Karyn Pinter

What was that Kick-Ass? You had a nightmare about what your future might look like? It's okay. You can sleep in my room tonight.

How could Mark Millar be okay with Wanted? I would have gone all Alan Moore on Hollywood if this were my comic. Only in Hollywood could a character who looks like Halle Berry end up being played by Angelina Jolie. The whole thing is, in a word, wrong. Not even the soothing, dulcet tones of Mr. Morgan Freeman could save this movie.

Really, a comic like Wanted is something that should never have been made into a film, not until society stopped having a problem with rape, pointless and mindless killing, and giant smelly shit men aptly named Shit Head. The movie bastardizes the comic and loses all of its identity. The point of the comic was that the bad guys won. They won. There are no more superheroes. The world is at the whim and mercy of super- smart, super-powerful assholes. And what did the movie give us? Assassins. Assassins with morals. Killing to save many? Forget that. I want to see evil. Pure, unadulterated pride and lust for doing bad, bad, things. This movie isn't Wanted, at least, not the way it was supposed to be. If you forget 98% percent of the comic source material, then fine, enjoy your train running, and your super slow-mo, heartbeat bullet time. But as a comic to movie adaptation, this has to be one of the worst.

It's extreme. No, not just extreme—it's X-treme to the max, with a side of "that was sick, bro." This movie is tailor-made for the energy drink swilling, 24-hour Taco Bell eating, metalhead wannabes. For the type of people who are Wesleys in real life, this is their fantasy. The whole thing borders on the absurd. I don't think I've ever said "yeah, freaking right" in disbelief and disgust so many times while watching a movie. The nauseatingly overused slow-mo gets old after about the twelfth time, and the writers all seem to have graduated from the When in Doubt, Just Say Fuck School of Dialog. Seriously, when the highlight of your script is a character named "Butcher" calling your hero a pussy over and over again, there's a problem. Oh, and let's not forget the clichéd Rocky-esque training montage. 

 


 


8. Tank Girl
by Charles Webb

The Cream of Tank Girl does a pretty good job of presenting the rise and fall of the Tank Girl movie from the perspective of the comic’s creators, Alan Martin and Jaime Hewlett. In it, H&M say that "slowly and surelyTank Girl was inspected, dissected, watered-down, filleted, rewritten, focus-grouped, and royally buggered away by any stray [MGM] suit that had an opinion." Audiences in 1995 pretty much felt the same way when they stayed away in droves from this Lori Petty-starring vehicle.* 

While the cast, including a young Naomi Watts and a really out of place Ice-T, are game for the proceedings the movie is kind of a mess that attempts to bring to the screen the anarchic dirtiness of the comic. The problem is that the filmmakers were essentially trying to give shape to something whose virtue was in being messy, shapeless, and prone to digressions (and human girl on male kangaroo sex). The things that made Tank Girl work as a comic rejected some kind of story about oppressive 90’s-style overlords (thanks Malcolm McDowell), and missing kids. 

As the title character Petty threw herself into the role but often felt out of her depth** equating being loud with being edgy. Also, Ice-T was a genetically modified kangaroo assassin, so that happened. Really, my friends and I only had eyes for Jet Girl (Naomi Watts) Tank Girl’s shy, jet piloting sidekick, gang-pressed into the movie’s increasingly ridiculous adventure. Ice-T finds a way to scowl through the his kangaroo face but seems baffled that he’s in this movie, in that costume. 

While the film was set designed within an inch of its life it always felt like it came from the same place of 90’s apocalyptic ugliness that equated the end of the world with rusty metal and Christmas lights. Where the production shined was in the 90’s-est of 90’s soundtracks, featuring music by Hole, Bjork, Bush, and L7 – where are you going to ever get something like that ever again? 

 


 


7. Daredevil
by Alex Rodrik

DaredevilDaredevilDaredevil... What was right about this movie? The plot serves as an ill-fated attempt at making a movie that would appeal to fanboys around the world. Whether it was the name dropping, the corny jokes, or the horribly textbook romance, this movie never managed to pull itself together. There’s a lot of film potential for this series but Mark Steven Johnson (writer/director) failed to connect the dots as his action-packed film clunked along. The biggest problems with this film were its self promotional qualities and flat acting. Why Ben Affleck was getting cast as leading characters is beyond me, no offense to him as an individual, he looks like a cool guy, but seriously? Affleck has a type, keep ‘im there. It actually wasn’t until last year’s State of Play that I saw Affleck finally release himself of that same tired image. Johnson’s characterizations didn’t do much to help the situation. Campy is not a good formula for a respectable comic adaptation. Johnson’s characters are stripped of any grit and left cold and lonely in a harsh New York Ci-- wait. No never mind, even New York City was dumbed-down to cliché “danger.” Uuuuuuh!!! There’s also the overly choreographed fights scenes... I guess the team didn’t get the memo that fight scenes shouldn’t look like an awkward high school dance routine. While portion of the choreography were undoubtedly cool, the suffered of unbelievability. The motions were too smooth to allow for the suspension of disbelief for a character without any out of the ordinary super powers. (Sorry Daredevil fanboys...sticking to walls and flying is just more super than ultra heightened sense... Still badass though...) So yeah, there you have it. In so many words -- UGH!

 


 


6. Batman Forever
by Ray Tate

When the horrendous flying credits whizzed at you, heralding a score that sounded like a kazoo chorus, you knew you were in trouble. 

Batman Forever is the worst movie ever made. Legend has it that this film was more costly than previous movies. One wonders where the money went: the Two-Face mask that looked like it had been bought at a dollar store, the papier-mâché wrecking ball or maybe the dumbass Foley engineering--exemplified by the Fozzie Bear Wakka-Wakka-Wakkasound effect made by Batkilmer's taser.

Michael Keaton imbued his definitive portrayal of Batman with a constant atmosphere of threat. Val Kilmer appeared forever constipated. Perhaps, he was thinking of the half-assed lines he was about to deliver--"It's the car, right? Chicks dig the car."--his inevitable meeting with gay bondage Robin or the nipples on his batsuit. This foul turd of a movie is a slight to humankind.

 


 


5. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
by Diana Dougherty

Why is it so difficult for Hollywood to make a decent movie based on the work of Alan Moore? I mean, they could just use the graphic novel as their storyboards and they’d be all set. But no. They feel like they need to "improve" on it. That it won’t be welcomed by American audiences if there isn’t an American character in it. Hello Tom Sawyer! Audiences might be confused if there’s a woman who leads the league of "gentlemen" so please step aside Mina Murray. I mean, Mina Harker, who is now a vampire. Alrighty then. Producers must have figured no one had read the original works the characters were from so they could play fast and loose with them; ironic since the film is based on a book. Now there are millions of people who think that Dorian Gray is killed in the original tale by Oscar Wilde when he looks at his portrait. (Um, in case you haven’t read it, which is silly because you should because it’s excellent, Dorian looks at the portrait a lot. It’s kind of critical to the plot actually.) Don’t even get me started on the whole timeline thing…that’s a whole other kettle of fish. But do you want to know the most unforgivable sin this movie commits? It was such a bad shoot, such a terrible experience that it was the straw that broke the Scotsman’s back. It’s the movie that caused Sean Connery to retire. So, thanks bunches Stephen Norrington. Notice you haven’t directed a movie since then. Oh, that’s not exactly true – next year we can look forward to your remake of The Crow...and there was much rejoicing.

 


 


4. Spawn
by Chris Kiser

Spawn, the theatrical adaptation of the Todd McFarlane comic that had fanboys inexplicably giddy for the bulk of the 1990’s, may very well have been the best superhero film of 1997. But in a year which boasted such vomit inducers as Batman and RobinSteel, and the unaired Justice League live-action TV pilot, no other honor could be quite so dubious.

Though the film itself offered a vision of Hell and its demonic legions of the damned, comic aficionados of the day needed no such imagery to conjure up a sense of eternal torment. A scant few minutes inside a theater showing this travesty of filmmaking was more than enough to give the soul a taste of the utter depths of woe.

A compelling plot? Solid acting? Sharp dialogue? Pfft, who needs 'em? Not Spawn, that’s for sure, which sunk the bulk of its creative energy into the development of its lead character’s billowing CGI cape. It was investment that cemented Spawn’s position on the cutting edge of special effects technology—at least until the next summer’s trailer season rolled around.

Let the lesson be learned, film students. A finely crafted script or a genuinely moving performance can be timeless, but an expensive effects budget is merely a few coins in the parking meter of your audience’s memory. What looks like Avatar today may end up looking like some schlub’s YouTube fan film tomorrow.

 


 


3. Catwoman
by Robert Tacopina

2004's Warner Bros. release Catwoman is certainly worthy of the dubious honor of being included in our article as one of the top ten worst comic book movies ever. First and foremost, this film depiction of Catwoman has nothing at all in common with the comic version. You would think that with such a niche character that they would want to play it as safe as possible and stick to what the intended audience would be comfortable with.

Instead they took Catwoman and morphed it into something beyond recognition. The casting of Halle Berry was brilliant as she was coming off several successful roles and is an adequate actress who is better known possibly for her physical appearance than anything else. However, instead of taking advantage of that factor and outfitting her in a costume similar to what Michelle Pfeiffer donned as Catwoman in Batman Returns the producers decided to put Berry in tattered leather. This decision was visually unappealing in comparison to Pfeiffer's Catwoman.

The real nail in the coffin however was delivered in a script that went through more hands than an imaginary hot potato in a kindergarten class. As a result the film was insufferable to watch featuring a plot that was uninteresting and flat out coma inducing. Patience Phillips (Catwoman) is an artist working for a cosmetic company who discovers some sinister ongoings by her employer involving their products and is murdered. She is subsequently brought back to life by a cat that she was attempting to rescue earlier and is granted the powers of the Catwoman. Sharon Stone plays the nemesis Laurel Hedare in this debauchery. Conveniently Hedare has been taking the cosmetics which in turn have made her invulnerable and sets up for her throw down with Catwoman. 

Equally ridiculous is the forced relationship between Patience and Benjamin Bratt as police officer Tom Lone. The two have absolutely no chemistry and it comes across on the screen. The asinine way in which their relationship develops is moronic and unimaginative. This actually quite nicely sums up the movie in its entirety. Throw in below par special effects and you have a feature film that could have possibly single-handedly destroyed the comic movie genre. This movie has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and you will have a more pleasant experience driving toothpicks under your fingernails.

 


 


2. The Spirit
by Jason Sacks

Man, what a steaming pile of crud. Yeah, you could say that about a whole bunch of movies on this list, but really, this movie is a very special sort of steaming pile of crud. Kind of like the carnival porta-john at the end of a hot weekend when kids have eaten giant piles of overly greasy corn dogs and filled the honey bucket to overflowing.

At least the other movies on this list have one or two good moments, but you'd be hard pressed to find even one scene in this horrific mess that is anything other than completely repulsive and absurd. Samuel L. Jackson's portrayal of the Octopus leads the way, of course, all full of Jackson mugging at the screen breathlessly while gallivanting about with some of the most absurd henchmen ever seen on screen. After that role, Jackson should feel himself lucky to still be able to get a job in Hollywood.

Joining Jackson is the supposed hero of the film, Gabriel Macht as the Spirit. Macht produces a breathtaking performance; breathtaking, that is, for his utter and complete lack of charisma in the role. Whenever Macht was on screen I started thinking about my taxes, how the floor needed vacuuming, about how I need to get to the gym more often; anything, that is, but pay attention to this void of charisma in front of my eyes.

Added to all that is the fact that the film is so utterly and insanely incomprehensible. Much like his All-Star Batman and Robin, Miller's The Spirit continually walks a fine line between being compelling and being self-parody, and pretty much always falls on the wrong side of the line. What viewers are left watching is a film that seems to hold them in utter contempt.

Much like the contempt I feel for this wretched, awful turd of a movie.

 


 


1. The Punisher (1989)
by Michael Deeley

*sigh*

Fuck.

That's all you can really say about this movie. It's so bad, you can't describe it without swearing. 

The first movie version of the Punisher starred Dolph Lundgren as Frank Castle. Unlike most superhero movies, we don't see his origin. This Punisher has been killing criminals for years when our movie begins. The Italian mobs are so weak from Castle's war, they're being muscled out by a Yakuza gang. The Yakuza kidnaps the children of the mob leaders and demands their surrender. Now an Italian mobster asks Castle for help rescuing his kids and defeating the greater threat.

If you thought that plot was too simple to screw up, you're wrong.

The biggest problem with the film is Lundgren himself. He may have been told to play Castle like he was dead inside, but instead plays him like he's really dead. Lundgren delivers all his lines in an unintelligible monotone growl. There's absolutely nothing to his character. Or anyone else's. The film is filled with stock, cliché villains that aren't the least bit unique or original. It would be easier to excuse this if there was any story. Instead, we just get scene after scene of unknown people being brutally executed on cheap sets. 

The film ends with the 6 foot tall Lundgren killing a skinny blonde woman with his bare hands. Then he executes a crazy Japanese lady by stabbing her in the head, followed by shooting the mobster dead in front of his own son. Finally, Lundgren puts the gun in the kid's hand, points it at his own head, and tells him if he wants revenge, he should shoot now.

My soul died a little when I saw that.

Every other movie on this list is bad for different reasons. But they all have one thing in common: They can be enjoyed in some way. Whether you laugh at their failure or admit one scene was kind of cool, you can say something nice about them all. You can't say that about The Punisher. Watching this “thing” was one of the worse experiences of my life. I feel bad just knowing it even exists. 

The Punisher.

Shit man.

Shit.

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