The title says it all. While many comic book fans are salivating over the upcoming Man Of Steel movie, many of them want to forget not just Superman Returns but those horrendously awful Superman sequels from the ’80s, Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.
On the flip side of that notion there are the Batman movies. Sure Christopher Nolan singlehandedly reinvented and salvaged the Bat franchise with his own take of Batman, but the sting of Joel Schumacher’s version of Batman in the ’90s is still felt.
Altogether these flicks nearly derailed each franchise and forced years-long moratoriums where no new Superman or Batman movies were available. With the Superman train wrecks it took nearly twenty years until a new Superman movie came out. But Superman Returns was a huge letdown and brought upon another drought of Superman flicks until this year. Batman recovered much quicker, his sabbatical from the movies only lasted seven years and his comeback flick Batman Begins set fandom on fire, culminating with The Dark Knight.
Still the nagging question remains, which of those films are worse? Let’s take a look, and start with Superman.
Before Superman III, Superman was riding high in popularity. Superman II was a huge success in the movies with its action-packed story about Kryptonian supervillains coming to Earth and Superman having to confront them. The end of the movie promised a Superman III, which excited many people. Unfortunately, the second sequel was doomed from the start. See, Richard Donner, who deserves credit for his masterful work on Superman and parts of Superman II had no input in the third Superman movie. Executive producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind had a feud with Donner and even fired him during production of Superman II. They turned to their buddy Richard Lester to complete that movie.
Now that they were running the show completely without Donner, they proceeded to ruin Superman by turning Superman III a comedy. It wouldn’t be as bad as it sounded if the movie was funny. Quite the opposite, it was moronic and embarrassing to watch. How bad was it? I put it on a few weeks ago when it was on cable to watch with my seven-year-old nephew. After a few minutes (right around that stupid scene where the traffic light figurines fight with each other), he told me to change the channel because “Superman III is dumb!”
What is hard to believe is that there are actually defenders of this film who hail its dumb comedic bits, including Richard Pryor’s casting! Talk about misfires! Superman III heralded the downfall of Pryor’s reputation in the movies. Once the guy was seen as a comedic genius and had several hit movies under his belt. Then the poor comedian made a comment in a talk show about how he loved Superman II. Fate turned out to be cruel because the filmmakers behind the Superman films got wind of this comment and decided to put him in Superman III. It was a ballsy move, but it didn’t work. Pryor was known for his racy humor, which had to be toned down for the kid-friendly Superman film and instead he became a bumbling, unfunny buffoon in the movie. His character wasn’t much of a villain, just a misguided dupe forced to help an evil tycoon (Robert Vaughn), and of course, he helps Superman in the end. Ho hum.
Superman (and actor Christopher Reeve) took a break and didn’t appear again until the abysmal Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. By this time, the Salkinds washed their hands of the Man of Steel and sold him off to the schlocky film studio Cannon Films, famous for the zero-quality Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson action flicks.
The fourth film, the new filmmakers promised, was supposed to be bigger and better. Instead, the budget for it was severely slashed leaving an extremely cheesy mess. But the worst part was the script where Reeve supposedly had input on. Lord almighty. Superman gets rid of all the nuclear weapons without thinking of the consequences. But the movie doesn’t even cover that or have any serious discussions about that idea. The only thing that happens is that Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) schemes with some generals and creates a sort of Superman clone called Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow). The two superhumans fight and talk in space(!) and Superman pushes the moon to create a solar eclipse to defeat him. It was strictly for kids. Alright I’m stopping. Let’s just say this wasn’t one of Superman’s better films and as much as people like to riff on director Bryan Singer for Superman Returns, at least that movie didn’t have gross scientific inaccuracies.
Moving on to Batman…I think it’s best to say that Warner Bros. overreacted after director Tim Burton walked away from the franchise. Burton got a lot of flak for Batman Returns because it was too dark and didn’t reflect the true nature of Batman. After he left, the studio hired Joel Schumacher, who had a respectable film resume at the time. Then Schumacher decided to camp up Batman Forever.
Bat fans knew something was wrong when in Batman Forever the Caped Crusader’s costume sported nipples and Tommy Lee Jones ran around as Two-Face at the start of the movie cackling and acting like a poor man’s Joker. Then Jim Carrey turned up as the Riddler with some kind of scheme about using TVs to hypnotize people, I can’t remember. Basically, Batman Forever threw out all the Gothic and dark influences from Burton’s movies and went back to its campy TV roots.
Rumblings and complaints from fans didn’t matter, the movie was a big hit. So of course, Schumacher was rewarded by being hired to direct its followup Batman & Robin. And things literally went from bad to worse.
In recent interviews, Joel Schumacher admitted that by that point, he was just making a movie to sell toys and please the marketing department. Have to give the guy props for coming clean and admitting he filmed crap.
Anyway, Batman & Robin is so bad that it destroyed many careers. Schumacher to this day can’t escape the verbal lynching from fans and his films since that debacle haven’t exactly caught the world by storm. But let’s look at Chris O’Donnell, Alicia Silverstone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The three appeared in genuine hit films up until that Bat mess. Schwarzenegger ruled the box office in the ’80s and ’90s! He appeared as Mister Freeze, was given a bunch of corny one-liners and a few years later, he abandoned acting for politics. Now he’s trying to make a comeback. At least, he is still visible in the public eye. What have O’Donnell and Silverstone being up to since Batman & Robin? No peeking at IMDB.com! See what I mean? Ok, O’Donnell appears in NCIS: Los Angeles, but he’s not exactly commanding attention these days.
Some may wonder what is so bad about Batman & Robin? The entire thing looks like an awful, overproduced Broadway show with obvious set designs (look out for the rubber icicles!). With all the ice skating and choreographies it should’ve been called Batman On Ice. Plus, dumb antics like Batman presenting a credit card with the name Batman on it and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy with the plant rejects from the musical Little Shop Of Horrors. Yuck! The real horror was this film, and the studio executives were so clueless that they didn’t realize the turd they had on their hands when they screened it. There was serious discussion about getting Schumacher to direct another Batman movie. Luckily, its poor box office performance and the backlash killed those efforts.
OK, which films are worse? I would have to go with the Superman ones. They were so bad that it took nearly two decades for a followup and they’re really unwatchable. The Schumacher Batman films are can be watched if you’re drunk or want to act out Mystery Science Theater 3000.
As bad as they were, fans should take heart in a couple of things. One, those franchises had to hit rock bottom before the studios realized they had to treat their properties with respect. Two, at least we didn’t get a third Schumacher Batman film or Nicolas Cage as Superman. Oh the horror.