We live in an age where superhero movies are made by filmmakers who respect the material and where A-list talent battles to put on tights and confront evil. Movies like 'The Dark Knight' and 'The Avengers' aren't just terrific superhero movies, they're terrific movies in general.
But that's not always the case ... and it used to be much, much worse. Forget about Henry Cavill as Superman. Forget about Christian Bale as Batman. Forget about Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Let's take an unpleasant trip down memory lane and look back at the 10 worst superheroes on film.
There is an alternate universe out there where George Clooney made an excellent Bruce Wayne/Batman. After all, he's a true leading man with charm to spare, plenty of action chops and a jaw that looks great protruding out of a batsuit. Unfortunately, he was cast as the Caped Crusader in 'Batman and Robin,' a film of legendary badness that killed the Batman name for close to a decade. Although Clooney isn't as outright hammy as some of his co-stars, he's the deathly dull center of a two hour toy commercial. 'Batman and Robin' is a hokey slice of nonsense, but it also has the nerve to render Batman himself boring.
Nowadays, everyone loves Ben Affleck. He's an acclaimed filmmaker, a solid presence on the screen and an extremely game 'Saturday Night Live' host. But that wasn't always the case. A decade ago, Affleck was the flavor-of-the-moment celebrity who was married to Jennifer Lopez and headlined a listless and crummy movie adaptation of 'Daredevil.' Affleck's take on the blind super-powered lawyer cannot be described because it's barely a performance -- Affleck lets his costume do all of the work for him, showing none of the charm or range that he'd unlock later in his career. Affleck found success once he abandoned typical action roles and 'Daredevil' is all the proof you need that this was a good idea. He was not built to play superheroes.
Gabriel Macht as The Spirit
Chances are that you forgot 'The Spirit' existed until you scrolled down to this entry on the list. Chances are even stronger that you forgot that Gabriel Macht was actually a person who actually starred in a movie once (unless you're a 'Suits' fan). Frank Miller's woefully misguided adaptation of Will Eisner's classic comic series has problems to spare, but Macht's completely forgettable, blank slate of a hero is chief among them. The film may have tried to keep him as pure and straightforward as his comic counterpart, but the result is a hero who is entirely defined by the fact that he's a Good Guy and nothing else. That's not interesting. At all.
Nicolas Cage as Ghost Rider
Nicolas Cage is supposedly a huge 'Ghost Rider' fan in the real world, but you wouldn't know it from his completely detached performance in the first 'Ghost Rider' movie. The problems extend beyond performance, though. The screenplay finds nothing interesting for the flame-headed superhero to do and his main power (he STARES people to death) is about as lame as you can get on screen. Things took a left turn in the sequel, 'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,' where Cage hammed it up to 11. As fun as a completely loony Cage can be, all it does is make Ghost Rider even more impossible to like or sympathize with. The 'Ghost Rider' character may have his place on the page, but he's been an absolute nightmare on screen.
When classic children's television icon Gumby decided to revitalize his career by starring in a big-budget superhero movie in 2003, people all over the world were skeptical. Even after he bulked up (an admittedly stunning transformation) and threw tanks around in the trailer, people weren't convinced ... and for good reason. Gumby's take on Marvel's green-skinned monster is pretty bad. He looks completely out of place in the film, more like a bad special effect than a character. More damning is the fact that his take on the Hulk simply isn't that interesting. There's no humor or range here, just constant, one-note range. A decade later, 'The Avengers' would finally get this right, but it was too late for Gumby, who passed away from an overdose in late 2007.
'Catwoman' is such a bizarre misfire of a film that it's impossible to place much of the blame on Halle Berry. After all, she gave it her all. She put on that atrocious costume without looking embarrassed. She commits to every dumb joke and bad pun. She actually comes out of the movie unscathed even though the character of Catwoman became an instant joke. Bearing almost no resemblance to the anti-hero from the Batman comics, this take on Catwoman irritated comic fans and baffled the norms. Berry's career as an action heroine faltered and Catwoman herself would lie dormant for eight years, waiting for Anne Hathaway to resurrect her in 'The Dark Knight Rises.'
Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman
There are few superhero casting decisions as poor as putting Jessica Alba in the role of Sue Storm, AKA the Invisible Woman, AKA one-quarter of the Fantastic Four. While Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis were able to bring their members of the iconic superhero team to life through sheer force of will, Alba was immediately dead in the water. It's the kind of role where they put glasses on an attractive woman to let you know that she's supposed to be really smart. Alba displays none of the warmth and intelligence evident in the character on the page, existing as a blank slate on screen -- the token female member of the team. Sure, she looks good in her skin-tight uniform, but there are plenty of actresses who could have looked good while radiating wit and charm. If you want on-screen evidence of why Jessica Alba doesn't headline too many movies, look no further than 'Fantastic Four' and its even worse sequel.
Helen Slater as Supergirl
Do you remember Helen Slater's turn as Supergirl back in 1984? Of course not. Exactly. The long-forgotten 'Supergirl' is a bad movie that has very little going for it, a desperate attempt to keep the 'Superman' brand alive as 'Superman III' set the franchise on the path toward total destruction. Have there been worse performances than Slater's? Most definitely, a few of them in the same movie. But her totally inert performance cuts off any chance the film had of being remotely entertaining. At least 'Superman III' had Christopher Reeve.
Matt Salinger as Captain America
Before Chris Evans played the star-spangled Avenger, Matt Salinger had a crack at the role with 1990's 'Captain America.' Directed by schlock king Albert Pyun, the film is everything that 'Captain America: The First Avenger' is not. Made for pennies, there is not a single frame of this movie that looks remotely impressive and that certainly extends to Salinger's earnest but hilarious performance. To his credit, Salinger helps make 'Captain America' into a B-movie laugh riot, but his poor performance (and even worse costume) keep us from taking Steve Rogers seriously for even a moment.
Shaquille O'Neal as Steel
There was a nightmarish time in the '90s when casting sports stars in major Hollywood productions was a thing. Michael Jordan got 'Space Jam,' Dennis Rodman got 'Double Team' and Shaquille O'Neal got 'Steel,' where he managed to transform a C-list DC character into quite possibly the worst movie superhero of all time. The movie itself is bad for its own reasons, but the character of Steel is awful for one key reason: the lumbering NBA star wearing his armor has no business playing a superhero. Heck, he has no business being in a movie at all. Shaq's total lack of acting talent is jaw-dropping. He's a black hole of awful, making everyone and everything in every scene around him worse just by being there. If we're lucky, 'Steel' will continue to be a movie that only internet list-makers remember.