(Photo by 20th Century Fox. Thumbnail: Netflix/courtesy Everett Collection.)

The Worst Superhero Movies of All Time

Great leaping tomatoes! It’s the worst superhero movies ever, an infamous league of Rotten films that scored less than 30% on the Tomatometer!

First off, to keep this list spandex-tight, not only did we include superhero movies below 30%, but each had to have at least 20 reviews, guaranteeing enough critics witnessed of these erratic efforts, franchise non-starters, and would-be blockbusters.

After looking through the list, if you’re wondering why you didn’t see the 1990 Captain America movie, a bunch of those sequels to The Crow, or Dolph Lundgren’s The Punisher, they were cut out by not accumulating at least 20 critics reviews. But, don’t worry, still plenty of room for Frank in this castle of decrepitude, as the other two Punisher movies, the Thomas Jane one and War Zone, are represented. In fact, they both even currently have the same score at 29%, just squeezing into the list. And while most Audience Scores are in the same realm as its movie’s Tomatometer, there’s a divergence on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Dark Phoenix: Both Rotten movies according to the critics, but which settled above 60% on the Audience Score.

Nic Cage appears twice on this list because they made two Ghost Rider movies. Ryan Reynolds also shows up twice but in two separate franchises, mucking it up in both houses of Marvel and DC via Blade: Trinity and Green Lantern. And because who doesn’t like a comic book showdown, in the battle of Marvel vs DC over who’s made the most worst superhero movies, Marvel is “triumphant” with 10 listings, and DC at 9. We didn’t count The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the movie so bad it made Sean Connery quit acting, because though it was at the time produced at an imprint of an imprint of DC Comics (it’s imprint-ception, people), the comic was always wholly owned by its creator Alan Moore.

Of course, let’s not count out other labels making special appearances, like 2000 A.D. (Judge Dredd) or Image (Spawn). Then there’s the magic that happens when when Hollywood executives come together to create something that didn’t come from a comic book, with sparkling results like Tim Allen’s Zoom, an adaptation of TV cartoon Underdog, and the toy-based Max Steel.

One last thing: For movies with the same Tomatometer scores, whichever had more reviews was placed higher. Now, come take a flying leap as we rank the worst superhero movies of all time!

(And see a movie here you love and think ‘Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong’? Send us a note and we might cover your movie in our new podcast. Hit us up at rtiswrong@rottentomatoes.com.)

#30
Adjusted Score: 56047%
Critics Consensus: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice smothers a potentially powerful story -- and some of America's most iconic superheroes -- in a grim whirlwind of effects-driven action.
Synopsis: It's been nearly two years since Superman's (Henry Cavill) colossal battle with Zod (Michael Shannon) devastated the city of Metropolis.... [More]
Directed By: Zack Snyder

#29

Ghost Rider (2007)
26%

#29
Adjusted Score: 31751%
Critics Consensus: Ghost Rider is a sour mix of morose, glum histrionics amidst jokey puns and hammy dialogue.
Synopsis: Years ago, motorcycle stuntman Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) sold his soul to save the life of a loved one. Now,... [More]
Directed By: Mark Steven Johnson

#28

Green Lantern (2011)
26%

#28
Adjusted Score: 34641%
Critics Consensus: Noisy, overproduced, and thinly written, Green Lantern squanders an impressive budget and decades of comics mythology.
Synopsis: Sworn to preserve intergalactic order, the Green Lantern Corps has existed for centuries. Its newest recruit, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds),... [More]
Directed By: Martin Campbell

#27

Suicide Squad (2016)
26%

#27
Adjusted Score: 50741%
Critics Consensus: Suicide Squad boasts a talented cast and a little more humor than previous DCEU efforts, but they aren't enough to save the disappointing end result from a muddled plot, thinly written characters, and choppy directing.
Synopsis: Figuring they're all expendable, a U.S. intelligence officer decides to assemble a team of dangerous, incarcerated supervillains for a top-secret... [More]
Directed By: David Ayer

#26

Blade: Trinity (2004)
25%

#26
Adjusted Score: 30942%
Critics Consensus: Louder, campier, and more incoherent than its predecessors, Blade: Trinity seems content to emphasize style over substance and rehash familiar themes.
Synopsis: The war between humans and vampires continues, but the humans' best hope, human-vampire hybrid warrior Blade (Wesley Snipes), has been... [More]
Directed By: David S. Goyer

#25

Bulletproof Monk (2003)
23%

#25
Adjusted Score: 27186%
Critics Consensus: Venerable action star Chow Yun-Fat is the only saving grace in this silly action flick that more often than not resembles a commercial in style.
Synopsis: For 60 years, a mysterious monk with no name (Chow Yun-Fat) has zigzagged the globe to protect an ancient scroll... [More]
Directed By: Paul Hunter

#24
Adjusted Score: 23102%
Critics Consensus: It's a case of one sequel too many for the heroes in a half shell, with a tired time-travel plot gimmick failing to save the franchise from rapidly diminishing returns.
Synopsis: Reporter April O'Neil (Paige Turco) purchases an ancient Japanese scepter that can cause those simultaneously holding it in different centuries... [More]
Directed By: Stuart Gillard

#23

Dark Phoenix (2019)
22%

#23
Adjusted Score: 45021%
Critics Consensus: Dark Phoenix ends an era of the X-Men franchise by taking a second stab at adapting a classic comics arc -- with deeply disappointing results.
Synopsis: The X-Men face their most formidable and powerful foe when one of their own, Jean Grey, starts to spiral out... [More]
Directed By: Simon Kinberg

#22

Judge Dredd (1995)
22%

#22
Adjusted Score: 24272%
Critics Consensus: Judge Dredd wants to be both a legitimate violent action flick and a parody of one, but director Danny Cannon fails to find the necessary balance to make it work.
Synopsis: In the crime-plagued future, the only thing standing between order and chaos is Judge Joseph Dredd (Sylvester Stallone). His duty:... [More]
Directed By: Danny Cannon

#21

Thunder Force (2021)
21%

#21
Adjusted Score: 28087%
Critics Consensus: It's got a few chuckles, but Thunder Force is largely a superhero comedy that's neither exciting nor funny -- and an egregious waste of its co-stars' talents.
Synopsis: Two childhood best friends reunite as an unlikely crime-fighting superhero duo when one invents a formula that gives ordinary people... [More]
Directed By: Ben Falcone

#20
Adjusted Score: 26660%
Critics Consensus: Neither entertaining enough to recommend nor remarkably awful, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may bear the distinction of being the dullest movie ever made about talking bipedal reptiles.
Synopsis: Spawned from a lab experiment gone awry, teenage terrapins Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael live in the sewers beneath New... [More]
Directed By: Jonathan Liebesman

#19
Adjusted Score: 21365%
Critics Consensus: With a weak script, uneven CG work, and a Nic Cage performance so predictably loony it's no longer amusing, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance aims to be trashy fun but ends up as plain trash.
Synopsis: Now hiding out in Eastern Europe, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) is still struggling with the curse of the Ghost Rider... [More]

#18

Spawn (1997)
17%

#18
Adjusted Score: 19439%
Critics Consensus: Spawn is an overbearing, over-violent film that adds little to the comic book adaptation genre.
Synopsis: Covert government assassin Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is killed after being double-crossed by his boss, Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen).... [More]
Directed By: Mark A.Z. Dippé

#17
Adjusted Score: 23265%
Critics Consensus: Just ordinary. LXG is a great premise ruined by poor execution.
Synopsis: A team of extraordinary figures culled from great adventure literature (including Alan Quatermain, vampiress Mina Harker from Dracula, the Invisible... [More]
Directed By: Stephen Norrington

#16

Underdog (2007)
16%

#16
Adjusted Score: 17350%
Critics Consensus: Underdog is a mostly forgettable adaptation that relies far too heavily on recycled material and sloppy production.
Synopsis: After a lab accident gives him extraordinary powers, including the ability to speak, a canine (Jason Lee) declares himself the... [More]
Directed By: Frederik Du Chau

#15
Adjusted Score: 15495%
Critics Consensus: No no, Power Rangers.
Synopsis: The young superheroes square off against an evil villainess who plots to free a fiery monster from its volcano cage.... [More]
Directed By: Shuki Levy, David Winning

#14

The Spirit (2008)
14%

#14
Adjusted Score: 17156%
Critics Consensus: Though its visuals are unique, The Spirit's plot is almost incomprehensible, the dialogue is ludicrously mannered, and the characters are unmemorable.
Synopsis: Apparently murdered cop Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) returns as the Spirit, dedicated to protecting Central City from crime. His archenemy,... [More]
Directed By: Frank Miller

#13

Howard the Duck (1986)
14%

#13
Adjusted Score: 15686%
Critics Consensus: While it has its moments, Howard the Duck suffers from an uneven tone and mediocre performances.
Synopsis: In this film based on the comic book character, Howard the Duck is suddenly beamed from Duckworld, a planet of... [More]
Directed By: Willard Huyck

#12

Steel (1997)
12%

#12
Adjusted Score: 11944%
Critics Consensus: Steel is a badly-acted movie that indulges not only in superhero cliches, but also the sappy TV-movie-of-the-week ones.
Synopsis: Former Army scientists (Shaquille O'Neal, Annabeth Gish), one in a steel suit, team up in Los Angeles against another (Judd... [More]
Directed By: Kenneth Johnson

#11

Batman & Robin (1997)
12%

#11
Adjusted Score: 17028%
Critics Consensus: Joel Schumacher's tongue-in-cheek attitude hits an unbearable limit in Batman & Robin resulting in a frantic and mindless movie that's too jokey to care much for.
Synopsis: This superhero adventure finds Batman (George Clooney) and his partner, Robin (Chris O'Donnell), attempting to the foil the sinister schemes... [More]
Directed By: Joel Schumacher

#10

Jonah Hex (2010)
12%

#10
Adjusted Score: 16503%
Critics Consensus: Josh Brolin gives it his best shot, but he can't keep the short, unfocused Jonah Hex from collapsing on the screen.
Synopsis: Having cheated death, gunslinger and bounty hunter Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) has one foot in the natural world and one... [More]
Directed By: Jimmy Hayward

#9
Adjusted Score: 13609%
Critics Consensus: The Superman series bottoms out here: the action is boring, the special effects look cheaper, and none of the actors appear interested in where the plot's going.
Synopsis: Seeing the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a nuclear arms race that could lead to Earth's destruction,... [More]
Directed By: Sidney J. Furie

#8
#8
Adjusted Score: 12508%
Critics Consensus: The Crow: City of Angels is a sloppy pretender that captures neither the mood nor energy of the original.
Synopsis: After mechanic Ashe (Vincent Perez) and his son (Eric Acosta) witness a murder, they are captured and killed by drug... [More]
Directed By: Tim Pope

#7

Elektra (2005)
11%

#7
Adjusted Score: 16416%
Critics Consensus: Jennifer Garner inhabits her role with earnest gusto, but Elektra's tone deaf script is too self-serious and bereft of intelligent dialogue to provide engaging thrills.
Synopsis: Assassin-for-hire Elektra (Jennifer Garner) works for a mysterious international organization known as the Hand, for which she kills her targets... [More]
Directed By: Rob Bowman

#6

Supergirl (1984)
9%

#6
Adjusted Score: 10233%
Critics Consensus: The effects are cheesy and Supergirl's wide-eyed, cheery heroine simply isn't interesting to watch for an hour and a half.
Synopsis: Kara (Helen Slater) of Argo City poses as Clark Kent's cousin, Linda Lee, to recover the Omegahedron from a witch... [More]
Directed By: Jeannot Szwarc

#5

Catwoman (2004)
9%

#5
Adjusted Score: 15185%
Critics Consensus: Halle Berry is the lone bright spot, but even she can't save this laughable action thriller.
Synopsis: "Catwoman" is the story of shy, sensitive artist Patience Philips (Halle Berry), a woman who can't seem to stop apologizing... [More]
Directed By: Pitof

#4

Fantastic Four (2015)
9%

#4
Adjusted Score: 18685%
Critics Consensus: Dull and downbeat, this Fantastic Four proves a woefully misguided attempt to translate a classic comic series without the humor, joy, or colorful thrills that made it great.
Synopsis: Transported to an alternate universe, four young outsiders gain superhuman powers as they alter their physical form in shocking ways.... [More]
Directed By: Josh Trank

#3

Son of the Mask (2005)
6%

#3
Adjusted Score: 8691%
Critics Consensus: Overly frantic, painfully unfunny, and sorely missing the presence of Jim Carrey.
Synopsis: A cartoonist and family man, Tim Avery (Jamie Kennedy) lives a peaceful existence with his wife, Tonya (Traylor Howard), as... [More]
Directed By: Lawrence Guterman

#2

Zoom (2006)
4%

#2
Adjusted Score: 6239%
Critics Consensus: Lacking the punch and good cheer of The Incredibles and Sky High, Zoom is a dull and laugh-free affair.
Synopsis: Capt. Zoom, or Jack (Tim Allen), as he is now known, has long since given up his career of fighting... [More]
Directed By: Peter Hewitt

#1

Max Steel (2016)
0%

#1
Adjusted Score: 396%
Critics Consensus: Bereft of characterization or even satisfying rock 'em sock 'em, Max Steel feels like futzing with an action figure without any childhood imagination.
Synopsis: Teenager Max McGrath (Ben Winchell) discovers that his body can generate the most powerful energy in the universe. Steel (Josh... [More]
Directed By: Stewart Hendler

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Jon, happy birthday to you. On Jon Bernthal’s birthday, Marvel and Netflix released the first trailer for The Punisher solo series. Bernthal debuted as Frank Castle in season 2 of Daredevil, and fans have been waiting for a glimpse of this series ever since.

Set to Metallica’s haunting ballad “One,” The Punisher’s new trailer answers a few questions. but asks many more. Here are a few perceptive reactions to the trailer.


FRANK CASTLE IS A HEADBANGER IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE

“One” is a good choice for The Punisher. Whether it’s in the actual show or was just a one-time use kind of thing, it represents the pain Castle feels having lost his wife and daughter. Then the heavy metal part sets the rhythm for The Punisher breaking heads.


EVEN HATERS ARE IMPRESSED

The Punisher may have won back some fans after the dismal Iron Fist and underwhelming The Defenders.

Or it may have attracted entirely new fans who never cared about Marvel shows before.


IT LETS YOU KNOW THE PUNISHER IS VIOLENT

Maybe it’s not Punisher: War Zone violent, but these two minutes were more brutal than entire seasons of Daredevil or Jessica Jones. That’s not for everybody.


IS THIS REALLY THE FRANK CASTLE YOU WANT TO SEE?

Looks like Frank is rooting out a government conspiracy in this series. Is that really The Punisher’s wheelhouse? Shouldn’t he be going after low-level thugs?


CAN THE PUNISHER EVEN SUSTAIN HIS OWN SHOW?

The Punisher had no trouble maintaining his own comic book and even several spinoffs like “War Journal” and “War Zone.” The trailer doesn’t satisfy everyone about a solo series.


IT JUST ROCKS

You don’t really have to read into the trailer to love it.


BUT WHEN IS IT ON?

No one could see the premiere date because it’s intentionally scrambled. Only the year is for sure so there will be a Punisher Netflix series on before the end of 2017.


The Punisher premieres this year on Netflix.

Hugh Jackman delivers his slicey swan song as Wolverine in Logan, the R-rated for-realsies conclusion to the arc of Marvel’s famous X-Man. This week’s gallery pays tribute to the Marvel movies that existed before and now compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe — read on for the best & worst Marvel movies (outside the MCU)!

PunisherWarZoneTitle

As its title suggests, Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael’s wildly popular bad movie podcast How Did This Get Made? exists to provide a comedic post-mortem and dissection of flops so terrible, their very existence defies comprehension. It is a podcast about bad movies that, at its best, enthusiastically celebrates the dregs of cinema as much it humorously condemns them.

But every once in a while the podcast turns into something much different. That was the case in October of 2011, when national treasure Patton Oswalt and Punisher: War Zone director Lexi Alexander came on the podcast not to derive schadenfreude over a terrible movie’s failure but rather to herald the oft-overlooked virtues of the third attempt to bring Marvel’s bloodthirsty vigilante to the big screen.

Alexander told riveting behind-the-scenes stories of how the filmmaker behind the well-respected English soccer drama Green Street Hooligans became the latest caretaker of one of Marvel’s trickiest anti-heroes, providing fascinating insight into the complicated and fraught manner by which filmmakers balance their personal visions with the commercial demands of making a contemporary superhero movie. Oswalt was on the podcast in his capacity as a widely beloved stand-up comedian and podcast fixture, but more than that, he was there in his unofficial but essential role as a pop culture evangelist, a man of deep and deeply informed passions who has devoted much of his life and career to convincing other people to love the art and trash and entertainment that sings to him as much as it does. Oswalt was able to re-contextualize what had been roundly dismissed as another grim mistake as a movie that came closer than the two previous Punisher movies in bringing the Punisher of the comic books to the big screen with his brutal, uncompromising intensity intact.

FrankCastleUnwell

“Ray Stevenson doesn’t just cut an unmistakably bleak and tortured figure; on a physical level, he looks deeply unwell.”

As Oswalt articulated on the podcast, Frank Castle/The Punisher, as played by Ray Stevenson, doesn’t just cut an unmistakably bleak and tortured figure; on a physical level, he looks deeply unwell, like the soul-sickness afflicting his spirit seeped into his body as well and contaminated him on a biological level. But it isn’t just Frank Castle’s body that is rotting and unclean. The city he protects has also clearly seen better days, and has devolved into a grim, nightmare dystopia of rust, filth and grime. It’s as if the sun went away the moment Castle’s wife and children were brutally murdered by hoods and never came back, and the haunted expression on Stevenson’s face and his thousand-yard stare convey that grief artfully and effectively.

For Castle, action is character, and the Punisher is nothing if not a man of action. Punisher: War Zone doesn’t waste a lot of time on exposition — no mean feat for a movie tasked with re-introducing an iconic comic book character a lot of the audience will not be familiar with — and what little exposition War Zone does possess feels wholly unnecessary. Stevenson does not talk much; he prefers to let his impressive, oft-employed arsenal communicate for him, and its primary message seems to be that there are far too many bad people still alive in this sick, sad world, and that Castle will do everything in his power to change that. In the film’s impressive first set-piece, he furtively infiltrates a massive mob gathering and, lit only by a flare that gives him a demonic, unholy glow, proceeds to slaughter an entire mob family in a gorgeously choreographed symphony of bloodshed. It’s gun-fu at its finest, and highlights Lexi Alexander’s gift for staging action sequences that are visceral and exciting but also clean and comprehensible.

As an icon, the Punisher is defined by his eagerness to go too far, to routinely transgress the perpetually blurry boundaries separating good and evil for the sake of both vengeance and justice. So in order for a film adaptation to be true to the character, it similarly needs to make a virtue of going too far. For Punisher: War Zone, that means allowing the Punisher to rack up a body count that approaches the population of a small island nation and to amass that body count in the bloodiest, most graphic manner imaginable. Frank Castle is an artist who paints in gushing spurts of blood and exploding skulls, a mad scientist — complete with a shadowy, nightmarish lair — whose science, as it were, is mass bloodshed.

As a result, this is a Marvel movie unlike any other, if only because it isn’t just a distinctly unfamily-friendly R — it’s a hard R, the kind that could easily veer into NC-17 territory with a few more exploding skulls or a little more messy viscera flying in every direction. That R rating goes a long way towards explaining why Punisher: War Zone is, if not the single least commercially successful Marvel film of all time, then at least one of them.

PunisherAction3

“For Castle, action is character, and the Punisher is nothing if not a man of action.”

Much of the appeal of the Marvel universe lies in the inter-connected nature of everything, in the sense that Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy for that matter, all share the same universe and could stop by and visit each other if the fancy struck them. That’s true of comic books as well. Hell, the Punisher debuted in an issue of Spider-Man and shares some super-villains with Daredevil (whose Netflix show he is currently a character on) and your friendly neighborhood webslinger.

But it’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine the Punisher of Punisher: War Zone sharing a screen with Thor or the Incredible Hulk or Iron Man. If Hulk were to pop up for a cameo in Punisher: War Zone the way Falcon pops up briefly in Ant-Man, it would be so jarring and surreal that it would completely destroy the brutal realities of the film, a reality rooted in grief and misery but also one that could not, and will not, support appearances from radioactive spider-people or gamma ray-damaged green rage monsters. Castle lives his entire life in the agonizing, endlessly painful shadow of the brutal massacre of the people he loved most in the world, so it would seem pretty damn bizarre if he were to, say, take a break from his endless mourning to joke around with Captain America.

Still, Punisher: War Zone benefits from a deep vein of gallows humor that complements the almost cartoonishly over-the-top violence rather than undercuts it. In the film’s most inspired running gag, an insufferable group of parkour enthusiast bad guys leap and sashay their way around a grim urban hellscape, hooting and hollering with glee at their robust athleticism. It’s a loving parody of action movies’ weird momentary fixation on parkour (a fixation that has led to actual parkour-based action movies) exaggerated to comic extremes that has an awesome payoff when the freerunning showoffs are leaping about and Castle kills one with bullets, one with a rocket, and the last one by hurling him off a building and onto a spike. It’s a funny gag, but it’s also a statement of purpose: other action movies can waste their time with trendy nonsense that already looked silly and dated by the time Punisher: War Zone hit theaters in 2008; Alexander’s film understands the power and deadly force of a scowling, stationary man with an arsenal and deadly aim.

Since Castle doesn’t do much talking, Dominic West is free to ham it up as Jigsaw in a performance that owes a great deal to Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman and is never more compelling than when Jigsaw is buddying around with Loony Bin Jim, the brother he springs from the mental hospital to assist him in his crime spree. And as Loony Bin Jim, a lunatic with an intense interest in human anatomy more homicidal than medical, veteran character actor Doug Hutchinson is incredibly creepy and disturbing, albeit not as creepy or disturbing as in the other role Hutchinson is known for: the “veteran character actor in desperate erotic thrall to nightmare teenage exhibitionist Courteney Stodden” in the tacky, vulgar reality show known as real life, and alternatively, in Couples Therapy.

DominicWestJigsaw5

“Dominic West is free to ham it up as Jigsaw in a performance that owes a great deal to Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman.”

Loony Bin Jim and Jigsaw clearly love each other. In a sweet — if wholly deranged — display of affection, “LBJ” tries to make Jigsaw feel better about the horrifying prospect of being reminded of his grotesque disfigurement every time he looks at his reflection by flamboyantly smashing every mirror he encounters. That familial bond of brotherly love is an endearing quality, even in sociopaths.

Thanks in no small part to Hutchinson’s scummily compelling turn, Punisher: War Zone is so unrelentingly nasty, dour and disturbing in its grim take on society and human nature that audiences might want to take a shower after it’s over. Then again, that’s true of any ten-minute stretch of Couples Therapy as well.

When projects are rejected by the public the way Punisher: War Zone was, there is an understandable tendency to romanticize and mourn the film fans wanted it to be. While I think Punisher: War Zone is an entertaining, unique and bleakly funny take on well-worn superhero fare, I think there is an element of that at play here as well. Punisher: War Zone is no overlooked masterpiece, but it is a nifty little sleeper that’s better than its reputation suggests.

The Marvel cinematic universe is vast, and it seems to grow larger by the day. But the appeal of Punisher: War Zone lies in how small and bleak and claustrophobic it is, too small and bleak and claustrophobic to support guest appearances from other, sunnier heroes. Unfortunately, other things were small when it came to Punisher: War Zone as well, like its budget and a box-office gross that was record-setting for all the wrong reasons. When it comes to racking up a body count, however, Punisher: War Zone wasn’t just huge: it was epic.


My Original Certification: Rotten
My Re-Certification: Fresh
Tomatometer: 27 percent

Up next: Trick ‘r’ Treat

Enter Marvel Movie Madness, wherein Rotten Tomatoes watches all of the significant Marvel movies ever made. Full Marvel Movie Madness list here. Tune in! We give you our thoughts, and you give us yours.

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Part 18: Punisher: War Zone (2008, 27% @ 98 reviews)

Directed by Lexi Alexander, starring Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Wayne Knight, Julie Benz

Alex: Another stab at a Punisher movie, another failure. Ray Stevenson mostly looks grumpy, not quite insane enough. The rest of the cast seemed to have been given no direction to rein in their characters, especially Dominic West as villain Jigsaw and Julie Benz as the widow of an undercover FBI agent slain by the Punisher.

The basic plot revolves around the Punisher somehow discovering that, among the hundreds of thugs he guns down, one happened to be an FBI agent. Suddenly, he has a conscience. Why does he even care?

This is a Saw-era Lionsgate movie and it shows. Blood and organs all over the place, with the same half-assed shrug for human life. Characters come and go, each dying randomly without a single dramatic moment.

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Tim: Yeah, Punisher: War Zone isn’t very good. But give it credit for one thing: it’s more honest in its intentions than the previous Punisher flick. It doesn’t aspire to be anything more than a brutal exploitation flick, and on that level it feels (slightly) less morally questionable than its predecessor. It’s still got plenty of problems; after an explosive opening, it sags badly in the middle, and the subplot about a terrorist attack on New York City is barely fleshed out (and gives the bad guys the opportunity to use the word “ragheads” a couple times — though I probably shouldn’t be surprised that a Punisher movie isn’t particularly concerned with political correctness). Ray Stevenson does his best with the role — he’s got the grizzled look of a seen-it-all vigilante, and he’s credible as an action star. And it’s always a pleasure to see The Wire‘s Dominic West on the big screen, but it’s a pity his wryly expressive face is trapped behind gory prosthetics for most of the movie. Overall, there isn’t much in the way of compelling characters or plotting, and what we’re left with is a so-so b-movie with a better than average cast and a couple decent shoot-outs. Who woulda thunk that the Dolph Lundgren Punisher would end up being the most satisfying of the bunch?

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Matt: I don’t think this movie is very good, but it’s not as bad as the other attempts and bringing The Punisher to the big screen. If you really want to see a grim and brutal vigilante take down criminal scum, that’s what you get. Is this Punisher movie truest to the character? Yes. Does that make for a good movie? Not really. Depending on how squeamish you are, the movie isn’t unwatchable, but it’s not a great example of moviemaking either. More than anything else, this movie comes off as a Saw-type action movie, like Alex says. Which isn’t to say that wouldn’t have an audience, but it’s likely to be relatively small.

I think the biggest problem here is that the Punisher is a pretty limited character to work with. Getting into his origin works in the comics, but the nature of a 30 page comic means that you’d get his origin and that’s it (next issue: more blood and guts!). Dropping the origin story into a movie is dicey though, because you’re going to have to juggle the tragedy of his family with the viciousness of his never-ending quest for revenge on all criminals. It occurs to me that Punisher is like Batman, if Batman had been a marine when his family was killed and then had a murderously psychotic breakdown. Sure, they both fight criminals, but The Punisher crosses the line. Which was the whole point of the character. He was a villain when he first showed up, and he still plays that role quite a bit. Marvel editors will sometimes put him in the hero column, but I don’t think it fits really well in the comics, and it’s even worse in the movies. Maybe the best thing Hollywood could do for the Punisher would be to treat him as the villain, because the heroics sure as hell aren’t working for him.


More Marvel Movie Madness:

It’s a big week for fans of Stephenie Meyer’s vampire romance Twilight, which was adapted into the biggest movie phenomenon of 2008 and is headed to shelves this Saturday, March 21. But which exclusive DVD/Blu-ray package should you pick up for your favorite Bella and Edward devotee? For those who react violently at the very mention of Twilight, we’ve got the perfect antidote: the brutal comic book crime thriller Punisher: War Zone, which reboots Marvel’s anti-hero …again. Also this week, check out Disney’s Certified Fresh animated flick Bolt, the Penelope Cruz-Ben Kingsley drama Elegy, and a few classics given the re-mastered treatment (Akira Kurosawa’s Dodes’ka-den, the F.W. Murnau box set). Read up on more new releases here.

 

Twilight (3/21) — 49%

 

Twilight fan girls, the most exciting week of the year has arrived! (That is, until Twilight‘s sequel, New Moon, hits theaters on November 20). The teenage romance about a girl named Bella and her vampire beau, Edward Cullen, was the biggest movie phenomenon of last year, and came out of nowhere to score over $372 million in worldwide sales, spawn a hit soundtrack, and single-handedly keep Hot Topic stores everywhere in business. This Saturday, the savvy folks at Summit will release the first film in the Twilight franchise on 2-disc, 3-disc, and Blu-ray versions with enough bonus materials to satisfy your Twilight jones.

Which Twilight release should you pick up? The standard-issue 2-disc DVD comes with an impressive array of extras, headlined by an audio commentary with director Catherine Hardwicke and her two stars, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. Hardwicke introduces five deleted scenes, and joins her cast and crew (and Stephenie Meyer) in a seven-part documentary about all aspects of the Twilight production. A Comic-Con buzz piece reveals the 2008 panel that took San Diego by storm, and music videos by Paramore, Muse, and Linkin Park give the MTV crowd a few tangential Twilight extras.

But why settle for the standard DVD when you can get much, much more? A Borders-exclusive 2-disc release offers additional cast interviews and video from the red carpet premiere, plus 10 exclusive collectible cards. Over at Target, you’ll find a 3-disc exclusive set that includes a digital version of the film and a third disc of additional Twilight movie footage that includes Edward’s piano performance, Pattinson and Stewart featurettes, Bella’s Lullaby remix video, a conversation with Stephenie Meyer, and — most importantly — a vampire kiss montage created by Hardwicke herself. The Blu-ray release — available only at Target and Best Buy for the first few months — contains all of the above-mentioned extra features.

Target’s 3-disc exclusive is our recommendation for Twilight on DVD…that is, until Amazon’s Ultimate Collector’s Edition box set ($109.99) hits on May 5, 2009. (A Twilight charm bracelet and jewelry box and a teaser for New Moon?? We’re so there. ) Until then, camp out for your local midnight DVD release party and watch our exclusive DVD bonus clip below.

 

Next: Marvel reboots its anti-hero again in Punisher: War Zone

Punisher: War Zone — 24%

Hollywood has twice before attempted to bring Marvel’s violent anti-hero The Punisher to life, failing miserably in both efforts. Would the third time be the charm? The answer, according to critics, was no. Though director Lexi Alexander (Green Street Hooligans) brought a certain genre-indulging flair to her Punisher: War Zone, reviews nudged this redo a few notches below its 2004 predecessor; somewhere, Thomas Jane shakes his fists in triumph. Alexander’s vision catches up with Frank Castle, AKA The Punisher (Ray Stevenson), years after the tragic loss of his family, when he inadvertently lends a hand in the creation of his archnemesis, Jigsaw (Dominic West). Shot darkly and with intense, gory violence, this is a comic book thriller shot more like a horror film — see Stevenson literally slam his fist into a poor thug’s face in our exclusive red band clip below. A filmmaker commentary and making-of featurettes accompany the standard DVD, while Blu-ray viewers can use the nifty BD-Live MOLOG application to insert images and text into the film and share their own “blogs.”

 

Next: Disney’s Oscar-nominated adventure, Bolt

Bolt (3/22) — 87%

Disney’s Oscar-nominated tale about a canine actor trying to find his way home to Hollywood won over critics and audiences alike — and kids and adults alike — thanks to its sweet “a girl and her dog” sentiments and pop culture-savvy dialogue. The Certified Fresh release arrives on DVD and Blu-ray as one of the more satisfying family-entertainment titles of late, and, proving that Pixar doesn’t have a complete monopoly on the genre, drew kudos as one of the best animated flicks of 2008. Tween fans will be delighted to see lots of Miley Cyrus all over the DVD and Blu-ray bonus materials, as well as insightful making-of featurettes and behind-the-scenes glimpses; a feature dedicated to Rhino (Bolt’s hammy hamster sidekick) is a nice coda for the film’s biggest scene-stealer.

 

Next: Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz in Elegy

Elegy — 72%

Although she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Penelope Cruz drew the praise of critics for another 2008 performance — that of the alluring Consuela in Elegy, Isabel Coixet‘s adaptation of the Philip Roth novel “The Dying Animal.” In Elegy, Cruz catches the eye of college professor David Kepesh (Sir Ben Kingsley), a sixty-something intellectual whose habit of seducing and discarding younger women changes when the two strike up a long-term romance; his self-destructiveness leads to their break-up, though he remains haunted by the loss. Sadly, the DVD contains only one making-of feature and an audio or commentary by writer Nicholas Meyer (who wrote two of the best Star Trek flicks, The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home, as well as The Human Stain).

 

Next: International animation and adventure — Azur & Asmar

Azur & Asmar: The Princes’ Quest — 85%

This French animated film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival but never made it into theaters (although the Weinstein Co. owned rights to release it), so its debut this week on home video is its best bet at reaching a wide audience in the states. Award-winning director Michel Ocelot (Kirikou and the Sorceress) based his original tale of two brotherly friends on a quest to free a fabled fairy on folk stories from Africa and the Middle East, and enlisted Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour to provide a score. Stills, storyboards, Ocelot interviews, and a Q&A with children are found on the DVD, along with a charming animated short film made by a group of schoolchildren.

 

Next: Criterion releases a rare Kurosawa gem

Dodes’ka-den — N/A

Most movie-watchers know the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa for his epic samurai films (Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, and Yojimbo among them) so it’s nice to discover little gems like Dodes’ka-den, a comparatively small movie that marked the auteur’s departure from his best-known genre. In 1970, Kurosawa filmed a project of firsts — his first color film, his fastest production, his first film after breaking with favored actor Toshiro Mifune — focusing on a commune of poor citizens who live in a Tokyo slum; the film’s title refers to the sound of an imaginary train that one character, a young boy, fantasizes of driving. After Dodes’ka-den tanked at the box office, Kurosawa attempted suicide but bounced back to direct Kagemusha and Ran, films now thought of among his best work.

Criterion has given Dodes’ka-den a new transfer on a disc highlighted by a making-of documentary and an essay by film scholar Stephen Prince.

 

Next: Silent film auteur F.W. Murnau gets a new box set

F.W. Murnau box set (Tartuffe/Nosferatu/The Last Laugh/Faust/The Haunted Castle/The Finances of the Grand Duke) — N/A

Tartuffe, Nosferatu, The Last Laugh — these silent film classics are just three of six F.W. Murnau films presented in a newly restored box set put out by Kino this week. Along with Faust, The Haunted Castle, and The Finances of the Grand Duke (none of which have been previously released on DVD), all six films have been remastered from 35mm archival prints and loaded with bonus materials (ranging from retrospective making-of features, original scores, newly composed musical arrangements, production art, and analyses by film scholars), a treat for any fan of silent cinema or of the innovative German filmmaker.

Next: Euro-soccer fervor meets sequelitis in Goal 2: Living the Dream

Goal II: Living the Dream — 41%

What, did you think one Goal movie was enough? (A third film in the series, Goal 3, has been released to DVD in the UK.) In the sequel to 2005’s Goal! The Dream Begins, Mexican-American soccer player Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker), is still Living the Dream as a pro-footballer when he’s traded to Real Madrid and moves to Spain — but will personal demons from his past leave his career and relationship sidelined? Alessandro Nivola, Rutger Hauer, and Nick Cannon co-star, while David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, and plenty of your favorite international pros make cameos.

Next: The Princess Bride comes to Blu-ray

The Princess Bride on Blu-ray

Looking for a great new addition to your Blu-ray collection? The Princess Bride has it all: fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles… and on the new Blu-ray release, MGM and 20th Century Fox are adding a standard DVD to boot. However, beyond the high definition treatment, Rob Reiner’s tale of love, adventure, and storytelling isn’t getting much in the way of new special features — offering most of what previous DVD editions have offered, albeit in one release — so this Blu-ray will be best for BD owners who don’t already have Princess Bride in some iteration. Have fun stormin’ da castle!

 

Until next week, happy renting!

This week at the movies, we’ve got red-hot rhythm and blues (Cadillac Records, starring Adrien Brody and Beyonce Knowles), vigilante justice (Punisher: War Zone, starring Ray Stevenson and Dominic West), and a kidnapping caper (Nobel Son, starring Alan Rickman and Eliza Dushku). What do the critics have to say?

The influence of Chess Records’ output on popular music is impossible to overstate, and it’s difficult to imagine any film about its seminal roster — which included Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, and Chuck Berry — doing it justice. The critics say while Cadillac Records falls a bit short of this noble goal, it’s still a well-acted, finely crafted piece of work. The movie stars Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, a Polish immigrant whose enthusiasm for R&B and blues led him to record some of the best music of the 1950s and 1960s, an era during which the sounds of African American musicians began to reach the mainstream. Chess has a familial relationship with his artists, including James (Beyonce Knowles) and Waters (Jeffrey Wright), but their personal demons — and the huge success of Berry (Mos Def) — creates disharmony at the label. The pundits say much of Cadillac Records is the stuff of familiar biopics, and it tries to cover way too much ground. However, they also note the performances — particularly Mos Def and Wright — are outstanding, and the music is wild and powerful enough to overcome some of the bumpy spots. At 62 percent on the Tomatometer, Cadillac Records has got its mojo workin’ reasonably well. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down some of the most successful transitions by rappers to Hollywood.)

“It doesn’t work for me, Muddy. I gotta have more cowbell!”

 

Punisher: War Zone is the third cinematic try for the Marvel Comics vigilante; previous installments starring Dolph Lundgren and Thomas Jane failed to connect with audiences or critics. Nor is this one likely to, if the reviews are any indication. Ray Stevenson stars as Frank Castle (AKA The Punisher), a black-clad ex-marine turned one-man killing machine. He runs afoul of a mob boss, who adopts the nom de villain Jigsaw and sends an army of thugs to take the Punisher down. The pundits say War Zone is more brutal than most slasher flicks, but despite its hyperkinetic violence and flashes of sick humor, this is an over-the-top action flick with little of the emotional impact we’ve come to expect from comic book adaptations of late. At 19 percent on the Tomatometer, this one looks like punishment.

“I am not drinking any f—ing Merlot!”

 

It’s an intriguing premise: the son of a brilliant chemist is kidnapped on the eve of his father being awarded the Nobel Prize, but he hates the old man so much he agrees to go along with the scheme. Unfortunately, critics say Nobel Son, despite some sharp performances, doesn’t really work. Alan Rickman plays the father, a mean-spirited, pompous jerk who refuses to pay the ransom for Barkley (Bryan Greenberg), an aimless Ph.D student who just met a mysterious woman (Eliza Dushku). The pundits say Nobel Son is overplotted and too self-consciously weird to work, but the actors – particularly Rickman – are generally solid. At 27 percent on the Tomatometer, Nobel Son is no prize winner.

“That Noam Chomsky is such a cutup!”

 

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • A revival of Federico Fellini‘s Amarcord, in which the master director takes a fond look back at his youth and his hometown, is at 100 percent.
  • The Aussie import The Black Balloon, a coming-of-age tale about an autistic teen who finds love, is at 100 percent.
  • Hunger, based on the true story of IRA member Bobby Sands’ hunger strike in prison, is at 93 percent.
  • Ron Howard‘s Frost/Nixon, about the former president’s series of interviews with an Australian television personality, is at 88 percent.
  • Dust, a documentary about the ever-present substance, is at 80 percent.

Recent Mos Def Movies:

Following the Thanksgiving holiday frame, the North American box office should hit the brakes and see sharp declines in ticket sales. The action offering Punisher: War Zone is the only major film going into true wide release which means most of the top five should look familiar. Also opening nationally but in a more limited run is the music industry pic Cadillac Records which will try to make its way into the top ten. Leftovers from turkey weekend like Four Christmases, Bolt, and Twilight should remain among the most popular titles at the multiplexes as the marketplace takes a breather before a new wave of holiday films hits next Friday.

Lionsgate unleashes an action sequel aimed at young men for the second time in as many weeks with Punisher: War Zone which follows up on The Punisher which was released in 2004 back when the distributor went by the name Lions Gate. That film starred Thomas Jane and John Travolta, opened to $13.8M, and found its way to a respectable $33.7M. This time, Ray Stevenson picks up the title role and fans will be asked to disregard the swapping of actors and to come out and buy a ticket because of the brand name.

The R rating may cut out those 14-year-old boys, but it will give young males some bang at a time when there are no R-rated actioners for this audience. Lionsgate’s PG-13 pic Transporter 3 should fall hard in its sophomore session, but it will still provide some direct competition. Ticket buyers haven’t exactly been craving a new vigilante flick from this punishing series so business may come from frequent moviegoers who just don’t have anything else to do or see. Debuting in 2,508 locations, Punisher: War Zone might gross about $9M this weekend.


Ray Stevenson in Punisher: War Zone

Sony quietly enters the marketplace with Cadillac Records, a drama revisiting the rise of the blues music scene. The R-rated film stars Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, and Beyonce Knowles who also executive produces her first feature. The marketing push has not been strong, the subject matter is not too appealing, and the starpower is questionable for this type of project. The studio knows that it doesn’t have a hit on its hands so it may be cutting its losses. Reviews have been decent, but not compelling enough to mobilize large crowds. Landing in just 600 or so theaters, Cadillac Records may end up with a mere $2M this weekend.


Mos Def as Chuck Berry in Cadillac Records

Over the last three years, the Top 20 on the weekend after the Thanksgiving holiday frame fell by 43% to 48%. With moviegoers cutting back on spending after last weekend’s big feast, and a lack of interesting new releases, another sizable fall is likely this time. That could pave the way for a second win by the incumbent comedy hit Four Christmases. Yuletide-themed films often hold up well on the weekend after the turkey session so the sophomore drop for Warner Bros. could be about 50%. That would give the Vince VaughnReese Witherspoon film around $15.5M for the weekend and a ten-day tally of $67M.

Disney’s Bolt is still the only major kidpic out there and the 3D theaters continue to give families a unique experience not found at home. This one may also drop by half to roughly $13M putting the 17-day sum at $83M. A harsher fall may await the not-so-bloody vampire flick Twilight. Look for the Summit release to fall by 55% to around $12M which would up the cume to $136M after 17 days. Sony’s Quantum of Solace should remain in the top five and drop by 50% to $9.5M for a $154M total to date.

LAST YEAR: Nicole Kidman found her way into the number one spot with the fantasy adventure The Golden Compass which was the only new wide release of the frame. Bowing to $25.8M, the New Line film didn’t exactly blow away expectations however it was a monster hit in most other parts of the world. Compass went on to gross just $69.9M domestically but $372M worldwide with North America accounting for a slim 19% of the global tally. The rest of the top five included Enchanted with $10.7M, This Christmas with $5M, Fred Claus with $4.6M, and Beowulf with $4.5M. Debuting with sizzling results in limited release were Atonement with a $24,901 average from 32 theaters and Juno with a $59,124 average from just 7 sites. Both would go on to win Oscars.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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