Marvel’s superhero flicks have ushered in a sort of golden age of film adaptions of our nostalgic geek properties. But that hasn’t stopped fans on ranting about how Hollywood is destroying our childhood with awful reboots and adaptions of our favorite cartoons, movies and comic book stories. Sure, we had a few stinkers like Fant4stic, Suicide Squad and Justice League. People do have to remember that, a couple of decades ago, we had insults like Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, Elektra, Ghost Rider, Howard the Duck, Green Lantern, Masters of the Universe and the entire Resident Evil live-action film franchise!
At least we still remember those films for how bad they were. They can serve as cautionary tales for geeks to remember. But what about the ones we’ve forgotten? Believe it or not, there are dozens upon dozens of terrible attempts to bring our favorite geeky things to the big and small screen. Here is just a small sampling of those terrible live action film and TV adaptions that have fallen through the cracks… and probably deserve to never be mentioned ever again.
- Justice League of America (1997)
Way back in the late ’90s, I vividly remember watching a really weird version of the Justice League of America on TV. It didn’t have popular heroes like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman or even Aquaman. It did have a version of The Flash who was always hungry, a Green Lantern who’s costume had a bluish tint, a Martian Manhunter who never leaves the “Hall of Justice” and everyone shared an apartment for financial reasons. Whenever I told my friends about this janky live-action Justice League that I saw, they all assume I’m making it up. True story.
Well, thanks to the Internet, I have proof that this exists… but a part of me does wish it was all a figment of my imagination!
The 1997 Justice League of America TV movie was supposed to be the pilot for a full-fledged series featuring all… well, a few of your favorite superheroes but not the way you remembered them from the comics. Even a full two decades ago, the special effects were hilariously bad. The costumes were terrible and the acting and story was embarrassing. You know something is off when the 1990 TV version of The Flash can do everything better than your show can!
2. The Amazing Spider-Man (1977)
When it comes to infamous live-action versions of Spider-Man, you’ve no doubt heard about the Japanese version, which is insane in so many levels. I mean, the show had a Japanese man get an alien blood transfusion, giving him spider-like powers and control a giant robot a’la Super Sentai/Mighty Morphin Power Rangers! How crazy is that?
Well, the live-action version of Spider-Man that was actually created in the United States doesn’t come close to that level… but it’s still really dumb!
I actually watched this as a kid growing up and, well, I’m ashamed to admit it, but I loved The Amazing Spider-Man live-action show! Then again, I was a really gullible kid and I just loved anything that had Spider-Man in it! Looking back at it now, I can see how bad it really was, even back then. Only Peter Parker/Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson appear from the comics and they couldn’t get them right! Whenever Peter Parker dons the Spider-Man costume, he becomes a mute instead of the wise-cracking Webhead we all know and love. Jameson is a little too caring for my liking as well. None of Spider-Man’s villains or even Uncle Ben even make an appearance! Oh, and the fight choreography is just… well, just see it for yourself.
I guess the only reason why most people don’t talk about or even remember this live-action version of Spider-Man is because, despite it failing in so many levels, the aforementioned Japanese version is just too crazy to be forgotten. I will say that, while most of the special effects are terrible, I still find it amazing (see what I did there?) that they could make Spider-Man climb up walls and swing around with a limited budget and not get anyone killed in the process!
3. Captain America (1977) and Captain America: Death Too Soon (1979)
This is strange. I’ve already talked about Spider-Man, another Marvel superhero that has two crazy live-action adaptions in the ’70s. It turns out they also took the same path with Captain America!
Before Marvel got its act together, they basically whored out their characters to anyone that would pay them. This is why we got the early versions of The Punisher starring Dolph Lungren, Daredevil with Ben Affleck, Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD starring David Hasslehoff and Nick Fury (yes, really!) and, of course, the much maligned 1990 live-action Captain America. It’s the one where Captain America’s superpower is feigning a stomach ache so he can steal a car.
The 1990 film was an abomination. The 1977 and 1979 made-for-television Captain America films are even worse.
Like Spider-Man, this version of Captain America has virtually no resemblance to the Marvel character except by name. Even his costume is weird as he’s wearing a goddamn motorcycle helmet all the time! His shield is laughable as it looks like it’s made of a see-thru plastic instead of impenetrable vibranium! In fact, this version of Captain America is more like James Bond as he has gadgets like a mobile base in his van as well as a motorcycle that can transform into a hand glider!
I remember watching this as a kid and being entertained by it. But this was mostly because, once again, I was a dumb kid. I will say there is some entertainment value in watching it again as it’s one of those “so bad, it’s good” sort of experiences.
4. Tekken (2009)
This is probably my most recent film here but I’m adding the live-action Tekken here because I don’t know anyone who watched it, much less, remember this is real until I tell them about it.
I actually watched the live-action Tekken movie in the cinema when it came out and I remember there being only four of us in the theater! Frankly, that’s the only thing concrete think I remember about watching Tekken; it’s that forgettable!
What I do remember about it is that the film doesn’t take the source material seriously. I will say that the fighting was okay, despite not really capturing the fighting styles each character is known for using. It’s like they had an old action script lying around, slapped in Tekken characters and, boom, they had the movie! Even so, the plot was just dumb, from what I can recall. The canon Tekken story isn’t Shakespeare by any stretch of the imagination but the film makes it seems like it!
Despite Tekken being terrible, they actually found the budget to make a sequel/prequel to it! But I’m not going to watch it, even if it’s free on YouTube (which it is). Fool me once, shame on you and all that.
5. The Guyver (1991) and Crying Freeman (1995)
Remember when the live-action Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson was announced and fans were pissed? That was just a couple of years ago. Another live-action film based on another successful anime, Battle Angel Alita, is due to come out soon and, yep, fans are up and arms about it as well.
That’s because Western anime adaptions aren’t that great. Just look at The Guyver and Crying Freeman.
I’m lumping these two films together because, well, I was a fan of both Guyver and the Crying Freeman animes way before liking anime was chic. I’m sorry to fans who like them, but these live-action versions just suck, especially when you compare them to the original animes.
Let’s go through The Guyver first. I will say I like the rubber suits but that’s about it. The story barely resembles the anime and, instead of trying to be all serious, the live-action version just adds too much humor by making the lackeys more comical than dangerous. I will say that, if this was my first contact with the Guyver property, I would’ve loved it. Too bad the better original anime spoiled me into having some taste.
Crying Freeman does fare a lot better than The Guyver. It does an admirable job in following the first OAV of the series faithfully. The problem with the live action has to deal with the action scenes and what makes the anime good. There’s a definite lack of gore from the live-action version, of course, the nudity is virtually gone. Not all of it but most of it.
The biggest problem of the live action Crying Freeman are the action scenes. For some strange reason, they decided to use slow-mo on all of them! So, what’s supposed to be a blood pumping action scene feels like a well choreographed ballet. Couple that with the previously mentioned lack of gore, what you have is basically a PG-13 version of a better R-rated film. I wouldn’t fault you for liking Crying Freeman but, hands down, the anime is much better.
BONUS: Robocop: The Series (1994)
What happens when you get the television rights to an ultra-violent and adult series like Robocop? You get Robocop: The Series. And… it’s actually awesome?
I honestly don’t know a lot of people who’ve heard of this live-action version of Robocop. I know a lot who’ve heard of the later Robocop: Prime Directives mini-series, which returned Alex Murphy to his more violent roots. I will even say that Prime Directives is a much better adaption. But Robocop: The Series has some charm to it as it does have a lot of the elements of the original film. They managed to do things like Media Break and even having some of Murphy’s flashbacks.
The problem is that there was just no getting around how “family friendly” Robocop: The Series had to go. Robocop generally found more peaceful ways to stopping trouble. OCP’s Old Man is more of a dummy than a malicious businessman. The worst thing they did, however, was the addition of Gadget, a kind of wunderkind who knows how to use a computer. Bleargh!
But they do some really creative things in the Series. They created a new character who’s a full AI who has a weird romantic relationship with Robocop. They still manage to sneak in a few moments of dark humor and stories, like a reality show that follows criminals performing crimes live or the ad where you can put your name on a frozen war veteran by donating money.
Oh, Robocop: The Series is still bad… but it’s sad that it’s been forgotten since there are some shining moments of brilliance.
What are the other terrible live-action adaptions we’ve forgotten? Let me know in the comments section below!