Some movies--like Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer--don't make the list because, as bad as they are, there are some redeeming qualities to them that made us reconsider whether "worst ever" is fair. Some others, like Howard the Duck, are left off the list because of their camp value. And still others, like Barb Wire, are not included because it's not as though the source material was all that strong to begin with. For fairness, we're going to disqualify Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, because it's so fresh that it's impossible to look at it with anything resembling a fresh eye.
It's worth noting that all but one of these properties was published by DC Comics at one point or another. As a DC guy, I'd be the first to point out that it's not so much an indictment of Warner Brothers' handling of the characters (or Fox's handling, in one case), but a reminder that before X-Men and Spider-Man hit, Warner Brothers had been in the business of developing DC properties for twenty years and most of the movies that came before superhero movies really hit their stride were based on DC characters. Films like Tim Burton's Batman or Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie still happened--but they were rare and often, like any action film franchise, the deterioration was precipitous, leading to some pretty awful films before the studio decided it was finally time to give the property a break.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Along with The Spirit, this is arguably the most painful film on the whole list, because of the enormous promise of the property it was adapting and the fact that the biggest problem was clearly with the filmmakers who simply had no idea what it was they had.
Big, bombastic superhero movies like Batman and Superman are easy to screw up, because you can get so wrapped up in special effect and world-building that you can lose sight of some of the most important aspects of storytelling--things like character development and a plot that makes sense. With League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the characters were archetypes, which should have allowed the writers to focus more on making the overly-complicated plot work...but they didn't, and the whole thing just felt like a big, loud mess.
The idea of taking an R-rated British comedy and turning it into a PG-13 American action movie seemed doomed from the word go--and the final product bore that impression out. Then, to add insult to what was already pretty serious injury, another writer with a similar concept filed a lawsuit against Fox, claiming that their script had been plagiarized and that buying the rights to Alan Moore's famous comic book series was simply a way of hiding the theft. Fox settled out of court to make the whole thing go away, but it was the final nail in the coffin of Moore's already unhappy relationship with Hollywood.
I read a great article online recently where Superman IV was credited, through a kind of tortured logic that makes a kind of tortured sense, with creating the environment for things like the Tim Burton Batman film and the Marvel film universe that everybody loves. The logic went, essentially, that everything was so wrong with this film that Warner realized they could never have another movie this bad again and that they had to approach these intellectual properties differently.
That might be a fair assessment. It was also the first movie ever to do a supervillain really, really badly and (like Superman III before it) featured a plot that made no sense at all, along with almost uniformly terrible performances from everyone but Reeve and Hackman.
Batman & Robin
Schwarzenegger gets a really bad rap for this movie, but his performance actually isn't one of the things that doesn't work. It's silly and over-the-top, yes, but no moreso than the aforementioned performance by Gene Hackman in the Superman films. The difference? Superman is a bright and shiny world, and Batman shouldn't be. That Schumacher crafted a Batman universe where the same bouncy energy of a Superman film actually kind of makes sense is a testament to exactly where the film went wrong.
Of course, Alicia Silverstone and Chris O'Donnell were given nothing to work with and brought nothing new to the role.
See a pattern forming? Yeah, this script was never salvageable.
Earlier in the week, we told you that we didn't think Daredevil was as bad as its reputation. Its spinoff, though, took everything bad and wrong-headed about Daredevil, multiplied it by two and threw a bizarre magical monkeywrench into it, creating a star vehicle so terrible that it tarnished its star AND the franchise she was starring in.
To make a comparison, Daredevil may have been given a much wider berth if not for the fact that it came in such close proximity to other Affleck stinkers like Paycheck, Gigli and Jersey Girl (which is also not as bad as you think). That period in his career created a narrative that Affleck was basically just taking anything that came across his desk and cashing fat paychecks (no pun intended), and Daredevil became part of that narrative. Elektra, meanwhile, was Garner's own Gigli. The film was such an unqualified disaster that it really hurt her reputation as a top-lining leading lady.
By the way, did you know Daredevil was originally intended to appear in the Elektra film? He was cut, probably after mediocre reviews and a mediocre box office made the studio skittish about acknowledging that Elektra was a direct sequel.
Leverage showrunner and Jaime Reyes co-creator John Rogers has gone on record a number of times talking about what a nightmare it was just getting a script approved for Catwoman, with the folks at the studio completely failing to understand what worked about the character and demanding insane changes.
After four years of trying to make it work, Rogers abandoned the project and the version that was eventually made, while it had his name on it, bore no resemblance to either anything he wanted to write or anything he turned in at the studio's instruction. And that, right there, is the beginning of your problem. When one of the credited screenwriters goes out of his way to say, "This is nothing like anything I ever wrote," you pretty much know the movie is going to be terrible.
The last time Frank Miller did anything impressive was the film adaptation of Sin City that he worked on with Robert Rodriguez.
His work in comics since then has been laughable, and his solo directorial debut--adapting the work of the beloved Will Eisner--was an absolute embarrassment. It's well-known that he and Eisner were friends, but that they had wildly different ideas about what to do with comics and that their debates on the subject were lengthy and legendary. One has to wonder whether giving Miller free reign over Eisner's best-known and most iconic work was wise, since it was clear that whatever else they shared, artistic sensibilities weren't included.
When I went to a critical screening of this film in New York, I was the only comics-media person present. A number of the other critics cornered me in the elevator after the film was over and said, "You're the comic book guy, right? Did we miss something in the translation or is this movie just awful?" I had to admit they had missed nothing.
Another film that, somewhere along the way, it looks like someone said, "This script isn't working. Let's throw weird-ass supernatural elements in." In the case of Jonah Hex, though, it was steampunk too. There was just so much thrown at the wall with this film and, frankly, absolutely none of it stuck. Leading man Josh Brolin and leading lady Megan Fox were both at the height of their popularity at the time, but neither of them was impressive in the Warner Brothers box office disaster, which had a terrible script and looked a little too much like the Warner Brothers box office disaster Wild Wild West for anyone's comfort.