Since its earliest days, Hollywood has known that comic books are a fertile source to steal ideas from, since everyone knows the characters but nobody actually reads the stories (right?).
But Hollywood hasn't always treated the source material with the same respect and reverence that it gave characters like Iron Man, Scott Pilgrim or even Howard the Duck. For example ...
#7. Legends of the Superheroes, or the Live-Action SuperFriends Turn Racist
Yes. Yes, you can go wrong with a bunch of well-known superheroes. Horribly, horribly wrong.
Legends of the Superheroes was the name of two one-hour specials inspired by The SuperFriends, the cartoon loosely based on the Justice League comics. And it was a variety show. With a laugh track.
The cast included Batman, Robin, Captain Marvel, Green Lantern (the better-known one this time), Hawkman and The Flash. The only reason Superman and Wonder Woman didn't show up is that they had a movie and a series in production. Adam West and Burt Ward reprised their roles as Batman and Robin -- except that this was in 1979, more than 10 years after their show went off the air, which means that Batman is now over 50 and the "Boy Wonder" is in his mid-30s. The unintentional result was a Dynamic Duo that looked like it had fallen on some hard times.
"One more crack about the new Batmobile and you're walking home."
The first episode features the heroes trying to discover the location of a doomsday device, but then the second one was, inexplicably, a celebrity roast of the superheroes hosted by Ed McMahon.
But it gets worse: At one point, McMahon tells the audience that there are other less well-known superheroes, "especially in the minority area." From that point the show spirals into a politically incorrect nightmare:
That's right, the only black superhero in the entire show had to be called Ghetto Man and come from the projects. After he's done performing his sassy stand-up act ("I'm sorry, but we don't feel the Green Lantern qualifies as 'colored people' "), he flies away by opening his arms and legs and shouting "KAREEEEEEEEM!"
We'd say that 1979 was a different time, but we're pretty sure that episode qualified as a hate crime even then.
#6. Archie Returns to Riverdale, Deals With Depression
Most of the (puzzlingly enduring) charm of Archie Comics lies in their complete inability to change with the times, retaining the same innocent view of teenagers since the 1940's. That's also what makes Archie: Return to Riverdale, a TV movie that aired in 1990, so amazing: It takes a massive turn to the dark side by featuring Archie and the gang decades later, as a group of badly adjusted adults dealing with their depressing lives.
Wait until the first kid from Boy Meets World turns 50.
The story shows the characters reuniting for the 15th anniversary of their graduation from Riverdale High -- because if there's one thing more depressing than high school itself, it's high school reunions. All their lives have taken turns for the worse: Betty is a small-time schoolteacher trapped in an abusive relationship; Veronica is a four-time divorcee with an implied sex addiction problem; and the once fun-lovin' Jughead had his soul crushed by his ex-wife and now struggles to connect with his son.
It's all downhill from here, guys.
Archie himself was doing fine, with a hot fiance and a promising career as a lawyer in the big city, until he came back to Riverdale and saw this:
Like an addict falling off the wagon (and being run over by it, then defecated on by the horse it's tied to), Archie finds that his feelings for both Betty and Veronica resurface, putting in jeopardy the only healthy relationship he's ever had. It doesn't help that the home-wreckers don't give a crap about ruining his life and openly pursue Archie despite being fully aware of the existence of his fiance.
Veronica, propositioning Archie for illicit hotel sex.
Betty, kicking things up a notch.
Archie ends up being dumped and throwing his career away to move back to Riverdale, which is the most depressing outcome we could think of. But there are also some light hearted moments, like this scene where Jughead and his son finally bond over a 90s hip-hop remix of The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" ...
... but, of course, that only serves to highlight the song's inappropriate sexual overtones, with lines like "You laid your ever-lovin' stuff on me" and "I'm gonna rock your world complete." Yeah, we're thinking the people who made this thing freaking hated the Archie comics.
They apparently hoped it would spin off into a series, which thankfully never happened. If it did, we're pretty sure Jughead would have hanged himself by the fifth episode, and the season finale would have involved Veronica being convicted for gutting a hobo.
Archie ends up in prison after a botched convenience store robbery costs 14 people their lives.
#5. Coming Out of Their Shells: The Ninja Turtles Form a Boy Band
After the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles utterly dominated the 80s, getting their likenesses plastered on lunch boxes, pajamas, sleeping bags, action figures and basically everything else outside of feminine hygiene products, their makers were almost out of ways to really run the franchise into the ground.
"OK, so how about we reboot the whole series and give every character fetal alcohol syndrome?"
Thus in 1990, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles released their first and only pop-rock/rap album, kicking off a nationwide tour that must have been attended primarily by curious people wondering how the fuck that was possible.
It was the worst possible answer:
The show featured actors dressed in turtle suits, like the ones from the movies, except cheaper-looking and now featuring denim jackets. They were lip-syncing to 90s pop-rock while pretending to play instruments like guitars, bass, drums and, as if this whole thing wasn't horrible enough already, keytars. During other songs they simply forgot about the instruments and performed elaborate choreographed dances, like in a Madonna concert.
Except with more natural-looking skin.
The venerable Master Splinter makes an appearance to tell his pupils that they "can do more good with music than with any pair of nunchuks" -- because apparently real ninjas are less about violence and more about ripping off the New Kids on the Block. Later, the Shredder crashes the concert to tell everyone how much he hates music, which he does by performing a song called "I Hate Music."
"Wait ... shit."
The Turtles even appeared on Regis and Kathie Lee to promote the show, in what must be the lowest point in two separate franchises.
The whole concert was released on VHS, but even stranger was the "making of" documentary included. What could have been an interesting look at the behind-the-scenes stuff (because, seriously, how the fuck does this happen) turned out to be a bizarre Spinal Tap-style mockumentary that pretends the Turtles are an actual rock band. While this could have been clever idea for a five-minute sketch, unfortunately it goes on for 30 minutes. It includes interviews with real-life managers and producers who somehow had nothing better to do, plus a scene with the Turtles in the studio laying down a track for their album.
The ambiance was tense because Michelangelo showed up with a hangover again.
The recording engineers even go out of their way to explain how the turtles can play instruments with only three fingers. Donatello, we learn, has extra-thick keys on his keytar, while Leonardo plays a one-string bass.
It's the same one the guy from Radiohead uses.
Because if there's anything fans of the Ninja Turtles crave, it's logic. Sure, a quartet of turtles exposed to ambiguous radioactive goop can be trained as ninjas and speak like California surfers, but if those same turtles also learned how to play musical instruments? Well, that's a little far-fetched.
#4. Justice League of America: The World's Greatest Superheroes (Minus The World's Greatest Superheroes)
Like most entries on this list, this low-budget movie was produced in the hopes of creating a live-action series. Unlike the other entries, this one was considered so bad that it has never aired in the U.S. But that's why the Internet exists. So we can watch awful things.
Awful, awful things.
Justice League of America (1997) shortens the teams' all-star roster by getting rid of dead weight like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and keeping guys like The Atom (whose power is making himself little), Green Lantern (not even the most famous one) and the Martian Manhunter. The Flash is also on the team, but he looks like this:
The movie features costumes that look like they were designed by nerds to wear at Comic-Con and sewn together by their mothers.
The main character is Tori, a meteorologist who gains superpowers by being the worst lab assistant ever and spilling water on an experimental device, electrocuting herself. She's abducted by the Justice League and soon given a membership on the team. Yes, all it takes to get an invitation to join the mighty Justice League of America is proving that Darwin was wrong.
The poor guy just can't catch a break.
It's an odd mixture of superhero story and sitcom, and the script awkwardly tries to balance drama with comedy by showing the characters' dull normal lives side by side with their dull superhero exploits. One reviewer called it "Friends with superpowers," but that's giving it too much credit. It's more like "Perfect Strangers with superpowers," and with every character played by Bronson Pinchot.
The whole thing is intercut with interviews with the characters, implying that this is a documentary and that these guys are incredibly bad at keeping their secret identities.
"So I put on my costume an- hey, this isn't, like, going on TV, right?"
The secret underwater headquarters of the Justice League is accessible only through an elevator located under a bridge, where no one could ever notice a group of brightly costumed individuals walking together and disappearing.
"Aaaagggh, they pissed on the handle again, Aaaaagggghhhhh"
Once they're down there, they meet the Martian Manhunter, who is pretty much a full-bodied version of Zordon from the Power Rangers here. Despite having telepathic powers, the Manhunter summons the members of the Justice League only through beepers, a technology that was already outdated by the time this movie came out.
"Listen. You guys. Beepers are coming back. I'm telling you."
The villain is a guy called "Weather Man." Out of the 500 villains the Justice League has fought in the comics, they had to choose the one who sounds about as menacing as Al Roker. We'd like to think that if they didn't use better characters it's only because they weren't available, because otherwise the choices that led to this thing are pretty puzzling. We've seen plenty of examples of adaptations where for some reason they leave a lot of important characters out of the movie, but you couldn't possibly go wrong if you had a bunch of well-known superheroes, right?