Top 10 Criminally Underrated and Forgotten Comic Book Superhero Movies Well Worthy of Your Time

Tags: #TheCrow ,   #DickTracy ,   #BatmanForever ,   #TheShadow ,   #UnderratedMovies

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2021-09-16 08:53:05

Superhero movies are all the rage nowadays, to the point there are too many of them! However, as the demand is high, the companies are pumping out sequels, even focusing on villains like Joker or Venom. Yet, this hyperproduction often creates shows that are either terrible or worse, plain boring and forgettable. Finally, many current superhero flicks will inevitably be forgotten due to oversaturated market, even though they don't deserve it. Until that happens, we still have tons of them that are largely overlooked or undervalued. While not all are terrific, they are worth watching and different from your typical Marvel/DC product. Before we start, let's just say that we ranked these movies by combining how much they were both underrated and forgotten. This means that the best movie on this list isn't necessarily at the top.

10. Batman Forever

"Kiss From a Rose" is one of the best things about "Batman Forever"

Like any sane person will tell you, Joel Schumacher's Batman movies can't hold a candle to what Tim Burton did before him. However, while "Batman and Robin" was total trash, "Batman Forever" is worth watching. First, it has an incredible cast, with Val Kilmer being a much better fit for Batman, as claimed by Bob Kane, who created the character. Also, Jim Carrey was perfect for the role of The Riddler, while Nicole Kidman never looked more stunning than here. 

Nonetheless, "Batman Forever" was seen as too campy and shallow – a stark contrast to what Burton did before. Remember, this was considered the third movie in the series, not a reboot. With questionable aesthetics and some cheap-looking CGI, it's not hard to understand why the film was never loved. However, when you watch it today, you can be fascinated by its uniqueness in its best and worst moments. This title is even more appealing because it may get a director's cut version, with lots of additional footage and a darker tone.

9. The Phantom

"The Phantom" is fun, and it doesn't want to go deep and dark

Unfortunately, The Phantom hasn't been much explored beyond comics, except for some average animated series and accompanying video games. That's why releasing "The Phantom" movie in 1996 always felt like a risky move. Furthermore, while this flick was campy on purpose, the public and critics couldn't appreciate it. At the time, it felt like everyone wanted a much darker story, and "The Phantom" didn't even try delivering.

Ultimately, that's what made the movie such a flop, as it earned back only half of its budget. This adventure was charming and without much pretensions, led by a decent cast of Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson, gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa from Mortal Kombat. While both heroes and villains have very simple minds, that goes with the tradition of the original comic. "The Phantom" reminds us that the movie doesn't have to be dark, deep, and overcomplicated for us to enjoy it.

8. The Punisher (2004)

"The Punisher" was never about the story

In 1989 we got The Punisher movie with Dolph Lundgren, but no one seemed to care about it. Maybe that's why it took 15 years for studios to make another attempt, this time starring Thomas Jane. Although The Punisher isn't a very complex character, this version was more faithful to the comic book origins. Furthermore, while Lundgren's movie was a snore-fest with lots of dull fights, this version managed to avoid that.

Indeed, most of the movie is about brutal confrontations, but the battles are creative and fun to watch. That's much helped by the wonderful choice of colorful villains, resulting in some memorable scenes. "The Punisher" wasn't much loved when released, being so different from other Marvel movies. There are no flashy visual effects or catchy one-liners, which is still a recipe for a successful comic book movie. Yet, if you are sick of current Marvel production, "The Punisher" is a welcome refreshment.

7. Daredevil Director's Cut

The original wasn't terrible, but the Director's Cut beats it significantly

Once Ben Affleck was cast as Daredevil, the cards were already against the movie! At the time, Mr. Affleck was at his lowest, releasing the box office disaster "Gigli." However, Daredevil did have problems, as it took much time to explain the origin story. Since every comic book movie followed the pattern, everyone was tired of the formula. Unfortunately, the rest wasn't much better, with lots of ups and downs.

Yet, the director's cut edition added a lot of new footage while eliminating most romance fluff. The new material makes the movie darker and more violent and even fixes some of the plot holes. We love that this version gives way more context to Daredevil Vs. Kingpin battle at the end of the movie. Plus, in both versions, Michael Clarke Duncan shines as the mobster!

6. Dredd (2012)

Karl Urban nailed what Dredd should be

In 1995, Stallone made one of his worst movies with "Judge Dredd." While we didn't care much that he took many liberties with the source material, the problem was the story that was all over the place. While "Dredd" had a much more limited budget, it was praised everywhere for being faithful to the comics. This means lots of violence, black humor, and impressive special effects.

Yet, that wasn't enough for the movie to bring much attention to it. Surrounded by much more flashy Marvel and DC superhero adaptations, Dredd felt almost invisible to many. Interestingly, there's still hope that the movie will get some form of a sequel, at least as a series.

5. The Crow

Brandon Lee feels natural for the role - unfortunately, it was his final one

Sometimes the movie is a box office success, but that still doesn't mean enough people know about it. Just look at "The Crow," which earned four times more than its budget but couldn't even reach $100 million. That's a massive shame, as this was a very dark tale about a musician coming back from his grave for revenge.

Brandon Lee (son of Bruce Lee), who died on this movie set, gave a terrific performance, with charismatic villains adding more to the atmosphere. Combined with great action, this makes every minute worthy of your attention. Unfortunately, "The Crow" had more than a couple terrible, low-budget sequels, with none of the original cast coming back. This effectively made the original forgotten, even though it's the best film on our list.

4. The Mask of Zorro

"The Mask of Zorro" brilliantly mixes action, romance, and humor

"The Mask of Zorro'' had everything needed for an excellent superhero movie. While the main character never had the popularity of Marvel and DC characters, the studio was optimistic, supplying almost a $100 million budget. Antonio Banderas is the perfect masked vigilante, supported by the excellent Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones. In a way, this movie is a classic Hollywood, with lots of Latino flavor that gives it more spice. Who can forget that legendary undressing scene?

While the movie got positive reviews and performed very well at the box office, it's largely forgotten by now. The solid 2005 sequel "The Legend of Zorro" couldn't match its success, as it may have appeared too late. Still, there's the hope of a comeback via the Django/Zorro movie, based on the successful comics. Maybe "The Mask of Zorro" will get the appreciation it deserves if something comes out of it.

3. The Rocketeer

"The Rocketeer" has that classic Hollywood vibe.

"The Rocketeer" was one of the movies that almost didn't happen, as it was in development hell. Yet, when it finally did arrive in 1991, the box office results barely covered the budget expenses. To be honest, "The Rocketeer" always felt like a risky move. First, it was based on a comic created only in 1982, remaining relatively unknown. Secondly, the cast lacked star power, with the main role awarded to relatively unknown Billy Campbell.

However, there's nothing wrong with the movie! At the time, the critics praised its settings, atmosphere, and even excellent visual effects. Still, the characters are fantastic and over the top, like in the comics. While the scenario is pretty much predictable, this is a great ride that needs a sequel. Apparently, that will happen, although once again, the bureaucracy is slowing things down.

2. Dick Tracy

The color palette is limited on purpose in "Dick Tracy"

There's always something special about the comic book heroes, which are still only humans, just like Dick Tracy. The story takes us back to the 1930s, in a city overrun by weird-looking mobsters. This makes it tough for a famed yellow trench coat detective (Warren Beatty) to stop Alphonse "Big Boy" Caprice. Yet, there's much more to it, with a love triangle featuring Madonna, who fits the role better than anyone has expected.

As a massive Dick Tracy fan, Beatty also directs the movie, giving it a unique comic book look. While the box office success was limited, the movie got three Oscars for its visuals and the best original song. Despite this, "Dick Tracy" is largely forgotten – both the movie and the character. However, Beatty is still hopeful of making a sequel.

1. The Shadow

There's not much to dislike about "The Shadow"

To be honest, "The Shadow" is not the best movie on this list. Furthermore, you can argue it's not even among the top three. However, it easily deserves the first place as it's heavily underappreciated and forgotten. While not everyone can imagine Alec Baldwin as a superhero, he does a remarkable job as The Shadow. The title character and the movie's tone will give you Batman vibes, but we never felt it tried to copy it.

The 1920s settings make this movie timeless, although you'll notice some special effects that don't look particularly good now. Yet, everything works so well here, from the atmosphere to the music, the main villain, and elements of mystery. The Shadow is a thrilling ride, but not many critics thought the same, calling out the story. Unfortunately, the box office performance was also disappointing, as the film barely earned back its budget. Yet, we watched it so many times and still can't figure out what the problem was. Luckily, we are not the only ones

While not all of these superhero movies are among the best that the genre can offer, they all deserve a better fate. Plus, most of them feel so fresh and different from what we expect. That's why we hope you'll watch some of these movies and find similar value in them as we did.

What is your favorite underrated superhero movie? Do you still enjoy the genre, or the hyperproduction of sequels alienates you?   

Photo: ActionVance/Unsplash  


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