The word “reboot” is dreaded among fans. How many times have we seen a planned reimagining of a property turn out topsy-turvy and for the worse? Still, over time, it’s inevitable. After all, no version of a character is ever definitive, so it’s highly likely that the restart button will be hit eventually. Marvel has done this several times already.
As we approach the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it’s probable that many characters will be waving goodbye to the audience. That said, they’ll return somewhere down the line, portrayed by different actors with different nuances. It won’t be the first or last time, though.
It seems like a long time ago, but there were Marvel productions before the MCU. For decades, these popular heroes and villains have existed in various formats and mediums. In some instances, they were fantastic, while other times, we begged for a reboot. Heck, there have even been cases where we thought something couldn’t be topped but it was. This is why we’re here today, to take a look back at the times when the House of Ideas failed or succeeded.
So, join us as we glance over the 10 Marvel Reboots That Completely Flopped (And 10 That Became Massive Hits).
20 Flop: The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk is the forgotten entry of the MCU. Not many people remember that it’s actually the second film of the shared universe. Most likely, the confusion arises because it was supposed to be a sequel to 2003’s Hulk, then it wasn’t. Additionally, it didn’t help that we ran through three actors who played Bruce Banner/Hulk in three movies.
Louis Leterrier’s movie was decently received by critics; however, the fans didn’t care much for it, as it only made $263.4 million from a $150 million budget. The rumors were rife that star Edward Norton kept rewriting the script and was difficult to work with, which led to Marvel not inviting him back for Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.
19 Massive Hit: X-Men: First Class
Before X-Men: First Class‘s release, there wasn’t much hype about the “reboot.” After all, bar X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the other movies were good. However, a new X-Men film without Cyclops, Wolverine (except for a cameo), Jean Grey, and Storm? That sounds like a failure waiting to happen.
Director Matthew Vaughn had the last laugh, though, as X-Men: First Class debuted to critical acclaim and $353.6 million at the box office from a reported $160 million budget. It also served as the perfect soft reboot for the franchise, and its sequel, X-Men: Days of Future Past, went on to pick up $747.9 million worldwide. It’s sad to think this iteration will now end with Dark Phoenix.
18 Flop: Punisher: War Zone
On paper, Punisher: War Zone had all of the ingredients for success. It was targeted at a mature audience, it featured Jigsaw, it looked like Garth Ennis and Laurence Campbell’s initial The Punisher MAX run, and it had a smaller budget than other comic book movies.
Director Lexi Alexander revealed to CBR that the budget changed numerous times and the lack of advertising hurt the movie, as it only grossed $10.1 million at the global box office. “They were telling me one budget; people sometimes said it was 30 million. There was no $30 million. I didn’t even have $20 million,” she said. “It was all a bit mysterious. I think they didn’t really want to put that much into P&A and marketing and all of that stuff.”
17 Massive Hit: The Amazing Spider-Man
It’s amazing (pardon the pun) how perception changes over time. For many fans, Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man movie series was a failure. However, this is actually untrue. The first feature grossed $757.9 million from a reported budget of $230 million. Additionally, the reviews mentioned how it was a good time, even if the repetition of the origin story was unnecessary.
That’s the thing with Spidey — no movie has ever flopped at the box office, nor been savaged as a critical disappointment. Naturally, there are movies remembered more fondly than others, but they’ve always done the business, entertaining the fans and making money for the studio. As we all know, this series was canceled to make way for Tom Holland’s wall-crawler in the MCU.
16 Flop: Wolverine And The X-Men
While everyone raves about the X-Men coming home to Marvel, most people have forgotten that the House of Ideas hasn’t been too kind to its mutants in the Fox years. The characters have been sidelined in favor of others in the comic books and even animated series – all because Marvel didn’t own all the rights, which it sold in the first place.
In the case of Wolverine and the X-Men, it was a neat show and arguably the best since X-Men: The Animated Series. Unfortunately, it only lasted a season before the plug was pulled. It all boiled down to financial issues due to Disney’s purchase of Marvel. Remember that the next time you brag about the prodigal son returning “home.”
15 Massive Hit: Fantastic Four (2005)
It took many years, but the Fantastic Four finally made its way onto the big screen. Of course, there’s the 1994 film, but how many people had watched it in the pre-internet era? So, when Tim Story’s feature debuted in 2005, a lot of fans were happy to see Marvel’s first family in the live-action world.
Fantastic Four received mostly negative reviews, but the critics obviously didn’t know what awaited them 10 years later. The movie turned out to be a decent hit for Fox, though, as it raked in $330.6 million from a $100 million budget. It also ended up being the 11th highest-grossing movie of the year, only making $42.1 million less than Batman Begins.
14 Flop: Blade: The Series
In all fairness, the Blade franchise went off the rails with Blade: Trinity. After two outstanding movies, the third entry was marred with numerous issues and bust-ups between star Wesley Snipes and director David S. Goyer. The story continued in the short-lived Blade: The Series, which featured rapper Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones as the Daywalker.
While the show debuted with 2.5 million viewers and was the most-watched original series premiere in Spike TV history, the ratings sharply declined in the weeks that followed. Expectedly, it was canceled after only 13 episodes. Series writer and producer Geoff Johns admitted that it was likely the cost of production that resulted in the untimely demise of the show.
13 Massive Hit: Captain America: The First Avenger
Oh, you didn’t realize that Captain America: The First Avenger was a reboot? Well, let’s sit down and discuss the Cap’s history in film. First off, there was a serial movie in 1944, featuring Dick Purcell as the titular hero. Then, in 1990, there was a movie starring Matt Salinger as Steve Rogers (weirdly enough, the Red Skull was from Italy in this version and known as Tadzio de Santis).
Decades later, Chris Evans is now considered the only Captain America and tears will be shed if something happens to him in Avengers: Endgame. That said, it was Joe Johnston’s 2011 movie that kicked everything off, as Captain America: The First Avenger made $370.6 million from a $140 million budget.
12 Flop: Fantastic Four (2015)
Did you ever have any doubt that 2015’s Fantastic Four was going to appear on this list? If you thought the previous movies were terrible, Fox had a big surprise for you. Naturally, we don’t think anyone intended to release a movie as bad as this one, but the battle between director Josh Trank and studio was evident in the final product.
From the choppy editing, bad wigs, to a storyline that no one understands, Fantastic Four bombed at the box office, making only $168 million from an investment of $120 million. Maybe next time someone will realize that this team isn’t suited for the dark and gritty, but shines in the bright and colorful world of the comic books.
11 Massive Hit: Spider-Man: The Animated Series
When Spider-Man: The Animated Series debuted in 1994, it wasn’t like it saved the Spidey franchise or anything. The previous cartoons that featured the Web-Head had all been respectable, but this one was released at a time when it might’ve been lost in the pack. On the home front, it had to compete with the sensational X-Men: The Animated Series, while Batman: The Animated Series was breaking records for Warner Bros. and DC.
Still, this show managed to take decades’ worth of canon and make it easily digestible for both longtime and new fans. It did the business on the ratings side and also spawned a hugely successful toyline, which made the executives extremely happy (and rich).
10 Flop: Iron Man: Armored Adventures
With the success of 2008’s Iron Man movie, we all knew an animated series was sure to follow. Like clockwork, Iron Man: Armored Adventures dropped in 2009, following a young Tony Stark as he became the hero known as Iron Man. It also featured Rhodey and Pepper Potts as part of the main cast, as well as guest appearances from the likes of Black Panther, Hulk, and Black Widow.
While it aired for two seasons, it received a mixed reception from fans and critics. The reliance on CGI annoyed people, while many viewers felt it lacked the depth and quality of Iron Man: The Animated Series. Even today, would this series find itself at the top of your best animated shows list? It’s not likely.
9 Massive Hit: Doctor Strange
Not many people remember that there was a made-for-TV Dr. Strange movie in 1978, starring Peter Hooten as Stephen Strange. Of course, it was created as a backdoor pilot for a potential TV series on CBS; however, its low ratings ensured it never came to fruition.
So, in 2016, the good doctor got another shot at redemption with the Scott Derrickson-directed Doctor Strange. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tilda Swinton, it became a global hit, as it secured $677.7 million from a budget of $165 million. Not only were the numbers good, but the reviews praised the storyline and the Inception-like nature of the special effects. Since then, a sequel has been greenlit.
8 Flop: Hulk
The pairing of Ang Lee and Hulk seemed like a strange fit from the beginning. After all, when you consider Lee’s other projects, you wouldn’t exactly imagine him taking on a movie about a giant green monster that smashes things. As expected, Lee did something different with the character and put his stamp on it.
While the financial success was deemed so-so, as it made $245.4 million from $137 million, Hulk never quite clicked with the critics and fans. In many ways, it was a movie ahead of its time and broke away from the traditional superhero fare. Thus, it came as no surprise that the soft reboot approach was taken for 2008’s The Incredible Hulk.
7 Massive Hit: X-Men: The Animated Series
Oh, how different things could’ve been had X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men been greenlit. If it had been optioned, chances are that we would’ve never received the incredible X-Men: The Animated Series in 1992. Fortunately, the stars aligned and we received the latter instead.
While the X-Men had received a resurgence in comic book popularity due to the relaunch of X-Men by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee in 1991, the animated series catapulted the characters into the mainstream. The storylines were expertly written and mature, focusing on social issues rather than pandering to sell toys. Suddenly, the world had a new team of heroes to cheer for that weren’t part of the Justice League or the Avengers.
6 Flop: Spider-Man: The New Animated Series
It’s almost become the norm that every few years a new Spider-Man series will be released. While it isn’t always a bad thing, it can also backfire – especially if fans loved the previous show and aren’t happy that something new is replacing it. In the case of Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, the fans and critics appreciated how it brought something different to the legend.
That didn’t save it from the ax, though. After only 13 episodes and a drastic decline in the ratings, MTV cut the cord. Perhaps MTV was the wrong network for the show in the first place. Still, Spidey has to take the lose here, as this was his first animated show to flop.
5 Massive Hit: Daredevil
For years, 2003’s Daredevil was ridiculed by fans, critics, and even the actors themselves. What was meant to be a live-action adaptation of one of Marvel’s grittiest characters turned into Spider-Man-lite – and not in a good way. So, when Netflix announced it would be releasing a Daredevil show, fans were apprehensive at first.
Well, after three seasons, we can safely say it was one of the best superhero TV shows of all time. It embraced the boots-on-the-ground storytelling and echoed the good work done by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson in their epic run in the comic books. Sadly, it was a casualty in the Netflix-Marvel relationship breakdown, so we can only hope that it’s revived in the near future.
4 Flop: The Punisher (2004)
In 2004, The Punisher, starring Tom Jane, was released. Unfortunately, it only grossed $54.7 million from a budget of $33 million. Even so, it received a cult-like following in the years after its release and Jane’s performance as Frank Castle has been warmly received by fans.
The issues for the movie began early on, though as director Jonathan Hensleigh battled with the studio over production issues. Hensleigh wanted the same budget as other action pictures, but he was given half of that. Then, he received only 52 days to shoot the entire movie, which was also much less than traditional action flicks. As a result, his script had to be edited and rewritten numerous times to accommodate the lack of funds and time.
3 Massive Hit: Spider-Man: Homecoming
Look, let’s be honest here: there was no way that Spider-Man: Homecoming was going to fail. As mentioned before, it’s a Spider-Man movie, which automatically guarantees it a lot of money and a built-in audience. Second, it was billed as a collaboration with Marvel, so it had the goodwill of the MCU and Tom Holland’s version of the character had already debuted to rave reviews in Captain America: Civil War.
Of course, it crushed at the box office, pulling in over $880 million from a budget of $175 million. To the surprise of absolutely no one, a sequel was greenlit in no time, and Spidey is set to return in this year’s Spider-Man: Far from Home.
2 Flop: Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes
The poor Fantastic Four just can’t catch a break, can they? Released in 2006, Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes combined 2D art with 3D computer animation. If anything, it was a unique and interesting show to look at. It was also ambitious, as it tried to tell brand-new stories, and not a regurgitation of storylines from the comic books.
Unfortunately, the series was troubled from the start. It only ran for eight episodes before being pulled. It returned the following year, just before the release of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and lasted for nine episodes this time around. Eventually, it moved on to other networks, where the remaining episodes aired. However, what a mission to air one season.
1 Massive Hit: The Punisher
For such a popular character, the Punisher has had a rough time in the live-action side of things. It’s difficult, though, because the very nature of the character puts him at odds with the typical comic book movie approach. Additionally, how do you retell a classic tale of vengeance in a new and exciting way?
This is where The Punisher TV series comes in. Rather than rehash the origin of Frank Castle, it delved into his psyche. It demonstrated a broken and damaged man, not just from the loss of his family but his life beforehand. This was a character study of someone who has many demons and struggles to cope with them. It’s heartbreaking, really.
Which Marvel reboot is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!