• Jason Howell

6 DC Films That Aren't So 'Rotten' & What Could Have Made Them Better

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Despite the best efforts of the producers, directors, and cast, some superhero films simply miss the mark, under-performing at the box office and failing to please the critics. The worst of these films draw scorn and mockery which are invoked by anyone who references them, even decades later.

But despite the conniving carnage carried by callous critics, there are the brave and bold believers who defiantly declare their delight in these films.

Selecting from films rated as "Rotten" on Rotten Tomatoes, and arranged in descending order of Tomatometer*, here are 6 "rotten" DC comics superhero films that had some redeeming elements and changes that could have made them better.

*Ratings listed are as of 16 November 2019

6. Man of Steel (2013)

Tomatometer: 56%

Critics Consensus: Man of Steel's exhilarating action and spectacle can't fully overcome its detours into generic blockbuster territory.

What was good:

At 56%, Man of Steel is the highest-rated DC film to fall into the famed site's dreaded category. Personally, I don't think it deserved to be called "Rotten".

The film honored the rich legacy that preceded it while charting its own course.

Russel Crowe's Jor-El instantly became my favorite rendition of the character due to his heavy involvement with the action, and the intelligence and adaptability of his hologram.

In contrast to Terrance Stamp in the Christopher Reeve films, Michael Shannon's General Zod was a more well-rounded character.

The Fortress being a Kryptonian vessel was a very exciting concept.

In contrast to Superman: The Movie, the film filled in the gap between Clark leaving Smallville and becoming Superman by showing him in the intervening time as a nomadic character helping people everywhere he goes.

The film played beautifully themes such as hope, sacrifice, and doing the right thing. The scene with the priest was my favorite moment in the film. And in contrast to other films, Lois actually knew who Clark was at the end.

What could have been changed:

It's hard to say what changes to make. While I could understand the film not being "Certified Fresh", like I said, I don't believe it deserved to be called "Rotten".

I suppose it could have benefited from less focus on the action and more on character development. But overall, the only real issue I had with the film was that the plot moved so fast, I wished the film was longer to counterbalance it.

See for yourself! Watch Man of Steel on Amazon.

5. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Tomatometer: 28%

Critics Consensus: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice smothers a potentially powerful story -- and some of America's most iconic superheroes -- in a grim whirlwind of effects-driven action.”

What was good:

I’ll start with the obvious: we finally got to see the DC Trinity together for the first time in a Hollywood blockbuster.

Overall, I thought the film was well-casted. Gal Gadot performed beautifully as Wonder Woman (a sentiment since amplified by her solo film). While not my first choice, Ben Affleck did well as Batman. And Jeremy Irons's involvement with the action has made him my favorite portrayal of Alfred.

The climactic confrontation between the title duo, complete with the design for Batman’s suit, paid homage to the Dark Knight Returns.

The origin of Doomsday in this film was certainly a different take on the character, but in the world created by Man of Steel, it made sense, and it wouldn’t be the only instance of Luthor being involved in unleashing the monster. In Superman: Red Son, Dr. Luthor created Doomsday and in the animated release Superman: Doomsday, the character was accidentally unearthed by LexCorp.

And while at times it may have been overblown, this film hit, in a way no other Superman film had, the real-world politics such an individual would face.

What could have been changed:

Of the casting choices, my one problem was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. While he performed well, my feelings remain. The messed-up rich kid with a Napoleon complex was a different take for the character, but it didn't work. Even with the same script, a more mature actor could have given him a more serious and commanding presence.

While overall the film was good, for me, it didn't officially begin until the title duo teamed up. There was too much build-up to too short a clash, and too little interaction between the characters. As action-packed as the film was, a welcome break could have been to have them engage in a verbal debate.

In the months leading up to the film as characters were announced, people were complaining about the film cramming in too many characters. I felt the biggest problem wasn’t too many characters, but too many plots. At a minimum, the film was the second half of Dark Knight Returns followed by the first half of Superman: Doomsday. While the title may have been Batman v. Superman, throughout the film, you had Superman vs. Government, Superman vs. Media, Superman vs. Batman, Superman vs. Lex Luthor, and Superman vs. Doomsday.

I understand weaving these plots together, but it needed to be smoother. In hindsight, I wish early rumors of the film being split into two had been true.

See for yourself! Watch Batman v. Superman on Amazon.

4. Steel (1997)

Tomatometer: 12%

Critics Consensus: “Steel is a badly-acted movie that indulges not only in superhero clichés, but also the sappy TV-movie-of-the-week ones.”

What was good:

One of the most appealing things about the Steel character is that he is the blue-collar version of Iron Man. To that end, the film's low-budget appearance kinda worked.

Overall, Shaq gave a decent performance. The fact that he is a huge Superman fan (even having a Superman tattoo which is visible in the film) actually worked for the character, considering Steel's first appearance was as one of the four characters in the Reign of the Supermen storyline, a mantle he initially took on in honor of the Man of Steel.

Another great aspect of the film was something even the harshest critics commended it for: the presence of Susan Sparks, played by Annabeth Gish, as a female wheelchair-bound action hero.

The familial bond between the characters was heartwarming, and there were sweet and inspiring messages about being good role models and overcoming limitations.

What could have been changed:

One issue, of course, was the suit. The fact that he could MacGyver that entire suit, giving him bulletproof protection from head-to-toe, but he didn't cover his chin, was a little insane.

And while I enjoyed Shaq in this film, I also felt he was the film's main issue. Shaq’s presence here is exactly what Richard Donner wanted to avoid when he sought an unknown actor for the starring role in Superman: The Movie. His star status simply overpowered the character. His stature was also problematic; how does a superhero maintain a secret identity when he's 7 feet tall?

Also, the scene where he is seen playing basketball was too laughably obvious. It was appropriate for the character, but when the actor was a basketball legend, it's like the film was trying to shove it in the viewers' faces.

See for yourself! Watch Steel on Amazon.

3. Batman & Robin (1997)

Tomatometer: 11%

Critics Consensus: “Joel Schumacher's tongue-in-cheek attitude hits an unbearable limit in Batman & Robin resulting in a frantic and mindless movie that's too jokey to care much for.”

What was good:

I’m going to throw down the gauntlet, come on out and say it: I thought Clooney was a good Batman. He wasn’t my favorite, but I thought he did fine. One could argue that, while not the perfect Batman, he was an ideal Bruce Wayne, given that, just like the character, Clooney is a rich playboy! And with Batman especially, I think one of the most important aspects of the character, within the DC universe, is that Bruce Wayne is not the ideal Batman.

The advantage of a masked superhero character is that the guy under the mask can be anyone. Clooney was good in the role he was given; he just needed a better script.

I’m also going to tempt fate and declare that I actually liked Mr. Freeze in this film. Schwarzenegger performed that role well in a manner that one could sympathize with him; his love for his wife, which propelled his villainous acts, also led to him doing good at the end of the film.

The film emphasized a brotherly bond between the Dynamic Duo and the fatherly role of Alfred, and featured a number of pleasantly lighthearted moments.

What could have been changed:

Batman & Robin was a campy movie trying to pass itself off as serious, in contrast to the Adam West series which knew it was campy, embraced it, and was therefore good. In that regard, the film should have either full-on embraced its campy nature or taken things more seriously.

While Batgirl was great in her cinematic debut, it should have been truer to the comics. Making her Alfred’s niece worked for the subplot of Alfred’s illness, but it was still a letdown for die-hard fans of the character.

This film was a little crowded (some of you still reading after my Batman v. Superman remarks are probably thinking, “yeah, this is the film he dings for being overcrowded!”). Along with Mr. Freeze was Poison Ivy who had a mindless Bane under her control. The film could have benefited from removing one of those characters and focusing on one main villain. Although, if the film had taken a campier approach, this wouldn't have been as big an issue.

See for yourself! Watch Batman & Robin on Amazon.

2. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Tomatometer: 11%

Critics Consensus: “The Superman series bottoms out here: the action is boring, the special effects look cheaper, and none of the actors appear interested in where the plot's going.”

What was good:

With the tensions that have gone on even in the past few years, the concerns that inspired the film are just as relevant today. Made during the Cold War, the film saw Superman do what many people wish could be done to prevent nuclear war.

Superman's closing speech in which he emphasizes the need for the people of Earth to work together for peace is one of my favorite moments in the series. Despite the film's box office failure, it was, in hindsight, an emotionally fitting end for the franchise.

Another highlight is at the end where Superman returns Luthor to prison. The film also features comic relief courtesy of Luthor's nephew, played by Jon Cryer (later known for roles such as Alan Harper in Two and a Half Men and now playing Lex Luthor on Supergirl).

The tabloid takeover of the Daily Planet was an interesting plot, and its resolution was satisfying.

What could have been changed:

The film could have benefited from stronger characters. The character of Lacy Warfield did mature through the course of the film, but more development from her would have helped. Some deleted scenes deepened the romance between her and Clark, including an ending scene where she leaves Metropolis and Clark gives her the number for a realtor in Smallville who might have a place for her (at the beginning of the film, Clark put his late parents' home up for sale).

The film featured several random, cheesy, and ridiculous moments (including the return of the magic kiss, which I hated in Superman II) and saw Superman exercise new and absurd powers (i.e. laser vision which perfectly repairs the damaged Great Wall of China).

The fact that, after all the time from the first film, there was still another power crystal in his baby rocket he conveniently forgot about, which in the brink of time restored him from the brink of death, was silly.

Given the geopolitical tensions that inspired this film, more tie-in to that would have helped. A deleted scene shows the panic that ensues when Nuclear Man shows up on radar screens as a missile, nearly provoking the United States and the Soviet Union to fire on each other.

Most of all, the film suffered from a lack of resources; the film had by far the lowest budget of the entire franchise, less than a third of that for Superman: The Movie. Cast members have criticized Cannon (to whom the Salkinds sold the production rights) for not allocating more to the film, causing the release of an unfinished product. Reeve himself said Cannon was working on 30 films at the same time and gave Superman IV no special treatment. Writer Mark Rosenthal cited one example where he, Reeve, and the director begged Cannon to be able to shoot the UN scene in front of the actual UN building, but Cannon refused.

See for yourself! Watch Superman IV on Amazon.

1. Supergirl (1984)

Tomatometer: 10%

Critics Consensus: “The effects are cheesy and Supergirl's wide-eyed, cheery heroine simply isn't interesting to watch for an hour and a half.”

What was good:

People may forget that Supergirl was the first superhero film with a female in the lead role. Helen Slater did well in the role. She looked fantastic and she performed it well, playing the character as an artistic and dreamy individual who runs away from home, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (a comparison made by technical adviser Scott Bosco in the booklet included with the limited edition director's cut DVD).

Marc MacClure reprising his Jimmy Olson role was a pleasant addition and a nice, quick way to weave the film into the canon in lieu of Christopher Reeve (note: this made MacClure the only actor to appear in all 5 films of the Reeve franchise).

What could have been changed:

We could spend a century analyzing all the Deus ex Machina moments in superhero films, but the Omegahedron gave Selena a little too much power. More exposition might have helped, especially to explain how something could be so important to the survival of a city and yet Zaltar was able to borrow it for an art project (before anyone who saw the film reminds me that he technically stole it, the fact remains that it wasn't under tighter security).

The biggest problem with the film was the absence of Christopher Reeve, which had to be explained with a slapped-in radio broadcast detailing his mission to another galaxy. Reeve was originally supposed to have a cameo but bowed out. The director admitted he wished Reeve was involved, feeling it would have given the film higher credibility.

The movie suffered from cheesy effects and editing, the worst being in the fight scene at the end. The film also needed some of the footage that was cut from the theatrical release offering further development of the characters.

See for yourself! Watch Supergirl on Amazon.


For all the true believers who delight in these films, there is one source of comfort, and that is that, over time, opinions change. And that is true even for Rotten Tomatoes. Fans of the former site MoviePilot may recall a version of this article I posted in 2017. In preparing this article for Cloudy Tea, I found that additional reviews had actually changed the ratings. Four of the films featured saw their ratings increase (albeit slightly) since my original list, requiring me to rearrange it. The biggest change was Supergirl, which was 7% in 2017. Supergirl is also no longer the worst DC film according to Rotten Tomatoes. That honor now belongs to Catwoman.

Did you like any of the films on this list? What other "Rotten" DC films are you willing to admit you liked?