Finding the movie in a novel isn't always easy, and finding the movie in the decades-long ongoing soap operas that are superhero comics? That is maybe a million times harder. At least a novel is usually written by a single author with a single vision, and therefore easier to translate to film, but comics change hands constantly, and one creator's version of Batman, for example, is vastly different from another's. Frankly, given these facts, it's a miracle any superhero movie turns out to be any good at all.
Some of the most successful adaptations of superheroes often just take the basic characters and origin stories of the heroes and then do their own spin on them, Hollywood style. The Avengers is a great superhero movie, maybe even the greatest, but as an actual adaptation of fifty years of Avengers comics? it seems that Joss Whedon and Marvel Studios didn't even bother to try. The Iron Man movies, by and large, play pretty fast and loose with the comics they were based on too. So this isn't about which superhero movies are the best, but which superhero movies made the best and worst use of the decades-long stories on which they are supposedly based.
I should stress that this is NOT a best/worst superhero movies list, hence the lack of movies like Catwoman or Steel, which don't even attempt to adapt the comics, just use the names. That's a whole other list.
The Worst Uses of Comics Book Storylines In Superhero Movies
5. Batman (1989)
There were a lot of weird choices made for Tim Burton's original Batman film, to say the least. Even though it was greenlit in part of the resurgence in Batman's popularity in the comics and popular culture due to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, almost all the cues that Burton took from the comics were from the actual Batman "year one"... as in 1939. From the art deco look to Batman using guns, everything about Batman '89 screams inspiration from that first year of Batman's comic book adventures. Even love interest Vicki Vale (a character introduced in the late forties) more or less resembled the string of pretty, disposable "fiancees" Bruce went through like tissue paper in the late thirties and early forties.
The one thing very much not like 1939 Batman comics is the idea that the nameless killer of Bruce Wayne's parents, the one that drives him to vigilantism, is really the future Joker as a young thug. I'm not sure who made that choice, if it was Batman screenwriter Sam Hamm or Burton himself, but having the Batman's #1 foe being the reason he was even created takes away the randomness and senselessness of the crime that made him in the first place. Although in some comics the murderer of the Waynes often remains nameless, and sometimes it's a random hoodlum named Joe Chill, it's always someone who's more or less a nobody. By making it the future Joker, it's all a bit too neat and pat, and I'm glad that Batman Begins restored the classic origin once more for the masses.
4. Spider-Man 3
While I don't hate Spider-Man 3 as much as most of my fellow nerds, there's no denying it is a hot mess of a movie. While some things are done right (I still love Thomas Haden Church as Sandman) and James Franco has some inspired moments as Baby Goblin, the ball was super-dropped when it came to Spidey's fanboy favorite baddie Venom.
Director Sam Raimi, a Spidey fan from the original Stan Lee run of the sixties, wasn't a Venom fan, as that characters was introduced in the eighties, and was especially popular in the nineties. Rumor has it that Raimi was basically forced by the studio to add Venom and the whole alien symbiote aspect to the movie, due to his massive popularity with modern comics fanboys. But Topher Grace's version of Eddie Brock bears no physical or character resemblance to the Eddie Brock of the comics, and all his version of Venom did was take up space in an already crowded movie, ultimately pleasing no one, Venom fans and Venom haters alike. I imagine that eventually, the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies will re-do Venom in a way that hopefully does the character some justice.
3. Iron Man 3
Being super faithful to a comic book hero's storyline doesn't always make for a good movie (see #5 on our best list) and sometimes, trashing a sacred storyline from the comics can still result in a decent flick regardless. That's what happened, at least in my opinion, with Iron Man 3,which more or less said "screw it" to all the storylines involving Iron Man's #1 baddie the Mandarin, and totally did their own thing with it. For the two of you reading this who still haven't seen Iron Man 3 yet, SPOILERS-but the Mandarin in the movie (as played by Sir Ben Kingsley) wasn't really the Mandarin at all, but a decoy played by a British actor named Trevor Slattery. As far as we the viewers know...there is no real Mandarin.
While I personally think this reveal worked, and was a genuine surprise in an era were we know almost every part of a movie long before we set foot in a theater, some fanboys were not pleased, to say the least. While it can be debated ad nauseum whether or not the twist in Iron Man 3 worked or not, the fact remains - Marvel Studios took a massive part of Iron Man's comic book storyline, and pretty much wiped their butts with it.
2. "Gifted" From Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men in X-Men: The Last Stand
After surviving a rather dire decade, at least story wise (sorry, all you '90s kids, but the X-Men comics of that era were pretty dang bad) the X-Men had their second creative renaissance under writer Grant Morrison in the early 2000's, and eventually, "King of the Geeks" Joss Whedon. Whedon's first story arc in Astonishing X-Men, titled "Gifted," introduced the idea of a synthetic cure for mutancy, and that aspect of his story wound up being the secondary plot of X-Men: The Last Stand.
Sadly, it was all handled terribly in the movie, with the ramifications of a cure to the mutant gene barely dealt with beyond perfunctory speeches from Halle Berry as Storm, and the notion of the mutant cure being used as a weapon by the government. When director Brett Ratner decided he would give Rogue the cure just so she could sleep with her boyfriend Iceman, that more than anything showed how much Ratner (and Fox, who made these movies) didn't understand the central metaphor of the comic books these stories were based on. But X-Men: The Last Stand didn't just do disservice to one beloved comics storyline, it somehow managed to mangle two of them, as seen by our #1 entry in the "worst" list.
1. The Dark Phoenix Saga Adapted in X-Men: The Last Stand
In the comics, the series of stories now collectively called "The Dark Phoenix Saga" is still considered the X-Men's magnum opus, the story that cemented them as the premier Marvel comic during the late seventies and early eighties run by writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne. The duo had taken founding member Jean Grey, then known as "Marvel Girl," and upgraded her power to cosmic levels as the Phoenix. Over the course of five years, they slowly turned up Jean's power levels, and turned down her ability to control those powers, as Jean started to lose her mind under the burden of godhood. When she finally went dark, the resulting chaos on those who loved her made for the most gripping X-Men story up to that point.
The problem with adapting the Dark Phoenix Saga in X-Men The Last Stand was two-fold. First off, they combined that story with yet another famous X-Men story, never giving the Dark Phoenix saga its proper due. In the comics, Jean Grey struggled with her control of the incredible power within her, before fully giving into her darker impulses. It was a slow build, and while The Last Stand couldn't have taken the same amount of time as the comics did, they completely skipped the struggle Jean was having and instantly went from Jean being dead in the last movie to Jean waking up and being a rampaging id monster in this movie. Golden opportunities were missed in having Jean struggle with her dark side, and instead we get Stephen King's Carrie White at the prom on steroids.
HONORABLE MENTION: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Because "Galactus Cloud." As Stan Lee would say, 'nuff said.