33 Failed Marvel Movies & TV Shows You (Wish You) Forgot
33 Failed Marvel Movies & TV Shows You (Wish You) Forgot
With how massively successful Marvel Studios movies are--they've raked in almost $30 billion at the worldwide box office--it's hard to remember that for every successful project, there are others that are never announced, sputter out, or fail spectacularly. There are so many iconic pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe projects like the 1990s X-Men series and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies, but what about the Fantastic Four movie that was reportedly made just to hang onto rights and not meant to be released? Or the handful of made-for-TV movies that brought Hulk, Thor, Daredevil, and Doctor Strange into our homes decades before they made it big on the big screen?
There are dozens--literally dozens--of Marvel projects that have been all but forgotten by time, and others that live on in infamy, like the 1986 Howard the Duck movie. This list goes all the way back to 1950, when first attempts were made to develop a Namor television show--a guy in swim trunks is an easy costume to make, after all--up through the latest cancelations of Hulu animated series before they could even hit the service.
What counts as a failure here? The one uniting thing here is that these projects all failed to leave a positive mark on pop culture. The list includes blockbuster movies that owned their box office debuts and shows that went on for more than one season, but in these cases, people remember the bad more than the good. Read on for the failures of Marvel TV and film--missed potential, tiny budgets, shifts in corporate direction are all here.
1. Namor (1950)
Very little is known about the Namor show other than it was set to star Richard Egan (Pollyanna) in the title role. Unfortunately, it never went very far, nor did a Sub-Mariner series that was developed in the '70s.
2. Dr. Strange (1978)
Long before Benedict Cumberbatch played Dr. Strange, Peter Hooten played the good doctor in the 1978 made-for-TV movie named after the main character. The 1978 Dr. Strange film was intended to be a pilot for a television series, but as Stan Lee noted in a later interview, the movie aired opposite Roots. Lee was generally happy with the production, but it never made it past the pilot stage. While the star himself didn't do much else of note, Morgan Le Fay is played by Jessica Walter, who modern TV fans will remember as Arrested Development's Lucille Bluth and Archer's Malory Archer.
3. Captain America (1979)
Cap got his first movie in 1979, in which Steve Rogers, played by Reb Brown, lived out of a conversion van as an artist. A bunch of complicated plot stuff happens and he gets the serum his father developed that gives him superpowers. He has a high-tech bike with turbo boosters that he launches out of the back of his van. The costume looked more like that of someone who jumps over lots of cars on their motorcycle, though at the end of the movie--and for the sequel, Captain America II: Death Too Soon--he gets a costume that's closer to the traditional one. But even that one still involves a bulky motorcycle helmet that keeps the outfit from looking like anything other than a cheesy Halloween costume.
4. Marvel Animated Shows (1980s)
A number of characters, including Iron Man, Ant-Man, and Daredevil were considered for series, with writers and artists hired to build bibles for the shows. A Daredevil show even made it onto ABC's schedule at one point and featured Daredevil and a seeing-eye dog helper for the Man Without Fear.
The Young Astronauts (1985)
The Young Astronauts is a piece of lost media that would be the poster child for badly-timed content if anyone actually remembered it. This animated series was produced in cooperation between Marvel and the Young Astronauts Council and was intended to get kids interested in the real Young Astronauts program. Like Lost in Space, it followed a family and their adventures in space. Reportedly, though, the first episode aired on January 25, 1985--just a few days before the Challenger tragedy, in which NASA's Challenger shuttle tragically exploded during its launch. CBS reportedly shelved the show after that, and its existence is only remembered through some animation cels, a few videos posted online, and the word of people who worked on it.
6. Howard the Duck (1986) (Movie)
Following the huge success of the original Star Wars trilogy, George Lucas turned his attention to adapting a comic book. Lucasfilm produced the William Huyck-directed film Howard the Duck, which starred Lea Thompson and Tim Robbins as two humans who team up with Howard after he's suddenly transported from his home on DuckWorld to Earth. While the movie had some praiseworthy visual effects for the time, it is otherwise largely regarded as one of the worst movies ever.
7. Thor (1988) via The Incredible Hulk Returns
Did you know that Marvel's The Avengers (2012) is not the first time that Thor and Hulk appeared on-screen together? That honor goes to the 1988 made-for-TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns, a continuation of The Incredible Hulk, the television series that ran from 1978 to 1982, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno as David Banner and the Hulk. In the film, Banner meets a man named Donald Blake who can summon Thor from a hammer by speaking Odin's name. It was meant to act as a backdoor pilot for a Thor TV series, but while the movie itself was a ratings success, the Thor TV series never came to fruition. This version of Thor is neither Asgardian, nor a god, and he cannot fly or control the weather. His hammer isn't even called Mjolnir. But we can consider this the beginning of the MMFTMU, or Marvel Made-For-TV Movie Universe, but it's not the end exactly. Keep reading to see who else this version of the Hulk crossed over with just a year later.
8. The Punisher (1989) (Movie)
After perhaps Spider-Man, no single Marvel character has more movies named after him than The Punisher. His first movie arrived in 1989 and featured action star Dolph Lundgren (real-life 4th Dan black belt with a master's degree in chemical engineering) as Frank Castle. The movie is generally regarded as bad, and it seems less like a Punisher movie and more like a movie featuring a character that bears striking resemblance to the Punisher.
9. Solarman (1980s) (Animated)
Solarman is Marvel by technicality, so we're including it. Solarman was a one-shot animated special that was originally intended to be a pilot for a series about the character. Solarman was created in 1979 by David Oliphant and Deborah Kalman of Pendulum Press, a company focusing on children's educational material. The character was intended to bring attention to alternative fuel sources following the 1970s energy crisis. Like so many other heroes, it started with an alien giving an earthling a bracelet and a robot companion. Marvel licensed the character, but Oliphant put up most of the money for the pilot, allowing his company to retain rights. The episode was created sometime between 1986 and 1988 (sources vary on this), but the show never made it to series. The single episode finally aired in 1992, a week before Fox debuted the fan-favorite X-Men animated series.
10. Daredevil (1989) via The Trial of the Incredible Hulk
If your plan doesn't work the first time, try, try again. While Thor's guest appearance in the Incredible Hulk TV movie didn't inspire enough love to get him his own series, Daredevil's appearance in the 1989 TV movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk… also didn't work out. This movie is a direct sequel to the Return and was released just a year later. Banner is still on the run and runs afoul of Wilson Fisk. That leads to him teaming up with Daredevil to fight the Kingpin. Also, there is no trial in the movie, aside from one that Banner imagines in a nightmare. But hey, who knew we got Daredevil's black costume back in 1989? Bill Bixby would play the Hulk one more time in 1990's Death of the Incredible Hulk, but the movie focused on Banner and Hulk and did not cross over with another character in that film.
11. X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men (Late '80s) (Animated)
Pryde of the X-Men was an animated television pilot that was broadcast in 1989 that focused on, who else, but the X-Men's own Kitty Pryde. The pilot takes the team, including new recruit Pryde, into space to fight Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The show never made it to series. Interestingly, the show's budget came from the RoboCop animated series--Marvel shifted the funding from that series, making this instead of a 13th RoboCop episode.
12. Captain America (Early '90s) (Animated)
Unlike so many of the animated shows on this list, Captain America's animated series never made it to the pilot stage. While at least seven episodes were written, a 60-second demo reel is all that was ever animated, as Marvel's financial problems claimed Captain America and a bunch of other shows in various stages of production.
13. Captain America (1990) (Movie)
Captain America's second cinematic outing appeared in 1990. The movie was originally intended to be a theatrical film starring Jeff Bridges as Cap and Peter Fonda as the Red Skull. As so often happens with licensed movies, though, it sat in production long enough that the rights were sold off and ended up with the Cannon Group. The movie was delayed multiple times before a 1992 direct-to-video release. The movie's Captain America costume is much more faithful to the comics, and the movie has Cap facing off against Red Skull during both World War II and modern day, but it's generally regarded as being a bad movie.
14. Power Pack (1991)
Power Pack, which follows four young siblings with superpowers, was intended to be a live-action series aimed at kids. The show was never picked up for series, but the 27-minute episode has been aired as a standalone TV movie a few times and has the kids exploring the haunted mansion of Dr. Morbius.
15. Doctor Mordrid (1992)
Another Strange production made it to the finish line in 1992, but by the time it was ready for release, the license holders had lost the Doctor Strange license and released it as Doctor Mordrid. The movie was directed by the father-son duo of Albert and Charles Band, who also brought us B-movie classics like Robot Jox and Re-Animator.
16. The Fantastic Four (1994) (Movie)
The 1994 Fantastic Four movie is one of the most infamous failures in Marvel cinematic history. Produced by Constantin Film, the movie was made and then, shortly before release, pulled from schedules, with the actors even being given cease-and-desist orders to prevent further promotion. It had gotten trailers and coverage in magazines during this time. Stan Lee said in 2005 that the movie was never actually intended to be released and was made as a way for rights-holder Bernd Eichinger to retain the rights, though Eichinger has disputed this. If you look hard enough, you can find bootlegs of the unreleased movie online.
17. Generation X (1996)
Generation X feels, in a way, like a predecessor to shows like Smallville. This TV movie was a spin-off of the X-Men, featuring Jubilee, Emma Frost, and Sean Cassidy as leading characters, fighting against a man named Russell Tresh who wanted to create his own mutant powers to control the world's dreams. It's generally regarded as a bad movie. Notably, though, it made use of Hatley Castle as the setting for Xavier's school in the movie, and the same location would be used later in six different X-Men films, starting with X2, as well as in Smallville and Arrow. That's the most notable thing about this TV movie that gestured at live-action X-Men but never got close enough to matter.
18. Nick Fury: Agent of Shield (1998) (Movie)
Fox wasn't done with Marvel TV movies, though. Before comics writer Mark Millar reimagined Nick Fury in the image of Samuel L. Jackson in 2002, the character was a middle-aged white guy in blue spandex and white boots. Fox TV put the then-hot actor David Hasselhoff in the titular role (Baywatch was on in something like 140 countries around this time), and made a forgettable TV movie about Fury and SHIELD battling Hydra to stop them from unleashing a virus in New York City. A handful of characters that would later appear in the MCU show up here, including not just this earlier version of Fury, but also Lisa Rinna as SHIELD Agent Contessa Valentina 'Val' Allegra De Fontaine, Garry Chalk as Dum-Dum Dugan, Peter Haworth as Arnim Zola, and Campbell Lane as Baron Wolfgang von Strucker.
19. Daredevil (2003) (Movie)
Daredevil followed hot on the heels of 2002's triumphant Spider-Man movie directed by Sam Raimi. Long before Ben Affleck would play Batman, he played Red Batman, better known as Daredevil. Daredevil had a star-studded cast that included Affleck's future wife Jennifer Garner as Elektra Natchios, Colin Farrell as Bullseye, MCU originator and Mandalorian creator Jon Favreau as Foggy Nelson, and the late Michael Clarke Duncan as Wilson Fisk. This movie is more of a failure in retrospect, as it was relatively successful at the box office at the time, opening with the second-biggest February opening of all time.
Critical reaction was mixed, but Roger Ebert gave the movie 3 out of 4 stars and highlighted Duncan as a particularly effective member of the cast. Stan Lee would later say that the screenwriters "wrote the whole thing wrong" by making the character of Matt Murdock "too tragic." We wonder what Lee thought of Netflix's Daredevil. The film hasn't aged well with fans, however, and is trotted out as one of the examples of bad Marvel flicks from before the MCU. Director Marc Steven Johnson also blamed himself for wanting to put too many things in--the film introduced Elektra, Foggy, Bullseye, Wilson Fisk, and Ben Urich in 103 minutes, while the Netflix series did that across three seasons of television.
20. Elektra (2005) (Movie)
While a Daredevil sequel was considered, the studio first wanted to test the waters with an Elektra spin-off. Jennifer Garner reprised the role of Elektra Natchios in a movie that went on to become both a critical and commercial failure. My biggest memory of the movie is Jennifer Garner pronouncing the word "sensei" (Japanese for teacher or mentor) as "sensai."
21. The Punisher (2004)
What if you took the Punisher and moved him from the gritty streets of New York and down south to Miami? This movie puts Tom Jane in the titular role and there is fun to be had here--as a simple revenge movie, there are a lot of fun ideas and Jane brings Castle to life as a troubled but relentless fighter who ends up not just going for revenge but to protect a temporary found family. It is still generally considered not to be very good, though, and during sequel discussions, Tom Jane decided not to stay with the series.
22. Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Instead, Ray Stevenson, who would play Thor ally Volstagg in the MCU just a few years later, took over. Stevenson does what he can with the material but doesn't bring as much pathos to the character as Jane managed, and the rest of the movie is nearly as forgettable.
23. Spider-Man 4 (2010)
Did you know that there was supposed to be a fourth Spider-Man movie directed by Sam Raimi? Characters like Vulture and Black Cat were considered for the movie. By this point, however, Raimi had the frustrating experience of Spider-Man 3 in the rearview mirror, which required that he shoehorn Venom into the movie at the request of Marvel executives, despite already having a script with Sandman and the new Green Goblin as the villains. Raimi said later that he became exhausted with the amount of work required to create large superhero movies, and described the decision to scrap the movie as an undramatic and amicable break-up between him and Sony Pictures.
24. Gambit (2014)
The mid-2010s was an arms race between Marvel Studios, Fox, Sony, and Warner Bros. to create the biggest and most successful superhero films. While Marvel and Warner Bros. were both trying to build different kinds of connected universes and Sony was rebooting Spider-Man yet again, Fox was diving as deep into the catalog of X-Men characters as it could. One long-time fan-favorite character was Gambit, the Cajun mutant who could turn anything he picked up into a projectile explosive. His weapon of choice: playing cards. What could be more stylish and space-efficient than 52 grenades in your pocket? In 2014, Southern-born actor Channing Tatum looked at Gambit and saw his entry point into the world of superhero movies. Unfortunately, the movie would stay in development hell for years until Fox sold off its library and superhero licenses to Disney, restoring the X-Men to Marvel Studios and canceling any mutant movies that weren't yet in production. Earlier that year, Channing Tatum told Vanity Fair that "ultimately I just think that the tone of the movie we wanted to make was very far from what they wanted to do--or, you know, maybe they're waiting to see how they do it with us or without us."
25. Powers (2015)
Sometimes a superhero property's success is less about the show itself and more about where you can watch it. In the early 2010s, console makers were looking for ways to keep gamers using their systems even when they weren't gaming. That's where Powers enters the picture. After being announced in 2011 as an FX show, Powers spent a few years in development before Sony decided to make it the big debut show for its entry into streaming television on the PlayStation Network. Unfortunately, the subset of people who had PlayStation consoles, who liked superhero shows, and who wanted to pay to access a show on a network with very little other content proved to be pretty small. Powers lasted two seasons before it was canceled. You can find it on VOD sites like Amazon Prime Video and Vudu now since the PlayStation Network is no longer hosting television shows.
26. Marvel's Most Wanted (2015)
Before Marvel began developing shows for the Disney+ streaming service, it was working with a bunch of networks, including Netflix, Hulu, and the Disney-owned broadcast network ABC to develop shows, with the idea of the shows being at least tangentially connected to the MCU. That was the idea with Agents of SHIELD, and it was to be the case with the spin-off, Marvel's Most Wanted. The show was to star Nick Blood and Adrianne Palicki as two former agents on the run from the law. While a pilot was filmed for the show, ABC decided not to move forward with the project.
27. Inhumans (2017)
When Marvel's slate of live-action projects began to expand rapidly, the absence of the X-Men--still owned by Fox at that time--became glaringly obvious. The studio looked to another of its old properties, the Inhumans, to act as a stand-in. The Inhumans have been around for a long time as a branch of humanity living in a secret kingdom on the Moon. This offshoot was changed first by the Celestials and then by the Kree, and each Inhuman would receive powers as a ceremonial rite. Marvel tried to introduce the Inhumans to the masses with the 2017, eight-episode television show--even going so far as to play the premiere episode in IMAX theaters. Unfortunately, it was panned for poor VFX and soapy melodrama and stands at 11% on Rotten Tomatoes.
28. New Warriors (2018)
Developed for the Freeform network, New Warriors was to follow an alternative team of superheroes led by Squirrel Girl, a fan-favorite from the comics. It was meant to be a live-action show adjacent to the MCU with constant references to the events of the movies. The pilot for the show tested well with Disney executives, but Freeform found it did not have room in its schedule for the show. The show was shifted around between networks for a while before it was finally pronounced dead. Notably, this team includes Speedball, the character who sets off the events of Civil War in the comics.
29. Ghost Rider (2019)
Marvel has a whole arm of supernatural characters that, aside from Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch, are almost entirely unexplored in live-action. Another spin-off of Agents of SHIELD was meant to rectify that. Actor Gabriel Luna joined the cast of Agents and, according to him, Marvel executed a "hold clause" on his contract--he was so well-received on the show that they wanted to immediately look into a show centered on his character, Robbie Reyes. Reyes is the second incarnation of Ghost Rider. The first is Johnny Blaze, the motorcycle-riding, flaming skull guy that Nicolas Cage played in two movies. Reyes is a new, younger incarnation who drives a car instead of riding a bike. Ghost Rider was to kick off a Hulu-centered supernatural superhero team including Ghost Rider, Daimon Helstrom, and others. Helstrom had one season, while Ghost Rider never made it to pilot. You can see Ghost Rider and some of the characters that might have joined him in the game Marvel's Midnight Suns, released in December 2022.
30. Helstrom (2020)
If a Marvel show airs on a streaming service, and no one watches, did it ever exist? Helstrom followed a man named Damion Helstrom and his sister, Satana, children of an infamous serial killer, who work together to hunt down demons connected to the worst of humanity. Helstrom's ten-episode run was unceremoniously dumped onto Hulu in October 2020, with reviews comparing it to a 2006 CW show and saying that it looked liked it was finished only due to contractual obligations. Even Marvel stalwarts mostly skipped this one.
31. Hit-Monkey (2021) (animated)
What if you replaced Agent 47 in the Hitman games with a monkey? That's the idea behind the Marvel character Hit-Monkey, a Japanese macaque monkey that learned assassination techniques by watching an assassin train. Hit-Monkey debuted on Hulu in 2021 as an animated series with 10 episodes. Since MODOK's cancelation, though, neither Marvel nor Hulu has spoken about further seasons of the show, and it is assumed to be canceled at this point.
32. Tigra and Dazzler (2020) (Animated)
While Hit-Monkey did make it to air, two other shows got the axe before they had a chance to grow into a full series. Tigra & Dazzler is one such show. The show would've followed Tigra, a woman with cat-like abilities, and Dazzler, a light-based mutant who has previously been a member of the X-Men, as well as other superhero teams, as they "fight for recognition among powered people who make up the eight million stories in Los Angeles," according to the show's official synopsis. Tigra & Dazzler's showrunner, Erica Rivinoja, and the show's entire writing staff were let go from the show due to "creative differences" in December 2019, and the show was confirmed dead just a month later alongside the last show in our line-up...
33. Howard the Duck (2020) (Animated)
Director and comic book writer Kevin Smith was set to write and produce Howard the Duck, also an animated series for Hulu, along with Aqua Teen Hunger Force co-creator Dave Willis. The show would have eventually crossed over in a special called The Offenders, with Hit-Monkey, MODOK, and Tigra and Dazzler meant to play on the Defenders universe of shows originally filmed for Netflix. While this show will never see the light of day, you can always go back to the 1986 movie we talked about, and the character also pops up in cameo appearances a few times in the MCU, as well as in the "What If...T'Challa Became Star-Lord?" episode of Marvel's What If…? series.