A word to the wise: if superheroes are to you what Alfred Hitchcock is to cinephiles, turn away right now and consider reading something else. Still here? Don’t say we didn’t warn you. A recent study on the average critical response to comic book films just ranked superhero franchises by order of likability. The results will no doubt enrage stalwart fans of the Last Son of Krypton, as research ultimately concludes Superman to be the most hated cinematic franchise involving a comic book superhero. The authors used Rotten Tomatoes reviews as a sample set.
Still, there’s no denying Superman’s popular impact on the superhero franchise over the years. Ask anyone on the street in any city around the globe and they’re bound to have heard of Superman. Green Lantern or Captain America? Probably not. The Man of Steel is a cultural phenomenon like no other. When the character first appeared in 1938 on the pages of Action Comics #1, he redefined the concept of super-heroism for countless generations to come. There’s no one in geek culture more recognizable than the red and blue Boy Scout. And yet while Clark Kent is certainly beloved the world over, the figures don’t lie.
Superman is an exceptional character, but his live-action superhero franchise filmography is peppered with misfires. Superman III has a score of 30% at Rotten Tomatoes, while its follow-up, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is at a measly 11%. Other entries are of the garden variety, with Man of Steel clocking in at a disappointing 56% and the theatrical release of Justice League rated even lower at 40%. Two films — Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns and Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie — are considered “fresh” at 94% and 75% respectively, but it makes little difference given the scores are averaged. Superman’s present-day magnum opus, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is considered a phenomenal green splat at 29%.
The Bat of Gotham came second to Superman in superhero franchise fare, and didn’t do much better. With several known duds and contentious entries — Batman & Robin (12%), Batman Forever (38%), Justice League (40%), and Batman v Superman (29%) — complicating the score, the World’s Greatest Detective didn’t stand a chance. Not even Christopher Nolan’s widely acclaimed Dark Knight Trilogy could save the Caped Crusader from the pit his writers crammed him into. The 1984 adaptation of Supergirl starring Helen Slater was added to Superman’s average, while Halle Berry’s Catwoman coupled into Batman’s. Both films are rated 9%.
Rotten Tomatoes has rarely agreed with DC fans when it comes to a superhero franchise, and it shows. The DC Extended Universe (as a whole) takes third place, with early entries chiefly to blame for the low average. 5 movies out of 9 are rated flops, with only Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman (93%), James Wan’s Aquaman (65%), David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! (90%), and Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey (78%) ranked relatively fresh. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad leads the pack of crumblers at a staggering 26%. Wonder Woman 1984 (59%) could have elevated the score if it had performed better critically. The study rounds out the list with two Marvel franchises, Wolverine and the X-Men, both at an average of 67%.
If you’re curious, the five most-loved superhero franchise winners (still according to the study) are The Incredibles, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America, the Avengers, and Deadpool, with Disney’s greatest family of heroes headlining at a whopping 96%. Then again, there are only two Incredibles films, both universally lauded, so it’s hardly a fair competition.
The researchers explain the criteria their superhero franchise numbers are based on: “For movies, we looked at all films which fall under each franchise, including subseries within a larger franchise (for example the likes of The Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America within the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and reboots of series (for example, we took all the Spider-Man movies as one franchise, including those played by Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland).”
All is not lost, however. Not only does DC still have Aquaman 2, James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, and The Batman left to go, and several more spinoffs along with it, the study failed to factor in the critical response to Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which despite its runtime and streaming format performed beautifully worldwide. It’s currently rated fresh at 71% on Rotten Tomatoes, and could still climb. Superheroes are the gold standard by which everyone should aspire to, and yet this study purports not all Supermen are made the same. Perhaps. But when each of these characters are regarded as timeless paragons of virtue nonetheless, does it really matter?