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Superhero Moments That Have Aged Poorly

With their epic battles and thrilling powers far beyond those of mere mortals, superheroes are the source of some of pop culture's most memorable moments. Unfortunately, "memorable" doesn't always mean "good." As much as we've all thrilled to Thanos snapping his fingers to eliminate half of the sentient life in the universe or the Joker cackling his way through a brutal interrogation in The Dark Knight, there are plenty of scenes that are completely unforgettable for reasons that have nothing to do with their quality.

But hey, maybe that's not their fault. After all, times change, and with all those decades of superheroes on the big screen, there had to be at least a few things that didn't hold up, even if they seemed like a good idea at the time. From ill-advised jokes to misunderstanding technology to some pretty unfortunate imagery that nobody expected to be a problem, here are the superhero moments that just haven't aged well.

That War Machine reference hasn't aged well at all

The fact that Iron Man became a massive hit — and launched the biggest franchise in the history of film — was more than a little surprising. A movie about a third-tier Marvel hero who'd once been so unpopular that he'd been killed off and replaced with his teenage counterpart from another dimension in a failed attempt to drum up interest, starring an actor whose career seemed like it had been derailed, from the guy who directed Elf? Even those of us who wanted Iron Man to be good weren't expecting it to be a blockbuster.

Behind the camera, however, there was definitely some anticipation that Iron Man was going to lead to something bigger, even if it was just another Iron Man flick or two down the line, and we know that because of things that happen within the movie itself. There's Nick Fury showing up to foreshadow the Avengers, of course, but there's also a scene where the filmmakers basically said, "This movie will have a sequel." It happens towards the end of the film, when Tony Stark's buddy, Jim Rhodes (played by Terrence Howard), catches a glimpse of a silver Iron Man suit. The camera lingers on it for a long moment with a guitar riff in the background, then the focus racks back to Rhodey, who says, to no one but the audience, "Next time, baby."

Sure enough, Iron Man 2 sees Rhodey donning that silver armor for himself as War Machine, just as he had in the comics. The problem? Well, Rhodey returns, but Terence Howard doesn't. For a variety of reasons, Howard wasn't brought back for the rest of the MCU, with Rhodey instead being recast with Don Cheadle, who remains in the part to this day. Howard is apparently cool with the split, and Cheadle has been a great foil for Iron Man and a great character in his own right, but it's still hard to watch the scene of Howard announcing his future role as War Machine without seeing it as the height of superhero movie hubris.

This superhero moment could've used some yellow spandex

When it came out, 2000's X-Men was hailed by many fans as being the best comic book movie of all time. That's a pretty bold accomplishment, even though its only real competition at that point was a 22 year-old Superman movie, a Batman film where the Joker tried to kill an entire city with an unlicensed parade, and Blade, a movie that contains 100 percent more blood raves than X-Men and is therefore 100 percent better.

Unfortunately, while it felt fresh and original at the time thanks to a killer cast and some great performances, that first film doesn't hold up that well, and it's not just because of that dialogue about toads and lightning. It drew favorable comparisons at the time to The Matrix, but looking back, it seems like one of a couple dozen action movies that tried and failed to replicate the magic of the Wachowskis' fight scenes. The most dated bit, though, is the costumes, and when Wolverine makes a crack about the X-Men's rather embarrassing look, a smarmy Cyclops replies, "What would you prefer? Yellow spandex?" And yeah, it's a clear reference to Wolverine's comic book look.

On the surface, it's just a weird joke. You'd think people who were watching a superhero movie either liked comics or had to the potential to check them out if they liked what they saw on the screen. Plus, it's not like these cinematic, all-weather, bondage gear costumes are any less silly than the capes and tights of the comics. Still, this particular gag probably played better at the time, when the excesses of Batman & Robin's nippled, rubberized statue costumes were still fresh in the minds of the audience. Nowadays, though, we can look back from a time when we've seen pretty faithful recreations of wild, bright, colorful comic book designs like Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and Captain America in movies that were massive hits. Even the X-adjacent movies eventually embraced their comic book aesthetics with Deadpool, who could've stepped right off the page and onto the screen. Considering how badly the latter installments of the X-Men franchise limped into theaters, maybe a little yellow spandex would've been a good idea.

Some thor-oughly incorrect casting doubts

The year 2009 might not seem like it was all that long ago but consider this. Back then, the Marvel Cinematic Universe — which has since gone on to spawn two dozen movies, break pretty much every box office record there is to break, and launch a brand new streaming service — was only a year old. Iron Man had been a surprise hit that thrilled die-hard Marvel fans by teasing the imminent arrival of the Avengers, but The Incredible Hulk had been more than a little underwhelming, so nobody was sure if this whole thing was actually going to work. Plus, no one knew if the films and characters were strong enough to make stars out of their unknown lead actors. Spoiler warning: The franchise worked, and it made some huge stars.

We didn't all know that at the time, though, which was probably the mindset of the people over at New York Magazine's pop culture site, Vulture, when they got the news about the casting of the upcoming Thor movie. In a brief item bearing the skeptical title "Marvel Rolls Dice, Casts No-names for Thor," Vulture's Mark Graham seemed absolutely mystified at the casting, remarking that rather than established actors, "two virtual unknowns will instead be handed the keys to the Marvel franchise." He even went on to say that since Hemsworth was only known from his cameo role in the 2009 Star Trek film, hopefully the filmmakers would "follow the J.J. Abrams route and put the money they saved in casting straight to special effects."

All right, look. It's very easy to dunk on someone from 11 years ago for not being able to predict that Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston would turn out to be two of the best choices from Marvel's considerably fantastic casting department, but Graham was right. It was a bit of a gamble. It just so happens that it was a gamble that paid off about as well as it could. That said, his seeming confusion that Thor didn't go with an established star like Shia LaBeouf, however, is hilarious no matter what year it is. We're not even sure who he thought that dude was going to play. Hawkeye?

The Kryptonian mind-eraser

The first two Superman movies are among the most well-loved superhero movies of all time. They basically invented the genre, and Christopher Reeve embodied the character so well that over 40 years later, every actor who steps in the role is still compared to his version of Superman. That said, the movies aren't perfect. You might not remember, for example, that it takes a full 47 minutes for Superman to show up in the first one, or that for all of Gene Hackman's great performance, Lex Luthor's big evil plot is basically just a large-scale scheme to make his real estate more valuable.

What you probably do remember is that the movies played a little loose with Superman's powers, because apparently having a bulletproof guy who could fly, lift a helicopter with one hand, travel back in time, shoot heat lasers out of his eyes, and blow hurricane-force winds out of his mouth just wasn't enough. It's easy to forgive the thing where he turns his logo into a weird plastic net during his fight with the Phantom Zone criminals at the end of Superman II because, hey, why not, but there's one other new power at the end of that movie that was ... maybe not the best idea.

At the time, having Superman wipe Lois Lane's memory of his secret identity with some kind of mind-control kiss probably seemed like a good idea and like something he would've done in the comics to preserve the status quo. The problem is that before Lois gets her mind wiped, she and Superman have a little tryst in the Fortress of Solitude on a bed that looks like it was made of tinfoil. Even aside from those dubious interior decorating choices, the years since Superman II's release in 1980 have seen society evolve to the point where audiences aren't usually cool with knocking super-boots with someone and then erasing their memory of the event. It's just not a good look. And the worst part? Over 25 years later, it leads to Superman Returns, a movie that reveals that Lois actually got pregnant during that Hot Pocket booty call, and that Superman followed up the forget-me kiss by heading off into space for five years and leaving her to raise the baby. That movie hasn't aged well either, but to be fair, Superman being a deadbeat dad wasn't a good idea in 2006, either.

Superman III and computer sci-fi

Here's a hot take for you. Superman III is actually pretty good. Despite its bad reputation and the fact that it features zero recognizable supervillains and a plot that's just slightly above the level of pure nonsense, it's got some genuinely fun stuff. The scene where Superman's personality is altered by synthetic Kryptonite — causing him to become a darker, more evil version who sits in a bar, angrily getting drunk until he begins to casually destroy everything around him — is one of the best scenes in any Superman movie, period.

There's just one problem. Okay, fine, there are several problems, but most of them are the same as they were back when it came out. There's only one of them that's gotten worse with age, and it has a lot to do with the fact that this is a movie about computers made by people who were definitely not quite sure what a computer actually was. Early in the film, Gus Gorman — the character played by Richard Pryor, because "sure, why not, let's do a movie where Superman fights Richard Pryor" is actually an awesome attitude to have when making a film — tries to become a little more employable by attending some basic computer classes. When he does, the very first time he sits down at a PC, he manages to pull off an awesome feat of computer programming that stuns everyone else.

When he's asked how he did it, Gorman's answer is, in its entirety, "I just ... did it." That is the sum total of the explanation this movie offers for Gorman's computer skills, which eventually get to the point where he's able to control the weather, build a supercomputer from circuit board diagrams that he draws on cigarette packages, and hack things so thoroughly that it makes the "walk" and "don't walk" symbols on a traffic light get into a fistfight, which isn't physically possible. And really, that was probably fine in a movie for babies that was released in 1983. Nowadays, though, we're living in an era where computers are so omnipresent in our lives that even the tiniest child watching a Superman movie is going to know that stoplight fistfights aren't how anything works. That part with cigarette Kryptonite still rules pretty hard, though.

On my planet, the 'S' means 'pretentious'

Superman Returns is a film that's deeply flawed on every level, but one of the worst is how poorly the movie handles its sloppy attempts at casting Superman as a Christ figure while also having him be a deadbeat dad who's actively trying to break up his ex's new relationship. When the Superman franchise rebooted a mere seven years later, the filmmakers apparently looked at how bad their predecessors had done on that front and took it as a challenge to see if they could do worse.

Shockingly, they did. Throughout the movie, Man of Steel offered up scenes that made the bits in Returns where Superman called himself a "savior" look subtle. The scene where Superman's ghostly space father tells him "you can save them," prompting Superman to stick out his arms in a T-pose float away is a particularly bad one, but the part where Superman literally sits in a church talking about sacrificing himself to save others while literal Jesus is just hanging out in the background? That's hilariously pretentious for your movie about spacemen punching each other to death.

It was heavy handed back in 2012, but now that we've had Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Birds of Prey, we've seen a few examples of how fun the DC movies can be when they're not getting bogged down in grim, pretentious, poorly done self-importance. Of course, it also doesn't hold up well once you have a little time to actually think about how poorly the Christ imagery fits into that version of Superman in general, even with the thing where he dies in the sequel and gets resurrected in Justice League. We've checked, and we can't find a translation of the Bible that mentions Jesus ever getting into a city-shattering fistfight with one of the other survivors of the explosion that destroyed Heaven and then snapping his neck in a rage. No matter how you feel about Justice League, it doesn't seem like there's anybody out there asking for a Snyder Cut of the Gospels.

A truly disappointing superhero moment from Spider-Man

Blade kicked the doors open with its surprise success among horror and action fans, and X-Men was a big enough success to launch 17 years worth of diminishing returns on the big screen, but 2002's Spider-Man was the first Marvel blockbuster that felt like the comics. That's one of the reasons it still holds up pretty well today. Sam Raimi's distinctly pulpy filmmaking style has this weirdly timeless quality to it, and aside from some slightly dated CGI and a cameo from Macy Gray, it's pretty indistinguishable from, say, one of the superhero shows that's running on the CW right now.

A big part of that comes from how well the movie nails Spider-Man as a character, right down to his goofy quips. Since day one, he's been a character who always trash-talks his way through his fights, and rather than shying away from the sillier comic-booky elements — like, say, calling the Green Goblin "Gobby" — the movie embraces them, and it makes for a really fun time. Except, that is, when it comes to Spider-Man's debut cage match against a pro wrestler. The broad strokes of the scene are lifted straight from Spidey's first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15, with the one big change being renaming the wrestler "Bonesaw McGraw" instead of "Crusher Hogan," presumably because having "Macho Man" Randy Savage play a guy named Hogan would just be weird.

Like the comics, Spidey basically terrorizes the poor guy until the time limit runs out, but the movie adds a dash of salt and pepper to the action by having our hero make a homophobic jab at his opponent: "That's a cute outfit, did your husband give it to you?" This wasn't great in 2002, but the years since have only seen it become more and more cringeworthy. Admittedly, this whole thing takes place in the scenes before Peter Parker learns to be a better person through tragedy, but for kids in the audience who were hoping to see a hero who's always known for fighting for the underdog and got a backhanded gay joke instead, it has definitely become one of the movie's biggest flaws. Also? Big talk on fashion from a dude in a spray-painted sweatshirt.

The Dark Knight's detective scene has aged incredibly poorly

When The Dark Knight was released in the summer of 2008, it was immediately regarded by fans and critics alike as the best Batman movie ever released, and the decade-plus of critical re-examinations have shown that it holds up. Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker was genuinely incredible, and the plot was a tightly constructed piece of clockwork spread out over multiple acts with different genre flavors — heist story, international adventure, bombastic action movie, morality play. In fact, it's such a good plot that they ran a find-and-replace on it four years later and used it for Skyfall.

There is, however, one bit of it that just doesn't hold up. Coming out of the theater all those years ago, you were probably so blown away by the Joker's sinister delight in tearing down Batman's morality and the twin tragedy of Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent that it took you a while to realize that there's one piece of that clockwork plot that just doesn't work. There's an extended sequence where Batman does some kinda-sorta detective work by reconstructing a bullet that shattered when it hit a brick wall. His method? Firing exactly four bullets into bricks of his own and then eyeballing the bullet holes to figure out which one looks the the bullet he already has. Then he uses that info to reconstruct the original bullet, which allows him to pull a fingerprint off of it.

Okay, so a couple of things here. First, if he has a computer that can put bullet fragments back together, why does he need to shatter a second bullet to get that done? Shouldn't he just use, like, a whole bullet so that the computer has the shape that it's trying to recreate? Also, is it really going to shatter the same way on impact after only four tries? Do bullets only have four different ways they can break apart, like they got tired of designing them down at the bullethole factory? Also, you've almost certainly seen this movie, probably multiple times, so can you remember why Batman needs this fingerprint or what it leads to in the plot? It's not like he runs the print and then finds out that this Joker character was actually disgraced comedian Arthur Fleck all along!

Does any of this break the movie? No, of course not. But if you've spent the past ten years going back to it, you're eventually going to start noticing a few more flaws that you definitely didn't when it came out, and this halfhearted attempt at reminding you Batman is a detective didn't age well.