The Weirdest Superhero Movie Tie-In Promotions

What would we do without movie tie-ins? We wouldn't have any motivation to get to the bottom of our cereal boxes, for one. While most people aren't avid followers of the specialized merch that accompanies new theatrical releases, most of us have collected at least a small handful of movie tie-ins over the years. Whether it's Denny's redoing its menu for the latest "Hobbit" movie or Urban Decay launching a "Game of Thrones"-inspired makeup line, companies and movie studios are forever in the process of creative–and often lucrative–Hollywood collaboration.

For some reason, superhero movies seem to attract strange theatrical tie-ins like the Dark Knight drawn to the bat signal. The sheer quantity of superhero movies might be the simplest explanation for the endless stream of new and creative superhero tie-ins and marketing gimmicks. Plus, although we know they're for all ages, comic books have been closely associated with childhood for so long that companies may think making bigger and better "toys" for each new film is a sure-fire way to rake in the dough. What happens when the toys aren't better, though, but just weirder?

We've scoured the internet for the strangest and most off-the-wall superhero movie tie-ins we can find, and it turns out, plenty of them are not for kids. The items and services on this list are sometimes corny, often inexplicable, and occasionally in poor taste. A few of them are awesome, while plenty of them are only tangentially related to the movie they're supposedly promoting. To make things simpler, we've excluded anything that's related to on-screen superheroes but not directly tied to a single movie (I still love you, Iron Man Billionaire Punch Lip Balm!).

Here are eight of the strangest superhero movie tie-ins in history.

A Superhero Double-Duty Dark Whopper

Menu tie-ins are nothing unusual, but the "Spider-Man 3" Dark Whopper is noteworthy because it's so pitifully half-hearted. If I'm buying something called a Dark Whopper, I want it dyed jet black to the point that I'm worried about my insides–or for it to at least include some rare dark vegetable I've never heard of. Alas, the Dark Whopper was just a regular Whopper featuring cracked black pepper cheese and black pepper ketchup. The meal was meant to call to mind the black symbiote Spidey suit from what would turn out to be the only poorly received chapter of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man franchise. Instead, it looked like a regular burger with a little bit of kick to it. A side of web-shaped fries, which look to the naked eye like regular waffle-cut fries, didn't do much to improve things.

Overall, this sounds like a pretty tasty combo meal, but it's by no means an impactful form of movie advertising. Hilariously, the meal was so generic that Burger King brought the Dark Whopper back just one year later, for "The Dark Knight." In a UK-based advertisement for the burger, people are encouraged to "feed your dark side," which in this case amounts to being a naughty secretary or an ungenerous public transit user.

Blue Watchmen Condoms

Fans of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' epic graphic novel series should have known the 2009 adaptation of "Watchmen" wouldn't be all it was cracked up to be when the promotional team decided to go all-in on blue condoms. That's right: if you happened to be in the right place at the right time in 2008 or 2009 (which, according to those who were, included New York Comic Con or Columbus, Ohio), you may have been randomly handed a bright blue prophylactic in honor of Dr. Manhattan's memorable member. The promo item's packaging apparently featured the series' signature blood-stained smiley face button on the front, with the cheeky slogan "we're society's only protection" on the inside of the matchbook-like package.

Safe sex is always a good idea, but it doesn't seem especially related to this alternate history about ultra-violent, ultra-jaded superheroes. This tie-in idea is so off-the-wall that I'd pay to read an entire oral history of the conception and execution of the great blue condom stunt of 2008. It's not surprising that no one wants to remember this, though, so those of us who didn't experience it firsthand are forced to live vicariously through Reddit posts and eBay postings. Luckily, the Rorschach toaster is widely available for anyone who wants weird "Watchmen" merch but doesn't want to pay $40 for an expired condom.

Bizarre Thor-Inspired Gym Gear

There is a dumbbell alarm clock that appears to be an official tie-in for "Thor," and it feels like a fever dream. This is in part because no one including the god of thunder himself has ever needed a dumbbell that is also an alarm clock, and in part, because the company listed on the product's packaging, Dynamite Promotions, is touting "Star Trek: Into Darkness" merch on its home page in the year 2022. The clock was clearly intended to be a tie-in to the original 2011 "Thor," with its box declaring "in theaters now," but somehow that doesn't make the inexplicably versatile product feel any more like a real thing to me.

Apparently, Chris Hemsworth's famous biceps have inspired more than one workout-related product. A company called Touch of Modern also sells a 35 pound "Thor"-inspired kettlebell, which seems like the real deal for gym rats who want to feel like they're on Asgard while working out. The product looks a lot sturdier than the dumbbell clock but sports a hefty price tag, too.

A Hydra-Branded Ice Cream Sundae

This one is rough! The existence of a Hydra Force Sundae at Baskin Robbins, as reported by Comics Alliance, feels like a tremendous miscalculation on someone's part, as Hydra is Marvel's catch-all villain group that worked side by side with Nazis. It's worth remembering that casual moviegoers didn't yet know what Hydra was when "Captain America: The First Avenger" hit theaters in 2011, but that doesn't make the very concept any less shocking.

You'd think any official tie-in would include plenty of opportunities for a comic book-reading hero to stand up and say, hey, maybe don't rebrand what looks like a tasty chocolate sundae with the title of a terrorist organization! This is one marketing opportunity I don't think fans will be sad to have missed–although the much less condemnable Super Soldier Swirl ice cream does look delicious.

Man of Steel Military Recruitment Ads

Here's another tie-in that's pretty serious. Clark Kent's Superman has long since been known as one of the most violence-averse superheroes, following a moral code that keeps him from killing humans. Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" changed that perception, but the film also made the surprising choice to team up with an organization that isn't exactly known for peaceful resolution: the U.S. military.

According to Mother Jones, Warner Brothers collaborated with the U.S. Army National Guard to intentionally make recruitment materials featuring footage from the movie. "This was definitely the biggest campaign [of its kind] we've ever done," Maj. Greg Galligan reportedly told Mother Jones, referencing a collaboration between "Man of Steel" and The National Guard that resulted in several promo spots directed by Snyder himself. The final product was a series of ads featuring real National Guard members, encouraging people seeing the movie in theaters to become real-life heroes by enlisting in the National Guard.

Wonder Woman Diet Bars

I promise we're almost out of the "capitalism is continually amoral and disappointing" section of this list, but unfortunately, we've got one more stop to make first. When "Wonder Woman" hit theaters in 2017, it busted open the doors of superhero cinema and finally let women heroes inside. Unfortunately, the marketing for the movie didn't always align with the movie's own values of bravery mattering more than outward appearance.

The protein bar and health food company Think!, which at the time branded itself as Think Thin, collaborated with the film on an ad campaign that–unlike the other questionable entries on this list–received public backlash at the time. Allure explained the dangers of this tie-in, saying it sends the message "that Wonder Woman is powerful, in part, because she is thin." Oddly, the Think! Bar partnership didn't seem to include special flavors or products, but a promotion for $5 off a movie ticket with the purchase of $15 worth of protein bars. Still, I think the fatphobic subtext of the collaboration doesn't match up with the superhero ideology.

Venom Pro Sports Tie-Ins

When you think of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and his trusty body-sharing frenemy Venom, you don't immediately think of sports. Apparently, Sony did when promoting the twisted superhero series, though, as they've teamed up with at least two different sets of athletes for promotional purposes. First, the Italian soccer club AS Roma made an impressive, horror-tinged advertisement in collaboration with "Venom" that saw its players taken over by symbiotes.

Then, for the film's sequel, "Venom: Let There Be Carnage," San Francisco 49ers player George Kittle starred in an ad that cast him as Eddie and Venom's incompatible new roommate. This one isn't quite as polished as the AS Roma ad, but it is very funny thanks to spliced-together footage and Kittles' documentary-style interview. "I woke up this morning with a tendril wrapped around my neck," he says. "Not cool!" Nothing about these recent Venom films screams "you should also watch soccer and football," but these ads are still pretty effective, thanks to their commitment to each one's unique tone.

The Batman Calzony

No list of offbeat superhero movie tie-ins would be complete without the latest abomination-slash-masterpiece in merchandising, Little Caesars' "The Batman"-inspired Calzony. What's a Calzony, you ask? Well, apparently it's the chain eatery's unholy cross between a pizza and a calzone, and the new bat-inspired version is only $7.99.

In my opinion, Little Caesars isn't the tastiest pizza on the block, but it does in a pinch. Still, there's something about this tie-in that's especially compelling. Maybe it's the idea that any corporation would look at Robert Pattinson's emo bangs and greasepaint eyes and think, "This could be embodied in a pizza." Or maybe it's the sheer ambition of the Calzony, which is shaped a bit like an axe but still captures the essence of a bat signal. The lesson here seems to be that no matter how vague its function as a tie-in, pizza is delicious and therefore can't be bad marketing. Take notes, Marvel.