If it weren't for the past, we might have a bad-ass Ghost Rider as part of the more supernatural side of the MCU (or maybe - more likely - as part of the Netflix Marvel universe) and life for fans of the flame-headed anti-hero would be good. Unfortunately, in their quest to make some money, the company sold the rights of the character to Crystal Sky Entertainment (and Dimension Films), who then eventually passed them on to Columbia Pictures who were looking to emulate Spider-Man's big screen success.
Even more unfortunately, the studio fudged the first movie massively, leading to one of the most meme-able superhero movies of all time. Unthinkably, they then decided to reboot it and embrace the weirdness a bit more, keeping Nic Cage in the lead and handing control to Crank directors Neveldine/Taylor who proceeded to make an even worse sort-of-sequel.
So what went wrong? Well, the scripts sucked, the films never really knew what they were supposed to be and they absolutely blunted a bad-ass ani-hero (and fatally upstaged him with a VERY questionable hairpiece). And for the man that hair-piece sat atop, the biggest error was obvious: they made the films in the wrong ratings bracket.
Both movies were released as PG-13s, in an attempt to broaden the audience, despite the fact that a soul-reaping, fiery-skulled demon hero was made to be an R-Rated property. And that's where Cage says they fell down - particularly in ignoring the excellent David S Goyer script that actually was a hard R. He spoke to JoBlo to confirm the studio blocked his and the original writer's attempts to shoot for an R:
"Ghost Rider was a movie that always should've been an R-rated movie. David Goyer had a brilliant script which I wanted to do with David, and for whatever reason they just didn't let us make the movie... That movie is a still a movie that should be made, not with me obviously, but it should be an R-rated movie... Ghost Rider was designed to be a scary superhero with an R-rating and edge, and they just didn't have it worked out back then."
He's not wrong, but the context of that movie forced Columbia's hand as they sought maximum financial return (without knowing the property well enough). Spider-Man had mapped out a model for them and they followed it without really considering the cost to the source material or the awkward fit of the character and lore.
And it's all well and good to say "Heck, Deadpool was R-rated and that did great," but that's not the point. Deadpool wouldn't have come out in that period either. They'd have killed him with a PG-13 rating too.
Some of the character's reputation has been restored thanks to the Robbie Reyes version of the character's appearance in Agents of SHIELD, played by Gabriel Luna, but it still feels a long way from a time when we'll see him back on the big screen. For shame.