We’re living in a golden age of live action superhero television shows. From The Flash and Supergirl on traditional TV networks to Daredevil and Jessica Jones on Netflix, superheroes are taking over the small screen in growing numbers. And in this gilded age of great entertainment it is easy to forget that the success of today’s TV shows has been built on the ruins of some not too successful superhero TV shows and TV movies of the past. Yes, the 1970s live action Incredible Hulk starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno was great. But there was also a live action Spider-Man TV show in the 1970s that was … well, less than great. Here are 10 of the worst live action superhero TV shows of all time.
10. The Tick (2001)
Yikes! What were they thinking? The Tick started out as an underground comic book sensation, and was followed by a well-received animated television show that has garnered a cult following over the years. Why network executives at Fox thought The Tick would work as a live action, prime time television show is beyond us. Perhaps they thought the irreverent tone of The Tick fit with their network’s sensibilities?
Whatever the reason, Fox put this stinker of a series into production back in 2001 starring actor Patrick Warburton (Puddy from Seinfeld) as The Tick. Fox even scheduled The Tick on Thursday’s at 8:30 p.m. and heavily promoted the show during the 2001 World Series. Alas, critics savaged the show and called it an “embarrassment,” while viewers took a pass. The Tick lasted only nine episodes and quickly disappeared, proving that some comic books just don’t translate well to live action (although that hasn’t stopped Amazon from reviving it earlier this year).
9. Swamp Thing (1990 – 1993)
Speaking of difficult live action transitions, remember The Swamp Thing television show that aired on the USA Network in 1990? It’s pretty cheesy, but what is interesting is that this show was one of the first original programs produced by the then-fledgling USA Network. In fact, USA was so desperate for programming when it started out back in 1990 that it ordered 50 episodes of Swamp Thing right out of the gate before waiting to see how it performed in the ratings.
Miraculously, this TV show, which features stuntman Dick Durock in a 80-pound rubber Swamp Thing costume, lasted for a total of 72 episodes, even though it was panned by critics and ignored by viewers. The USA Network was so desperate for shows that it kept this clunker on the air, their hopes held high by the marginal success of two Swamp Thing theatrical movies produced in the early 1980s. Unsurprisingly, The Swamp Thing TV show lost too much money and production had to finally be shut down in 1993.
8. Captain America (1979)
In 1979, Captain America hit the small screen in not one but two full length television movies. B-movie actor Reb Brown (Yor, The Howling II) played Steve Rogers / Captain America and spent the better part of both movies doing wheelies on a motorcycle while clad in a cloth Captain America suit. Both the first TV movie, entitled simply Captain America, and its sequel Captain America II: Death Too Soon, are pure cheese and appealed only to a small number of younger viewers.
Produced by Universal Television and aired by the CBS Network, there were plans to make Captain America an hour long TV series. However, after the disappointing ratings for the two TV movies, those plans were scrapped. Did we mention that ‘70s TV stalwart Connie Selleca co-starred in these television movies? She probably wishes we would forget.
7. Blade: The Series (2006)
To date, there have been three reasonably successful Blade movies starring Wesley Snipes as the Marvel Comics vampire hunter. So, it’s easy to see why the Spike TV network settled on Blade for their first original live action drama. And, to be fair, ratings for the first few episodes of this show, which debuted in 2006, were strong. Sadly, the ratings quickly cratered once viewers realized that this was not the Wesley Snipes Blade that they had enjoyed in movie theaters.
Watching rapper Sticky Fingaz in the role just didn’t hold the same appeal and viewers quickly abandoned the show. It didn’t help that the special effects were also pretty low grade compared to what people had come to expect from the movies. Blade: The Series had a spike driven through its heart after only 12 episodes.
6. Flash Gordon (2007)
Did you even realize that there was a short-lived Flash Gordon TV show as recently as 2007? If the answer is “no,” you’re not alone. This ambitious series produced by the Sci-Fi Channel only lasted one season; 22 episodes to be exact, including the pilot. Trying to capitalize on the success of other live action superhero shows at the time such as Smallville, producers attempted to update the 1930s comic strip hero and bring him into contemporary times. The result was what SFX magazine called the worst TV program they had ever reviewed. Ouch!
Attempts to make Flash Gordon a modern day twenty-something who still lived at home just didn’t work. Plus, the special effects when Flash traveled to the distant planet of Mongo were pretty gruesome, featuring characters who looked like bikers that stepped out of a 80s music video. The whole show is best left forgotten.
5. The Amazing Spider-Man (1977-1979)
The Incredible Hulk TV show from the late 70s starring Lou Ferrigno as the big green guy was pretty terrific, so it seemed only natural that television producers would also try and launch a live action Spider-Man show at the same time. If the Hulk was working out on the small screen, so too should Spider-Man, right? Apparently not. Starring a cast of actors you’ve never heard of before and led by actor Nicholas Hammond (he was one of the Von Trapp children in The Sound of Music) as Peter Parker / Spider-Man, this show could never overcome its lack of special effects.
It mostly featured Spider-Man dropping out of the air and landing on the hood of a car or slowly (very slowly) climbing up the side of a building. The webbing featured giant fish nets being tossed on top of the bad guys. While the show lasted only 14 episodes, it was interesting how producers and the CBS network kept trying to revive this turkey of a TV program. Three attempts were made to bring this show back between 1977 and 1979, and a made-for-TV movie was even released theatrically in Europe. Even Stan Lee complained publicly about this show.
4. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997)
Sure, this show was a decent hit in the 1990s and lasted four seasons and 87 episodes … but that doesn’t mean it was any good. Starring Dean Cain as Clark Kent and Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane, Lois and Clark was more about the would-be romance between the two leads than it was about Superman or fighting crime. Instead of battles with Lex Luthor, we were treated to bickering in coffee shops. Worse, the romance between Lois and Clark was never really consummated. It was always “will they?” or “won’t they?”
Producers billed this show as a superhero version of Moonlighting, but in the canon of live action superhero TV, this is a pretty stinky one. Never mind that the few occasions when we got to see Superman in action were terribly lame, with bad action and even worse special effects. The producers seemed to think just seeing Dean Cain in a Superman outfit would be enough. Wrong! Thankfully, Smallville was so much better at this stuff.
3. The Flash (1990)
The current Flash TV show airing on the CW is excellent, but it’s not the first television show to feature DC’s Scarlet Speedster. In 1990, there was a short lived Flash show that aired on CBS for 22 episodes, followed by three TV movies. Hampered by weak special effects (to be fair, it was the early 90s) and a rather impotent lead in actor John Wesley Shipp, who mostly starred on soap operas such as The Guiding Light and One Life To Live, The Flash was distinguished only by actor Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker himself) playing the villain The Trickster. Hamill plays The Trickster for maximum goofiness, but he was good enough to appear in two of the show’s episodes and be the subject of the TV movie The Flash II: Revenge of The Trickster in 1991. While this show has a cult following in some quarters, we find it too damn cheesy to give it any love. Fortunately, things have improved significantly for The Flash on TV in recent years.
2. Justice League of America (1997)
Believe it or not, CBS attempted a live action Justice League of America television series back in 1997. The head honchos at CBS commissioned a pilot and aired it as a two-hour TV movie to gauge audience reaction (legend has it that people who saw this show are still trying to recover). For contractual reasons, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were not allowed to appear on the show; instead, the Justice League was led by Green Lantern, The Atom, and Martian Manhunter. It gets worse.
The villain in this giant turd of a TV show is an evil weather man determined to use mother nature to destroy “New Metro City,” and it is up to The Justice League of America to stop him. Ridiculous costumes, sad special effects, and laughable writing made this TV movie a total disaster. Thankfully, CBS came to their senses and didn’t order a full series.
1. Nick Fury – Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1998)
In 1998, the Fox network aired a television show that starred David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. We couldn’t make this up if we tried. Commissioned as a pilot and aired as a TV movie, the top brass at Fox were hoping to capitalize on the Hoff’s success with Baywatch and launch Nick Fury as a regular series. Equally crazy is the fact that the screenplay for the TV movie / pilot was written by David Goyer, who went on to pen the screenplays for feature films Batman Begins and Man of Steel.
A lot was riding on this show taking off, but when the movie aired and finished in last place in the ratings – behind two reruns of the show JAG, no less – the folks at Fox decided to take a pass on a one eyed David Hasselhoff. Thank goodness for Samuel L Jackson!