DC Comics superheroes weren’t always in the spotlight. Before superhero movies got their big boost thanks to Marvel’s ever-growing cinematic universe and the Christopher Nolan Batman films, DC was making television shows and movies based on comics that many people are unaware exist. Some don’t even have superheroes in them, like A History of Violence (2005) and The Road To Perdition (2002). Others are filled with superheroes– and many super fails.
From a television show following the daughter of Batman and Catwoman to a failed Wonder Woman television show (it’s not the one you’re thinking of), these DC properties are often forgotten for a reason. Some of them are underrated, little-known gems; others deserve to be forgotten, and the rest are just bad enough to be entertaining to some people. But as comic book movie popularity grows, it’s likely these old “gems” will be dug up by fans seeking even more comic booky-goodness. So, without further ado, here are 15 DC Movies And TV Shows You Forgot Existed.
15. Birds of Prey (2003)
One of the superhero TV shows people forgot about, Birds of Prey was an attempt by Warner Bros. to extend the universe set up in Smallville. Clearly, something went wrong with this show since Smallville is remembered while Birds of Prey is definitely forgotten.
The television show is a Bat-family drama, taking place after the Joker murders Catwoman and paralyzes Batgirl, causing Batman to leave New Gotham. That’s right—Batman’s not in this show and Catwoman is dead! Instead the show stars Batgirl, now operating as Oracle, and the daughter of Batman and Catwoman– Helena, AKA Huntress. They are joined by a teenage Dinah, AKA Black Canary—sorry, the daughter of the Black Canary, who has psychic abilities.
Despite Birds of Prey‘s potential, it only lasted 13 episodes—just in time to feature a battle royal between the Birds of Prey and Harley Quinn. It sounds like it would be awesome. But even voice-only appearances from Mark Hamill as the Joker sadly couldn’t save the show. If only they had any characters from Smallville show up, like in the Arrowverse, then maybe people would remember this show.
14. Swamp Thing TV Shows (1990-1993) & (1991)
People may have heard about the Swamp Thing movies, but rarely does anyone talk about the two Swamp Thing television shows: one, a serious live-action take that you should watch, and the other, a cartoon that really just wanted to sell a bunch of merchandise to unsuspecting youngsters.
The first show was Swamp Thing: The Series (1990-1993). It was a live-action series that lasted three seasons (72 episodes). Dick Durock, the actor/stuntman who played Dr. Alec Holland (Swamp Thing) in the films, reprised his role for the show. It was much more serious than the movies. In fact, when the show introduced a young boy by the name of Jim Kipp to appeal to a younger audience, they decided to keep the show dark and wrote him off the show by having him kidnapped by a South American child-stealing ring. There was no “happily ever after”. He was never seen again. Wow. Sorry Jim.
The cartoon show, simply called Swamp Thing, only lasted for five episodes. It was horror for kids, with an emphasis on the for kids part. Just like the previous show, the main villain was Anton Arcane. However, in this cartoon Anton was backed up by the Un-Men, which included Dr. Deemo, Weedkiller, and Skinman. Buy them all! Seriously, you can buy them all since they made more action figures than episodes for this television show.
13. Shazam! (1974-1977)
The heroic Captain Marvel got his own television show in the ’70s which included live-action and animated characters. The series featured the teenage Billy Batson (played by Michael Gray) alongside his teacher, “Mentor” (played by Les Tremayne). With just the magic word “Shazam!” Billy was able to become Captain Marvel, a superhero with the the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury.
After the first season, Captain Marvel teamed up with Isis, a superheroine from another live-action show. This led to the show becoming The Shazam!/Isis Hour. Time was dedicated to both Shazam! and another live-action series, The Secrets of Isis. This second show was about an Ancient Egyptian superheroine resurrected into the body of schoolteacher Andrea Thomas, played by Joanna Cameron. She appears in three episodes of Shazam! and John Davey, the actor who plays Captain Marvel, appears in three episodes of Isis.
The CBS adventure series Shazam! lasted for three seasons and was brought back on DVD in the mid-2000s. More light may be shed on the series with the upcoming Shazam! film in production (it’s even going to have The Rock in it!).
12. The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show (1979-1981)
Running on ABC from 1979 to 1981 until it moved to syndication up to 1984, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show starred Plastic Man, along with his girlfriend Penny and his best-friend Hula-Hula as they traveled across the globe to save the day. Coming on right after Super Friends, the show was a comedy romp complete with fourth wall breaks. The show returned in 2009 on DVD, yet it’s still often forgotten amidst more serious-toned DC shows, like the animated series for Batman and Superman.
The show had several different segments, including: Plastic Man, Baby Plas, Plastic Family, Mighty Man and Yukk (featuring millionaire Brandon Brewster turned tiny sueperhero Mighty Man partnered with the world’s ugliest dog Yukk), Fangface and Fangpuss (which was pretty much Scooby Doo if Scooby was a werewolf), and Rickety Rocket (about a ship built by the Far-Out Detective Agency in the future).
The series may become more well-known as Plastic Man becomes more popular with general audiences. Ever since his appearances in Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-2011) (in which he was voiced by Tom Kenny, AKA Spongebob Squarepants!) as well as his brief cameos in DC Nation, Plastic Man is known by more people now than he ever has been before.
11. Legends of the Superheroes (1979)
Legends of the Superheroes was a two-part special and boy, was it bad! Don’t believe us? Just check out this clip. It was made by Hanna-Barbera to adapt the Super Friends cartoon into live-action. The first episode shows our heroes attempting to keep the Legion of Doom from setting off their deadly Doomsday bomb. The second one is a DC Superhero roast hosted by Ed McMahon. Adam West (Batman), Burt Ward (Robin), and Frank Gorshin (Riddler) all reprised their roles from the Batman television show from the ’60s.
The characters in the episodes included heroes such as Batman, Robin, Green Lantern, Black Canary, as well as villain like Weather Wizard, Solomon Grundy, the Riddler, Dr. Sivana, and many more guest stars. The roast also featured a cringeworthy new superhero, “Ghetto Man,” an African-American superhero who does stand-up comedy. This special was actually released on DVD in 2010 by Warner Home Video’s Warner Archive Collection, if you want to enjoy all the madness for yourself.
10. The Losers (2010)
Not your usual comic book adaptation, The Losers is an adaptation of DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint. It is an action comedy about an elite black ops team created and led by Roque (Idris Elba), with members Pooch (Columbus Short), Jensen (Chris Evans pre-Captain America and post-Human Torch), and Cougar (Óscar Jaenada). The group go to Bolivia to search and destroy a drug lord’s compound. When their superior, “Max”, tries to kill them, the team fake their deaths and plan revenge. It’s also cool to note that Aisha al-Fadhil, who helps the team find Max, is played by Zoe Saldana. So before she switched sides and became Gamora for Marvel, she spent some time in the DC Universe.
Reviewers had mixed opinions on this movie, and it did not help that it was overshadowed by The A-Team (2010), which came out around the same time. Maybe if its timing hadn’t been so bad, people would remember this film more fondly. But most of them still probably wouldn’t know it was based on a DC comic book.
9. Steel (1997)
Remember when Shaquille O’Neal played a superhero in the DC universe? Yeah, a lot of people missed this one. Shaq plays John Henry Irons, who quits his job after his friend Sparky (Annabeth Gish) is paralyzed accidentally by the villainous Nathaniel Burke (Judd Nelson). Teaming up with Sparky, John creates a suit of armor and becomes the DC superhero Steel. This adaptation is very different from the source material, which is only one of many reasons why this film flopped so hard. Originally, Irons was an ally of Superman’s, but the Man of Steel is, ironically, nowhere to be seen in this film. New supporting characters and villains are created just for this film.
The movie was hit hard by critics. According to Rotten Tomatoes, which ranked the film at 12%, the film was “a badly-acted movie that indulges not only in superhero cliches, but also the sappy TV-movie-of-the-week ones.” This movie can still be an entertainingly bad watch, and SFGATE point outs “[Sparky] becomes the first woman-in-wheelchair action hero in a Hollywood movie, too. Gotta give ‘Steel’ some credit for that.” I guess you do… still doesn’t make it a good movie though.
8. New Adventures of Batman (1977-1978)
No, this isn’t the redesigned Batman: The Animated Series. That show actually paid homage to this forgotten and short-lived TV show. This is an older show aired by CBS in the ’70s starring Batman, Robin, and Batgirl. Adam West and Burt Ward reprised their roles and voiced Batman and Robin. Batgirl and Catwoman were both voiced by Melendy Britt, also the voice of She-Ra. The series also featured Batman’s biggest fan, Bat-Mite (voiced by Lou Scheimer). This little imp from another dimension means well, but often gets the Dynamic Duo into big trouble.
The show had new and old villains. Some of the new villains included Professor Bubbles, Sweet Tooth, Moon Man, Zarbor, Electro, and The Chameleon. Older villains you may recognize include the Joker, Mr. Freeze, the Penguin, and Clayface, in his first appearance outside of the comic books. It couldn’t use some notable Batman villains, such as the Riddler, Solomon Grundy, and Scarecrow because they were owned by Hanna-Barbera and appeared in Challenge of the Superfriends (1978). Alfred also never makes an appearance on the show.
At the end of every episode, Batman would give viewers a special “Bat Message”, citing a moral for viewers to take away from the show. Few people probably remember any of these morals, however, since the show only ended up lasting 16 episodes.
7. The Road To Perdition (2002)
A well-reviewed movie that many people probably don’t know was based on a comic book, The Road to Perdition starred Tom Hanks as Mike Sullivan, an enforcer during the Depression-era. He works for mobster John Rooney (played by Paul Newman), who treats him like a son, inciting jealousy in his biological son Connor Rooney (played by James Bond himself, Daniel Craig).
The film has a pretty high rating on Rotten Tomatoes, currently at 81%, and the general consensus is that it’s: “Somber, stately, and beautifully mounted, Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition is a well-crafted mob movie that explores the ties between fathers and sons.” It was nominated for numerous awards, including six Oscars for: Best Supporting Actor, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing. The only Oscar it actually won was awarded posthumorously to Conrad L. Hall for Best Cinematography.
There is supposedly a sequel in production, A Road to Purgatory, but it doesn’t seem like much headway has been made into making it into a reality.
6. A History Of Violence (2005)
Originally a graphic novel released by DC Comics’ imprints Paradox Press and later Vertigo, A History of Violence is another film many viewers didn’t know had comic book origins. This crime thriller is about a diner owner, Tom Stall, who is named a hero when he takes out two men trying to rob his shop. Unfortunately, this calls attentions to his sordid past, leading to a scarred man confronting him and claiming he is Joey Cusack, a gangster who worked with the Irish mob. This becomes a nightmare for Tom and his family.
This film was actually well received, getting a 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. The consensus was the film “A History of Violence raises compelling and thoughtful questions about the nature of violence, while representing a return to form for director David Cronenberg in one of his more uncharacteristic pieces.” It was nominated for numerous awards, and won the AFI award for Movie of the Year. However, it’s not a film you often hear about in conversation, especially not in regards to comic book movies, just like The Road to Perdition.
5. Justice League Of America (1997)
It’s Justice League meets Friends in one of the worst comic book adaptations of all time. A failed CBS telefilm that was trying to start a TV show, Justice League of America was about the popular team of superheroes that didn’t include Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman but instead featured the Flash, Green Lantern (the Guy Gardner version), the Atom, Fire, and Ice. A big part of the story focuses on Tori Olafsdotter (Ice) developing her superpowers and joining the Justice League. JLA writer Mark Waid is quoted on Nerdist as saying the pilot is “80 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.”
This show never went further for many, many reasons. Other than the laugh-out-loud costumes, the show was the furthest thing from edgy you could imagine; a sitcom filled with miserable jokes. The failed pilot also featured mock-interviews with each member of the team. Add to that some cringe-worthy acting and bad effects, and this pilot goes down in infamy… when people care to remember it.
Hopefully this isn’t how the upcoming Justice League movie turns out…
4. Wonder Woman (1974)
Before the failed NBC pilot with Adrianne Palicki in 2011, before Lynda Carter ever twirled around, there was a Wonder Woman telefilm. ABC broadcast this 90 minute telefilm starring Cathy Lee Crosby that had very little connection to the comics. It ended up being a failed pilot for a television show that never got the green light from ABC.
Probably the biggest sin for comic book fans was the fact that Crosby’s Wonder Woman didn’t wear star-spangled underwear, a bustier, bracelet, or tiara, but instead wore a jacket with leggings (basically the same reaction fans had to Wonder Woman’s revamp in 2010 within the pages of Wonder Woman #600). She also fought with a staff.
On top of that, a year after this special aired, ABC released another 90 minutes telefilm, this one starring Lynda Carter, called The New Original Wonder Woman. This one clearly won out and a television show was created based off the second special. No one really talks about, let alone remembers, Crosby’s brief stint as Wonder Woman.
3. Gen 13 (2000)
Gen 13 was originally published by WildStorm, but DC Comics bought the independent publisher and made it their imprint in 1999. While WildStorm’s creator Jim Lee was negotiating selling WildStorm to DC, Disney wanted Gen 13 to be made into an animated movie. The story follows Caitlin Fairchild, a teen admitted into an institute for gifted children. She discovers the school is secretly a military project that turns children into super soldiers. Caitlin fights against the school when she gets enhanced abilities, and meets some allies within the military along the way.
The film was never released because, when the sale of WildStorm to DC happened in 1999, Disney decided not to distribute the project due to DC being their rival– even more so now with Disney buying Marvel. But it did come out in Europe, and you can find it on Youtube. It’s too bad they never made WildStorm’s The Authority into a film. Maybe they could even take another go at Gen 13-– they’ll just have to pry it out of Disney’s cold, dead hands first.
2. Beware the Batman (2013-2014)
This television show went by in the blink of an eye, to the point where some Batman fans don’t even know it existed. Beware the Batman was a CGI television show that only lasted one season. Batman, alongside his butler Alfred and the sword fighter Katana, takes on Gotham’s underworld. This series is notable in that it features some of the first television appearances of several Batman villains from the comics, including Magpie, Anarky, and Professor Pyg.
The CGI may have been off-putting for some readers. Batman also has a history of some pretty impressive cartoons, so it can be hard to top anything that came before. But the show did have some merits. It introduced villains we’d never seen on screen before, featured a new CGI animation style never tried before with Batman, and Alfred Pennyworth was basically Jim Malone (Sean Connery) from The Untouchables (1987). So why did it fail? Well, the show barely had a chance to begin with. Three months after it premiered, the series got pulled off Cartoon Network and went on hiatus. When it finally returned, it came on Adult Swim/Toonami AT 3 AM, a time period where television shows inevitably go to die.
1. Gotham Girls (2002)
The reason this show isn’t remembered is not because it is bad– far from it. This was a flash animation that featured the female characters of Gotham. Usually we saw Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn getting up to no good, but we also got to see Catwoman, Batgirl, Zatanna, and even Renee Montoya. They were voiced by professional voice-actors who reprised their roles from the Batman: The Animated Series. Each episode varied from two to five minutes and had interactive sections for the viewer.
The show lasted for three seasons, which were each ten episodes long. In the first two seasons, the stories from episode-to-episode were unrelated to each other. These one-offs were often funny little romps, like Harley Quinn getting turned into a baby and exploring a museum (it’s actually all pretty entertaining). The third season had an ongoing story about the entire male population disappearing and makes us wish this seemingly simple flash animation series had gone on for much, much longer. At the very least, it’s fondly remembered by us– and now, hopefully others too.
If you have any additional DC movies and shows you think no one has heard of but you, share them in the comments below!