DC TV has become one of the biggest presences on the small-screen when it comes to comic book/superhero adaptations. With the continuous expansion of the Arrowverse on The CW, the DC Universe shows as well as the new ones in works at HBO Max, DC TV has come a long way in more than 20 years. As shows have come and gone, each property has always started what every TV show starts with: a pilot.
With the vast variety of DC series that have come, there are so many to choose from when it comes to the respective series premieres. As DC TV continues to grow in the coming years, it’s time to take a look at the 10 best pilots from past and present shows. From live-action to animation, these are DC TV’s 10 best pilots, ranked.
While FOX’s Batman prequel adventure went into different tones and directions following its pilot, the first installment for Gotham was a strong opener. Having the series begin with the death of Bruce Wayne’s (David Mazouz) parents sets everything into the motion of the saga of the Dark Knight’s home city. From following the corrupted city through the eyes of Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) to the many villains that would help carry the series, Gotham’s pilot is a lot to take in. It helped put a lot of these iconic characters in new lights while also having that familiarity with the larger Batman universe.
The Arrowverse began with the Green Arrow in 2012 when Arrow debuted on The CW. Taking a darker approach for this version of Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), the story of the Emerald Archer got off to a solid start in its series premiere.
The pilot partially adapted the Green Arrow: Year One arc from the comics while also setting the stage for the grittier aspect of The CW’s superhero franchise that would begin to expand the following season. While the flashbacks arc became what it was in later seasons, the origin story aspect of Oliver’s journey did start off good and continued to do so until the third season.
8 Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
With the many Superman series that have come, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman is one of the greatest ones. The first episode of the whole series is what really began the great four-season arc for '90s Man of Steel on the small screen. The pilot really makes sure to focus on the Lois (Teri Hatcher) and Clark (Dean Cain) aspect of the series before our hero suits up for the first time. While all the Superman adventures in the series were a major highlight, it was their relationship that was the true heart of the show. With a great dedication to establishing their dynamic in the pilot, the birth of Superman is just as enjoyable.
When it came to female heroines carrying their own shows for DC, Supergirl became the first one in a really long time when it premiered on CBS in 2015. Melissa Benoist’s series would, later on, move to The CW and join the rest of the Arrowverse. However, the pilot was a remarkable beginning for Kara Zor-El.
Through a combination of modernizing certain elements of her story, the pilot has a lot of heart in getting Kara to finally embrace her inner hero and step out of her cousin’s shadow. From Kara’s daytime job as Cat Grant’s (Calista Flockhart) assistant, the close relationship with her sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) to the moment Kara suits up, the pilot is still one of the best episodes in the show’s history.
6 Young Justice
When it comes to animated shows that really got off to a strong start with their pilot, Young Justice is one of them. The first two episodes combined as one hour was a great introduction to this version of the young DC heroes that we have come to know and love. What Young Justice has always done well with is managing to write their series as if it was a one-hour live-action drama. The pilot was a perfect example of that as it took its characters and arcs seriously while also having fun with the superhero aspect of it all. With its return on DC Universe continuing to capture that, it all started with the series premiere.
5 Doom Patrol
Many may not have known about this group before the live-action adaptation, but after Doom Patrol arrived on DC Universe, they’re no longer seen as obscure characters. Following their Doom Patrol-themed episode on Titans, the spin-off became one of the best DC TV shows of all time.
The pilot helped them with that as it became clear that this was something new and fresh for comic book television. The premiere makes you fall in love with its big bad Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk) just as much as with the members of the Patrol. They started and finished the episode big that kicked off what would be a fantastic first season of the show.
4 Black Lightning
While The CW had already become the home of many DC TV shows, Black Lightning was the one to really up the level for the network. The pilot, while promising great superhero adventures also brought something new to the table for comic book television. Right from the get-go, it became clear that the entire family would play as big of a role as Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams.) Rather than doing an origin story, the pilot follows a retired hero being forced to suit up once more when his daughters, who were destined to become heroes, got put in danger. To this day, Black Lightning continues to do its superhero story in refreshing ways for each season and it all started with the first episode.
Even though some were a bit curious how a Krypton TV show would work, the short-lived Superman prequel was another one where it raised the bar for superhero TV. Set years before the Man of Steel’s birth, the story followed his grandfather Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe) as we get to explore the deeper history of Kryptonian society. With the time travel element through Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos) and the coming threat of Brainiac (Blake Ritson), the pilot made it clear that there were no limits in how they would play with the DC Universe. That was constantly proven episode after episode.
2 The Flash
Out of all the Arrowverse shows that have arrived thus far, the pilot for The Flash still remains the best one. Its main mission to include heart, humor, and spectacle began was perfectly demonstrated in the first episode. It began the origin story for Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) to become the Scarlet Speedster perfectly while establishing the world around him with the other main players. From start to finish, the pilot is still one of the show’s all-time best.
While DC TV really expanded with the success of the Arrowverse, it wouldn’t have been possible without Smallville. The 10-year long journey of telling Clark Kent’s (Tom Welling) journey started with its strong series premiere. Through a balance of honoring the mythology while also modernize Clark’s world, the pilot opened the door for the solid origin story of Clark discovering himself before becoming the Man of Steel. The pilot proved right from the start that even without a suit, this would become one of the greatest Superman shows of all time.
The episode has a lot of heart to it from exploring Clark and the many characters around him. It also placed the seed for the powerful journey that Smallville would do for Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) for the next seven years. If it hadn’t been for the success of Smallville, it’s hard to imagine all the DC TV shows that we have gotten today and will possibly get in the coming years.