The Arrowverse may have overtaken The CW in recent years, but there was a time when Smallville was the only way DC fans could get their TV fix. That series is largely responsible for paving the way for Arrow and its myriad of spinoffs. In fact, the upcoming Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover will be paying homage to Smallville's legacy. Airing on The WB beginning in 2001, the Superman prequel series continued long past its creators' initial vision, lasting for a decade. It was one of very few shows to continue on when The WB merged with UPN to form The CW.
Smallville and the Arrowverse may both be TV adaptations of DC properties, but that is where the similarities end. There are certain characters that Smallville got completely right and others who didn’t really get their due until the Arrowverse came along.
10 Smallville - Clark Kent
Thanks to Smallville’s rather controversial “no tights, no flights” policy, the Superman prequel spent a lot of time on Clark Kent’s actual character development. The Arrowverse has definitely given fans more of a proper glimpse of the iconic suit and Tyler Hoechlin is a great Superman. However, Smallville beat them to the punch with a version of the Man of Steel that has stood the test of time for most viewers.
Smallville was occasionally brilliant, often good and sometimes downright awful. The series may have been inconstant over the course of its ten season run, but Tom Welling was always perfect as the Last Son of Krypton.
9 Arrowverse - Supergirl
There have been several very different iterations of Supergirl in DC Comics over the years, so there were many ways to adapt the character. Smallville’s Kara Zor-El wasn’t a bad live-action interpretation, but Supergirl's take on the heroine is definitely superior. Though she didn’t start out as part of The CW’s lineup - season 1 aired on CBS - the Girl of Steel has quickly become vital to the core group of heroes.
Laura Vandervoort did a fine job, but Melissa Benoist has had a lot more screen time to bring real depth to the character. Her costume is also a marked improvement over the one worn by Smallville’s Kara and she has felt more relatable from the beginning.
8 Smallville - Green Arrow
Before everyone starts throwing things: This is to say nothing against Stephen Amell, who has done an amazing job portraying the Emerald Archer over the course of Arrow’s eight seasons. However, the Arrowverse’s Oliver Queen was always sort of a Batman analog. Justin Hartley’s portrayal, on the other hand, hewed much closer to the source material. No one is saying that Hartley’s Ollie was better than Amell’s, but the Superman prequel series did do an excellent job adapting the character.
Smallville’s Ollie was a lighter and brighter version of Green Arrow. Although Arrow has had far more time to unpack everything that makes the hero tick, he had a very complete arc on Smallville. Amell has become synonymous with the character at this point, but honestly, both shows did a great job bringing Oliver to the small screen. Smallville just nailed it first.
7 Arrowverse - Deathstroke
There is simply no comparison here. Slade Wilson’s role in Smallville was so minor, you’d be forgiven for not remembering that he appeared in the show at all. Played by Battlestar Galactica’s Michael Hogan, the villain was present for just a couple episodes in the show’s final season.
Manu Bennett’s Slade Wilson not only played a much bigger part in Arrow, but he is also still largely considered a highlight of the entire series. The show was really firing on all cylinders during season 2, but ultimately, a hero is only as good as his villain, so much of that can be attributed to Deathstroke. He remains the greatest Big Bad ever to appear on Arrow.
6 Smallville - Lex Luthor
Jon Cryer may be killing it over on Supergirl, but long before his casting, Michael Rosenbaum became the definitive Lex Luthor in Smallville. His portrayal of the iconic villain stands out as the best, not only in television, but live-action in general. Rosenbaum’s nuanced performance transformed the classic Superman baddie into the show’s most fascinating character.
Smallville’s initially controversial decision to showcase a friendship between Clark and Lex quickly turned into the reason viewers continued tuning in from one week to the next. Comics had long taught readers they could count on Clark Kent, but for Lex, this was pretty new territory. Watching his villain’s journey was every bit as compelling as seeing Clark become the hero we all knew he could be.
5 Arrowverse - Black Canary
Though there have been multiple Black Canaries in the Arrowverse to date, any one of them is better than the version who briefly appeared in Smallville. It’s not Alaina Huffman’s fault, but with a narrative so focused on Green Arrow, it seemed like a wasted opportunity to give Dinah Lance so little to do.
Arrow, however, has given distinct arcs to several characters who've taken up the mantle of Black Canary. The upcoming iteration of the character in season 8 looks to be the most faithful adaptation yet. Sarah Lance (Caity Lotz), her sister Laurel (Katie Cassidy) - two different versions of her - and Dinah Drake (Juliana Harkavy) have all done the heroine justice in their own way.
4 Smallville - Hawkman
One of the reasons DC's Legends of Tomorrow floundered so much during its freshman outing was the fact that the show was saddled with terrible versions of Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Shayera may not have gotten too much screen time in Smallville, but Carter Hall certainly made a lasting impression on fans.
Michael Shanks' role on Smallville was significantly smaller than Falk Hentschel's - introduced in The Flash - on Legends. Even still, the former was a worthy adaptation of Hawkman, while the latter remains one of the most annoying characters in the entire Arrowverse. There’s a reason he wasn’t around very long.
3 Arrowverse - The Flash
Smallville’s Kyle Gallner wasn’t bad by any means, but there’s no denying Grant Gustin’s Flash is the better Scarlet Speedster. Granted, they weren’t playing the same character. Gallner was Bart Allen in a few episodes of the Superman prequel, while Gustin has been portraying Barry on The Flash for years.
Unlike Green Arrow, who was given a proper narrative arc on Smallville, the Flash never really got enough screen time for a proper adaptation. Plus, many fans were bummed that it was Bart and not Barry who showed up. Gallner did a great job as Bart, but his appearances were few and far between. Gustin has been the perfect embodiment of Barry Allen since his Arrow introduction.
2 Smallville - Bizarro
Well before a version of the villain appeared on Supergirl, Bizarro was given a great adaptation on Smallville. Supergirl’s version of the character was featured in a single episode, but on Smallville, Bizarro had an arc that spanned a couple of seasons, though he didn't actually appear in too many installments. This version of the character was quite tragic, much like his comic counterpart.
Viewers watched him try to replace Clark in his everyday life, but eventually devolve into a creature that could no longer pass for human, let alone Clark Kent. It was a solid interpretation of Bizarro’s story, though the character has had several different origins in the comics.
1 Arrowverse - Martian Manhunter
We’re not saying J'onn J’onzz is an easy character to adapt, but maybe Smallville shouldn’t have tried since their version never did Martian Manhunter justice. Phil Morris was serviceable in the role, but the series likely didn’t have the budget to properly adapt the hero. It was fun for fans to see him make some appearances, but that’s about it.
Supergirl’s version of the character is much more comics accurate. David Harewood has done a great job, not only as J’onn, but also as Hank Henshaw/Cyborg Superman. He quickly became an integral part of Supergirl and the show even gave viewers a version of Miss Martian!