Given that this is a golden age of superheroes and a golden age of television, it only makes sense that this is naturally a golden age for superheroes on television as well.
However, while comic-based TV shows are flourishing at the moment, that has definitely not always been the case. Though these heroes have appeared on TV since their inception, those shows— both cartoon and live-action— are all too often short-lived, canceled before they can really get the chance to find an audience.
The vast majority of superhero shows from the '70s to present were all canceled for the same basic reason: ratings. No matter how good or bad they might have been, a lot of things just didn’t connect with an audience-- even the ones that found loyal fan bases later on. Agent Carter might have been a great show, but it never drew in a large audience, so its cancelation wasn’t entirely controversial.
Every once in a while, though, industry politics take over and even the most harmless of comic-based cartoons and live-action series can be canceled for the most bizarre reasons, whether they be about money, personal vendettas, or simple matters of pride.
Here are the 16 Superhero Shows Canceled For Shocking Reasons.
16 Young Justice
Young Justice has gained a huge fan base in recent years since its cancellation and even attracted a decently sized audience while it was on the air. In fact, bizarrely enough, the problem with Young Justice was basically that the audience got too big.
Studios design shows like this with specific demographics in mind and superhero cartoons are almost always made to cater to young boys. The logic there is usually that if a show winds up attracting viewers beyond its demographic, that’s a good thing. However, that wasn’t the case with Young Justice.
As the show went on, Young Justice found more and more of a female “tween” audience rather than the younger boys that they had planned on. According to Paul Dini, that’s what caused the cancelation. Girls didn’t buy toys, so they didn’t want girls watching the show.
It may not be the most well-remembered superhero show, but M.A.N.T.I.S. was a pretty interesting series for the time. The television movie that launched the show was produced by Sam Raimi, long before directing Spider-Man but just after directing Darkman.
The television movie was an enormous success and, for Fox, this turned out to be something of a problem. The TV movie featured an almost entirely black cast and addressed racial issues in a blunt, head-on manner.
That was not a direction that Fox felt comfortable taking the show in and for that reason, it immediately suffered out of the gate. Only lead actor Carl Lumbly returned from the TV movie while everyone around him was recast with a white actor.
Fox struggled with how to handle these issues, ultimately deciding to simply pull the plug.
14 The Flash (1990)
Long before the CW found success with their own Flash, there was this live-action 1990 series starring John Wesley Shipp and Mark Hamill, both of whom have gone on to appear on the CW show as well.
While it has found a cult audience over time, this series only lasted one season. Many have simply assumed that was because it wasn’t very popular. As Flash unquestionably looks a bit dated by today’s standards, it’s easy to assume that it was simply a bomb.
That was not the case, however. Flash’s ratings faltered largely due to a shifting time slot, but the reason for its cancellation is simply the fact that it was deemed too expensive to produce.
Considering how much gets spent on these shows now, it puts things in perspective to look back on something like this and think it was canceled because the budget was too high.
Based on the Top Cow comic of the same name, Witchblade felt like a big deal at the time. Not a Marvel or DC property, this was an independent comic getting a major TV series, only a few years after Image’s Spawn beat popular heroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men to the big screen.
While the comic featured the character almost always dressed in very risqué armor, the series took a different approach as a much more grounded cop drama. The approach was successful, too.
Unfortunately, some behind-the-scenes drama led to Witchblade’s premature end. Series star Yancy Butler was dealing with severe alcoholism at the time, to the point that production had to be halted so that she could seek treatment.
She did, but time is obviously money, and by the time she completed treatment, the network didn’t think it was worth the investment, so the series was canceled.
12 Swamp Thing
Following on the heels of USA’s live-action Swamp Thing, which (despite harsh criticism) was a hit in the ratings, this series was technically canceled before it even aired.
With a theme tune riffing on “Wild Thing” and a clear motive to sell all of the toys that had been produced before the show was even put together, the Swamp Thing animated series is unquestionably a mess. Five episodes were produced to showcase to CBS, but CBS turned them down based on the overall lack of quality.
At that point, Fox stepped in. They didn’t step in to save the show, however, only to air the episodes that had already been produced, as they would not have to do any work themselves. Because of that, the entire series only consists of the five episodes put together in an attempt to sell the show to a network.
11 The Crow: Stairway to Heaven
The Crow: Stairway to Heaven was an interesting approach to a comic book TV show. Instead of reinterpreting the source material or sequelizing it, this series is a loose remake of the 1994 film, changing key elements so as to get an entire show out of a movie that was largely set on one night.
It’s not widely beloved by Crow fans, mostly because the sequels all featured new characters, while Marc Dacascos is to date the only person to actually take over the role Brandon Lee, who died portraying in the original.
It wasn’t a massive hit, but it wasn’t about to be canceled due to its ratings. Production was even beginning on the second season when everything came to a screeching halt.
As it turns out, The Crow: Stairway to Heaven was simply a victim of a corporate merger, canceled when Universal bought out the production company, PolyGram Productions.
10 Mutant X
Mutant X was a pretty bizarre show. It was technically a Marvel show, as their logo and name appeared on every episode. It was about mutants, which would set it in the X-Men universe and it was clearly designed to capitalize on the success of the original X-Men movie.
However, no comic characters ever appear in the show and the concept of mutants has basically been retooled from the ground up because the show didn’t actually have the rights to anything remotely X-Men related.
It found its footing in terms of characterization and began to build an audience. This looked like a rocky start that was going to lead into bigger, more confident seasons, but those never came to pass.
Instead, in 2004, the series was abruptly canceled. Fireworks Entertainment, one of the production companies behind the series, completely shut down and so the show was left with an unresolved cliffhanger.
9 Spectacular Spider-Man
Many Spider-Man fans consider Spectacular Spider-Man to be the Batman: The Animated Series of Spidey shows. For them, this is the definitive version of the character.
Unlike Batman, though, this series wasn’t allowed the long life it probably deserved. It wasn’t that the series was poorly received or couldn’t capture the ratings, far from it. There was simply an unforeseen change of hands on every level of Marvel that led to the cancelation.
When Disney first bought Marvel, there were no Sony deals to be worked out, nobody really knew what it was going to mean. Rather than keeping successful existing shows on the air, Disney created all new shows to air on their own network, Disney XD.
Spectacular Spider-Man was canceled to give way to Ultimate Spider-Man, a show that was far less well-received.
8 Green Lantern: The Animated Series
For fans of Green Lantern and that vast corner of the DC Universe, the idea of finally getting a Green Lantern animated series in time for the movie was incredibly exciting.
While the movie bombed, the show was something that people had to lean back on. It was a unique series that took clear, heavy influence from Star Trek. Sadly, though, the show only lasted one season.
Its cancelation fell down to something much more deadly than ratings for a kids cartoon: the toys weren’t selling. If they couldn’t sell the toys based on the show, there was no reason to keep the series on the air, so it was abruptly canceled, with no new Green Lantern series arriving to attempt to take its place in the years since.
7 X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men
Although it’s really a pilot for a potential X-Men series, Pryde of the X-Men did air on television and was meant to launch a series, even spawning an arcade game based on its story and characters.
Marvel sought for years to put together an X-Men show during the '80s. The characters made multiple appearances on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends to attempt to generate interest in an X-Men show.
Finally, in 1989, they put together this pilot. Even though reaction from fans has been mixed over time, there was excitement for one of Marvel’s most successful books to finally get a show of its own.
However, at the time, Marvel was undergoing the worst financial strain in its history and it just couldn’t afford to air the show. Luckily, this all led to the now-legendary X-Men: The Animated Series in 1992.
6 The Amazing Spider-Man (1977)
Generally a laughing stock for modern fans, the 1977 live-action Spider-Man series was actually a hit for CBS. It took liberties with the source material, mainly in the fact that it never featured any comic book villains, but Nicholas Hammond was still a mild-mannered Peter Parker who worked for the Daily Bugle and solved crimes as the costumed Spider-Man.
While the series did jump around in the ratings, it was actually a conscious move on the network’s part to take viewers away from other shows during sweeps.
Unfortunately, the series was canceled when CBS simply realized that they did not want to be considered “the superhero network,” as they already had Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman and had aired TV movies for Captain America and Doctor Strange.
5 Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
After a very unsuccessful Avengers cartoon in the late ‘90s, fans were delighted to receive such a fantastic series in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
It was the first great animated treatment for the superhero team, adapting classic storylines from the Kree/Skrull War down to Secret Invasion. Heroes were introduced on a regular basis, it embraced the rotating cast of the comics, and fans simply couldn’t get enough of it.
Because of that, it came as a shock when it was announced that the series would not be renewed for a third season. The reasons are, ultimately, the exact same as they were for Spectacular Spider-Man. Disney took over and replaced the show with Avengers Assemble, which was widely met with a relatively poor reception from fans.
4 Wolverine and the X-Men
Fans had not seen an X-Men animated series since the days of X-Men: Evolution. People were excited for Wolverine and the X-Men which offered a refreshing and new take on the material.
The animation was great, it embraced where the comics were at the time, and people loved the darker direction that the series was allowed to take. Unfortunately, while both X-Men: The Animated Series and Evolution went on for a few years, Wolverine and the X-Men was cut extremely short.
It turns out that this all came down to a matter of financial oversight. The money simply wasn’t put together in time to fund a second season, so the show halted production and it just never picked back up again. It has now been almost a decade since any X-Men cartoon has been on the air.
3 Batman Beyond
Nobody expected Batman Beyond to be as successful as it was. People were hesitant at first. Terry was a very different character from Bruce, and when the network wanted the show to explore more of the high school issues, fans thought that it began to feel a little more like a Spider-Man cartoon than a Batman one.
However, it took off. It found an audience that was incredibly loyal and, before long, a live-action feature film was even being considered.
Despite its popularity, Batman Beyond ended pretty abruptly. This was due to the fact that the WB green lit the Justice League cartoon from the same creative team.
Not being able to do both, they chose Justice League. However, they did eventually tie up the Batman Beyond loose ends in an episode of Justice League Unlimited.
2 Spider-Man: The Animated Series
While not quite as successful as the X-Men series, Spider-Man was still a huge hit for Fox throughout the ‘90s. Even though it was fighting strict censorship standards, it nailed everything that was great about the character.
It introduced kids to key story lines like the alien costume and saw Spider-Man face off against almost all of his classic villains. While it had a series finale, it did not have the ending everyone wanted for it and many threads were left dangling.
One of the biggest was that Mary Jane was effectively killed off by being trapped in purgatory because the show never got to tell the sixth season plot of Spider-Man’s journey to bring her back.
It was canceled because Avi Arad and Haim Saban no longer wanted anything to do with Marvel Animation, so they created a new show, Spider-Man Unlimited, to take its place.
1 The Incredible Hulk
In some ways, this might still be considered Marvel’s most successful show. It was the first TV hit that they had ever had and, even though Hulk has made many great movie appearances in recent years, it was this show that cemented his success. This series nailed the tragedy of Banner and has a tremendous pop culture legacy, even now.
Ratings were still strong when it was canceled, so the news came as a surprise. An executive at CBS simply decided that the show had run its course and that there was no need for it to continue.
Hulk actor Lou Ferrigno first heard the news over the radio while driving to meet then-President Ronald Reagan. He called the cast and crew to inform them after it had already been announced, but it was the first they’d heard of it.
Do you remember any of these superhero shows? Do you wish they were back on air? Let us know in the comments!