It definitely took some time, but superhero movies and television shows have transformed from niche interest to the titans of the entertainment industry. Characters like Captain America, Batman, and Spider-Man have never been more popular and the whole connected universe approach to filmmaking is a direct result of the work that comic book movies have done.
Superhero adaptations are now golden, but it wasn’t always so easy. For decades, shows have struggled or disappeared. Even programs that were considered to be good back in the day can now be painful viewing experiences due to how far the genre has come along and how much things have changed.
Superhero projects that were once tremendous risks can now headline franchises and even bring their comic book counterparts a new life in their original medium. That being said, it’s also important to re-assess old classics and hold them to a new standard.
Just because something blew minds in the ‘90s, doesn’t mean that it’ll generate the same impact now. Superhero adaptations are far from running out of steam and 2018 has an epic cumulative Avengers movie on the horizon, but let’s take a look at some of the superhero projects that have been less graceful.
Accordingly, here are the 16 Superhero TV Shows That Have Aged Terribly.
16. Mutant X
Imagine a low budget, less interesting version of X-Men, and you’ve basically summed up Mutant X. It even has “X” in the title. Couldn’t they have at least tried something and gone with “Mutant Q” or something? The series centers on a number of “new mutants” who discover their powers and then simultaneously try to cultivate these abilities and stay alive in the process. Sound familiar?
Mutant X steadily evolved over the course of three seasons, but it never rises above being a derivative X-Men clone. All of the superpowers, characters, and enemies have a stronger X-Men equivalent.
In fact, Mutant X was so similar to X-Men that 20th Century Fox even sued Marvel over the property and its many similarities. Add to that some embarrassing special effects and uninspired acting, and there’s not a lot of reasons to rewatch this show today.
15. Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey has a whole lot of ambition for a WB series from 2001. Set in the dystopia of New Gotham, a place that Batman has long since abandoned, the series focuses on Huntress, Oracle, and Black Canary, who are left to keep the city safe.
The show has a lot of love for DC’s history and it marks the first appearance of characters like Huntress of Black Canary in live-action. It’s also just crazy to have a show where the protagonist is Batman and Catwoman’s daughter in a world where the two are both dead.
Birds of Prey has plenty of heart, but it still deeply feels like a product of its time. It’s hard to get past the copious amounts of leather and its Dawson’s Creek vibe. This show might have been progressive, but it also can’t escape the aesthetics of the era that held it back.
Tim Kring’s Heroes was the biggest show on NBC… until it wasn’t. The program helped define serialized storytelling for the 2000s, it demystified superheroes in the primetime setting, and it launched the careers for a number of up and coming actors, like Hayden Panettiere.
Heroes is also the definition of a fad show that came and went so quickly. The show went out with a sad whimper in its truncated fourth season and its promised plans of grandeur never came to be.
The show saw a collection of everyday people, such as cheerleaders or comic nerds, turn into superheroes, but the show struggled to integrate them into a real story. Even when the series saw a revival in 2016’s Heroes Reborn, the show failed to connect and it was clear that this was very much a product of its time and something that no longer stood out– superheroes are everywhere now.
13. Sheena: Queen Of The Jungle
Sheena: Queen of the Jungle is what happens when you put Manimal and Xena: Warrior Princess in a blender together. It’s easy to see how something like Sheena managed to succeed during the early 2000s. The show pulls from a relatively unknown comic book character and then adds in adult content in the most condescending way possible.
Geena Lee Nolin portrays the titular Sheena, a mystical warrior who has the ability to turn into any animal. She strives to protect the ecosystem of her animal friends.
Sheena is a derivative way to get animals and a scantily clad woman together in the same frame, but somehow it still managed to last two seasons. Sheena’s animal sidekicks— an elephant, monkey, and zebra— are all very cringe-worthy now, as are the full sentences that Sheena delivers when in animal mode. Even the kids’ series Animorphs looked better than this.
Dr. Miles Hawkins suffers a gunshot wound in the spine that leaves the good doctor permanently paralyzed from the waist down. However, not one to be defeated, Dr. Hawkins invents a superpowered exoskeleton– similar to a Tony Stark who shifts his efforts to wheelchairs.
With this new invention in tow, Hawkins takes the moniker of M.A.N.T.I.S. (Mechanically Augmented Neuro Transmitter Interception System) and vows to fight crime and those who robbed him of his ability to walk.
All of this is fairly ridiculous in its own right, but issues behind the scenes and lackluster ratings saw M.A.N.T.I.S. get retooled in problematic ways that increased fantasy elements and cut back on gritty crime fighting and action.
Eventually, things like invisible dinosaurs become part of the show, which truly establishes how out of steam this half-promising idea had become. Plus, what says “dated” more than unnecessarily long acronyms?
11. The Secrets Of Isis
It’s hard to watch The Secrets of Isis and not cringe. It largely shares the same basic premise of Sheena, but rather than have Andrea Thomas actually turn into animals, she simply gains their abilities.
This isn’t an inherently flawed idea, but the show goes about it with a magical Egyptian amulet that Thomas finds on an archaeological dig. Suddenly, this high school science teacher turns into a Cleopatra “clone” and adorns a ridiculous, stereotypical Egyptian garb and spouts stilted, awkward chants.
Isis has a constantly silly atmosphere and Thomas’ goals typically revolve around saving high school students, which isn’t exactly thrilling. Amaya on Legends of Tomorrow is a great example of how to do this superhero properly, which only makes The Secrets of Isis seem even more dated in comparison.
10. The Amazing Spider-Man
Spider-Man is a superhero who is no stranger to reboots and unsuccessful adaptations. He’s a character who has repeatedly been brought to life, and it’s interesting to see what aspects of the webslinger various productions have either nailed or ruined.
Without a doubt, the worst live-action Spider-Man is the CBS series that ran in the late 1970s. CBS’ The Amazing Spider-Man did a modest job with some of the larger strokes of the property, but there’s no denying just how silly and cheap the whole thing looks. It’s never a good idea to use rope as a substitute for webbing– just don’t do it.
Stan Lee himself has even notoriously attacked this show. Lee has stated that the program is a failure because it leaves out the series’ necessary sense of humor and also reduces the human elements and personal problems that helped make Peter Parker— not Spider-Man— such a popular, relatable character in the first place.
Even with a tremendous budget and a winning cast, DC’s Captain Marvel is still a difficult property to bring to life. The story of a young, frail boy, Billy Batson, who can turn into a fully grown superhero after he bellows the phrase “Shazam!” is inherently silly.
It’s a premise that’s full of holes, but Captain Marvel is still a character that people are hungry for. Even now, a new live-action adaptation is being tackled for the DCEU.
In spite of its ridiculous plot, Shazam! tells a universal story about someone weak who learns that he can be strong. That’s an empowering idea, but the hokey Saturday morning aesthetic holds Shazam! back from truly being taken seriously.
8. Electra Woman And Dyna Girl
Electra Woman and Dyna Girl is an interesting TV series “failure” because, at least on paper, it seems like it should still have a cult following today. The show is essentially a female version of the campy Adam West ‘60s Batman.
It was even produced by children’s television masterminds, Sid and Marty Krofft. Sid and Marty have created some marvels of television, but clearly superheroes aren’t their forte.
Electra Woman and Dyna Girl is pure, undiluted camp. The characters wear bright spandex and embrace nonsense. The team performs an “Electra-Change” in their “ElectraBase” before they drive away to action in their “ElectraCar.”
Dyna Girl even punctuates scenes with phrases like “Electra Wow!” and “Electra Yikes!” This was all intentionally campy, but it failed to connect. People still make movies and comics that follow the classic Batman series, but no one is eager to bring this back in a new form.
7. Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation
Everyone knows the Ninja Turtles: Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael… and Venus de Milo? That’s right, 1997 introduced a bold new Ninja Turtles series to the masses and the FOX Kids program aimed to make a name for itself by its introduction of a new, female Ninja Turtle.
To be fair, Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation has a lot of heart and clearly loves the franchise’s history. The show is not afraid to push the material to new places, but it’s hard to take anything seriously when people are in giant rubber turtle costumes.
Zany adventures and a very kid-friendly mentality reduce Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation into more of a merchandising opportunity than a fresh reboot for the Turtles. There’s a reason that Venus de Milo hasn’t reappeared anywhere. If there’s any doubt that this show is dated, there’s a crossover episode with Power Rangers in Space. It all screams “1990s.”
6. Swamp Thing
Swamp Thing is a superhero show from the early ‘90s that you want to love, but the series certainly doesn’t make it easy. Curiously, Joseph Stefano of Psycho and The Outer Limits fame is the person responsible for USA Network’s Swamp Thing. Stefano is clearly a skilled writer, but his grasp on Swamp Thing leaves a lot to be desired.
Production for the series aimed to get things done as quickly and cheaply as possible, which is never the recipe for quality content. Rotating executive producers also had the show’s tone constantly change.
The show was either too silly or too dark, and a focus on absurd man-monster hybrids in the swamp made Swamp Thing’s allies seem like comical clichés rather than foreboding supernatural beasts. Even still, the series was able to scrape by for three seasons before Alec Holland’s muck monster was put to rest.
5. Night Man
Brace yourself for this one. Night Man is the story of Johnny Domino, a famous jazz saxophonist from San Francisco who gets struck by lightning when riding the cable car one night.
This accident allows Johnny Domino to telepathically sense the evil in others, but as a result, he’s no longer able to sleep. None of this makes sense, but somehow the show got two seasons of San Francisco-based crime fighting justice.
What’s even sillier here is that, in addition to Johnny’s evil telepathy powers, a super suit is also added to the equation, which adds flight, laser vision, and indivisibility to Johnny’s list of absurd skills.
All of this is exactly as stupid as it sounds. Whether it’s the ridiculous name of Johnny Domino, the prevalent saxophone, or the fact that his arch nemesis is a tech billionaire, all of this is just so, so ‘90s.
Inhumans is the most recent show on this list— it came out last year— but right out of the gate the series already felt like a messy, dated fever dream of a superhero show.
Marvel has a very solid track record with their Marvel Cinematic Universe properties, but the Inhumans don’t have the easiest story to adapt, especially when so many impressive X-Men movies have already been done.
This series deals with the coup that Black Bolt and the Royal family of Inhumans experience on Attilan, their secret moon base. The Inhumans inexplicably flee to Earth— Hawaii specifically— as they fight to survive and find more of their own.
Lackluster CGI, poor sets, wooden performances, and a shallow take on the whole “fish out of water” aspect all date this series. Many viewers were hopeful that Inhumans would experience a Terrigenesis and turn into a better series, but it didn’t.
Let’s put the words “Man” and “Animal” together and make that a superhero. While a superhero who can turn into animals might seem silly to begin with, that doesn’t mean that it can’t still have weight.
Garth Ennis’ run on Animal Man is a perfect example of how to do this right. Manimal has no regard for heavy drama and emotional impact, but instead focuses on big hair and exaggerated transformations. This show feels like a parody of superhero shows, but somehow it still wants to be taken seriously.
On a show of this nature, the transformation sequences are crucial components that need to impress. However, the awkward scenes only underline how awful this show looks in the current superhero climate.
2. Super Force
Nothing about Super Force really makes sense. Instead, it feels like a bunch of buzz words that are thrown together to make a “hip, edgy” show for the ‘90s. Set in the eternally cool year of 2020, Zacahry Stone lives in Metroplex’s “Crime Zone” and fights evil with an over-the-top super-suit– and a motorcycle. Oh, and he’s also an astronaut for no reason at all because astronauts are cool, right?
Super Force feels like a bad rip-off of Knight Rider and James Bond. Stone has countless conversations with his super-suit, but though this was entertaining on Knight Rider, it’s just bland here.
No one in the cast gives off any charisma or energy, and it’s not a good sign when a gadget-filled motorcycle is more interesting than the lead character. Yet, Super Force somehow lasted two seasons so there’s plenty of ammo to punish yourself with here.
1. Black Scorpion
Imagine if someone watched Halle Berry’s Catwoman and then said, “Let’s do a lazier version of that.” That’s a low bar to begin with, but Black Scorpion somehow lowers it even further.
Darcy Walker is a police officer by day and a vigilante by night who protects the crime-filled Angel City (Los Angeles, anyone?). Black Scorpion is intentionally campy and it even comes from master of camp, Roger Corman, so these questionable decisions are clearly on purpose.
However, a show like Black Scorpion poses the question of how much camp is too much and if it’s possible to go so far in this direction that parody and ironically bad performances only fester rather than become a part of the joke.
Black Scorpion features bad performances, a tone-deaf sense of humor, and laughable special effects that turn it into a spectacle that’s not even fun in a bad way. It’s just boring.
These are the biggest superhero TV mistakes that we came across, but are there even more super shows that failed the test of time? Now’s your chance to give us your say by sounding off in the comments!
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