It’s hard to imagine a time before Arrow, The Flash, and the Marvel Netflix shows. A time when a superhero TV show was hard to find. It was truly a dark time, when even if there was a superhero show, it probably was laughably bad, but you probably still watched anyway because it was the only superhero show around. The CGI was probably horrible (if there was even a CGI budget), and the acting was so over-the-top and out of character. Let’s not even talk about the costuming, which looked like they were made by a Kindergarten art class. Whatever the reason, these shows just make you cringe when you think about them.
The shows on this list are the ones you look back at and shake your head. What were these creators thinking? In the ‘70s, did you really think you could make people believe a superhero could swing through the city? Did you really think you could make an X-Men show without mentioning the X-Men or even using recognizable characters? And, seriously, what made producers think that it would be hip or relevant to have a superhero preaching the Bible? Brace yourselves as we go through a list of the 15 cringiest live-action superhero shows.
15 BIRDS OF PREY
All you have to do is look at the cast photo for Birds of Prey, and you know exactly what went wrong. This series was clearly inspired by The Matrix. Taking away all the costumes and fun, replaced with black leather and kung fu. Seriously, this is a show that has Harley Quinn as the main villain, and she doesn’t even resemble anything close to the comic. Instead she wears red, has no accent, and does martial arts against Huntress.
The worst part of the show isn’t the characters, which are all bad, trust us. The worst part is the “action.” Sure, there’s fighting and the occasional superpower, but it has more slo-mo than a Zack Snyder film. Clearly, this is an attempt to mask the not-so-great fight choreography, but it looks just plain bad. There’s so much wasted potential. It just makes you put your head in your hands and pray that its over soon.
Would you like to watch a TV show about an older gentleman who travels around in an RV with a young teenage boy? No, this isn’t To Catch a Predator. This is the premise of the Shazam! TV series. The description of the show is enough to make you cringe, but don’t get ahead of yourself, there’s more!
The show was created by Filmation, the production company responsible for the DC cartoon series from the ‘60s and ‘70s. In fact, Shazam! was their first ever live-action series, and that’s where all the problems lie. You see, Shazam! is basically a low-budget live-action version of a superhero cartoon. Viewers got a show about Billy Batson who transformed into a frumpy middle-aged man called Captain Marvel, who flew around and helped people, with a sweet lesson at the end. Ugh.
13 THE CROW: STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
The music and style of The Crow is very much a product of 1994. What makes the movie still beloved to this day is the acting by Brandon Lee, playing Eric Draven with sincerity and dark humor, and the bloody, violent action. Apparently, the creators of The Crow: Stairway to Heaven missed that memo and created one of the cringiest shows ever.
In the TV show, Eric Draven is played by Mark Dacascos (yep, from Iron Chef America), and he’s dreadful. The way Dacascos plays Eric, as a campy, wise-cracking, clown character, it feels like he took inspiration from The Joker and not Brandon Lee. Adding to the camp is the horrible rock music that felt dated when the show first aired in 1998. The show feels like a bad fan film version of The Crow.
12 THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
It took decades for the special effects to get good enough for superhero TV shows and films. Before CGI, it was almost impossible to make quality version of a superhero TV show. That’s the main problem surrounding the CBS series The Amazing Spider-Man. All the right elements are there. You have Peter Parker, a college student, who works for The Daily Bugle as a photographer. There’s Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson, too. Unfortunately, he eventually turns into Spider-Man and it's ugly to watch.
They just didn’t have the budget and effects to do Spider-Man justice. He barely ever swings from a web because of how difficult it was to show him shoot web and swing from buildings. Instead, 90% of what he does is jump around and climb walls. Except, when he climbs walls, it looks like he’s crawling on the ground because of the camera trick they use. It’s bad. Amazingly so.
11 NIGHT MAN
If you were to watch an episode of Night Man, you might think it was a great show from the late-‘80s. Unfortunately, this show aired from 1997 to 1999. The effects in Night Man are horrible, there’s no other way to say it. Sure, the acting is garbage, but half the time you’ll be too distracted by the green screen shots to even care.
The premise is simple. A jazz musician gets telepathic powers from a lightning strike and can’t sleep at night, thus becoming a vigilante. But seriously, there’s so many needless special effects in the series. The sky is always computer generated, and half the sets are just green screen. Makes you wonder if they could have spent way more on a better cast and practical effects instead of focusing so much on green screen and hokey CGI. Also, for ultimate cringe-factor, there are celebrity cameos throughout, including Little Richard, Jerry Springer, and Donald Trump.
Believe it or not, M.A.N.T.I.S. isn’t a horrible series. Well half of it isn’t horrible, at least. The series follows a doctor who is shot in the spine and paralyzed. He invents an exoskeleton and he can walk again and has superpowers. He then fights crime as a vigilante named M.A.N.T.I.S. Not a bad premise, if not a little cliché. The problem was what happened midway through the first, and only, season.
Due to low ratings, producers decided to throw the kitchen sink at M.A.N.T.I.S. Instead of fighting crime lords and thugs, he would have a much more sci-fi/fantasy angle. He would time travel into the future and rescue people from an evil computer AI. Hell, he even fights an invisible prehistoric dinosaur. Yeah, they jumped the shark, and in turn, made M.A.N.T.I.S. a show that was cool into a cringefest.
Gotham is full of cringeworthy moments. Even if you’re a fan of the series, and believe it or not there are a few, then you must admit that there were times that you shook your head and wondered why you bothered watching. Maybe it was the time that the featured villain killed people by hooking them up to balloons and letting them plummet to their deaths. Probably, it was all the horrible dialogue that sounded like it was ripped from Batman ’66.
Now, there are some bright spots on the show, but they are few and far between. Mostly, the show is a campy “What if?” involving the world’s most popular superhero. It’s the superhero TV show equivalent of watching a NASCAR race. You hope it’ll be fun and interesting, but let’s be real, you’re watching for the wrecks. Sometimes a little cringe is good for you, and viewers of Gotham are definitely cringe-masochists.
No matter your religious beliefs, you must admit that Bibleman isn’t good. The reason it’s on this list isn’t because the show is terrible, but it’s more because you don’t understand if it meant to be cheesy or not. Honestly, watching an episode, you might think that the creators wanted to make a bad TV show, but deep down, you know they think this is good stuff. That’s what makes Bibleman so cringey.
Everything about the show is terrible. The acting is worse than Batman ’66, which is clearly an inspiration. They also steal the idea of lightsabers from Star Wars. The lighting and costumes are more colorful and outrageous than anything Joel Schumacher put in Batman and Robin. Seriously, try making it through an episode and not cringing.
7 LOIS AND CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN
Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman is a show that almost doesn’t qualify as a superhero show. Most of the first season, there’s actually not much Superman at all. What you’re left with is a soap opera meets a sitcom starring Clark Kent and Lois Lane. It has its moments of okayness, but overall the series is just full of episodes involving things like magical perfumes, silly situations, and whacky music that just makes any fan of Superman cringe.
Maybe if your favorite part about Superman is the romance between him and Lois, then you probably would enjoy Lois and Clark. However, brace yourself for almost cartoonish moments mixed in with the emotional stuff. If you’re a fan of the DCEU version of the Man of Steel, then stay far, far away from this. Most comic fans will watch this and dream of banging their heads into a wall, just to make the pain stop.
6 MUTANT X
Mutant X is an interesting TV show. Developed after the X-Men film and The Matrix were huge hits, Marvel decided that it needed to capitalize on the craze with a TV show. Unfortunately, Marvel sold the X-Men rights to Fox and wouldn’t be able to use those characters. Their solution was Mutant X, which is definitely, seriously, completely not an X-Men rip off. Wink Wink.
The “mutants” in the series were the result of genetic engineering, and were brought together by an older guy to help learn their powers and use them for good. Much like Birds of Prey, they used the powers in super slo-mo with a bunch of wire-work and kung fu. Seriously though, this cringe-worthy show is not an X-men rip-off! Well, at least Marvel swore that when Fox sued them for copyright infringement. Marvel countersued. They both finally settled. Apparently, viewers were so desperate for a shameless Matrix/X-Men rip-off that Mutant X stayed on air for 3 seasons.
5 ROBOCOP: THE SERIES
RoboCop is a masterpiece. The 1987 film is a perfect mix of action, violence, and very dark satire. No other version of the character has come close to replicating the first film. That especially holds true with 1994’s RoboCop: The Series. Ditching most of what made RoboCop great in the first place, the TV adaptation decided to introduce a couple of kid characters and take away a lot of the violence. Not so great for a RoboCop series.
The cringiest aspects of this show revolve around seeing a character so misunderstood by producers. RoboCop doesn’t need cartoony villains or child sidekicks. He doesn’t need to peacefully apprehend villains either. What he needs to do is be a one-man wrecking crew who kills bad guys in very violent ways. Sure, there’s humor because that’s necessary, but not comic relief. This show makes any fan of RoboCop cringe hard.
4 BLACK SCORPION
In the very first five minutes of the very first episode of Black Scorpion, our hero uses a magnetic field to attract the thugs’ guns, jewelry, and belts to her car. She gets out of the car, looks at the men with their pants around their ankles and says, “Looks like you guys got caught with your pants down.” Thug 1 replies, “Eat my shorts!” Thug 2 follows with, “That goes double for me!” If that doesn’t make you cringe, then you have no soul.
Black Scorpion is the 2001 series created by Roger Corman that continues the story started in two ‘90s TV movies. The series is full of cheesecake, with the main hero dressed in the most ridiculous, hardly-there black leather costume. If you want to watch a superhero show that has the production value of certain adult films, without the fun parts, then Black Scorpion is for you.
3 SWAMP THING: THE SERIES
If you’re attempting to make a TV series out of a superhero, the first thing you must do is make sure the hero looks good. If viewers see the hero and don’t buy it, your series is doomed. Unfortunately, for Swamp Thing: The Series, they failed at making Swamp Thing a believable character. He looked exactly like a man wearing a rubber suit with green face paint.
To top it off, they decided to add a post-production effect to his voice, and instead of giving him an other-worldly voice, he sounds as if he’s gargling mouthwash. It’s just bad. In 1990, when the series was released, Swamp Thing was a household name. He had multiple movies, and a cartoon was set to debut. Due to that popularity, this subpar, cringey show lasted a total of 72 episodes. Don’t bother with the series, stick to the amazing comics.
Blade: The Series is what happens when you try to copy something but fail at almost every level. Spike TV thought you could hire a rapper by the name of Sticky Fingaz to take the place of Wesley Snipes, add tons of techno music, and subpar special effects and people would love it. However, people didn’t really dig it at all because it was a pile of garbage.
Let’s be honest, Wesley Snipes is what elevates Blade from being a campy, cringey mess to a pretty awesome movie franchise. Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones is no Wesley Snipes. Every wise-crack falls flat. All the lines that were supposed to sound badass just sound corny. They took the bite (pun, fully intended) out of Blade, and the series comes off as a really terrible low-budget, mockery of the film series.
1 FLASH GORDON
The 2007 Flash Gordon reboot TV series is horrible. There’s no doubt about it. Ditching the music and campiness that made the 1980 film a cult classic, the TV show tries to take a serious approach to the story of a human athlete thrust into a war in space. To say the show is cringeworthy is an understatement. The bad acting, the poor special effects, the terrible dialogue, and the horribly self-important storyline just makes the series unwatchable.
Syfy knows how to make quality science fiction television. However, they also know how to make incredibly cringey television, as well. Sadly, Flash Gordon falls into the latter camp instead of the Battlestar Galactica awesomeness camp. Unlike other series on this list that have campy elements that make you cringe, Flash Gordon has ham-fisted “serious” scenes that make you wonder why you would subject your eyes and ears to this garbage.
What was a live-action superhero show that you just can't stand? Let us know in the comments!