Look! Up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane… it’s THAT guy? When it comes to cameos in superhero movies, most people’s minds rightfully jump to a man who needs no introduction, Mr. Stan Lee. Thanks to his dozens of cameos over the last 17 years in superhero adaptions produced by Fox, Sony and Marvel Studios, Lee has become an immediately recognizable face to even the most casual moviegoer. At this point his cameos are so woven into the tapestry of any movie (and even a few TV shows) based on a Marvel property, that the 94 year old has banked a few appearances just in case the worst happens.
Despite lacking a mainstay like Lee, the superhero properties gracing the small screen are certainly no strangers to inviting iconic talent to portray characters in their universes. This should come as no surprise when you consider the fact that superhero television shows have also existed for over 25 years longer than their big screen counterparts (unless you count old theater serials). In honor of this rich tradition, today we’ve decided to comb through 65 years’ worth of television history to highlight 15 of the most surprising (and awesome) castings from every corner of superhero television.
Warning: The following article contains spoilers for nearly every show featured on this list!
15. MARK HAMILL – FLASH
In the world of superheroes, Mark Hamill will always be best known for his iconic portrayal of The Joker on Batman: The Animated Series, its various spin-offs and the Arkham series of video games. However, he actually played another DC Comics supervillain, The Trickster, two years beforehand on CBS’ original live action Flash show.
Though the show only lasted 22 episodes, Hamill was billed as a reoccurring cast member and reportedly loved the role. So much so, that he even dislocated his shoulder while performing a scene that required him to throw himself against a padded wall. In a rare twist of fate, Hamill actually got the chance to reprise the roll in 2015 on the CW’s current Flash show alongside John Wesley Shipp, who played Barry Allen on the original. Hamill later returned to the show in 2016, this time to play the Earth 3 version of the character.
14. AUBREY PLAZA – LEGION
Given its lackluster ratings but overwhelming critical acclaim, FX’s Legion might just be the best superhero show on television that no one is talking about. Actress Aubrey Plaza, best known for playing the twisted genius April Ludgate on the CBS sitcom Parks and Recreation, plays leading man David Haller’s friend Lenny Busker on Legion.
Without spoiling too much about her character’s arc, it’s worth noting that the role was originally intended for a middle aged man until series creator Noah Hawley met Plaza and reimagined the character. However, in true Aubrey Plaza fashion, she insisted that the character’s dialogue not be changed for her, instead opting to play the character as both male and female. As a result, holdovers from the original direction for the character remain, like Busker using vintage language and making vulgar remarks about women.
13. BRUCE LEE – THE GREEN HORNET
Thanks to his Father’s career as an opera star, legendary martial artist and actor Bruce Lee had appeared in 20 films by the age of 18. However, his first appearance in an American production wouldn’t come until 1966 when he was offered the role of the Green Hornet’s sidekick Kato for ABC’s short lived television series based on the duo. Due to Lee’s immense popularity in Hong Kong (where he was raised), the show was actually marketed there as The Kato Show.
Despite being helmed by William Dozer, the executive producer for Batman, the show sported a much more serious tone. Though Green Hornet only lasted for one 26-episode season, Lee would reprise the role several times after the show wrapped in 1967. The first was a two part crossover with Batman, followed by guest appearances on the television shows Ironside, Here Come the Brides and Blondie.
12. CLANCY BROWN – SUPERMAN: TAS/DAREDEVIL/ARROW
Though our younger readers will probably best recognize Clancy Brown for his voice work as characters like Mr. Krabs on Spongebob Squarepants, one of the prolific actor’s most recent live action roles was as Colonel Schoonover in season two of Daredevil. Fans of the Netflix series will remember his chilling portrayal of Frank Castle’s crooked former commanding officer, but that actually isn’t his only appearance as a character from the Marvel (or DC) multiverse.
After originally auditioning for the leading role in Superman: The Animated Series, Clancy famously played his arch nemesis Lex Luthor for over 12 years. In addition to voicing a number of other DC characters, Clancy also has reoccurring role as General Wade Eiling on The Flash. While he’s voiced a similar number of Marvel characters in various animated projects, he’ll be returning to the MCU as the demon Surtur in Thor: Ragnarok.
11. ELLIOT GOULD – THE CAPE
Most readers will undoubtedly recognize actor Elliot Gould best for playing Ross and Monica’s father Jack Geller on the hit ’90s sitcom Friends. That being said, fans of obscure superhero media will also know him for his work as Samuel on NBC’s far less successful superhero show, The Cape. During the course of the show’s brief ten episode run, Samuel was the psychiatrist of billionaire CEO Peter Fleming a.k.a. the supervillain, Chess.
The show heavily implies that Peter suffers from multiple personality disorder as he often has conversations with his alter ego where he is urged to kill. As Peter’s psychiatrist, Samuel is one of the few people who know about his dual identity and does his best to help him control his violent outbursts.
10. JEWEL STAITE – LEGENDS OF TOMORROW
Though she’s certainly not the most famous actress on this list, Jewel Staite is unquestionably nerd royalty thanks to her portrayal of Jennifer Keller on Stargate Atlantis and Kaylee Frye in Firefly and its theatrical spin-off Serenity. While that would be enough to earn her the adoration of sci-fi fans everywhere, Staite’s latest geeky role was that of Dr. Rachel Turner on an episode of Legends of Tomorrow.
A genius roboticist from a future timeline where technology is extremely pervasive in everyday society, Dr. Turner is actually the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Sydney Palmer, the twin brother of Ray Palmer, a.k.a The Atom. The altruistic scientist is forced to join forces with the Legends team when she learns her tech is destined to be used by the immortal supervillain Vandal Savage to take over the world.
9. RODDY McDOWALL – BATMAN/BATMAN: TAS
Fans of classic sci-fi should already be familiar with actor Roddy McDowall for his work on the Planet of the Apes franchise. He starred as both Cornelius and later his son Caesar in four of the five films in the original Planet of the Apes series. He would later return to the franchise as Galen, the lead character in the spin-off television series.
Around the time he started working on Apes, McDowall landed a role as the supervillain The Bookworm in the original ’60s Batman. Bookworm was one of the many original characters created for the series, and guest starred in two consecutive episodes of the show. Much like the Riddler, the character left clues to solve his crimes, although they were instead inspired by books. He’d later return to Gotham with a recurring role as the Mad Hatter in Batman: The Animated Series.
8. JOE MORTON – SMALLVILLE
Readers may remember actor Joe Morton for his brief cameo as Cyborg’s father Dr. Silas Stone in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but long before that he played the minor antagonist Dr. Steven Hamilton on Smallvile. Dr. Hamilton was a disgraced Mineralogist obsessed meteors and proving his theory that aliens came to Earth during the 1989 meteor shower caused by the destruction of Krypton.
He would later realize that the meteor fragments (see also: Kryptonite) he had been studying were driving people mad as well as temporarily giving them superpowers. By season two, the constant exposure to these meteor rocks had started giving Dr. Hamilton seizures and the issue comes to a head after he finds Clark’s ship in the tool shed of his childhood friend Pete Ross. After nearly killing both Pete and Clark while seeking answers about the ship’s origin, Dr. Hamilton suffered from extreme seizures before dying.
7. LORI PETTY – SUPERMAN: TAS/GOTHAM
Though she’s most recently been seen playing Lilly Whitehill on Orange is the New Black, actress Lori Petty is well-known among independent comic book fans for palying the title character in the 1995 film adaption of Tank Girl. Two years later, Petty was cast as the voice of Livewire, an original supervillain created for Superman: The Animated Series. She later reprised the role for an episode of The New Batman Adventures in 1998 and the video game Superman: Shadow of Apokolips in 2002.
It would be another 14 years before Petty would work in the DC multiverse again, this time on Fox’s Gotham. Petty’s character, Jeri, is the owner of a nightclub in Gotham which houses a group inspired by Joker stand-in Jerome Valeska and his gang the Maniax. Bruce crosses paths with her during his search for Patrick “Matches” Malone, the man who killed his parents.
6. HUGH BEAUMONT – ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN
Some of our younger readers might not recognize actor Hugh Beaumont by name, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t at least casually familiar with his most famous work, the classic sitcom Leave it to Beaver. Beaumont played the titular character’s father, Ward Cleaver and even directed a few episodes of the show.
A few years before he began his work on Leave it to Beaver, Beaumont appeared in an episode of Adventures of Superman as an ex-convict named Dan Grayson. In the episode, Grayson is a dedicated and well-respected family man who is being blackmailed by a criminal from his former life. As you can imagine, all’s well that ends well and Superman is able to help Grayson clear his good name.
5. HARLEY QUINN SMITH – SUPERGIRL
No, that’s not a typo! Actress (and daughter of director/podcaster Kevin Smith) Harley Quinn Smith is in fact named for the DC Comics character. Funnily enough, she also happened to appear in an episode of Supergirl as a totally different character.
Izzy Williams is one of the many humans captured by the supervillain Roulette to be sold on the galactic slave market. Thankfully, after the police fail to find anything, her mother is able to get in contact with Kara Danvers in her civilian identity as a reporter. This lead Kara and her then-boyfriend Mon-El to track the captives to a place called Slaver’s Moon. After surrendering themselves and inspiring the captives to riot, the pair are ultimately able to free the humans and reunite Izzy with her mother.
4. ADAM WEST & THE MAIN CAST OF POWERLESS
Depending on the kind of person you are, the idea of an office sitcom set in the DC Universe either sounds like a dream come true or an absolute nightmare. If you’re the former, you’ll likely be disappointed to learn that your ridiculous dream has already come true and suffered a quick death in the form of NBC’s Powerless. Unfortunately, due to low ratings and poor critical reception if you have heard about Powerless it was likely due to the death of Batman actor Adam West who provided voice over for the show’s pilot and appeared in the eleventh episode.
In fact, the show’s ratings were so poor the only reason the episode featuring West aired on television was because of his passing. It’s really a shame the show didn’t come together because Powerless had a truly solid ensemble cast comprised of names like Vanessa Hudgens, Danny Pudi and Alan Tudyk.
3. DOLPH LUNDGREN – ARROW
While actor Dolph Lundgren will always be best known for playing Soviet Boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, cinephiles will also remember his appearances in cult classics like the film adaptation of Masters of the Universe. Considering that pedigree it should come as no surprise that Lundgren has also portrayed a comic book character or two in his day.
The film never got a wide release in the United States, but Lundgren’s first foray into the world of superheroes came in 1989 when he became the first actor to play Frank Castle in the original Punisher movie. More recently, he played Russian Governor/Crime Lord Konstantin Kovar during an arc in season five of Arrow and before long Lundgren will be making his jump to the DC Film Universe as King Nereus in Aquaman.
2. LUCY LAWLESS – AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
Aside from having one of the coolest names in the business, actress Lucy Lawless has cemented her place in television history for her groundbreaking work on Xena: Warrior Princess alone. So when you consider that she’s also played characters in the worlds of Battlestar Galactica, Ash vs. Evil Dead and the Marvel Cinematic Universe it makes it tough to think of another working actress with as much geek cred to spare.
On Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Lawless played Izzy Hartley, a long-time agent who remained loyal to the organization after Hydra’s members were exposed in Captain America: Winter Soldier. While working with Agent Phil Coulson’s team, Hartley died trying to recover a Kree device called the Obelisk when the assassin Carl Creel caused a car she was riding in to crash.
1. CLORIS LEACHMAN – WONDER WOMAN
In her 70-year career, legendary actress Cloris Leachman has seemingly done it all. Though for our purposes we’ll be focusing on just one role, her portrayal of Wonder Woman’s mother Queen Hippolyta in the confusingly titles made for TV movie The New Original Wonder Woman.
Set during World War II, the film saw Steve Trevor landing on Paradise Island and Queen Hippolyta declaring that a tournament would be held to decide which Amazon would take him home. After being forbidden to participate Wonder Woman disguises herself to compete and after winning the tournament she heads to the world of man and sets the rest of the series in motion. Unfortunately for us, this was Leachman’s one and only performance as Hippolyta as she was later succeeded by actresses Carolyn Jones and Betrice Straight in seasons one and two of the show respectively.
Which is your favorite cameo? Let us know in the comments below!
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