Superheroes will forever be associated with comic books. DC and Marvel have been publishing superhero comics for more than 80 years now, after all. It's often very hard to separate this particular genre from the medium. As with any wildly popular genres, though, superheroes eventually leaked into other mediums, sometimes to much greater success than the comics they originated in. First it was radio, then television, then movies and video games. With so many wildly popular adaptations, some stories slip through the cracks, particularly those based on original properties. Even the best and brightest often fall by the wayside. Of course, some of these stories are forgotten for a good reason. The very best live on in the hearts of their true-blue fans, even if some of them are lost forever.
Some may find continued life as a cult classic, others might loop back around and be adapted into comic form. Those stories that end up completely forgotten often just weren't very good. There were a heck of a lot of bad superhero movies back in the days before the MCU. Due to the nature of this list, we've probably forgotten more than a few of your favorite stories ourselves. Of course, everyone's definition of "forgotten" is different, so maybe some of these aren't as forgotten as we think. By that same notion, a lot of this "best" and "worst" stuff is going to be subjective, so buckle in for some hot opinions. We promise not to get mad if you don't.
20 BEST: WILD CARDS
Wild Cards is a series of novels about superheroes set in an original universe. Its main claim to fame was that it was an anthology series, with several authors contributing to one novel, all edited by George R.R. Martin.
George doesn't edit it anymore, what with that HBO money, but his name largely got the series off the ground. The series examines a slightly more realistic look at how superheroes would affect history, and told much more personal, realistic stories than the standard superhero fare. The universe progressed from post-WWII to the modern day, with new heroes and villains stepping into the spotlight throughout.
19 WORST: MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND
My Super Ex-Girlfriend is a movie about a toxic relationship; a comedy movie, mind you, about an abusive relationship. Starring Uma Thurman, Luke Wilson, and Anna Faris, the film follows an ordinary man as he gets involved in a romance with a female superhero.
The movie was largely panned upon release, and certainly wasn't a gigantic financial success. While it just wasn't very good overall, the most baffling part of the movie was trying to play off outright abusive behavior for laughs. Throwing a live shark into an apartment is at least an attempt at a joke, even if it turns stalking and assault into a gag.
18 BEST: MYSTERY MEN
Mystery Men is probably the best superhero movie you've never heard of. Well, before the MCU was even a twinkle in Kevin Feige's eye, Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, and Hank Azaria teamed up as a group of misfit superheroes with minor or negligible powers.
As is often the case with these kinds of stories, a "real" superhero is incapacitated, the misfits are forced to save the day. The Mystery Men, as they are named at the end of the film, grow both as people and as heroes, reminding us that it's not the powers that make a real hero.
17 WORST: HANCOCK
Hancock is one of those weird Will Smith movies he made after Pursuit of Happyness where he was one of the most popular actors in Hollywood, that also sort of marked the downturn of his career. Its main failing, beyond not being that great, was coming out right between Iron Man and The Dark Knight.
The movie was a financial success, the fourth-highest grossing film that year, ahead of Iron Man, but the meandering plot, lack of a clear central conflict, and the general dislikability of Smith's lead character led to the movie being quietly ignored while the MCU exploded out of Iron Man and The Dark Knight was, well, The Dark Knight.
16 BEST: THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN RADIO PROGRAM
Long before movies were the primary mode of superhero adaptation, there was radio. For our younger readers, radio was basically TV without the pictures. The Adventures of Superman aired multiple times a week, regaling young listeners with tales of Superman as one of the first non-comics superhero adaptations.
It was responsible for much of the iconic elements of Superman we recognize today: the planet Krypton, Kryptonite, and the iconic "Look! Up in the sky!" opening. It would also deal a powerful blow against a certain racist group we're not allowed to name rising in the US in the story "Clan of the Fiery Cross," which is currently being adapted into comic form by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru. Pretend "Clan" starts with a K.
15 WORST: THE BATMAN
This might catch us a bit of flak, but let's face it, The Batman just straight up wasn't good. An animated series meant to act as a Saturday morning successor to the inestimable Batman: The Animated Series, The Batman reimagined every villain as a kung fu master, and seemed to be developed almost exclusively to sell toys.
The series aired for four seasons, attempting to build a larger animated universe like the DCAU in later seasons. Unfortunately the designs, stories, and general feel failed to garner a large audience, particularly as Justice League Unlimited was airing right alongside it for the first two seasons.
14 BEST: FLEISCHER SUPERMAN CARTOONS
Superheroes and cartoons are just about as inextricably linked as superheroes and comics. There's the DCAU, the '90s Spider-Man cartoon, the various Marvel cartoons from the '60s, and the infamous Super Friends. But in 1941, Max and Dave Fleischer started it all with their series of Superman cartoons.
The series is widely regarded as one of the best cartoons to come out of the Golden Age of Animation. It was certainly among the most exorbitantly budgeted, due to the Fleischer brothers giving Paramount Studios an insanely high budget proposal trying to avoid having to make the cartoons they had no interest in.
13 WORST: THE ZETA PROJECT
The Zeta Project is the DCAU series time forgot. After the roaring success of Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Batman Beyond, the DCAU creators tried to make a spinoff series of Batman Beyond, itself already a spinoff. The DCAU had found some success with more obscure characters with Static Shock.
Focusing on Zeta, a character from Batman Beyond. Although Batman Beyond was popular, Zeta was a relatively minor character, appearing in only a single episode. Although it received two 13-episode seasons, it was quietly forgotten, not even receiving a sendoff in the Batman Beyond finale in Justice League Unlimited.
12 BEST: SUPER
Super is one of the cult classic movies you've never heard of, but has hardcore fans who love it. Directed by James Gunn (yes, that one), Super is basically Kick-Ass with adults and mildly less silly. It follows a somewhat sad-sack short order cook who becomes a "superhero." That is, he puts on a costume and beats criminals to near-death with a pipe wrench.
The movie is pretty unvarnished about the fact that any "real" superhero would probably be at least somewhat unhinged. Star Rainn Wilson's character begins expanding his beatings to more and more petty crime. However, it manages to delivers a fairly meaningful, if occasionally hyper-violent, story.
11 WORST: NICK FURY: AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
This movie might not necessarily be forgotten, but it's certainly infamous. Starring David Hasselhoff, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. follows a retired Nick Fury called back in to save the world one last time. Now, David Hasselhoff isn't the greatest actor at the best of times, but this movie really took the cake.
As a TV movie, it was cheap, cheesy, and most of all schlocky. Although Hasselhoff certainly looked the part, he didn't quite fit the grizzled war veteran character of Nick Fury. The movie was incredibly silly, with some weird departures from canon, like introducing X-Men villains as HYDRA agents.
10 BEST: CITY OF HEROES
Oh god. It's been six years, and it still hurts. Here's where those hot opinions start coming in, but City of Heroes was the greatest superhero video game of all time. Possibly the greatest Massively Multiplayer Online Game. Possibly the greatest video game.
City of Heroes allowed players to create their own hero (or villain) and develop them from fighting minor street gangs to saving the world from massive alien invasions, mirror dimension villains, and massive mystical confluxes. The world was constantly evolving, with new villains, new heroes, and new stories. The game was tragically cut short in its prime in 2012.
9 WORST: SWAMP THING
Saga of the Swamp Thing is considered one of DC's best comics. The Swamp Thing television series, conversely, is considered one of the worst superhero adaptations in recent memory. Although it was USA Network's top rated show while airing, it usually received mixed to poor reviews.
It managed to garner a few fans for its unintentional camp value. It was silly, clunky, clichéd, and disjointed. The episodes aired out of order, the acting left something to be desired by today's standards, and the plots were all over the place. The DVD release didn't even resolve the episode order issue, which led it to getting blasted by critics one more time.
8 BEST: ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL
Before there were feature length movies, or live action TV shows, superheroes were adapted as live-action serials. Serials were basically live-action TV shows, shown in a movie theater, progressing weekly. One of the most widely acclaimed was Adventures of Captain Marvel.
In the 1940s, Captain Marvel, known today as Shazam, was far and away the most popular superhero. He even outsold Superman for a time. Although production company Republic Pictures had tried to get Superman, they settled on Captain Marvel after Paramount snapped up the theatrical rights for the Fleischer cartoons. This made Adventures of Captain Marvel the very first live action superhero adaptation.
7 WORST: BLACK PANTHER ANIMATED SERIES
In 2008, Reggie Hudland was coming off an...interesting...run on the Black Panther comic. As president of BET, he began pushing for Black Panther animated series. Marvel and BET signed off on the production, and the first footage was shown at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2008.
The series was not great, to put it kindly. Less a traditional cartoon and more a motion comic, the series only lasted six episodes, adapting Hudlin and John Romita, Jr.'s first story arc from the comic. Although Hudlin's run was reasonably well-liked, the adaptation smelled a bit like Hudlin using his position at BET for some ego-stroking.
6 BEST: FREEDOM FORCE
Like City of Heroes two years later, Freedom Force allowed players to take command of original heroes in a superhero roleplaying experience. Although Freedom Force, ironically, didn't allow quite the same level of freedom as City of Heroes, it still broke ground as one of the first original, somewhat customizable superhero games.
Freedom Force would long be cited as inspiration for the three superhero massively multiplayer online games that would follow it. The customization and RPG aspects remain largely unmatched among other superhero games, even massively popular ones like the Arkham Asylum series. Only City of Heroes would live up to and surpass it, though.
5 WORST: BLADE TV SERIES
Blade could be considered the first of the second wave of superhero movies that eventually culminated in the MCU. Blade and Blade 2 were both critical and financial successes, although Blade Trinity was a flop in every sense of the word.
For some reason, after Trinity's failure, David S. Goyer and New Line Cinemas thought it would be a great idea to make a TV series. Only without Wesley Snipes, and only vaguely connected to the movies. They also introduced a new secondary protagonist, who proved unpopular. The series met with poor reception, and only lasted one season before being cancelled.
4 BEST: PUNISHER VIDEO GAME
The second Punisher movie, starring Thomas Jane, is one of the campy cult classics that stuck out in that second superhero movie wave in the mid-2000s. Naturally, because it was the mid-2000s, it had a video game adaptation.
The video game was a vague mix of the movie and Garth Ennis' recent comics, complete with Thomas Jane returning as the voice. It was miraculously close to the comics, complete with over-the-top brutal torture and general bloody violence. There was the occasional oddity in players getting the option to allow Frank to spare criminals, but other than that, it was great.
3 WORST: HEROES
This entry sort of floats the line between best and worst. Heroes was a TV show on NBC, running from 2006 to 2010. It told the story of various superhumans in an original universe, adjusting to their newfound abilities and saving the world along the way.
The first season was great. Perfectly paced, with engaging stories and plotlines. Then, the Writers Guild of America strike hit. The series took an obvious downturn in the second season, and never managed to recover. Seasons 3 and 4 somehow managed to be even worse, and the show was cancelled after the fourth season.
2 BEST: WHO WANTS TO BE A SUPERHERO
The first, last, and only superhero reality show, I Want to Be a Superhero followed a collection of misfit weirdos trying to sell their superhero identity and character to Stan Lee. Instead of comics creators, the cast were ordinary people with an idea for a superhero. They acted out their ideas in various challenges in order to prove their "superhero-ness."
The first season was full of stunning twists and turns, usually bending the "reality" of reality shows maybe too far, but was always entertaining, and frequently heartwarming. Although the winner was promised a comic and a Sci-Fi (the channel, not the genre) original movie, nothing real materialized after the show. Major Victory was ROBBED.
1 WORST: CHAMPIONS ONLINE
Where City of Heroes is the epitome of superhero video games, Champions Online just might be one of the worst. Bizarrely, both were developed by the same studio, although it could be argued that City of Heroes only truly achieved greatness when the original developers abandoned it to make Champions.
Champions Online was basically an attempt at a knockoff City of Heroes, only with less fun combat, less structured content, and waaaaaaay uglier characters besides. Seriously, everyone looked like they were made of plastic. It attempted to innovate on City of Heroes by introducing more freeform superpower development, but ultimately ended up walking that back when it went free to play.