Pop culture is currently experiencing a superhero wave with no end in sight. For many, this is a good thing. It feels like every other day a new show or movie is announced. With the massive popularity the superhero genre is undergoing, it’s easy to forget that superhero shows and films have been with us for well over half a century. Even back in the '40s there were programs like the old timey Captain America and Batman. Since then, movie and TV studios quickly realized the money to be had with the genre and will presumably keep churning out these stylized adventures of men and women in tights until the end of time.
There’ve also been comic book characters that have appeared in both movies and TV. Whenever this happens, not only do you have different actors and actresses playing the same part, but also you get wildly different stories and interpretations of the same hero or villain. Over the years, it’s become more than evident that while some characters work on the big screen, they aren’t successful on TV and vice versa. Today at CBR we’re looking at eight characters that worked better in the movies and seven characters that were better off on TV.
15 BETTER IN MOVIES: SUPERMAN
Debuting in Action Comics #1, the Man of Steel paved the way for every future superhero to follow. Since the early days of television, Superman’s been a part of everybody’s family time in the living room, while they gathered around the tiny, bright TV. The television adaptations of Superman weren’t bad, far from it. George Reeves did a remarkable job embodying Superman and years later, Dean Cain followed suit, putting his own popular spin on the Last Son of Krypton.
However, it was actor Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman on the big screen, in four movies, that cemented the character in the minds and hearts of people everywhere. Though other terrific actors have taken on the role in film, none have touched viewers in the way Reeves did in his earnest depiction of a superhuman alien struggling with his humanity.
14 BETTER ON TV: DAREDEVIL
Back in the early ‘00s, there was a wave or relatively unsuccessful, and unrelated, superhero movies. They all tried trying to monetize on the hype and success of movies like Spider-Man and X-Men. Ben Affleck’s Daredevil was such a movie. When it debuted, it opened to mixed reviews. Aside from making a brief appearance in the TV movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil was far removed from the public consciousness and people didn’t have much to compare the movie to.
Looking back years later, fans find it difficult to enjoy anything about the 2003 Daredevil. In contrast, The Netflix show was a gift for the medium of television. Marvel was doing a cinematic universe, but they also decided to do a grounded TV universe. Kicking off their shared-universe project with Daredevil, they couldn’t have made a better adaptation of the blind superhero.
13 BETTER IN MOVIES: SPIDER-MAN
Spider-Man’s relationship with pop culture and media adaptations has been nothing short of impressive and lengthy. In fact, despite the actual comic book readership going down nowadays, the Spider-Man brand is as strong as ever. Sure, we don’t have Stan Lee officiating the wedding of Spider-Man and Mary Jane in Shea Stadium like we did in 1987, but all things considered, with a multitude of movie franchises under his belt, Spidey isn’t doing half bad.
In the ‘70s, Spider-Man fever was at full blast, so Marvel and MGM got together and made a live-action TV series for CBS. It was horrible. Few people enjoyed it, and one of those people was not Stan Lee, who panned the series. It wasn’t until director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man film series, jumpstarting the superhero film wave, that Spidey, and comic book heroes, were taken seriously by audiences again.
12 BETTER ON TV: THE PUNISHER
Frank Castle, the Punisher, was the breakout character in season two of Netflix’s Daredevil. Brutal, angry, and completely dysfunctional as a human being, Jon Bernthal brought the character to life in terrific fashion, capturing the tragedy that is Frank Castle and his life. Now with the Punisher getting his own series on Netflix, the character is bigger than ever and Marvel is making sure to depict him accurately.
Before Netflix, there’d been three separate attempts to bring the Punisher to the big screen. Each of them had their own merits, but generally speaking, they weren’t anything like what fans were hoping to see. Desperately, these movies tried to bank on the Punisher’s ruthless nature, pushing the character to the edge and showing his deadly capabilities. They all failed and many fans have since tried to expunge the movies from memory.
11 BETTER IN MOVIES: THOR
Unlike many superheroes, Thor’s time in the limelight is relatively new. Aside from comic book readers, the average citizen wasn’t familiar with the God of Thunder. The first time Thor appeared to the general public in any relevant way was in the TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns in 1988. The movie was a sequel to the widely successful live-action Incredible Hulk TV show, starring Bill Bixby. Though while Lou Ferrigno’s portrayal of the Hulk was the stuff of legend, Eric Kramer as Thor would leave a sour taste in fans’ mouths years later.
Though Kramer’s Thor had his personality down, the hero’s outfit and origin were awful, as were the special effects. More than 20 years later, Marvel gave it another try with director Kenneth Brannagh’s 2011 Thor. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Thor finally got the attention and production value he deserved.
10 BETTER ON TV: THE FLASH
The Flash has been a part of comics since the ‘50s and for 40 years, he wasn’t given substantial consideration. That changed in 1990. Debuting on CBS, actor John Wesley Shipp played the part of the Flash. While the show lasted only twenty-two episodes, it played a crucial role in the character’s future. The next Flash TV series would be released 24 years later on the CW and this time the TV and superhero landscape was completely different.
Superheroes were no longer on the fringe of pop culture, but were in full swing with audiences all but begging for more shows and movies. Grant Gustin would be handed the mantle and he’d take off running. Though the Justice League movie Flash, played by Ezra Miller is a barrel of laughs, the DCEU, and the character, is still finding itself. Until they do, Gustin and Shipp are the definitive speedsters.
9 BETTER IN MOVIES: BATMAN
Batman is one of the most influential superheroes in all of fiction. Yet his track record of amazing movies and TV shows is surprisingly low. Batman ’66 introduced the character to a young generation, but die-hard fans thought the campy depiction of the Dark Knight was too light-hearted and goofy. Sure, Adam West and Burt Ward were amazing, their legacy lasting to this day, but the show became remembered for them more than the heroes they depicted. In 1989, Tim Burton revolutionized the superhero cinematic landscape with his Batman.
The Caped Crusader was now the dark, brooding hero fans knew and loved. Jack Nicholson’s Joker blew people’s minds and the series continued, building an entire franchise around it. From there, it allowed for Christopher Nolan’s beloved Dark Knight franchise and additional cinematic appearances of Batman as seen in recent DCEU movies.
8 BETTER ON TV: AQUAMAN
The 2001 Smallville TV show had a lot going for it. There are those who give Smallville grief, criticizing it for dragging on for as long as it. That said, the argument is for another time. What Smallville did a great job at was in creating its own universe and introducing a plethora of recognizable DC heroes. Ignoring one’s personal head-canon about when specific characters actually met, one of the coolest additions to Smallville was Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman .
Though he went by the obnoxious name AC, he looked like he just came off the printed page. Everything about him was remarkably accurate, including his personality, love for Mera, and taking down oil rigs polluting the ocean. The Aquaman in Justice League comes across as a knucklehead frat boy, with little in common to Aquaman as we know him.
7 BETTER IN MOVIES: WONDER WOMAN
Firstly, the original Wonder Woman TV series starring Lynda Carter did more for superheroes and the future of the genre than is possible to list out in detail here. Wonder Woman made Lynda Carter a star and introduced generation after generation to the Amazon Princess. Despite the magnificence of Wonder Woman, the heroine wouldn’t take off in popularity and become a worldwide phenomenon until the 2017 movie starring Gal Gadot.
Until Wonder Woman, the DCEU had been struggling. The cinematic universe Warner Bros. and DC Comics were trying to create wasn’t coming together in the way they’d hoped; they desperately needed a big payoff. The gamble they made with Wonder Woman was one of the best decisions any movie studio has made. All the sudden Wonder Woman defined women across the globe. Comic book and movie fans consider her the best part of DC’s cinematic universe.
6 BETTER ON TV: SUPERGIRL
Kara Zor-El is the cousin of Superman and one of the last survivors of Krypton and, more specifically, Argo City. Arriving to Earth when she was a teenager, only to find her cousin was a grown man, Kara took on the title of Supergirl and went about saving the day. Following the monumental success of Superman: The Movie in 1978, Alexander Salkind and his son bought the rights for Supergirl, hoping to cash in on any money that’d be made from potential sequels.
After the failure of Superman III, Salkind didn’t want to wait any longer and produced Supergirl. The movie was a hot mess. The Supergirl TV show, starting in 2015, demonstrated that the Girl of Steel was perhaps meant for TV, rather than the cinema. Since the show begun, it’s only gotten more and more popular, attracting a wide range of fans, new and old.
5 BETTER IN MOVIES: CAPTAIN AMERICA
In the past, Marvel tried a couple attempts at bringing Captain America to life, but each effort ended in dismal failure. There was the horrendous TV movie in 1979 and in 1990 there was the more solid Captain America film. While the second Captain America did a better job at depicting Steve Rogers, and that was mostly thanks to actor Matt Salinger, it was still awful and hardly made a lick of sense in certain parts. Clearly, Captain America was not meant for the small screen.
When Marvel was in their passionate throes of creating their cinematic universe in the ‘00s, starting with Iron Man in 2008, a new Captain America debuted in 2011. Starring Chris Evans, Marvel pulled out all the stops this time around. The movie itself was adequate, but it’s sequel, Captain America: Winter Soldier would be heralded as one of the best superhero movies ever.
4 BETTER ON TV: THE GREEN HORNET
The Green Hornet might not have the notoriety of characters like Superman and Spider-Man, but the pulp hero has been around for longer than most superheroes. Britt Reid, the Green Hornet, protects his city by dressing up in a green trench coat and a hornet domino mask, and punching bad guys in the face with the help of his trusty master of martial arts companion Kato.
The 1966 TV series ran for one season and starred the amazing Bruce Lee as Kato. Nothing and no one can ever hope to match Bruce Lee, so that right there is a permanent mark in the favor of the original Green Hornet. The 2011 Green Hornet movie was billed more as a comedy than a pulp action film. Generally speaking, the film wasn’t well received and people wondered how anyone could hope to improve on Bruce Lee fighting Adam West as Batman.
3 BETTER IN MOVIES: THE HULK
The Incredible Hulk TV series is an iconic show. What Linda Hamilton’s Wonder Woman did for DC and it’s future, Incredible Hulk did for Marvel. Actor Bill Bixby was the tormented Dr. David Banner, while Lou Ferrigno enjoyed the role of the Hulk; a part he’s idolized for to this day. While the show was the bees’ knees, the depiction of the Hulk was questionable at best. Granted, it likely had to do for budgetary reasons, but the TV Hulk was nothing like his comic book counterpart, or his future movie versions, in terms of strength and power.
It’s a little thing to nitpick, but a measly handgun could kill the TV Hulk; it diminished the character’s presence. The Hulk in current Marvel movies is the Hulk fans have been clamoring to see for decades. He’s strong, durable, and the inconsistencies with the hero are minor at best.
2 BETTER ON TV: THE X-MEN
X-Men and X-Men II are two of the best superhero movies out there. Everything that followed received mixed reactions from viewers or was just downright unwatchable. The inconsistency in the X-Men movies’ quality is appalling, but what’s even worse is the butchering of fan-favorite characters and the massive deviations and liberties taken from the source material.
On the other hand, you had X-Men: The Animated Series. The show defined the mutant superhero team for an entire generation of viewers and helped ensure Marvel didn’t lose its relevancy, making the company a recognizable powerhouse once again. Paying careful attention to the characters and the stories themselves, X-Men: Animated Series helped the X-Men and comics in ways that a score of movies haven’t been able to. To this day, fans have nothing but praise for the animated TV show.
1 BETTER IN MOVIES: LEX LUTHOR
Smallville’s introduction of Clark Kent and his journey to becoming Superman was less campy than other interpretations. It was a surprisingly refreshing change. However thrilled Superman fans were at seeing a Boy of Steel, they were eagerly anxious to see Lex Luthor, Superman’s most iconic villain. Michael Rosenbaum starred in the role and did a pretty solid job; starting as something of a decent individual and gradually growing into the madman we all know the character to be.
As good as he was, Smallville took Lex Luthor in bizarre directions, with weird things happening to him constantly; like that one time he was possessed by General Zod. It didn’t do anything for the character’s growth and only showed that the show’s writers were grasping for ideas. Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies was and remains one of the best acting jobs for a comic book villain.