In the mid-90s, “Might Morphin Power Rangers” dominated the children’s TV landscape. Kids didn’t care about Iron Man or Spider-Man, they all wanted to be one of the five Power Rangers! Recycling footage from the Japanese TV series “Super Sentai,” the ultra-campy American show about five teens that stumble across alien technology and battle skyscraper-sized monsters would go on to spawn over a dozen spin-off series, movies, and comic books.
When production companies all over the world saw the popularity of the series, the inevitable knock-offs and parodies came rolling in. Now, over 20 years later, with the release of the new "Power Rangers" looming, let’s take a look at some of those knock-offs and parodies that fans have probably forgotten about. “It’s Morphin Time!”
Loosely based on the Japanese series “Denkou Choujin Gridman,” “Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad” is a TV series that aired during the beginning of the Power Rangers craze. Developed by a toy company looking to capitalize on the success of Power Rangers, the series followed a teen named Sam as he zaps into a computer and fights monsters called Mega-Viruses, with the help of the other members of his band, “Team Samurai.” The toy company, Playmates, decided to team with DIC, which also helped develop the New Kids on the Block TV series, as well as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Featuring battles between a robot controlled by a group of kids and monsters, it’s clear that this series was nothing more than a Power Rangers knock-off. Adding insult to injury, the series suffers from the early '90s computer talk. Imagine "Hackers" but a little less smart and aimed at children. Mercifully, it was canceled after only one season.
Photon is a rare entry on this list because it actually aired before “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” premiered. However, that doesn’t save it from being an obvious rip-off. The series followed a boy named Chris, who is recruited to become an intergalactic warrior after his skills at a game of laser-tag (remember that?) called “Photon." Chris' significant skills were first noticed by a sentient computer named MOM, and he soon teams with other Photon Warriors as they defeat aliens who threaten to destroy planets across the galaxy. The series also featured a little interlude in each episode where the show would stop and a hit music video would play.
“Photon” holds the distinction of being on this list because of how it clearly copies from the Japanese series “Super Sentai,” which is what “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” was based on. Using costumes designed and manned by members of the “Super Sentai” production company, “Photon” was marred by low production values and poor SFX.
What might be the most absurd show on the list, “Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills” is a mid-90s TV series that aired on the USA Network and featured a group of teens that were recruited by a being named Nimbar to fight the evil Emperor Gorganus. Each teen was given a tattoo, based on a different constellation, that would glow when danger loomed. They would transform into superheroes based on their given constellation and fight monsters. If the danger was too great, they would all combine to form a new being named Knightron. The show even has a rockin’ opening credits song that explains the premise while also repeating the title of the show. Sound familiar?
Ditching the full-body suits and interesting monsters that made “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” so iconic, TTAFBH (we refuse to type it all out again) was quickly dismissed by audiences. On top of the bad costuming and uninteresting villains, the show featured acting that makes the Red Ranger, Austin St. John, look like Daniel Day Lewis.
With “VR Troopers,” Saban Entertainment, producers of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” was hoping to capitalize on the popularity of that series, as well as the growing virtual reality craze. Following the same Power Rangers formula that worked so well before, “VR Troopers” used footage from previously-aired popular Japanese TV shows. The series tells the story of three teens, linked by the same karate dojo, that stumble across advanced VR technology that allows them to fight mutants in another dimension.
One of the only series on this list to last more than just a single season, “VR Troopers” was only a moderate success for Saban. The show even launched a successful line of video games and toys. The quality of the series was quickly brought into question when, after using all its stock Japanese action footage, “VR Troopers” began re-using footage in multiple episodes. Due to this issue, the series was canceled.
Another series developed by Saban, “Masked Rider” is technically a spin-off of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” Dex, an alien from the planet Edenoi, escapes from his home-planet to Earth to help protect it from his uncle Count Dregon. As the Masked Rider, Dex protects Earth and fights various monsters. Dex even has a catchphrase and becomes the Masked Rider after yelling, “Ectophase Activate.”
The Masked Rider character appears in a three-part Power Rangers episode, “A Friend in Need,” but the “Masked Rider” series never mentions the Power Rangers. The Power Rangers also appeared in an issue of the short-lived Masked Rider Marvel comic series. In addition to the comic series and TV appearances, there is a less obvious link to the Power Rangers. The planet that Dex comes from, Edenoi, is actually the same planet where Alpha 5 was created. Like other Saban series during that era, “Masked Rider” uses stock footage, specifically from “Kamen Rider Black RX.” The series was canceled after the first season due to low viewership and toy sales.
Ready for some puns? “Van-Pires” is a short-lived series from 1997 that ran in syndication. The story followed a group of teens that stumble into a junkyard when a meteor hits. Transforming into vehicles due to the meteor and calling themselves the “Motor-Vators” (get it?), they battle evil anthropomorphic vehicles called “Van-Pires.” Sadly, the cleverness didn’t last long as the series only went on to last 13 episodes. The show does feature some of the most laughable acting and horrible stereotypes that make “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” look like Shakespeare.
Surprisingly, the soundtrack to "Van-Pires" is probably more famous than the actual show. Jon Entwistle, member of the rock band The Who, wrote and performed portions of it for the show. However, “Van-Pires” has the distinction of being one of the first children’s TV shows to utilize CGI so heavily. Instead of being man-in-suit action, they used (very early) 3D CGI models for their action. Think “Transformers: Beast Wars”-style CGI but on a very low budget.
You may be thinking that there’s no way any TMNT series deserves to be on this list. Well, allow us to enlighten you. After the huge success of the live-action TMNT movies from the early '90s and the recent end of the iconic animated series, kids were demanding a new Ninja Turtle series. Quick to jump on the Power Rangers bandwagon, Saban was hired to produce a new live-action series. While not a direct knock-off, the series did have some of the same elements as Power Rangers, and featured an actual crossover with “Power Rangers in Space.”
"Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation” is perhaps most famous for introducing the first female Ninja Turtle, Venus, who was named after the famous statue Venus De Milo. Donning blue, at first glance, Venus looked like an very underweight Leonardo. Sadly, or mercifully depending on how you view it, the series only lasted one season.
After Saban had developed quite a few “teens fighting aliens” series, the company decided to diversify a little with “Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog.” Filmed on location in Ireland and based -- very loosely -- on Irish mythology, the children’s show was Saban’s first attempt at the fantasy genre. Even with knights, magic and dragons, the series still had Saban’s signature touches. A group of youths were chosen by a King to protect his kingdom from ogres and giants. The group of kids were given weapons based on each of the five elements that helped them defeat the evil villains.
The series was a mild success during its first season, after which Fox had begun development on a second season, to be titled “Mystic Knights: Battle Thunder.” However, development was halted and the second season was never made. Instead, the budget that was set aside for this series was eventually given to “Power Rangers Lost Galaxy.”
In the early 2000s, with the Power Rangers craze beginning to show signs of slowing down, Fox was still looking for its next big thing. Released in 2001, the Saban-produced “Los Luchadores” tried their best to be that next big thing. Incorporating the early 2000s professional wrestling boom, the series followed a group of colorful luchalibre wrestlers, named Lobo Fuerte, Maria Valentine and Turbine, who fought villains to protect Union City. When the villains were all taken care of, Los Luchadores had to deal with the antics of the bumbling Mayor Potts.
Perhaps the series' first mistake was ignoring the fact that luchadores are normally Mexican wrestlers. Instead, they hired an all Caucasian cast of luchadores to star in the series. If that wasn’t the main issue, then it might have been that the big villain of the series was an evil Chihuahua. Yes, a tiny, evil dog fought the group. Like most of the series on this list, “Los Luchadores” only lasted a season.
A rare hit series for this list, “Big Bad Beetleborgs” was released by Saban in 1996. Perhaps best known for featuring a phantasm that looked very similar to Jay Leno, the series follows three teens as they become superheroes after entering a haunted house. Upon accidentally letting out the Jay Leno ghost, they’re given one wish. Like what any smart kids would do, they wish to be their favorite superheroes, the Big Bad Beetleborgs. Unfortunately, by assuming those identities, they let out the Beelteborgs’ comic book enemies.
The series utilized fight footage from two Japanese series, “Juukou B-Fighter” and “B-Fighter Kabuto.” “Big Bad Beetleborgs” was a hit for Fox and Saban, going on to produce two seasons. Unfortunately, the series was prematurely canceled after they ran out of stock footage from the Japanese shows. Instead of re-using footage, like Saban had previously done with “VR Troopers,” producers decided to just end the show.
One of the newer entries on the list, “Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger” is a Japanese series that has loose ties to the “Super Sentai” series. A group of “Super Sentai” fans in the real world are trying their best to be a real “Super Sentai” group by fighting a mysterious entity that has sworn to conquer Earth. Their secret base is an actual café, which itself is an homage to the “Super Sentai” series.
This series could be seen as a parody, but the truth is that it was an attempt to appeal to the fans of the Sentai series who had grown up. Instead of focusing on aspects that would appeal to children, “Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger” tried to appeal to an older group from teens to adults. The series was pretty popular in Japan and went on to have two seasons. The suits used by the heroes were very distinct, as the helmets had actual hair-style shapes to them instead of the unisex versions that were used in the “Super Sentai” and “Power Rangers” series.
What began as a web series that ended up on MTV UK and then MTV US, “Mighty Moshin’ Emo Rangers” is a very niche parody of the Power Rangers. Poking fun of the emo and “scene” kids of the mid-2000s, “Mighty Moshin’ Emo Rangers” used many of the same tropes from Power Rangers, but with a decidedly “emo” take, as the name subtly implies.
With characters like the “Introspective White Emo Ranger” and the “Weeping Tears Yellow Emo Ranger,” it’s clear that the emo stereotypes were all on display in this series. Debuting on Myspace (fittingly) and gaining fame (infamy?) shortly thereafter, the series was picked up by MTV UK. After success in the UK, MTV US picked it up and aired the webisodes. A second season was created 4 years after the first premiered, and wasn’t nearly as popular, as the jokes were a little stale by that point. Not all is lost, however, as the creators have promised they want to work on a movie.
A more respected parody, “Megabot” premiered online in 2009 and had some serious comedic chops. Starring Randall Park, who has gone on to bigger and better roles such as “Fresh Off the Boat” and “The Interview,” and Fran Kranz, from “Dollhouse” and “Cabin in the Woods,” “Megabot” was a short-lived, but respected, parody of the Power Rangers mythos. Telling the story of "five attractive, multi-ethnic" characters who joined forces in 1999, as teens, to fight the evil Lord Galgon, the story took place 10 years later.
Now, the teammates just hate each other and don't want to keep doing the same thing over and over. Hijinks, and very NSFW language follow as the aging heroes have to deal with malfunctioning weapons and drama. Featuring colorful characters who just can’t seem to get along, the series was featured on the now-defunct Atom.com. For those interested in watching the series, episodes can be found floating around YouTube. They’re well worth a view!
“Squadron Sport Rangers” is a Thai series that premiered in 2006. Highly influenced by “Super Sentai,” the series featured brightly colored superheroes fighting monsters, but with a sports angle. The series follows five teens that are given special powers after an alien race, named Starhunter, comes to Earth to drain it of its energy through the use of medals. The Starhunter race travels the universe collecting energy from planets and storing it in a series of these medals. One of them falls to Earth, breaks into five pieces and creates the Sport Rangers.
Featuring Boxing, Swimming, Tennis, Gymnastics and Soccer “rangers,” the series pitted the heroes against a variety of monsters. Of course, if the crisis became too large, the rangers would combine into a large mecha called “Spirit Robo” to help finish the monsters. The first season had a dramatic climax that featured the three male rangers sacrificing themselves to stop the evil villains. The three actors were replaced when the series returned, but "Squadron Sport Rangers" was canceled after the second season.
One of the most popular manga and anime of all time, many people don’t realize the early roots of “Sailor Moon” started as a “Super Sentai”-type show. The series follows a young girl who is given the power to become a Sailor Soldier. Alongside a group of other Sailor Soldiers, they fight evil aliens who threaten the galaxy. While the description definitely has similarities to “Super Sentai” and “Power Rangers,” it’s not widely known that there is an actual connection between the shows.
In an interview that was featured on an old laserdisc of the series, the creator, Naoko Takeuchi, said she wanted to “make a story like the Power Rangers series – a girls’ version – where the warriors go fighting upon the instructions from a Central Command Post. It didn’t turn out that way, though. Of course, from this concept came Sailor Moon. I had wanted to use five girls as the fighting warriors.” “Sailor Moon” has the distinction of being a Power Rangers knock-off that might have actually been more popular than the series it was inspired by.
Do you remember these Power Rangers rip-offs, parodies and sundry influencees? Let us know in the comments!