Superman’s headlined eight theatrical films, Batman nine. Finally, in 2017, the Amazonian warrior gets her time in the spotlight. What the Hera took so long? No one can say for sure, but what’s clear from the emphatic buzz is that we can say for sure “Wonder Woman, now the world is ready for you.”
But just because this is her first headlining gig on the big screen doesn’t mean Wonder Woman has been absent altogether from screens great and small. They may not have gotten the attention her cape-wearing cohorts adventures have, but Diana has been a steady presence of TV and film for decades. Those adaptations vary, both in style and quality, but with her biggest one to date about to drop, we’ll take a long look back at her finest moments, and the times folks got it oh-so wrong.
16 WORST: BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2015)
There’s gonna be some outrage at this choice, sure. DCEU fans are ride or die, standing by BVS and Suicide Squad no matter the critical drubbing, dismissing any who dare “hate” as “clearly not reading the comics” (though a small fortune spent on bags and boards suggests otherwise). And we’re not gonna claim her one action scene wasn’t cool, or that her Junkie XL composed score wasn’t badass.
What we will say is that it’s immensely frustrating to watch a powerful female character relegated to the sidelines while the boys battle it out, have no bearing on the present plot and clearly exist solely to set up future films and establish a shared universe. Her defining characteristics only shine through during a shoehorned-in action scene, and little to no attempt is made to actually give the character any purpose or depth. But don’t get too smug, MCU fans, because you might as well call this the “Black Widow in Iron Man 2” treatment.
15 BEST: SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE (2010)
There are quite a few of the myriad DC Original Animated Movies that give the Amazonian her due, but we’ve gotta go with her turn in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, even if the title is a bit of a mislead. Ultimately, the film is about Supergirl’s arrival on earth, the differing levels of trust Clark and Bruce have in her and her need to hone the powers that have newly awakened in her.
Wonder Woman comes into play as a mentor, as the World’s Finest seek her out on Themyscira to train the young Kryptonian. Her role in the film works not just for the strong leadership she displays, nor her intense action scenes. Rather, it’s the way the film manages to make Wonder Woman function both as a component of the larger DC Universe and yet never denies her her autonomy or makes her feel like she’s bereft of a life beyond the team.
14 WORST: JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS (2010)
Unfortunately, while some DC Animated films, like New Frontier or the aforementioned Apocalypse, treat Diana right, many others have fumbled, and while it could be argued which film truly cheats her the most, her role in Crisis on Two Earths is emblematic of the difficulties some seem to have adapting the character with the ease Batman and Superman often get translated with.
While Crisis handles most of the JLA, and their alternate counterparts, quite well, emphasizing their best traits, utilizing their abilities in clever and dramatic ways and incorporating them as part of the overall narrative, they fail to do much of anything notable with Wonder Woman. Beyond one fight scene, all Diana does through the course of the film is encourage Martian Manhunter to kiss a girl. When it comes to the DC Animated films, there are triumphs, but there are also those that think “girl” is to Wonder Woman what “fast” is to Flash.
13 BEST: SUPER FRIENDS (1973-1986)
Now, no one is gonna argue that the hokey Super Friends or its many sequel series are the perfect depiction of any character, except maybe the Wonder Twins (1996’s Extreme Justice was not a good look for them). But it’s a milestone for Wonder Woman, especially when taken in context.
Wonder Woman’s first membership to a super team came in All-Star Comics #12 when she was recruited to the Justice Society in the “fitting womanly role” of secretary. And sure, that may have been 1942, but even just a year prior to Super Friends’ 1973 debut, Wonder Woman #203 had the titular hero verbally flipping off the Women’s Lib movement and actually saying “In most cases, I don’t even like women.” But on Super Friends, instead of a mess of misogyny, children of all ages and identities got to see a strong, powerful woman defined by her skills and not her sex.
12 WORST: THE BRADY KIDS (1972)
We all know the Brady kids, right? Marcia, Jan, Cindy, Greg, Peter, Bobby, Mop Top, Ping and Pong the pandas…did we lose you there? You don’t remember the Brady Bunch animated spin-off The Brady Kids? That’s…probably for the best.
It's significant only, and we mean only, for being the first televised depiction of Wonder Woman in the episode “It’s All Greek To Me.” Diana Prince, who somehow works at Jan and Marcia’s college, is transported along with the kids back to ancient Grecian days to meet mathematician Euclid and prove whether brains or brawn is more important. This issue is settled with…a rock performance by the Brady kids, of course. Yes, Wonder Woman does get to display her powers to an extent, and there’s not the kind of overt sexism other depictions would be guilty of, but trust us, it’s an interminable slog all the same.
11 BEST: SUPERMAN (1988)
Between his time on the Super Friends and headlining his own solo show from DC Animation master Bruce Time, Superman had a cartoon in the ‘80s from Ruby Spears Productions. While the show usually filled its runtime with either newly created characters like Bonechill or Wildsharkk, or pastiche placeholders like the would-be Braniac "Cybron" or Miss Tessmacher take-off Jessica, nothing was more exciting than when, for one episode, Superman crossed paths with a DC Comics companion.
“Superman and Wonder Woman vs. The Sorceress of Time” kinda gives you the whole bare bones plot in the title, but the episode is a riveting little romp, with Wonder Woman holding her own alongside the Man of Steel in the halls of Themyscira.
10 WORST: A SPECIAL OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN (1976)
Yes, the television special was called A Special Olivia Newton-John. And if you think that title feels awkward, just you wait until you see the Wonder Woman cameo. In the midst of this jaunty variety show, the future Sandra D. stumbles upon Wonder Woman, played here by Lynda Carter.
Of course, naturally Wonder Woman really wants to join Olivia on her special to sing and dance, but gosh darn it, she just keeps getting interrupted by criminals that need stopping. In the end, she’s disappointed when Olivia doesn’t invite her to abandon her life of fighting crime to join the show. In its day, the “humor” is meant to be mined from the fact that Carter had actually started her career as a singer. Now it’s more fun to realize that, like Carter, Newton-John would also go on to play a daughter of Zeus in the disastrous 1980 flop Xanadu.
9 BEST: DC NATION’S WONDER WOMAN (2013)
DC may be having a rough go of it in terms of animated television, what with the cancellation of Young Justice and Green Lantern and, well, the existence of Teen Titans Go, but they’ve been churning out great content online in the form of animated DC Nation shorts.
For the iconic Amazon, DC commissioned acclaimed animator Robert Valley, director of the Oscar nominated Pear Cider and Cigarettes, to bring to life his take on the classic character. What he produced oozes cool and a very San Francisco feel, with some bold but stylish and sincere departures from the standard mythology, including a Themyscira equipped with souped up convertibles, giant she-beasts of the sea and, gasp, a Wonder Woman who might not be caucasian.
8 WORST: MOVIE 43 (2013)
You don’t need this list to tell you Movie 43 is the “worst” at something. It’s been labelled one of the worst films ever made and virtually every star involved has expressed regret for their involvement. What it puts beloved celebrities like Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslett through is bad, what it does to iconic heroes like Wonder Woman and Supergirl is unforgivable.
The scene in question involves Robin, played by Justin Long, going speed dating, only to be frequently interrupted by Batman, herein played by Jason Sudeikis. The “humor” is the kind of crass scribblings a Tijuana bible would be ashamed to publish, making frequent jokes about Wonder Woman and Supergirl’s genitals. Throw in a brief appearance by Uma Thurman as Lois Lane discussing the bedroom habits of Superman in a way that makes Mallrats look like Mr. Rogers, and you’re in for a bad time.
7 BEST: WONDER WOMAN (2009)
Sure, the third pillar of DC’s holy trinity had some time to shine in the team up shows, but she never got her own animated series the way Batman and Superman did. As both consolation prize and the fiercest argument why she deserved one, DC produced a solo animated adventure for the Amazonian warrior, and it still ranks amongst their best.
Packed with a brilliant cast including Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion and Alfred Molina, with a script penned by DC staple Gail Simone, Wonder Woman is everything one could have hoped for. It’s action packed but fun, light but still serious, bridging the gap in tones between the DC Animated universe helmed by Bruce Time on television and the heftier DC Animated Original Films of today.
6 WORST: WHO’S AFRAID OF DIANA PRINCE? (1967)
Oh boy, here we go. CBR has touched upon this failed 1967 pilot before, but it bears repeating: this is awful. An attempt to build upon the success of the 1966 Batman TV series, the producers decided what would really help make this endeavor a success is to dispense with any of the pesky action or affection for the character, and instead go full throttle into comedy.
Has that comedy aged well? Not so much. This unearthed pilot is very much a time-capsule, reminding us just how strong, confident women were viewed through the lens of ‘60s Hollywood. When Diana isn’t being nagged at by her mother for not having a husband, she’s admiring her beauty in the mirror like the “foolish girl” she is. We’d like to tell you this is the most cringe inducing a Wonder Woman pilot can get, but…click on, dear readers.
5 BEST: WONDER WOMAN (1976)
You know the look. You know the moves. You definitely know the theme song. But while most of us know the classic Lynda Carter led TV series as iconic, it’s probably grouped in in our memories with Adam West’s Batman or the Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk as kinda hokey but good for their day TV fare. We humbly ask that you give the show another look.
From the very first episode, a feature-length pilot confusingly called “The New Original Wonder Woman,” it’s clear that this is something special, and the glue that holds it together, stops the show from spiraling into overt comedy or utter absurdity, is Carter. She’s just that good. She can sell the humor without ever making a joke out of her character. She commits to her character and believes in it, and therefor we are free to believe in her.
4 WORST: WONDER WOMAN (1974)
The Lynda Carter Wonder Woman still works because it never feels dated. The same can’t be said for this previous attempt at a Wonder Woman TV show, later aired as a made for TV movie. In keeping with the much bemoaned Diana Prince era of comics, our inexplicably blonde Wonder Woman chases after exotic criminals, gets seduced in discotheques and runs around in a star-spangled jumpsuit to some of the most ‘70s scores this side of the Love Boat.
If you took out any mention of the words Wonder Woman, this pilot might have actually worked as a Charlie’s Angels knockoff. Under those circumstances, it’s actually not a half-bad episode of television. But that’s the core problem, how easily it becomes a standard P.I. show the minute you change the name. We wanted a Wonder Woman who kicked ass and took names, not took the phone numbers of shady dudes in nightclubs.
3 BEST: JUSTICE LEAGUE/JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED (2001-2006)
For an older generation, Lynda Carter is their definitive Wonder Woman. For the current generation of kids, Gal Gadot fills that role. But for the now named “millennial” generation, our Wonder Woman was two dimensional, but felt more real than flesh and blood.
We few, we happy few, who came of age as Bruce Timm’s Batman first took to the TV screen and eventually assembled the Justice League, we got as close to a “pure translation” of Wonder Woman as once could ever hope for. She was a serious, fierce warrior, but still had a sense of humor and humanity. She had flaws, had demons, but never hesitated to do what she felt was right. She was fiercely defiant, both of the expectations of her people and sometimes the demands of her cohorts. She persevered, she persisted, and she planted a flag firm in the hearts and minds of a generation that nothing could keep a strong woman down.
2 WORST: WONDER WOMAN (2011)
It almost feels bad criticizing the 2011 NBC attempt at a Wonder Woman show. It’s been battered and lambasted by any who’ve seen it, a leaked version banished to the depths of the internet. Its star, Adrienne Palicki, has expressed gratitude the show wasn’t picked up, and she’s surely not the only person involved who sees the pilot for what it is.
And yet, after merely 5 minutes of watching it, one can’t help but want to tear in anew. It’s the most embarrassingly flagrant departure from the source material that any DC adaptation has taken, with no apparent rhyme or reason for any of the changes. It has no sense of direction or purpose, and worse, no grasp on why the character works. Fans of the Dark Knight have Batman & Robin, Superman fans have The Quest for Peace, but with this pilot, Wonder Woman fans easily have it the worst.
1 BEST: WONDER WOMAN (2017)
We’re not gonna get into spoilers here, but let’s just paraphrase a Prince song from the Batman soundtrack: “I’ve seen the future of the DCEU, and it works.” We’re not gonna pretend like the criticisms of the previous DC films were unwarranted, but we can all agree the ill-will towards the franchise had been built up, and claws were out for this new film. Plenty of folks had axes to grind, and every flaw would be picked apart ad nauseam as critics and audiences tried to plead with DC to stop this foolish endeavor.
Yet Patti Jenkins has proven them all wrong. Gal Gadot has wowed the crowds. The film is satisfying both fans and detractors alike, showing signs of life in the DCEU many hadn’t felt before. After decades of adaptations sidelining Diana in favor of her caped companions, it looks like Wonder Woman is finally gonna be the one to save the other two from certain doom.
Which of these do you feel is the best? Which is the worst? Let us know what you think about Wonder Woman in the comments!