Have you ever wondered if a certain superhero you liked was ever on tv or film? Well look no further. We went through and searched out all superheroes that have been in a tv show or movie in the past, then we went through and found the current incarnations of those heroes today so we could compare the evolution of the heroes we know and love. So let’s begin!
The Fantastic Four
Let’s begin with the first family of comics. The rights to the FF was originally acquired by Constantin Film in 1986 and were sat on for 6 years until, in 1992, Roger Corman was hired to bring them to the big screen. In 1994 the trailer for the film was released along with the cast and Corman going on a publicity tour to promote the film. However, what the cast and Croman didn’t know was that the film was basically an “ashcan film”, meaning it was only made to keep the rights from lapsing back to Marvel. Once Marvel became aware of the true intentions of Constantin Films and how they were never going to release the film, Marvel reacquired the rights. The film was only ever seen thanks to bootleggers who copied and sold the movie at cons. It can be seen on YouTube now. There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about the 2015 version of the FF, so we won’t even go there.
1992 FF Cast
Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic: Alex Hyde-White (Pretty Woman)
Susan Storm/The Invisible Woman: Rebecca Staab (Love Potion No. 9)
Ben Grimm/The Thing: Michael Bailey Smith (Men in Black II) & Carl Ciarfalio (Fight Club)
Johnny Storm/The Human Torch: Jay Underwood (The Boy Who Could Fly)
2015 FF Cast
Reed Richards: Miles Teller (Whiplash)
Susan Storm: Kate Mara (House of Cards)
Ben Grimm: Jamie Bell (Billy Elliott)
Johnny Storm: Michael B. Jordan (Creed)
Having appeared in many animated forms since 1967, we didn’t see a live-action Aquaman until 2005 in Smallville's season 5 episode “Aqua”. Alan Ritchson (Blue Mountain State) played the titular hero and did a bang up job at it (in the tv show Ritchson sported the traditional green/orange colors and pulled them off), enough so that the CW wanted to spin him off into his own show. That however never came to fruition and we were left to wait until the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to get another version of The Sea King. This time played by Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones), we are being treated to the Pre-New 52 costumed version of Aquaman who has tattoos so we’ll have to wait to see how that turns out.
Wonder Woman had had 2 previous pilots made to establish tv shows for DC’s main heroine. The only reason we mention 2 pilots is because the first one was only 5 minutes long, more of a screen test. The initial pilot made in 1967 due to the popularity of the Batman show called Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince? had little to do with the comic book and focused on a younger Diana Prince (Ellie Wood Walker (Easy Rider)). The pilot, which would not play well with today's empowered ladies, consisted mainly of Diana being berated by her mother for not having a boyfriend. Wonder Woman (Linda Harrison (Planet of the Apes 1968)) herself appears only briefly at the end of the pilot. The second pilot made in 1974 and starred Cathy Lee Crosby (mostly know as the co-host of That’s Incredible) as Wonder Woman. This film was mainly inspired by the superspies that were popular of the time with WW using gadgets more than her super abilities or golden lasso (which was replaced by a gold grappling wire). The costume and hair differed the most from the comics and while not well received by viewers, the network liked the concept enough to reboot it and a year later we got the beloved Lynda Carter (Sky High) version.
We also had another unreleased tv pilot in 2011 of WW starring Adrianne Palicki (Agents of SHIELD) that has found a life on YouTube. The current incarnation of WW is going to be played by Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious Franchise) in the upcoming BvS movie. We have been treated to some glimpses of her in action in the trailer for the upcoming blockbuster, so once again we have to wait to make a call as to how she’ll do.
The Justice League favorite first appeared in the 1997 tv pilot movie for The Justice League of America played by David Ogden Stiers (Better off Dead) and then we didn’t see the hero until he resurfaced in Smallville played by Phil Morris (Seinfeld). As with the majority of the DC heroes we were only ever treated to a few incarnations of the alien hero with the Morris one being the best so far.
The vigilante has had 3 film incarnations and one in the upcoming season 2 of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil series. The first version from 1989 starred Dolph Lundgren (Masters of the Universe) as Punisher and was not well received initially but has been looked at in a better light in recent years. Then in 2004 Thomas Jane (Deep Blue Sea) had his turn and was by far the fans favorite Frank Castle, too bad the movie was a flop; he did however return to the role for a fan film called “Dirty Laundry” that had fans clamoring for his return. 2008 saw the reboot of the series with Ray Stevenson (Rome) taking the lead and mumbling his way through the best received of the films to date. With Marvel reacquiring the rights to Punisher.
Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme has only been on screen one time in a 1978 tv movie, played by Peter Hooten (Orca). Strange has had a couple of animated appearances but his first feature length movie will hit in 2016 and star Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Rachel McAdams (Southpaw), Tilda Swinton (Trainwreck), and Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal).
The first of several DC entries that first appeared in a two episode series called, Legends of the Superheroes in 1979. The series was trying to capitalize on the popularity of the Adam West Batman series and was very campy and silly, and even had a laugh track. The roster was impressive and had the largest amount of comic heroes on one show at that time. Adam West and Burt Ward even reprised their roles as Batman and Robin. The Hawkman in the 2 episodes was played by Bill Nuckols (Supertrain). In the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow series by DC and CW, Hawkman is played by Falk Hentschel (White House Down).
Before Thor was played by the chick magnet Chris Hemsworth (Vacation), he was first seen in the 1988 Incredible Hulk tv movie The Incredible Hulk Returns. In the tv movie Thor looked a little more like what you’d think a norse viking would look like, but still nothing like the comic version we knew. He was played by Eric Allan Kramer of American Wedding and Good Luck Charlie fame. Thank you to the MCU for making Thor more true to his comic counterpart.
Now most younger people will think that the Tobey Maguire (Pawn Sacrifice) Spider-Man movies are the first version. Their parents may think that the Nicholas Hammond (The Sound of Music) Spider-Man tv series is the first. They’d both be wrong. The first live action Spider-Man appearance was on The Electric Company tv show in sketches where he was played by Danny Seagren (Sesame Street). The sketches ran from 1974-1975 and, in a bit of trivia, were narrated by a young Morgan Freeman (Lucy). This was a far cry from the most recent Andrew Garfield (99 Homes) Spidey films and the upcoming Tom Holland (In the Heart of the Sea) version.
The Atom was another of DC’s roster that was featured on the Legends of the Superheroes series. He was played by Alfie Wise (Smokey and the Bandit) and is also going to feature in Legends of Tomorrow being played by former Superman Returns star Brandon Routh (Scott Pilgrim). Routh has made the Atoms initial appearance in CW’s Flash tv show to much acclaim.
Samuel L. Jackson (Kingsman: The Secret Service) playing Nick Fury was so popular that Marvel went ahead and changed the character from the older white vet to his younger black son. We’re not complaining too much but we miss the cigar chomping grizzled vet. But let’s not forget the tv movie that starred David Hasselhoff (Baywatch) as Fury. Cheesey and some overacting aside the movie was not that bad and stuck pretty true to the source material.
Daredevil/Matt Murdock was first played in the Incredible Hulk tv movie The Trial of The Incredible Hulk, by Rex Smith (Street Hawk). The outfit Daredevil wore in that tv movie was very similar to the one worn in the early episodes of the Netflix Daredevil series. Ben Affleck (Batman V Superman) played the titular hero in a widely panned Daredevil movie in 2003, but Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire) is the most recent and best version of the character so far.
Another member of the Legends of the Superheroes show, Green Lantern was first played by Howard Murphy (Satan's Mistress). The most recent version of GL was played by Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) in the hated GL film in 2011. Reynolds was miscast as Hal Jordan and the next GL movie in 2020 will most likely feature John Stewart instead. Murphy played GL in a very campy way whereas Reynolds played him as a smart ass which is not Hal Jordan.
Batman has had many incarnation over the years and has been played by many actors including: Adam West, Michael Keaton (Birdman), Val Kilmer (Palo Alto), George Clooney (Tomorrowland), and Christian Bale (American Hustle). However the very first actor to portray the Caped Crusader was Lewis Wilson (Wild Women) in the 1943 Batman serials that ran for 15 episodes. The most recent and divisive actor to don the cowl is Ben Affleck in the upcoming Batman V Superman movie.
Prior to the MCU versions of Green Jeans the most well known Banner/Hulk incarnation was from the tv show The Incredible Hulk and played by Bill Bixby (The Magician) and Lou Ferrigno (Pumping Iron). This was the Hulk a lot of people grew up on and was payed homage to in the 2008’s Incredible Hulk movie that starred Edward Norton (The Grand Budapest Hotel). Then was recast after contract issues in 2012’s The Avengers film with Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher). Before both of those guys the hulk was played by Eric Bana (The Finest Hours) in Ang Lee’s arty Hulk movie that was pretty bad. With how fast special effects have come along the need for another actor to play the Hulk has been reduced to being able to have Bana, Norton, and Ruffalo play both Banner and Hulk. With Ruffalo seemingly entrenched in the MCU it looks like we may be done with the Hulk carousel.
Black Canary was first played by Danuta Rylko Soderman (The 700 Club) in DC’s short lived Legends of The Superheroes show. Quite possibly DC’s next most recognizable female hero Black Canary has appeared in the tv show Birds of Prey (Played by Lori Loughlin (Full House) with Rachel Skarsten (Fifty Shades of Grey) playing a version of Canary as well), Smallville (played by Alaina Huffman (Painkiller Jane)), and most recently on CW’s Arrow show by two actresses (Caity Lotz (The Pact) & Katie Cassidy (The Scribbler)) playing a version of Canary.
The scarlet speedster had has a few incarnations over the years, most notably the popular Flash tv show on the CW starring Grant Gustin (Glee). We have yet to see how Ezra Miller (Trainwreck) will look in his debut in the Batman V Superman movie so we’ll leave him out for now. The Flash was also played by John Wesley Shipp (Dawson's Creek) on the short lived Flash tv show from the 90’s (Shipp just so happens to play Barry Allen’s father on the current Flash show), by Kenny Johnston (A Cannibal's Handshake) in the Justice League of America pilot (1997), and by Kyle Gallner (American Sniper) in Smallville (2004-2007). All of those actors were preceded by Rod Haase (Hunter) in 1979’s Legends of the Superheroes.
A lesser known heroine to those not familiar with the Batman comics. The Huntress has had a small handful of live action appearances, most notably in Birds of Prey (played by Ashley Scott (Jericho)) and most recently Arrow where she is played by Jessica De Gouw (Dracula). However, Huntresses first live action appearance was in (again) the Legends of the Superheroes (played by Barbara Joyce (Gilda)). The reason that’s so surprising is that the only two female heroines in the show were Black Canary and Huntress while Wonder Woman was left off the show.
The Big Blue Boyscout has arguably had the most iconic appearances next to Batman. Superman’s first live action appearance was in the Superman serials from 1948-1950 played by Kirk Alyn (Scalps), much like the early Batman serials these were largely overlooked or forgotten. Big Blue next had his first tv show, Superman (1951-1958), with George Reeves (From Here to Eternity) in the starring role; this was arguably the most iconic and popular version of Superman until the 80’s. We then see Johnny Rockwell (McHale's Navy) and David Wilson (Collar) next portray Supes in The Adventures of Superboy (1961) and It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman (1975) respectively. We are then treated to the most recognizable version of Supes in the Superman I-IV (1978-1987) movies where he is portrayed by Christopher Reeve (Somewhere in Time).
The Reeve version was by far the most iconic and influential seeing as how actors afterwards have tried doing their best Reeve impression and even comic artists have drawn Superman in the image of him. We then get a Superboy tv show that was developed by the creators of the movies and starred two actors in the lead role, John Haymes Newton and Gerard Christopher (1988-1992). Dean Cain (Supergirl) was next in line to play Superman in the Lois & Clark tv show from 1993-1997. When Smallville debuted on tv most were skeptical of Tom Welling‘s (Draft Day) ability to play Clark/Supes, but over the years fans worries were put to rest. Now we move on to two polarizing takes on the hero, Brandon Routh (Dylan Dog) in Superman Returns and Henry Cavill (Immortals) in Man of Steel. Routh looked very much like a young Christopher Reeve and that was primarily the reason he was cast in the first place, however fans had said his acting was stiff and bland. When DC decided to reboot the franchise for a modern audience they went with a relatively unknown actor and made it with a darker tone. Cavill did a good job in the role but has been called Super-Emo-Man in some circles. Whether Cavill sticks with the role remains to be seen.
From one boyscout to another, Captain America was widely a joke in his live action appearances in the 70’s and 90’s, but when Chris Evans (Fantastic Four) took on the role of the Star Spangled Avenger he made Cap cool and a character kids wanted to be. The embodiment of “American Values”, the current Cap is an honest, tough, noble, and inspiring hero, fighting against the evil organizations determined to take over the world. But before Cap was cool he went through some growing pains in previous incarnations. The first of which was in a 1944 serial Captain America played by Dick Purcell (Irish luck) where Cap is really District Attorney Grant Gardner. His nemesis is the Scarab and his love interest and sidekick is Gail Richards. This serial obviously differed greatly from the source material and lasted for 15 episodes. Then we didn’t see a live action Cap until two 1979 tv movies, Captain America and Captain America II: Death too Soon, both starred Reb Brown (Space Mutiny) as Steve Rogers/Captain America and were released within months of each other.
Then we have an 11 year absence from live action only to have a new feature film, Captain America, fail to materialize and finally get released direct to video and on cable. This film starred Matt Salinger (What Dreams May Come) as Steve Rogers/Captain America and had him fighting the Red Skull and later on a mob family. While having a decent cast (Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty, Darren McGavin, and Melinda Dillon) the film was largely panned and kept Cap in the dust bin until 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger brought him to the forefront of the current comic movie craze.
So there you have it, live action first appearances of comic heroes. As more movies and tv shows are made we may have to do another list to give you the lowdown on who appeared when! Stay tuned!