Best 1970s Superhero Adaptations, Ranked


By the early 1970s, DC and Marvel superheroes had successfully made the jump from comic books to Saturday morning cartoons, but live-action adaptations were scarce. After the demise of superhero movie serials in the late 1940s, fans had slim pickings outside of animation. The 1950s had the George Reeves series The Adventures of Superman, and the 1960s had the iconic Adam WestBatman series, and that was about it. In the mid-1970s, however, things began to change, as Hollywood discovered superheroes again.

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By the end of the decade, live-action Marvel and DC characters were on television and movie screens, but the quality varied wildly. While some adaptations of beloved superheroes were well done, featuring great acting and high production values, others were low-budget attempts to capitalize on a popular character. The best adaptations, however, were those that attempted to honor their source material, regardless of budget. By the late 1970s, superheroes were all the rage, and even led to the creation of some original characters, including Sid and Marty Krofft’s Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, and The Secrets of Isis.

We’ve ranked the best superhero adaptations of the 1970s, considering both the entertainment factor and faithfulness to the source material.

Updated May 18, 2024: If you are interested in 1970s superhero adaptations, look no further. This article has been updated by Rachel Johnson with even more adaptations to put on your watch list.

14 Cathy Lee Crosby’s Wonder Woman (1974)

Despite the presence of Khan himself (Ricardo Montalban) and Cathie Lee Crosby’s angelic cheekbones, the 1974 TV movie Wonder Woman is an underwhelming take on the DC Comics icon. The script characterization bears little resemblance to the DC Comics Wonder Woman in look and feel, although there is a short reference to her Paradise Island origins. The plot is some nonsense about code books and a ransom demand involving a burro.

Crosby’s Wonder Woman Is a Lackluster DC Adaptation

Crosby eventually gets into “costume” at the film’s end, and instead of the traditional outfit, she wears an odd jumpsuit with a vest/skirt that looks like a 1950s airline stewardess. Montalban, whose face was hidden the entire film (even though he’s prominently in the opening credits), also appears at the end for a rather unsatisfying finale. You can’t help but look back and laugh at the effort. Thankfully, CBS would give Wonder Woman another try with Lynda Carter a year later.

13 The New Fantastic Four (1978)

The second animated superhero series based on the eponymous Marvel Comics, The New Fantastic Four premiered in 1978. It is the follow-up to the ’60s show, centering on Reed Richards, Sue Storm, and Ben Grimm as they join forces with the robot H.E.R.B.I.E. to keep the planet safe. The Human Torch is notably absent from the adaptation, as creators were unable to obtain rights to the flame-fueled character since another project at the time was in the works surrounding the hero, but it never came to fruition.

Dazzling Voice Work by Veteran Actors in The New Fantastic Four

The New Fantastic Four consisted of 13 episodes and chronicled the superhero team as they took on nefarious villains like Magneto, Doctor Doom, and Mole Man. Stan Lee himself helped write every episode of the underrated program, which featured solid animation and charming voice performances by TV legends Frank Welker (Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!) and Ted Cassidy (The Addams Family).

12 Reb Brown’s Captain America (1979)

The era of Evel Knievel gave us one of the oddest Marvel adaptations ever. In January 1979, CBS aired Captain America, a movie featuring Reb Brown as Steve Rogers, a former marine who is now an artist traveling in a way-cool ’70s custom van. There’s an attempt at an authentic costume, but Steve rides an America-themed motorcycle, so he wears a blue helmet (with wings and an “A”) and carries a clear plexiglass shield. Since he isn’t on the motorcycle that often, the helmet just doesn’t work as part of the costume.

Brown’s Charismatic Performance Wasted in Captain America

The film lacks any action or an interesting plot, and it’s a shame, because Reb Brown had the perfect physique and presence to play Captain America. Later, CBS released a sequel, Captain America II: Death Too Soon, featuring Christopher Lee and Connie Sellecca. Although a better film than the first, it fell short compared to other Marvel live-action shows at the time.

11 Super Friends (1973)

Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the Justice League gang were back and stronger than ever in the animated series Super Friends, the first installment in the titular media franchise that followed the heroes as they answer emergency calls at the Hall of Justice and combine their wondrous powers and skills to protect earth from dangerous threats. The program debuted in 1973 and ran for 16 episodes, before ultimately spawning numerous spin-offs in the ensuing years.

New Sidekicks Help the Justice League in Super Friends

The series was unique in that it introduced new sidekicks for the iconic crime-fighting team, with Wonder Dog, Marvin White, and Wendy Harris being brought into the mix despite not possessing any helpful superpowers. Though it only lasted one season, Super Friends helped the popular cartoon series grow and gain traction with audiences, with The All-New Super Friends Hour premiering on TV four years later in 1977.

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10 Jackson Bostwick’s Shazam! (1974 – 1976)

In the 1970s, Shazam! made it every kid’s dream to drive around the country in a Winnebago and save people. Michael Gray played Billy Batson, and every week for three seasons, he found some totally relatable problem that required turning into Captain Marvel, played by Jackson Bostwick (John Davey took on the role near the series’ end).

Shazam! Is an Earnest TV Effort

The special effects were pretty low-budget, even for the 1970s, but Shazam! had the right intent, a faithful adaptation (particularly Captain Marvel’s costume), and a good moral for kids in every episode. It may seem a bit cornball and slower-paced than Zachary Levi’s Shazam! films DC is releasing now, but its charm is undeniable.

9 Garrett Morris’ Ant-Man on Saturday Night Live (1979)

On March 17, 1979, during the height of Superman fever, actress Margot Kidder hosted Saturday Night Live during its fourth season, and the episode included an infamous sketch called “Superhero Party.” It featured Bill Murray as Superman, Kidder reprising Lois Lane, and John Belushi’s hilarious turn as The Hulk. The sketch is notable, however, for featuring Garrett Morris in the first-ever live-action appearance of Marvel’s Ant-Man.

Garrett Morris Paves the Way in the SNL Sketch

Sporting a surprisingly comic-accurate costume, Morris also offered some pretty good jokes about his character. It indicates that whoever wrote the sketch must have been a real fan of the character, considering so many other superheroes could have been used instead. Morris’ appearance even led to one of the cameos in the first Ant-Man MCU film, as Paul Rudd revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that the cameo was their way of honoring Morris as the original Ant-Man, no matter how brief his run was.

8 Peter Hooten’s Dr. Strange (1978)

It doesn’t quite measure up to Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as the Sorcerer Supreme, but the 1978 TV film Dr. Strange is a goofy, trippy diversion into a corner of the Marvel universe Disney hopes you forget about. Peter Hooten plays Stephen Strange as a jerky doctor, but without a redeeming character arc. He stays a jerk, even at the film’s end. That might be why this attempted series pilot never went anywhere.

Dr. Strange Is a Delightfully Zany TV Film

On the plus side, the film features Satan, who sounds like Tom Hardy’s Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, who sends Morgan LeFey (Arrested Development’s Jessica Walters, unintentionally funny this time) to fight Strange. Thankfully, she falls in love with his ’70s mustache, and the day is saved. Stan Lee somehow loved this movie, but it’s worth tracking down a DVD just to enjoy the campiness, because it isn’t on Disney+.

7 The Japanese Spider-Man (1978 – 1979)

Thank goodness for the internet (particularly YouTube), otherwise, most of us would have never heard of Japan’s Spider-Man, a children’s live-action series that ran for 41 episodes from 1978 to 1979. Aside from the costume, there’s very little here resembling the Marvel character. There’s no Peter Parker (he’s now Takuya Yamashiro, daredevil motorcyclist), and Spider-Man rides around in a transforming Sphinx robot battling a villain named Professor Monster and various creatures.

Spider-Man Is a Short But Unforgettable Series

Japan’s Spider-Man deserves a spot on this list for its sheer insane fun, even if it isn’t our Spider-Man. If you want to learn more about the short-lived series and the story behind how it came to be, Disney+ is streaming a great documentary about the show as part of their Marvel 616 series. Even better, Takuya Yamashiro even appeared in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

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6 Legends of the Superheroes TV Specials (1979)

If judging strictly on the writing and production quality, NBC’s 1979 DC superhero specials, titled Legends of the Superheroes, wouldn’t make the list. However, the sheer audacity of producers Hanna-Barbera to pull off two dozen comic-accurate DC characters in live-action on a dollar-menu budget deserves credit. Adam West, Burt Ward, and Frank Gorshin all reprise their Batman ’66 roles, although West seems to regret his participation. His performance is so phoned-in, he doesn’t even bother to tuck his cowl into his cape.

Legends of the Superheroes Is a Rip-Roaring Television Special

The specials aired on consecutive weeks in January 1979, with the first (titled “The Challenge”) involving the heroes in a race against time to stop a “Doomsday Device.” The second special was titled “The Roast,” in which the heroes and villains mock each other, in the vein of the Dean Martin roasts popular at the time.

5 The Electric Company Spidey Super Stories (1974)

Perhaps the turning point in bringing Marvel characters to live action came in 1974, when Spider-Man began making brief appearances during the fourth season of the PBS series The Electric Company. Prior to this point, a Marvel character had only been depicted in live-action once, in the 1940s Captain America serials.

Spidey Super Stories Were Short & Sweet Stories

With the Spidey Super Stories, five-minute shorts framed in a comic panel, a new generation saw, for the first time, a live-action Spider-Man (played by Danny Seagren) solving crimes and even fighting Dracula (played by Morgan Freeman, no less). The segments were so popular, it boosted sales of Spidey merchandise, and opened the door for Marvel TV series (including a new Spider-Man) a few years later.

4 The Amazing Spider-Man (1977 – 1979)

Marvel’s effort to dominate television in the 1970s took a big step forward when their flagship character got his own live-action TV movie, which aired on CBS on September 14, 1977. That led to The Amazing Spider-Man, a pretty entertaining series that added 13 more episodes over two seasons.

The Amazing Spiderman Has Hammond’s Fun & Memorable Portrayal

While the plots for the various episodes were often formulaic, actor Nicholas Hammond made a great Peter Parker, and Robert F. Simon played J. Jonah Jameson. The special effects were serviceable, although the wall-climbing effects were fantastic for 1970s television.

3 The Incredible Hulk TV Series (1978 – 1982)

Who needs CGI when you have Lou Ferrigno? The Incredible Hulk was a fantastic twist on the comic, taking The Fugitive concept and adding Ferrigno, who is his own special effect. The late Bill Bixby, as David Banner, brings an Everyman appeal to the character, and he is really what makes this show great. The iconic theme song captures Bixby’s road-weary, somber take on the character.

Ferrigno’s Hulk Performance Is Trailblazing

The series would continue into the 1980s, ending after five seasons, but continuing with TV movies, which featured both Daredevil and Thor. In 1979, Mariette Hartley won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for her work on the show, marking the first time a Marvel series won an Emmy.

2 Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman (1975 – 1979)

After the Cathy Lee Crosby TV movie debacle, ABC figured out that the best way to adapt Wonder Woman to live action was to be as faithful as possible to the comic. In 1975, that formula gave us the Wonder Woman series and the unforgettable Lynda Carter in the lead role of Diana Prince, and (with apologies to Gal Gadot) she remains the best live-action version of Wonder Woman ever.

Carter Made Wonder Woman an Iconic TV Legend

The show featured a catchy theme song, and when the opening saw an animated Carter jump from a comic book panel into live-action, pop culture was never the same. The series underwent a revamp in the second season (and a move to CBS), and featured a time jump that moved the series to the present day. The modern setting wasn’t as engaging as the World War II era, however, and the series ended after three seasons.

1 Christopher Reeve’s Superman: The Movie (1978)

Christopher Reeve’s iconic portrayal of Superman highlights perhaps the most perfect superhero casting ever. Superman: The Movie also had the good fortune of Mario Puzo (The Godfather) writing the story, Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon) directing, and John Williams providing an immortal score.

Add an outstanding cast of Hollywood greats (including Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, and Margot Kidder) and Superman was one of those rare, perfect storms of creativity that gave us arguably the best superhero film ever made. Reeves actually received third billing, behind Brando and Hackman, but he is the reason why the film is a classic.



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