Supergirl – 1984 versus 2017
Supergirl, released in 1984, was the first superhero movie to feature a female lead. It starred Helen Slater as Supergirl, with Marc McClure returning in the Jimmy Olsen role he’d made famous in Richard Donner’s Superman film series. Although the film was universally panned –it has a 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes — and was nominated for several Razzies, Slater’s portrayal of Supergirl continues to charm viewers. In 2015, CBS premiered the first TV show to feature a woman superhero. This new version of Supergirl is currently airing on the CW. Melissa Benoist has earned universal praise for her version of Supergirl. Slater plays her mother on the TV show, while Dean Cain from Lois & Clark plays her father.
Captain America – 1990 versus 2016
Only diehard Captain America fans would know that the Marvel Comics action hero celebrated a 50th anniversary 1990. And that Hollywood’s recognition of that milestone prompted the first big screen movie about Steve Rogers, the WWII hero who was put on ice. Matt Salinger starred as Rogers/Captain America. His costume is not so different than the one Chris Evans would wear as Captain America in 2016. Salinger’s headgear inexplicably has small horns, while Evans’ helmut has a useless chin strap. The 1990 film, which cost $10 million to make, grossed a miniscule $10,000 at the box office in limited release. By comparison, Captain America: Civil War earned over $1 billion at the box office.
Catwoman – 1966 versus 2012
Julie Newmar played Catwoman on the 1966 TV show Batman. Catwoman is the sultry antagonist who nonetheless keeps stealing Batman’s heart. Newmar’s original catsuit now resides at the Smithsonian Institute. Many women played Catwoman after Newmar, including Lee Merriweather, Eartha Kitt, Halle Berry, Anne Hathaway, and most recently, Camren Bicondova (the younger version of Selina Kyle in Gotham). In the Dark Knight Rises, Hathaway’s flip and funny interpretation of the character hews closer to Newmar’s than any of the other iterations. Catwoman will make another appearance in the upcoming Suicide Squad spinoff, Gotham City Sirens.
Wonder Woman – 1975 versus 2017
Before Wonder Woman became the highest grossing film directed by a woman, she was a comic book heroine who had a few false starts on TV and in film. In 1967, William Dozer filmed a pilot called “Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince?” The series featured Diana defending the universe while her mother complained that she would probably end up a spinster. Thankfully, the show was not picked up to series. However, Lynda Carter’s 1975 Wonder Woman TV series was a huge hit, thanks to its witty and campy heroine. In 2017, Carter teamed up with the movie’s star, Gal Gadot, to help promote the first stand-alone Wonder Woman vehicle since old TV series went off the air. Carter also showed up as the POTUS on Supergirl this season.
Doctor Strange – 1978 versus 2016
Before internet heartthrob Benedict Cumberbatch took on the role of Doctor Strange for his movie debut, Peter Hooten played the psychiatrist for a 1978 TV movie. Unfortunately, Hooten’s film aired opposite the TV event of the decade, Roots, and got trounced. This stifled Marvel’s plan to get a series order for the show. Like many superhero movies of the period, the character’s origins and the fantasy/magic/science fiction elements are downplayed. The slow movie doesn’t reveal any magic or his costume until the final act. The 2016 Dr. Strange movie received mostly positive reviews. Audiences had no trouble buying into Cumberbatch’s portrayal of a narcissistic doctor who learns Eastern mysticism in order to find his heroism.
Robocop – 1987 versus 2014
Robocop was one of the most popular movies of the 1980s. Although many fans enjoyed the 2014 reboot, the first movie is arguably more forward-thinking. The movie has more confidence about its individual versus corporation storyline. In the current version, the police and corporations work side by side to create a cyborg. Paul Verhoeven’s original is snarky and cynical and makes the world look closer to its gritty reality. The 2014 Robocop is a bit too shiny, as is the world he inhabits.
Spider-Man – 1977 versus 2016
In 1977, Spider-Man joined Doctor Strange, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America and Wonder Woman on CBS. The TV show starred Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Although the show was a hit, it was cancelled in season 2 because CBS thought it had too many comic book series. For 20 years, the TV program was the only live-action portrayal of Spider-Man’s tracking capabilities.
Since 2002, though, fans haven’t been able to get enough of Spider-Man. The breakthrough Toby Maguire flick of the same name, co-starring Kirsten Dunst, grossed a then-record $100 million in its opening weekend. Spider-Man Homecoming, released this past summer and starring Andrew Garfield, is the sixth big screen blockbuster for the action hero. And that’s not counting Spider-Man’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War. In Civil War, the new, teenage Spider-Man has a GPS because Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, built him a super suit.
The Washington Post recently rated the Spider-Man movies from 1-6. Spider-Man 2 (2004) ranked No. 1 followed by Spider-Man Homecoming (2017), Spider-Man (2002), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and, lastly, Spider-Man 3 (2007).
The Penguin – 1966 versus 1992
One of Batman’s kookiest foes is The Penguin. He made his screen debut in the 1966 film and TV series. Burgess Meredith, best known for playing Rocky’s trainer Mickey, was so loved in the role that the TV writers always had a Penguin-centric episode written for breaks in Meredith’s acting schedule. Meredith was going to play Penguin’s father in Tim Burton’s 1992 movie Batman Returns, but he was too ill to take the role. Danny Devito is Penguin in Burton’s movie, and his character gets an improbable backstory that has him orphaned and then raised by penguins. Jack Nicholson, who played the Joker in the first Batman movie, recommended DeVito. Robin Lord Taylor plays The Penguin in Gotham, which tells the story of how he became the villain.
Wolverine – 2000 versus 2017
Hugh Jackman is Wolverine of the X-Men. He has played the character for 17 years, and has decided to hang up his claws after 2017’s Logan. He almost didn’t get the role. Dougray Scott was originally cast as Wolverine but several weeks into pre-production he was still unavailable. It turns out Scott had been in a bad motorcycle accident and couldn’t perform. Tom Cruise covered for Scott by telling producers that he was still needed on Mission Impossible 2 “for just a little bit longer.” So the production chose Jackman even though they worried that the Australian actor was too nice for the role. In the end, screenwriter David Hayter said that Jackman brought humanity to a character that had a very hard edge in the comic books.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers – 1993 versus 2017
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is a cultural touchstone for 1990’s kids. The 1993 TV show was populated with unknown actors playing the Rangers, whereas the movie version had heavy hitters like Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks inhabiting the roles. The star power didn’t necessarily make for a better movie. That’s mainly because the movie decided to reevaluate the TV show with a more adult frame of reference. The movie was also PG-13 rather than PG, which could have turned off some of the movie’s intended audience. The original Power Rangers TV show has run for 23 seasons and counting, and is designed to entertain kids and sell toys.
Batman – 1943 versus 2016
Just four years after The Batman was created for the comic book crowd, he got his first feature film. Batman/Bruce Wayne was played by Lewis Wilson, who was just 23 years old at the time. The 1943 film was made during WWII. When Batman and Robin face off against Dr. Daka, there is a strong anti-Japanese sentiment. Over the years many actors have played Batman, including Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale and now, Ben Affleck. Some fans felt that Affleck overtrained and was too muscular for the role in Batman v. Superman. Affleck will suit up again for Justice League and The Batman. Sadly we just lost West, who was many fans’ “first Batman.”
Superman – 1948 versus 2016
Although Christopher Reeve is arguably the most famous Superman, his film debut was in 1948, when George Reeves played him on The Adventures of Superman. Since 1948 there have been many reboots of Superman. The most significant difference between the characters involves Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent. George Reeve’s version of Superman was Kent, and the character never got to know his own backstory of Kryptonite heritage. Conversely, Henry Cavill’s version of the character takes Kal-El as his main identity. He views Kent as a disguise, especially after he matures and realizes the importance of being the last son of Krypton. Superman also appeared recently in CW’s Supergirl, this time played by Tyler Hoechlin.
Nick Fury – 1998 versus 2012
In May of 1998, there was a Nick Fury TV movie. David Goyer, screenwriter of Blade, Batman Begins, and Man of Steel, came up with a TV movie and backdoor pilot for FOX. David Hasselhoff, then starring in Baywatch, played Fury, while Lisa Rinna played his ex-lover. Although more or less faithful to the comics, it went unnoticed by viewers and the show did not go to series. The definitive Nick Fury is played by Samuel Jackson. Hasselhoff is still bitter that his version did not make it on TV or in the movies, saying that Stan Lee promised him he would play the character “forever.” There were big plans for the Fury TV show to include crossover movies and characters, including Black Widow, but they never materialized.
Hulk and Thor – 1988 versus 2012
Hulk and Thor were little more than Brothers Who Bash in the 1988 TV movie, The Incredible Hulk Returns. As critics and fans pointed out, the NBC movie had none of the pathos and psychological explorations of the CBS series, which also starred Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. In 2012, the two fought to a draw in the movie The Avengers. The comic books had long featured Thor v. Hulk battles, which is why so many fans are excited about seeing the two face-off in the 2017 movie Thor: Ragnarok.