Superheroes have never been more "in" in Hollywood. Every year, it seems like dozens of new superhero television shows and movies are announced, with studios tripping over themselves to pump out more live action comics properties before the superhero fad finally fades. While it might seem like Hollywood's superhero age is only about fifteen or so years old, studios have been producing live action superhero TV shows and movies for well over 70 years. Here are a few modern day live action superheroes compared to their "classic" counterparts:
The Green Hornet started as a radio pulp hero, but the masked vigilante and his faithful valet Kato quickly appeared in both comic and movie adaptations. The first live action Green Hornet movie debuted as a 12 part serial in 1940 starring Gordon Jones as the masked hero. Producers used Al Hodge (the voice of the Green Hornet on radio) to dub over Jones' lines and cast Keye Luke as Kato.
The Green Hornet enjoyed a resurgence of popularity when Bruce Lee starred in a Green Hornet television show in the 1960s (that even crossed over with the 1960s' Batman series). More recently, Columbia Pictures tried a modern take on the Green Hornet in a movie starring Seth Rogen as the title character.
Twenty years before Adam West first donned Batman's tights and cowl, Lewis Wilson played Batman in a 15 part movie serial released in 1943. The 1940s Batman movie featured Batman and Robin (now working for the goverment) tracking down a Japanese spy operating out of Gotham City. The movie notably introduced the Bat Cave to the Batman mythos, and also dramatically changed Alfred's appearance from a portly servant to the significantly thinner and bald servant we recognize today.
Since then, many actors have played Bruce Wayne and his dark alter ego, including George Clooney, Michael Keaton and Christian Bale. Most recently, Ben Affleck portrayed Batman in Batman V. Superman as a brooding, battered version of the Dark Knight, a radical departure from previous live action versions of the characters.
The Incredible Hulk
When CBS developed a live action Incredible Hulk television series in the 1970s, they couldn't rely on CGI to properly portray the green superheroes abnormal size. So, CBS lathered up bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno with green makeup to play the Hulk and hired Bill Bixby to play his calmer, less muscular alter ego "David Banner".
While Ferrigno was replaced by Mark Ruffalo and CGI animation in the more recent Avengers movies, he still technically plays the Hulk. Marvel Studios combines Ferrigno's voice with Ruffalo's to create the gravelly voice of the Hulk as he smashes his way through the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Mighty Thor
The Mighty Thor's first live action appearance was in the 1988 television movie special The Incredible Hulk Returns. Set several years after The Incredible Hulk television series, the movie introduced a slightly different version of the Norse God of Thunder in the first ever live action Marvel crossover. Played by Eric Kramer, Thor was banished to Earth by his father Odin for his arrogance and was forced to serve the mortal Donald Blake.
Thirty years later, Marvel introduced a slightly buffer version of Thor for their cinematic universe. Played by Chris Hemsworth, this Thor was also banished to Earth for his arrogance, but quickly atoned and became one of Earth's mightiest protectors.
Captain America was Marvel's first superhero to appear in a movie, albeit with a radically different origin and background than his comic counterpart. Instead of using supersoldier Steve Rogers, the 1943 serial movie starred unpowered district attorney Grant Gardner as the Star Spangled Avenger. Tragically, actor Dick Purcell, who played Captain America in the film, died of a heart attack just a few weeks after filming the movie.
After two disastrous low budget attempts to introduce a film version of Captain America, Marvel Studios introduced Chris Evans as their version of Captain America in the 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger. This time, Marvel stuck with the classic comics version of the character, with Steve Rogers gaining enhanced strength and agility thanks to an experimental WWII era serum.
It seems like Green Lantern has always struggled to make it in live action superhero adaptations. Howard Murphy was the first actor to play the cosmic DC superhero in a disastrous television experiment called Legends of the Superheroes. Murphy played Green Lantern alongside Adam West and Burt Ward, who reprised their roles as Batman and Robin for two horrific episodes. Almost twenty years later, Matthew Steele played a different Green Lantern, Guy Gardner, in a failed Justice League of America pilot.
Warner Bros. attempted to use a 2011 Green Lantern movie starring Ryan Reynolds to launch a new DC Cinematic Universe. The movie was a massive flop and led to Warner Bros. shelving their superhero plans for two years.
The first actor to play Superman was Kirk Alyn, who played the Man of Steel in a 15 part serial in 1948. Alyn technically went uncredited for the role (the studio claimed they hired Superman himself to appear in the movie), but the movie still launched his successful career. Alyn later appeared in the 1970s Superman movie as General Sam Lane.
George Reeve was the next actor to play Superman, appearing in a popular Superman television series that was cancelled only when Reeve was found dead of a gunshot wound. Ben Affleck (who now plays Batman) would play Reeve in a movie about the actor's death. Other actors to play Superman include Christopher Reeve, Tom Welling, Dean Cain, and Brandon Routh. The newest actor to play Superman is Henry Cavill, who starred in Man of Steel, Batman V Superman and the upcoming Justice League film.
CBS tapped Peter Hooten to play Dr. Strange in a 1978 television movie intended as a pilot for a new series. Although Hooten's costume was appropriately groovy for the era, the television movie flopped, largely because it aired at the same time as the popular Roots television miniseries.
Nearly forty years later, Marvel made their own attempt at a Dr. Strange film, this time starring internet darling Benedict Cumberbatch. The movie will be the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first foray into the world of magic.
Everyone remembers the 1970s Wonder Woman television series starring Lynda Carter, but few remember that the the show was actually ABC's second attempt at bringing DC's Amazon princess to television. The network's first attempt starred Cathy Lee Crosby and used the powerless secret agent version of Wonder Woman seen in the comics during the early 1970s. When the television movie/pilot did poorly, ABC realized that fans wanted a more classic version of Wonder Woman and retooled their second attempt accordingly.
Wonder Woman finally made a long due appearance on the big screen earlier this year in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Although Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot) only played a small role in Batman V Superman, she'll star in her very own movie next year.