Moving into the 1970s, most of the comic book adaptations were still just made for TV. Ironically enough the first major movie in the ’70s was an adaptation of the defunct EC Comic series Tales from the Crypt.
Amicus Productions bought the rights to the comic and adapted a couple of the stories for the movie. Hammer Films director Freddie Francis and actor Peter Cushing were brought on board and the movie was a hit for Amicus. They made a sequel in 1973 called The Vault of Horror which featured mostly Tales from the Crypt comic stories. Both films are pretty good.
In 1974 Filmation adapted DC’s recently acquired Shazam! aka Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel used to be published at DC’s revival Fawcett Comics but Fawcett went bankrupt in late 1950s and DC bought the character in 1972. In the meantime, the copyright for the name was expired and Marvel Comics copyrighted it in the late 1960’s so while DC has the character, they can’t use the name. So Shazam! (Captain Marvel’s secret word) has been used for comic titles and this TV show. Filmation made the show live action, which was a first for the studio who was know mostly for animation. The show followed the adventures of young Billy Batson who traveled around the country in a Winnebago helping people when he becomes Captain Marvel. It lasted 3 seasons.
After a couple of failed attempts, a failed TV pilot similar to the then current Batman show in 1967 and a made for TV movie in 1974 starring Cathy Lee Crosby as Wonder Woman who didn’t wear the classic costume, DC tried a third time and succeeded. From 1975 to 1979 ABC for the first season, then CBS aired Wonder Woman starring Lynda Carter as the classic hero. The show was a hit and would start an onslaught of super-hero shows on TV on the late 1970’s.
Starting in 1977 Marvel Comics sold several of their characters to CBS to produce live action TV shows based off of their characters. The first naturally was Spider-Man. Starting as a two hour movie pilot which then moved into a TV show that lasted two seasons. The show deviated from the comics a bit. Peter Parker (Nicholas Hammond) was in college when he was bitten, he only had one web shooter on the outside of his uniform and he didn’t fight any of his super-villains.
Shortly after Marvel sold the Spider-Man rights to Toei Company to make a Japanese TV show. This show featured a similar costume but added a giant robot for Spider-Man to use in the weekly giant robot fights. It managed to last 41 episodes and 1 movie.
On the heels of Spidey came The Incredible Hulk, Marvel and CBS’s biggest hit. Bill Bixby starred as Robert Banner (Bruce Banner) who experiments on himself and ends of creating the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno). It ran for five seasons. With it’s success soon other Marvel properties started getting their own TV movies, the pretty week Dr. Strange and the terrible Captain America which managed to take the comic and turn into a show about a man and his souped up motorcycle. Stan Lee loved CBS did with the Hulk and Dr. Strange but hated Cap and Spidey.
With CBS slowly becoming the superhero network NBC and Hanna-Barbera Productions decided to make a live action version of Hanna-Barbera’s Super Friends cartoon. The two resulting episodes are unbelievably bad. Adam West and Burt Ward return as Batman and Robin along with several more super-heroes but not Wonder Woman (she was on CBS) and Superman (he was getting used elsewhere). The show is more of a parody than an actual attempt of a superhero show. The second episode is hosted by Ed McMahon and features the heroes roasting a retiring hero. If this was DC’s low point things were drastically going to change shortly.
The first live action modern superhero movie, the first that wasn’t a serial or a TV show released theatrical was 1978’s classic Richard Donner movie Superman. Christopher Reeve has embodied the character of Superman and his alter ego Clark Kent for a couple generations now and was a huge hit. The movie was shot back to back with a sequel that was released in 1980. Two more sequels and spin-off would follow.
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