#1. Doctor Strange: In 1978, a two-hour made-for-TV movie aired about the master of the mystic arts. Dr. Strange was meant to be a pilot for a proposed weekly CBS TV series. Peter Hooten played Doctor Strange and Jessica Walters played villainess Morgana Le Fey. CBS was already airing Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk and was trying to go for the hat trick, bringing the Doc to TV. However, it was not to be. The film was disappointing, and the ratings were not spectacular. The network opted not to pick it up and now it’s only a footnote in TV history.
Wonder Woman: No, Lynda Carter was not the first live-action Wonder Woman. A year before Carter made her mark as the Amazon princess, Kathy Lee Crosby took a stab at portraying Wonder Woman in a made-for-TV movie. This Wonder Woman aired on ABC as an intended pilot for a show that never materialized. She wore a very different (and unflattering) costume and lacked any super powers. The best thing about it was Ricardo Montalban as a villain with the fearsome name of Abner Smith. The lackluster reaction to the film motivated ABC to rejigger the idea and develop a version which was more accurate to the DC comics; hence the Lynda Carter series was born. As for Kathy Lee Crosby, she’s the forgotten Wonder Woman.
Captain America: There were actually two made-for TV movies about Cap which aired on CBS in 1979. The first was simply called Captain America and the second was titled Captain America 2: Death Too Soon. The Captain was played by big, muscular Reb Brown, who also starred in several low-budget sci-fi films such as Space Mutiny and Yor: Hunter From the Future. Brown was a huge guy but he had no talent or screen presence. This version of Captain America was a former marine special ops soldier, struggling as an artist, and who happened to be the son of the original WW2 Captain America. He is given the FLAG formula (Full Latent Ability Gain) to become the new Cap and avenge his father. This Cap rode a motor cycle, (complete with a hang glider) wore a motorcycle helmet instead of a mask and had a transparent shield which doubled as a windshield. The first film actually did well enough for a second to be produced but no one wanted to see a reprise of this dull affair, so the ratings were low, and Brown never returned as Cap.
Thor: In this case, Thor didn’t get his own, personal film, but he was teamed up with that other Marvel powerhouse, the Hulk. After the Incredible Hulk TV series—which starred Bill Bixby as Dr. Banner and Lou Ferrigno as Hulk—went off the air, several made-for-TV films were produced, each meant to introduce a new Marvel character for a possible TV series. This film, The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988) had the Hulk meeting and fighting with an earthbound Norse God named Thor (played by Eric Allan Kramer), along with his friend Don Blake (Steve Levitt). Despite high ratings, CBS chose not to go ahead with the Thor series.
Daredevil: The second Incredible Hulk TV movie aired in 1989, and this one introduced Daredevil to the small screen. Trial of the Incredible Hulk saw Banner being arrested after the Hulk pounds on some henchmen hired by the Kingpin (John Rhys-Davies) and Banner becomes a suspect in the assault. He is defended by lawyer Matt Murdock (Rex Smith) who also happens to be the Kingpin’s nemesis Daredevil. There is very little of the Hulk in this film, focusing almost entirely on Daredevil vs. the Kingpin, although Banner is there to patch up DD’s wounds. The project was clearly building toward a hoped for Daredevil series. However, while the ratings were pretty decent, the network again backed away from the idea of a Daredevil show.
Nick Fury: Col. Nick Fury, played in the MCU by the ever-present Samuel L. Jackson, has appeared in several Marvel films, as well as the Agents of SHIELD TV show. A very different interpretation of the Director of SHIELD aired in 1998 when David Hasselhoff (Knight Rider, Baywatch) put on the eyepatch. Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD was written by David S. Goyer. It definitely wasn’t Goyer’s best work, and the film was disappointing at best.
The Justice League: The greatest of DC’s super teams debuted in a not-so-great TV movie. Made in 1997, The Justice League of America featured the Barry Allen version of the Flash; the Guy Gardener Green Lantern; Ray Palmer’s Atom; Martian Manhunter; and Fire & Ice. They combined to fight the evil Weatherman (No, not even the Weather Wizard…the Weather Man.) A weak villain, too short a running time for all these characters, a low budget and TV guidelines on (non) violence keep this attempt at bringing the JLA to life from being particularly interesting.