Those 70s Shows

Hollywood and the comic book industry have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship for much of the past century. Comic book makers have cast major stars from comedian Bob Hope to cowboy Roy Rogers in their own series and adapted films from Dr. No to Star Wars into four-color fantasies. For their part, filmmakers have also taken an interest in comic book properties, beginning with RKO’s serial adaptation of The Adventures of Captain Marvel in 1941 onward to the Batman television phenomenon of 1966 and beyond.

Between 1975 and 1979 actress Lynda Carter portrayed Wonder Woman on primetime network television.
Between 1975 and 1979 actress Lynda Carter portrayed Wonder Woman on primetime network television.

The 1970s were an especially fertile period for seeing comic book superheroes interpreted on film. Live action adaptations of both Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk became popular features in network television’s primetime line-ups. Made-for-television movies about Spider-Man, Captain America, and Doctor Strange also appeared on the small screen. Saturday mornings were populated with live action series like Shazam! and cartoon series like Super Friends, which after its 1974 debut endured as a regular feature of ABC’s Saturday morning line-up for more than a decade. But the seventies biggest adaptation was undoubtedly the feature film production of Superman: The Movie. Hyped with the promise that “You will believe a man can fly,” the film delivered special effects that brought the comic book superhero to life like never before, and its commercial success not only spawned its own franchise of sequels but prompted Hollywood to invest in several other live action successes (and a fair number of failures) in the decades since.

With the twenty-first century successes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in theaters and Arrow in primetime, it is almost taken for granted that audiences will be drawn to well-done adaptations of superheroes. Even more encouraging for the industry as a whole, though, is the development of a number of more diverse properties, from film adaptations of Ghostworld (2001) and Road to Perdition (2002) to 300 (2007) and Persepolis (2007). The growing influence of comic books on film appears to be even greater today than it was in those halcyon days of those 70s shows.