It’s a superhero’s world, and we’re all just living in it. This is especially true for the poor, ordinary people who get caught between superheroes, villains, and their catastrophic battles. But it also rings true for us — the humans on the other side of the screen.
For better or worse, superhero movies have taken over Hollywood. Our screens today are flooded with sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and reboots. But once upon a time, back in the 1990s, there were very few superhero blockbusters. But if you wanted to see a superhero story, then you had to look no further than your own television screen.
Many superhero shows flourished there during the 90s, especially animated series. Some of the live-action superhero shows were once must-see TV; they entertained us and dominated the ratings. But in the decades since, they’ve largely become forgotten. Here are 10 live-action superhero shows from the ’90s that you probably forgot existed.
10 The Secret World of Alex Mack (1994 – 1998)
Nickeloden was a huge part of every ’90s kid’s childhood. So many great shows lived on this network: Rugrats, Doug, Rocket Power, SpongeBob SquarePants. Even their live-action shows were fire: All That, Kenan and Kel, Clarissa Explains It All, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and the underrated TV show about a girl with powers, The Secret World of Alex Mack.
The story follows the traditional superhero journey: an ordinary teenager is accidentally gifted with superhuman powers. In this case, Alex Mack (Larisa Oleynik), a tomboy always wearing her signature backwards hat, is drenched in factory chemicals after nearly getting hit by a company truck. The chemicals allow her to transform into a mobile puddle of water, move objects with her mind, and shoot electricity from her fingers.
The show balances Alex’s life in junior high with her new superhuman abilities. The Secret World of Alex Mack became a huge hit during the ’90s. The producers actually offered Oleynik a package deal that included a fifth season of the show and a feature film, but Oleynik declined the offer to pursue other projects, thus ending the show after four seasons.
Rent The Secret World of Alex Mack on Prime Video
9 Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993 – 1997)
After 1987’s abysmal Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the Man of Steel went into a short hiatus. He made his triumphant return in 1993, not on the big screen but in a television series: Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. It captures the origins of Superman (Dean Cain), from his big move to Metropolis and his decision to don the iconic red and blue colors, to his sizzling romance with Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher) and his arch-rivalry with Lex Luthor (John Shea).
Lois & Clark received high ratings and praise from critics, especially for Cain’s portrayal of Superman. But unfortunately, viewership waned as the series progressed, forcing the studio to scrap plans for season five and cancel the show. ABC even paid Warner Bros. to get out of the following two-season commitment they had signed at the end of season three.
Stream Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman on Max
8 The Flash (1990 – 1991)
Long before we had Grant Gustin and Ezra Miller, there was John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen, also known as the Flash. Shipp took on the DC Comics superhero in the early ’90s TV series, The Flash. After getting struck by lightning and doused in chemicals, Barry Allen develops superhuman speed and a crime-fighting alterego.
Much of the show was influenced by Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, from Danny Elfman composing the show’s theme to the creation of a more serious and legitimate superhero costume. However, The Flash failed to capture Batman’s success, and producers pulled the plug after only a single season.
This series hasn’t been completely forgotten though, compared to other shows on this list. 2014’s Flash, which stars the aforementioned Grant Gustin, makes multiple references to the ’90s show. Shipp even makes several appearances in the series.
Rent The Flash on Prime Video
7 Swamp Thing (1990 – 1993)
Based on the DC Comics character of the same name, Swamp Thing is a monster that resembles a humanoid plant, who fights to protect his swamp home, and the environment in general, from supernatural or evil threats. He was given two films in the 1980s, with actor/stuntman Dick Durock reprising his role from the 1982 film as the swampy superhero in the ’90s TV series, which was meant to steer away from the campy elements of the movies and be a more serious take on the character.
Despite mediocre critical reviews, Swamp Thing was the top-rated show on the USA Network for a time. Swamp Thing’s costume, in particular, was lauded for its realistic and monstrous look, even if it did restrict Durock’s movements during fight scenes. The series only lasted three seasons, but has since garnered a cult following. Despite a failed reboot series in 2019, Swamp Thing is expected to return to the big screen in James Gunn’s revamped DC Studios.
Rent Swamp Thing on Amazon Prime Video
6 Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995 – 1999)
If Thor counts as a superhero, then so does Hercules. Hercules: The Legendary Journeys captures the heroics of this classic Greco-Roman figure. Set in a fantastical version of ancient Greece, the series follows Hercules (Kevin Sorbo) and his companion Iolaus (Michael Hurst) as they battle monsters, warlords, and selfish gods. In addition to fantasy and action, Hercules also dabbles in comedy and pokes fun at modern themes.
The series ran for six seasons. At one point, it was the highest-rated syndicated TV show in the world. Its success led to the production of action figures, memorabilia, and other TV shows based on the ancient world, most notably the highly successful spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess. Hercules was canceled midway through production of the sixth season when its lead star, Kevin Sorbo, declined to continue the role.
Rent Hercules: The Legendary Journeys on Prime Video
5 Big Bad Beetleborgs (1996 – 1998)
One ’90s superhero show that you definitely didn’t forget about is the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. It was an integral part of every ’90s kid’s childhood. The show’s tremendous success spawned a number of rip-offs, most of them from the same production company: Saban Entertainment.
And one of those rip-offs was Big Bad Beetleborgs. Remember those shiny, insect-looking action figures? Maybe this will help: When three kids are granted any wish by a ghostly entity, they wish to become their favorite comic book heroes, the Big Bad Beetleborgs — which, in turn, also brings the Beetleborgs’ enemies to life.
Unlike its mighty morphin’ counterpart, Big Bad Beetleborgs focuses more on sitcom elements. But like Power Rangers, this show uses and adapts footage from a Japanese tokusatsu-series to create its fight scenes. Beetleborgs lasted only two seasons, mostly because Saban exhausted all the Japanese footage.
Rent Big Bad Beetleborgs on Prime Video
4 The Crow: Stairway to Heaven (1998 – 1999)
The Crow: Stairway to Heaven was a TV series based on the 1994 cult classic film The Crow, which itself was based on the comic book series of the same name. One year after his murder, dead rock musician Eric Draven (Mark Dacascos) returns to Earth searching for revenge and redemption.
Unfortunately, since the film’s star Brandon Lee was accidentally killed during production, the TV series had to bring in a different actor to play Draven. Stairway to Heaven failed to match the success of the film and was canceled after only one season. In fact, every Crow project since 1994 has failed to capture the success of the original — and many more got stuck in development hell.
Not currently available to stream or rent.
3 VR Troopers (1994 – 1996)
Saban Entertainment was eager to find another Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers after the show’s tremendous success. VR Troopers was the first of many rip-offs of Power Rangers, followed by many others. VR Troopers (known as Metal Heroes in the tokusatsu world) basically combines Power Rangers with the 1990’s fascination with virtual reality.
Here, three friends stumble upon a virtual reality dimension filled with mutants, who are trying to take over both the real world and this VR world. Like with Power Rangers, these kids transform into armored soldiers who fight off these mutants to protect both worlds. VR Troopers encountered the same problem as Big Bad Beetleborgs, where Saban exhausted the Japanese stock footage that was used in the show. And like Beetleborgs, it lasted only two seasons.
Not currently available to stream or rent.
2 M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994 – 1995)
- Release Date
- August 26, 1994
- Carl Lumbly , Roger Rees , Christopher Gartin , Galyn Görg , Jerry Wasserman , Gary Graham , Robert Hooks , Blu Mankuma
Next up in the world of forgotten 90s superhero shows is M.A.N.T.I.S. — not to be confused with the character from The Guardians of the Galaxy. Dr. Miles Hawkins (Carl Lumbly) is a wealthy scientist, who becomes paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in the spine.
After discovering evidence of a conspiracy against the African-American community, he turns himself into the “M.A.N.T.I.S.” (“Mechanically Augmented NeuroTransmitter Interactive System”). Like Iron Man, he rocks a powered exoskeleton that gives him superhuman strength and speed and fires darts from his wrists. M.A.N.T.I.S. was notable for its African-American main characters and focus.
It was also produced by Sam Hamm, who penned Tim Burton’s Batman films, and Sam Raimi, who directed the Toby Maguire Spider-Man trilogy. As ratings dropped, producers tried integrating more fantasy and sci-fi elements to save the show, like time travel and parallel universes. But M.A.N.T.I.S. just couldn’t keep up with its superhero contemporaries and was canceled after only one season.
Rent M.A.N.T.I.S. on Prime Video
1 Night Man (1997 – 1999)
Night Man is a 1990s superhero show that you probably didn’t forget about — it’s more likely that you didn’t even know it existed in the first place. Not to be confused with the character from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, this Night Man is loosely based on the comic book character of the same name from Malibu Comics.
He’s basically Batman with superhuman abilities, a nocturnal crime-fighter who has the superpower of… recognizing evil and not being able to fall asleep. Aside from that, he also has a bulletproof black bodysuit that grants him flight and invisibility, and advanced sight through the red lens over one eye in his mask.
Sadly, the sun set on Night Man after just two seasons. Interestingly, Malibu Comics was later purchased by Marvel Comics. So who knows, maybe we’ll one day see Night Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Stream Night Man on Tubi