Rotten Tomatoes has shaped the way audiences gauge the popularity and success of movies and television shows. A film or television show that is “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes is generally considered worth seeing, while one with a “rotten” status takes a major hit.
Many determine the ultimate quality of movies and television shows based on these ratings.
The same holds true for superhero shows. In what many consider to be a golden era of onscreen superhero content, it’s difficult to decide which stories to watch. Rotten Tomatoes can help, providing “fresh” or “rotten” statuses to superhero shows both new and old.
Despite not always being well-known among mainstream audiences, many animated series are among the most favorably reviewed superhero shows on Rotten Tomatoes.
At the same time, while many consider the Arrowverse and Marvel’s Netflix series to be the modern-day gold standard of superhero television, they don’t fare as well on Rotten Tomatoes as some would expect.
Also, even with incredible advancements in technology and the more generous budgets superhero shows enjoy today, some older shows remain among the all-time best received on Rotten Tomatoes while some newer shows have surprising scores.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the 10 Most Rotten (And 20 Freshest) Superhero Shows According To Rotten Tomatoes, Officially Ranked.
Powerless featured an intriguing premise. Taking place in a city within the DC Universe, the main character, Emily Locke, worked at Wayne Security – a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises.
She created products to help ordinary folks deal with being caught in the middle of battles between superheroes and supervillains and the damage left in the aftermath.
The creative and comedic premise failed to deliver, however, as the show never managed to be anywhere near as funny as it could be.
NBC cancelled the series before the first season even ended. The final three episodes were later aired on TVNZ OnDemand.
The superhero tale tends to launch the ordinary individual into the extraordinary. Chuck achieved that with a hilarious, action-packed series that became a hit for NBC.
Instead of being able to fly or have super-strength, Chuck’s superpower is that he has an entire server of the the government’s most precious secrets accidentally downloaded into his brain, making him an invaluable asset to the C.I.A and N.S.A, as well as a target of their enemies.
Zachary Levi’s success and popularity from Chuck certainly contributed to him landing the lead role in the upcoming and much-anticipated superhero movie Shazam! as fans are still raving about the first trailer that debuted at San Diego Comic-Con 2018.
Smallville told the story of Clark Kent before he became Superman. The show’s modern retelling breathed new life into the mythology of not only the Man of Steel, but also the likes of Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, and many other characters.
The dynamics of teenage drama in a small town worked wonders for Smallville, as the show humanized and developed the characters in a way that other Superman adaptations often lacked.
The popularity and success of Smallville allowed it to air for a decade. It is still remembered as one of all the all-time great superhero shows today.
While the appetite for live-action superhero adaptations has long existed, the technology to make them quality products has not always been there.
This was certainly the case with The Incredible Hulk series starring Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk.
Nowadays the Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe looks quite good onscreen, but back when The Incredible Hulk aired, the low budget and technology of the day made the character look downright ridiculous.
Fortunately the MCU has cutting-edge technology and quite the extensive budget to now realize the Hulk in a manner befitting of his character.
There have been countless Batman portrayals over the years, but perhaps none is as celebrated and fondly remembered as Adam West in the 1960’s series Batman.
He and Robin became the “Dynamic Duo” of Gotham City as they fought crime and delivered justice.
The show was incredibly campy but also hilarious and featured a palatable, simplistic morality. It became a true situation comedy made better by how West and the other actors were able to seriously deliver their lines in the most absurd situations.
Over time criticism of the show’s campiness has been superseded by praise for its brilliantly satirical and humorous nature, making it one of the most beloved adaptations of the Caped Crusader.
Misfits shook up the trope of ordinary folks becoming extraordinary by having young criminals gain superpowers during an electrical storm while completing court-mandated community service.
Even though the premise seemed a bit silly, the show was praised for smart writing that allowed it to be dark, funny, and exciting all at once.
The cast also received a great deal of positive critical reception for their individual performances and their shared chemistry, the best known of the cast being Iwan Rheon, who would later play Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones.
Birds of Prey featured an intriguing premise of a New Gotham City abandoned by Batman, now relying on protection from the Birds of Prey.
The Birds of Prey included Barbara Gordon/Oracle – daughter of Police Commissioner James Gordon and former Batgirl, Helena Kyle/Huntress – daughter of Batman and Catwoman, and the telepathic Dinah Redmond/Black Canary.
Familiar characters like Harley Quinn and Alfred Pennyworth were also re-imagined and played prominent roles within the show.
The female-centric superhero series was ahead of its time, but lackluster acting performances and convoluted plots prevented the show from reaching its full potential.
In fact, it was cancelled after a single season.
Revolving around fan-favorite Phil Coulson and his team of S.H.I.E.L.D agents within the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a promising concept that reeled many audiences in.
The show struggled to finds its identity for a while, eventually finding their way when they were able to tell their own unique stories rather than shoehorning in connections and a similar tone to the MCU.
The ties to the MCU are still there, but are not as overt as they used to be.
Now the show has found a tone that works for them along with compelling character development and high stakes.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is a rare case of a superhero show that has actually improved in quality as the seasons have continued.
Young Justice adapted the DC Universe by focusing on younger superheroes and sidekicks. Featuring the likes of a young Robin, Superboy, and Kid Flash, Young Justice was basically a younger version of the Justice League.
The show was critically acclaimed for being highly creative and impressively mature.
This allowed the series to connect well with audiences of all ages, as did the ability to make audiences feel deeply invested in the emotional arcs of the characters.
Even though they were superheroes, the characters dealt with relatable issues that young people deal with every day, making them feel authentic.
Powers placed a detective story within a world of superheroes. The series followed detectives investigating superhuman crimes.
One of the main detectives was a former superhero, now stripped of his abilities.
Receiving mixed critical reception, Powers only lasted for two seasons. The world-building was praised, while the lack of chemistry between characters was criticized.
Such chemistry is essential for an investigative show where the cases change but the leading characters remain the same.
The dynamics between the leading characters is needed to make audiences fall in love with a show and eagerly return for each new episode, something that Powers was desperately missing.
Beginning in 2001, the animated Justice League series achieved many feats that the 2017 live-action movie failed to deliver.
The animated series expanded the DC universe in a fun, colorful, and action-packed style that was nicely adapted from the comics.
Seeing Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, and Martian Manhunter fight together as a team was epic and a dream come true for DC fans everywhere.
The show provided great moments and interplay not only for the Justice League as a team, but also in showcasing and developing the individual superheroes.
Justice League Unlimited had a strong foundation from the get-go, as it was a direct sequel to the well-received animated Justice League series.
The founding members of the Justice League from the prior animated series – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, and Martian Manhunter – were joined by many new superheroes from the DC universe.
Such an extensive roster was exciting for fans and built anticipation for each new episode.
The series acted as a culmination and satisfying conclusion for the DC Animated Universe as well. An impressive amount of depth in the show’s themes and writing was also present.
The first season of Heroes was a sensation. It was praised for being able to take an innovative approach to the superhero genre along with superb pacing, stellar casting, and impressive imagination.
Following seasons were received nowhere near as well, and were criticized for slow pacing and lacking the rewarding engagement that was once so consistently present in the show.
The plots became too convoluted and the overall show was so grim that it no longer contained the sense of fun that once made it one of the most promising series on television.
While there are many who love Batman, not everyone enjoys the darker, grittier adaptations that have accompanied the character in recent years.
Brighter and much lighter in tone but still cleverly written, Batman: The Brave and the Bold provided an alternative for such fans, while also appealing to Batman fans of all ages.
The series also tapped into the rich well of characters from the DC universe, as Batman teamed up with a variety of fan-favorite superheroes to face fan-favorite villains.
The fun, exciting team-ups even went beyond the DC universe, with Batman working with Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Inc. gang at a certain point.
Teen Titans excelled at creating young superheroes who, on a certain level, kids could relate to in important ways.
Making the characters deal with and care about universal kids things while also fighting for justice and truth made such relatability a reality.
The original roster of Robin, Cyborg, Starfire, Beast Boy, and Raven made kids everywhere feel like they could be in the shoes of their favorite young superheroes and saving the world.
The show was also commended for a distinctive animation style and at times tackling surprisingly mature themes.
The 2013 series The Tomorrow People rebooted the original 1970s British television show of the same name. It told the story of young people who hold powers due to the next stage of human evolution.
Known as – you guessed it, the Tomorrow People – they are hunted by a group called Ultra. Ultra is dedicated to destroying the Tomorrow People and neutralizing their powers.
The show only lasted a single season before being cancelled.
Critics felt it was poorly written, borrowing elements from better science-fiction and superhero series and trying to piece them together with little success.
Only one season in, Black Lightning has received rave reviews from a variety of critics.
Telling the story of high school principal Jefferson Pierce taking on the mantle of Black Lightning once again, the show has been praised for being progressive and for feeling relevant.
Cress Williams has also received a great deal of positive reception for his performance as Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning.
Even though it’s a DC superhero show airing on the CW that references Supergirl, the show has been confirmed to not be part of the Arrowverse.
As such, Black Lightning is proof that a quality, modern superhero story doesn’t have to be part of a larger superhero universe.
Batman: The Animated Series kicked off the DC Animated Universe. Like many of the DC Animated Universe shows that would follow, Batman: The Animated Series was liked for its ability to tackle darker stories and mature themes.
This is an impressive feat, made more so within the confines of an animated series.
The stylized animation itself was crucial to this overall approach, as it captured the show’s darker essence.
The series also retains a major significance in the history of Batman, as it introduced the popular character Harley Quinn.
Her popularity on the show led to her appearing in the comics, the beginning of a long and famous road for the character within countless DC adaptations.
Billed as an event miniseries, Heroes Reborn took place many years later but in the same universe as Heroes.
Many fans were excited by this prospect, hoping that Heroes Reborn would be able to recapture the spark of the original series’ first season rather than the lackluster seasons that followed.
Unfortunately, Heroes Reborn failed to capitalize on this potential, as it was criticized for an over-reliance on special effects and melodrama.
It did not build off the original series in enough intriguing ways to enrich the overall universe.
Even the return of fan-favorite characters from Heroes was not enough to save it.
Despite lasting only one season, The Middleman was well received by many.
Based on the Viper Comics series The Middleman, the television show told the story of struggling artist Wendy Watson fighting “exotic problems,” such as aliens and mad scientists with the crimefighter known as the Middleman.
Audiences enjoyed the show’s ability to seamlessly blend elements of the superhero and science-fiction genres together in eccentric fashion.
It was abundant with in-jokes and references that only certain fans understood but appreciated mightily.
Some felt that the show was too clever and that the audience was too much of a niche for the show’s own good, but for such individuals, The Middleman was perfect.
The Maxx certainly didn’t lack in creativity points. In reality, the Maxx was a homeless man in New York City.
In an alternate reality known as the Outback, he was a giant purple superhero.
The Maxx protected the Jungle Queen in the Outback, while she existed as a social worker named Julie in the real world.
Unlike the Maxx, she didn’t believe that the Outback was real.
The show was praised for its unique visuals and animation style in addition to tackling rather sophisticated, thoughtful, and emotional themes for a superhero show.
The Cape tried to take the familiar tale of an honest cop framed for a crime, putting a fresh spin on it, as he soon became a superhero.
He became a hero known as the Cape, who fought crime and corruption in the fictional city of Palm City, California.
Suffering from a number of issues, The Cape was cancelled and NBC even reduced the number of planned episodes.
Criticism of the show was rooted in a script that led to poor pacing in addition to uninspired characters and plots.
The animated series The Spectacular Spider-Man is considered by many to be the best cartoon adaptation of the web-slinger.
Honing in on Spider-Man’s penchant for making jokes while fighting bad guys highlighted what a funny, quirky character he could be onscreen.
This, along with the decision to begin the story with Peter Parker as a junior in high school and only a few months into being Spider-Man, captured what many consider to be the story that matters most about Spider-Man.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is applauded for embodying this story, but about a decade earlier The Spectacular Spider-Man was the first onscreen adaptation to properly achieve this feat.
Taking place many years into the future, Batman Beyond told the story of Terry McGinnis taking on the mantle of Batman.
Terry became Batman with Bruce Wayne’s blessing, and Bruce even helped train and assist Terry in his journey as the Dark Knight.
Audiences liked how the show dared to tell the story of Batman in a darker and more mature manner. The entire show was an intriguing exploration of how an iconic superhero could live on even when the original individual is no longer acting in the role.
Having an older Bruce Wayne still play an integral role in the show – even if he was no longer Batman – was an effective way of making audiences buy into the new take on the Caped Crusader.
Iron Fist is the black sheep of the Marvel Netflix series. It’s received a wide range of criticism including, but not limited to, poor characterization, lackluster martial arts sequences, and inconsistent pacing.
The villains were also two-dimensional, which is an even bigger problem when contrasted with villains from Marvel’s other Netflix series.
Some fans feel that Danny Rand/Iron Fist was made more bearable when he reappeared in The Defenders and then improved even more when appearing in the second season of Luke Cage.
Audiences are now optimistic that the trend will continue with the second season of Iron Fist greatly improving upon the incredibly disappointing first season.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe became a phenomenon, the rare kind of show that seemed to permeate almost everyone’s childhood in the 1980s.
Imbued by the Power of Grayskull, Prince Adam would become the muscular and powerful hero He-Man, dedicated to defending the planet Eternia against the villainous Skeletor and his minions.
Running for two seasons and culminating in 130 episodes, the show is fondly remembered as a staple of 1980s childhood, now praised for the sake of nostalgia more than anything else, though it still has a cult following today.
Green Lantern: The Animated Series was considered well done for both longtime Green Lantern fans and newcomers alike.
Forgoing the all-too-familiar origin story, the series jumped into Hal Jordan already being a fully-formed character and member of the Green Lantern corps.
The show did a good job of fleshing out all of the Green Lanterns and their adventures.
Despite all of these positive elements, the series was cancelled after one season.
While unfair, the show’s cancellation was largely attributed to poor toy sales, as the show debuted not long after the panned live-action Green Lantern movie starring Ryan Reynolds.
Inhumans was a surprising low point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The show found little in the way of praise and received an abundance of criticism, culminating in cancellation after a single season.
At the end of the day, the show may have suffered more than anything because it wasn’t enough of a priority to the MCU.
Only a few years ago, Inhumans was supposed to be an important MCU movie.
Other characters and stories obviously became more important to the MCU and Inhumans was downgraded to a rushed television series with no shortage of issues.
Part of the appeal of this series is that when it first aired, it showcased the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the other Avengers fighting together onscreen before the iconic first live-action Avengers movie within the Marvel Cinematic Universe was released.
The series also featured members of the Avengers who at the time did not exist in the MCU and wouldn’t be introduced in the movies for several more years.
A rich array of characters and concepts throughout the history of Marvel were intertwined in exciting fashion for longtime fans and newbies alike.
Several decades before Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, there was Lynda Carter. She brought Wonder Woman to life in the 1970s and until Gal Gadot, she was considered the definitive onscreen version of the superheroine.
Many considered the 1970s series to be more faithful to the vision of Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston, as opposed to other iterations of the character.
Carter not only looked the part, but she also nailed the character’s inherent goodness and fierce dedication to fighting for justice.
She was certainly an inspiration at a time when nowhere near enough heroines were portrayed on television.
Did your all-time favorite or least favorite superhero shows make the list? Let us know in the comments!
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