While their big screen counterparts are more well known (and more beloved, let’s be real), superhero TV shows are arguably the best place to get your fix when you’re jonesing for that sweet, sweet cape, cowl, and ka-pow action. Even if you remove the considerable amount of animated content, there’s still plenty of quality TV shows that stretch as far back as the early ’50s. Admittedly, a lot of it borders on soap opera but the good ones are so good, they’re worthy of celebrating. The best of the best equal and can sometimes even top the best movies have to offer. They can never compete in CGI because they’ll never get those types of budgets but where they can compete is within their casting. A perfect piece of casting is a perfect piece of casting, regardless of the medium. These are the top 30 that rival anything the big screen has to offer.
These are the 30 Greatest Superhero TV Castings of All Time.
30. Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter) | Wonder Woman (1975–79)
Sure there’s the skimpy costume and the statuesque figure, but the reason I’ve always liked Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman is her determination and earnestness. She played the part with a wholesome goodness that reminded me of Christopher Reeve’s Superman. It wasn’t easy to play a lead female character of any kind during the 1970’s, and while that wide-eyed innocence may come across as disingenuous now it was anything but. Carter’s insistence on playing a fundamentally good person, someone girls and boys could look up to, was almost an act of defiance in the face of pressure to be more of a sex symbol and less of a hero. Luckily, Lynda Carter was up to the task.
29. The Trickster (Mark Hamill) | The Flash (1991) & The Flash (2015–16)
Mark Hamill is the fucking greatest. In the early nineties, he was working steadily, but nothing that gained him any recognition like Star Wars did in the seventies and eighties. Then he shows up for two episodes in the short lived ’90s show The Flash and it was like, “Oh damn! Mark Hamill is BACK!” Unfortunately, the show only lasted one season, which was a shame because he was pretty great as the spandex dressed villain if you ask me. Thankfully, he nailed the Joker role in Batman: The Animated Series a couple of years later, and gained more notoriety for his excellent voice work. And since he had his Hamill-aissance this past decade he even got to reprise his role of The Trickster in the new CW version of The Flash alongside his former co-star John Wesley Shipp, portraying a different version of the titular character. And if you don’t follow him on social media, you should. So, to reiterate, Mark Hamill is the fucking greatest.
28. Jay Garrick / The Flash (John Wesley Shipp) | The Flash (2016–)
The Arrowverse has always made an effort to include past DC actors in their shows, especially if said actor previously played the titular character. Dean Cain and Helen Slater appeared in Supergirl, but before that John Wesley Shipp played Barry Allen’s incarcerated father, Henry Allen on The Flash. While a great role, some fans were disappointed that The CW hadn’t tapped Shipp to play Jay Garrick to allow the show to have a passing of the torch moment between the two Flash actors. Well, fans eventually got their wish near the end of season 2 when it was revealed (thankfully) that the Jay Garrick we had known for most of the season was a fake, and the real Jay Garrick was revealed to be an Earth-3’s version of Henry Allen. In the following seasons, Shipp’s Jay Garrick acted as a mentor and ally to Grant Gustin’s Flash, teaching him about the speed force and the consequences of messing with time travel. Shipp plays the role with ease, giving us both the stern father figure and the cool uncle all in one performance. Having played The Flash in the nineties, we buy into Shipp’s performance as a more seasoned speedster. Shipp as Jay Garrick is one of the best casting choices the Arrowverse has made, and I wish The Flash would utilize him more often. He’s a welcome presence everytime I see his face pop up on the screen.
27. Deathstroke (Manu Bennett) | Arrow (2013–20)
Before the Arrowverse was the Arrowverse, there was only Arrow. The shared universe’s namesake stood on its own for its first two seasons before The Flash and Supergirl entered Earth-1. You can love or hate the series (and/or the larger Arrowverse), but I’ll defend with my last breath that the first two seasons of Arrow were some great superhero TV. A lot of that opinion is because of Manu Bennett’s portrayal of Deathstroke. While the DC Extended Universe still has no clue what to do with Joe Manganiello in the role (which is a shame because that’s some solid casting in its own right), Arrow perfectly used the character as an ally and antagonist to Oliver Queen’s Arrow. The tension between the two characters was strong, and the chemistry between Bennett and Stephen Amell, specifically in those flashbacks, is what made the character work as the main villain of season 2. Deathstroke is considered Arrow‘s best big baddie, and the show spent the first season and a half of flashbacks building up the relationship between Oliver Queen and Slade Wilson. We were already invested in their story before they became enemies in the present day.
It’s unfortunate that mandates from DC higher-ups prevented Bennett from appearing more often as Slade because there is no way that character wouldn’t have either a) gotten his own spin-off show, b) joined the Legends of Tomorrow team, or c) become a regular cast member of Arrow, which would have hopefully prevented the writers from adding all those other C-list vigilantes. A lot of my appreciation and interest in Deathstroke stems from Bennett’s portrayal, and until we get another actor who can make the role into his own, I will always view Arrow‘s Slade Wilson as the definitive take on the character.
26. Vigilante (Freddie Stroma) | Peacemaker (2022–)
Making his first appearance all the way back in 1941, Vigilante wouldn’t really make an impression until almost 40 years later. The second person to take up the mantle (out of seven) was Adrian Chase, arguably the most famous one and the one Gunn decided to use in Peacemaker. The comic book Chase has damn near the exact same origin story as the Punisher and even has roughly the same skill set but there’s one key difference separating the two: Vigilante goes out of his way NOT to kill people. He even retires multiple times out of guilt that he took an innocent life. One of the main reasons he comes back is to get revenge on Peacemaker, so suffice it to say, the TV version and the comic versions are two radically different things. One is a tortured soul who meticulously plans every fight to make sure there’s never a casualty and the other is a goofy Deadpool like murder machine that LOVES to kill people, even for the smallest crimes. What Gunn along with actor Freddie Stroma did with the character is far more interesting than another uber badass killer. They turned him into a socially awkward dork that just so happens to be an uber badass killer. We never seen those two characters merge. If you’re great at killing, you’re always either solemn or cool and if you’re a fucking weirdo the joke is that you’re also incompetent. I compared him to Deadpool earlier and while he kinda straddles both points, he’s still Deadpool. As annoying as he is, he’s still cool. Ryan Reynolds couldn’t look nerdy on a bet but Stroma on the other hand, sells both the outcast and the badass with ease. Unless DC decides to adapt one of the other Vigilantes and casts Adam Driver in the role, this is the definitive take on the character.
25. Eobard Thawne / Reverse Flash (Tom Cavanagh) | Arrowverse
Arrow‘s greatest villain was Deathstroke, and although The Flash is still airing it’s safe to say that the series won’t deliver a better villain than Tom Cavanagh’s Reverse Flash. Stuck in the body of Harrison Wells (who we all believed Cavanagh to be playing when The Flash first started), it was later revealed to viewers that Harrison Well’s body had been taken over by the Reverse Flash, who had travelled to the past to regain his speed. I could write about how great Cavanagh is when he plays the real Harrison Wells (or any of his alternate Earth counterparts), but its his portrayal of Eobard Thawne / Reverse Flash that’s truly turned heads. Cavanagh plays Thawne as someone who looks to be constantly thinking, weighing the odds and figuring out how to win. He can be calm and collected one second only to snap into a deranged tirade in the next. He’s filled with an anger and hatred towards The Flash that Cavanagh shows through his body movements and facial expressions. The cast of The Flash is talented, but I’ve long considered Cavanagh to be the best of the bunch. He understood the assignment, and his absence has been felt in the latest season of The Flash.
24. Classic Loki (Richard E. Grant) | Loki (2021)
When I first saw Grant pop up on Disney+’s Loki as “Classic Loki,” staring down at that lesser Loki played by that Hiddleston guy, I legitimately needed a towel. Yeah, its cool to see your favorite villain from the Thor comics on the big screen for the first time, but man, Grant just absolutely nails the classic comic book Loki look in attitude and appearance; that costume was perfection. The man just oozes a level of superiority as Loki. Let’s not forget the “building” of Asgard scene complete with the musical homage to “Ride of the Valkyries” (check out “Classic Builds” in the Loki soundtrack). Now we only got two episodes with Classic Loki so I definitely want more and I’d love to see his version of Loki in a Marvel film. Can you image Grant’s Loki in the same scene with Stewart’s Xavier or McKellen’s Magneto? Cinematic gold is what I’d call it!
23. Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) | Gotham (2014–19)
I was really interested in the whole Gotham show. A pre-Batman Gotham City with a young Jim Gordon? I’m there! Then they started adding Batman villains to the pre-Batman Gotham City. My hopes were dashed! When the Penguin first appeared on the show, I scoffed. This was terrible… disastrous… harrumph, I say! Yeah, I was wrong on this one. For five seasons Taylor turned in a fantastic performance as Oswald Cobblepot, so good that I’d like to see him on the big screen reprising the role. He could have been a tad shorter and fatter, but that aside he was one of the standouts for the show. Taylor embodied the Penguin; sniveling, conniving, and power-hungry. You were sympathetic to his plight and then in the same episode jeering his deceitfulness. Taylor was every bit the Oswald Cobblepot we’ve come to know and love. As a quick aside, any early episode that features interaction between Penguin and Riddler is fantastic as is the interaction with Carol Kane’s Gertrude Kapelput.
22. Agatha Harkness (Katherine Hahn) | WandaVision (2021)
As the title suggests, WandaVision is all about, well, Wanda and Vision. And yet it is Kathryn Hahn that stole the show in a big way. So much so that Marvel has even announced a spinoff show for the character. While Elizabeth Olsen got the dramatic heft, Hahn is able to absolutely chew the scenery as the typical side characters of the sitcom portrayals, and really brings a sense of dread when she breaks character. As opposed to most characters in Westview, Agatha knows what’s going on at all times, meaning her actions as a side characrer have to be believable as part of Agatha’s overall character and Hahn delivers.
21. Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) | Arrowverse
I was not the biggest fan of Tyler Hoechlin’s Clark Kent / Superman when he first appeared on Supergirl (and in the later “Elseworlds” crossover event). I now admit that I may have misjudged his performance because I was too focused on the ugly Superman suit and Supes rocking a serious case of five o’clock shadow. Fast forward five years later, and Hoechlin’s Superman has won over new and old fans of the Man of Steel. A new Superman TV series was never promised to Hoechlin when he first signed onto the role, but after multiple guest-starring appearances across the Arrowverse, it felt like a no-brainer. It didn’t hurt that DC Films clearly wasn’t interested in exploring a possible Man of Steel 2 with Henry Cavill’s version.
Superman and Lois premiered in 2021 to resounding critical acclaim and ratings success. With an updated Superman suit, a fresh new take on the character, and visuals and storytelling that was often referred to as “not what you usually see on The CW”, it was clear Hoechlin’s Superman was finally being treated with the respect he didn’t always have prior in the Arrowverse. Hoechlin perfectly encapsulates the dual role of Clark Kent, a loving husband and father, and Superman, an icon to the world. With every new performance and episode of Superman and Lois, Hoechlin is making a case for why his take on the character should be viewed as the best version to every grace TV screens.
What do you think are some of the best superhero TV castings of all time? Maybe some of them will show up on the list!