10 pioneering female superheroes we saw on classic TV

By: H&I Staff    Posted: August 13, 2021, 2:28PM

While Black Widow and Captain Marvel inspire worldwide audiences, they were far from the first female superheroes of Hollywood.

Long before Brie Larson jumped into her star-spangled costume to punch aliens, Lynda Carter had already been on the scene 4 decades prior. But there are many other female superheroes who often go overlooked in the history of TV.

Here are some of our favorites from the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. 

Watch Wonder Woman on H&I

Saturdays at 11 AM
Sundays at 10 AM


Wonder Woman

The conversation about female superheroes on TV begins with Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman. She embodied the role, both as the bullet-reflecting Amazon and the brainy Diana Prince. What's often overlooked is how the character of Wonder Woman dates back a little further on TV. William Dozier, the creator of the Adam West Batman series, tried to take a similar camp approach with a 1967 sitcom pilot, which never made it to air. It would be on the cartoon The Brady Kids, of all places, that Wonder Woman would make her screen debut in 1972. Cathy Lee Crosby would then play a jumpsuit-wearing Wonder Woman in a 1974 made-for-TV movie. That more grounded approach was tossed aside for the star-spangled Carter version.


The Bionic Woman

In England, at least, Jaime Sommers was far more popular than The Six Million Dollar Man. The Bionic Woman became the only sci-fi series to hit No. 1 in the ratings in the U.K. in the 20th century. The cyborg woman was no slouch in the States, drawing a 22.4 ratings share in 1976, her debut season, a smidge behind The Six Million Dollar Man's 24.2. The role made Lindsay Wagner a superstar, as she appeared on watch faces, lunch boxes, sleeping bags and dolls as the Bionic Woman.

Image: The Everett Collection



The Filmation animation studio made the leap into live action with Shazam!, based on the comic book character Captain Marvel. The Saturday morning adventure was paired with The Secrets of Isis in the mid-'70s to form The Shazam / Isis Hour. Isis replaced the Greek mythology of Wonder Woman with Egyptology. High school science teacher Andrea Thomas (Joanna Cameron) finds an ancient amulet that granted her the "power of the animals and the elements." A Shazam! movie made it to theaters in April 2019. Due to the unfortunate name association, Isis is not likely to see the silver screen.

Image: The Everett Collection


Electra Woman and Dyna Girl

The Krofft Supershow introduced live-action wonders like Dr. Shrinker and Wonderbug. A goofy glam band called Kaptain Kool & The Kongs hosted the Saturday morning series. But the real breakout stars of the show were Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, two reporters from Newsmaker Magazine who slipped into spandex to nab the bad guys. In many ways, they combined Superman with Batman and Robin, which is probably what made them click with kids. In 2016, the show was rebooted with two YouTube celebrities as the superheroes.

Image: The Everett Collection


April Dancer

Stephanie Powers' character had no powers, but we would be remiss to overlook April Dancer. At the peak of the spy craze in the Swingin' Sixties, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. proved that a woman could do the work of a Napoleon Solo or James Bond. Actually, Ian Fleming himself came up with the name "April Dancer." (That being said, the 1966-67 series would not grant Dancer a license to kill. A man would off the bad guys.) The Man from U.N.C.L.E. spin-off nevertheless put a female action her on the cover of TV Guide and got little girls dreaming of spy games.

Image: The Everett Collection



In 1978, the umbrella program Tarzan and the Super 7 brought a handful of new short cartoons to Saturday morning. There were familiar faces like Tarzan (naturally) and Batman, but also fresh creations like Superstretch and Microwoman, a married couple named Chris and Christy Cross with Wonder Twins–esque powers. Superstretch could morph into any shape, while Microwoman shrunk down her size.

Image: Filmation


Web Woman

"When Kelly Webster risked her life to rescue a strange insect creature, she was endowed with the powers of all insects!" So began every episode of this cartoon, another segment on Tarzan and the Super 7.  The purple-clad Web Woman flew in a golden spider car with her sidekick Spinner, a little green creature not unlike Snarf from ThunderCats. If you're already confusing Web Woman with Spider-Woman, you are likely not alone. Because…

Image: Filmation



Voiced by Joan Van Ark, this wonderful woman changed costumes by spinning around, like Wonder Woman. The production company behind the cartoon, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, also created the popular Pink Panther shorts, as well as The New Fantastic Four. Thankfully, they had the rights to characters here, which means guest appearances from comic characters like Spider-Man, Kingpin and Dormammu in the brief 16-episode run.

Image: ABC / Disney



He-Man and all his muscled-up friends and foes looked like bodybuilders. She-Ra, his female counterpart in the 1980s, was far more approachable and relatable. The twin sister of He-Man, She-Ra traveled on a talking unicorn pegasus named Swift Wind, which is cooler than a frightened cat named Cringer, no? Though she wielded super strength, She-Ra was just as apt to use her intelligence to outwit enemies. She also had healing abilities. The 1985-86 series was recently rebooted on Netflix.

Image: The Everett Collection


The Greatest American Heroine

Greatest American Hero co-star Robert Culp was so fond of his job that he was one of the principle forces pushing for a sequel series, The Greatest American Heroine. The plot revolved around Ralph Hinkley (William Katt) passing his red costume off to a teacher named Holly Hathaway (Mary Ellen Stuart). A pilot was made, though the series was never picked up. It has sometimes been included as the final episode in syndication packages, though.


SEE MORE: 13 Black TV superheroes who helped pave the way for Black Panther

A brief history, from Black Vulcan and Microwoman to M.A.N.T.I.S. and Moleculad. READ MORE