Secret comic book movies: Captain America (1979)

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Captain America

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – JULY 19: Cosplayer Griffin Reina as Captain America poses at 2019 Comic-Con International on July 19, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

No, this isn’t a Captain America you may recognize. But for many years, this was the one and only live-action Cap out there.

In the late 1970s, CBS was the original “superhero network.” The television adaptations of Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, and The Amazing Spider-Man were some of the network’s most popular shows, especially for families and children. And with Marvel already having two of their biggest heroes in prime time, Stan Lee and company decided that their third biggest hero could have a TV series on CBS, too. That hero was Captain America.

On paper, a show about Marvel’s “Sentinel of Liberty” makes perfect sense. Compared with Hulk and Spider-Man, it would be inexpensive to make since Cap’s powers consist of enhanced strength and agility, along with superior hand-to-hand combat skills. He also has the added benefit of two interlocking and audience appealing origin stories.

Having Steve Rogers as a scrawny cadet turned super soldier via an army experiment and fighting Nazis during World War II would make for a great pilot episode. The rest of the series could then feature Cap, after being frozen in ice, brought back to the present day to fight modern-day threats. It couldn’t be more perfect.

So of course, the feature-length pilot doesn’t show any of that interesting stuff. Nor does this Cap fight a single Nazi, or start out as a skinny, but courageous wimp. Heck, this Cap doesn’t even wear a version of his costume from the comics until the end. Instead, the pilot re-imagines Cap as a mash-up of motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel and a California surfer dude. Moreover, he would also be played by former USC fullback turned B-movie action star, Reb Brown. How could this possibly fail?

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