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Summary

  • Flash Gordon
    (1980) is the best version, capturing the comic’s bombastic tone with visually stunning performances.
  • Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars
    (1938) introduces an interesting new villain and entertaining despite rushed production.
  • Flash Gordon
    (2007-2008) modernizes poorly, receiving initial negative reviews for lackluster execution.

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Debuting in 1934, Flash Gordon quickly became a popular fixture of American comic strips. However, the character’s most important influence was felt off the page, as a trio of serials based on the character’s adventures quickly became some of the earliest examples of the cinematic sci-fi genre. This influence could be felt throughout the genre and was a personal favorite of George Lucas, leading it to become a key influence on Star Wars.

The story of dashing college athlete Flash and his companions Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov, as they find themselves facing off with the merciless (and problematically dated) Emperor Ming on the planet of Mongo, has been reimagined across mediums and inspired stories from film to even Flash Gordon inspired Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. It’s served as the basis of film serials, feature-length movies, live-action television shows, and multiple animated series. Not all of them are created equal, but when Flash Gordon works, it soars among the heights of the genre. Here are all of Flash Gordon’s films and shows ranked.

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9 Flash Gordon (2007–2008)

Widely Decried For A Reason

Premiering on Sci-Fi in 2007, Flash Gordon was an attempt to bring the series into the 21st Century. Starring Eric Johnson as Flash and Gina Holden as Dale, the series made numerous changes to the source material that, in theory, were interesting means of updating the character. Ming (John Ralston) was recast as a modern dictator and introduced a new female hero Baylin (Karen Cliche) to serve as a guide to Mongo. Unfortunately, the show’s execution left much to be desired.

Although reviews eventually grew positive across the course of the 21-episode season, the initial episodes were poorly received. Critics at the time described it as one of the worst shows of the era, with the latter openly decrying it as the worst version of Flash Gordon. They’re not wrong, as the show’s melodramatic approach to the material grounds a franchise that works best when embracing big large-scale sci-fi beats. It’s cheesy sci-fi from an era that was also producing groundbreaking works like Battlestar Galactica, which makes it work even worse in comparison.

8 Flash Gordon (1954–1955)

How To Make A Sci-Fi Epic Feel Bland

Flash Gordon 1954 Series

Starring Steve Holland as Flash Gordon, Irene Champlin as Dale Arden, and Joseph Nash as Hans Zarkov, the 1954 Flash Gordon series saw Flash and his allies reinvented as members of the Galaxy Bureau in the 33rd century. The Bureau is tasked with contending with numerous foes from across the cosmos. Produced at a time when Ming was largely absent from the comics, the series had a much more flexible number of enemies as Flash and his team visited various worlds.

A product of its time, Flash Gordon loses a lot of the ambition and scope of the best entries in the franchise. Limited by the budget restraints of the time, Flash Gordon is the kind of straight-faced and blunt sci-fi that excused flimsy twists and reveals for the sake of keeping things cheap. It’s the kind of show that the Mystery Science Theater crew ripped into, with effects that haven’t aged well.

Flash Gordon is now streaming on Tubi.

7 Flash Gordon (1996-1997)

Flash Gordon For The 90s

Flash Gordon 1996 Animated Show

Flash Gordon was another of the classic characters that animation studios tried to adapt to the style of 1990s. Reimagined as hoverboarding teenagers, Flash and Dale find themselves stranded on Mongo. There, they ally with Prince Talon and a gender-swapped Princess Thundar to fight against the machinations of Emperor Ming, here reimagined as a lizard-like alien. The animated series ran for 26 episodes and quickly wore out its welcome.

Flash Gordon is a dryly animated show that seems more driven to introduce new toy designs than genuine characters. A lot of the appeal of the space-faring appeal of the franchise as a whole is lost amid stilted animation and forgettable plots. The show ultimately feels like the animation of the era dropped into a blender, with a design aesthetic that will be familiar to fans of Thundercats or X-Men. In attempting to make something of the times, Flash Gordon ends up dating itself — and it isn’t good enough on its own merits to stand out besides that.

6 The New Adventures of Flash Gordon (1979–1982)

Flash Gordon Of The Superfriends Era

The New Adventures Of Flash Gordon (1979)

The New Adventures of Flash Gordon, much like other animated adaptations of the character, feels very in-line with the era it was produced. For The New Adventures of Flash Gordon, that means aping the style seen in shows like Superfriends. The first season, an attempt to recreate the serialized approach that benefited the original versions of the character, was a success. NBC even elevated the original project from a TV movie to a full series. However, the second season severely retooled the show.

This resulted in more stilted animation, a reliance on repetitive stories, and the addition of a kid-friendly dragon sidekick named Gremlin who feels like he was directly transplanted into another show. The sense of adventure and excitement became somewhat stilted by the limited animation, which frequently recycled frames per episode. While it remains a nostalgic favorite for some, it ultimately pales in comparison to other cartoons of the era that mustered a greater sense of charm.

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5 Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940)

The Worst Of The Original Serials

Flash Gordon Conquerors The Universe Promotional Still

The third and final of the Universal Flash Gordon serials, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe is a flawed serial that nevertheless works to present a visually compelling story. However, the strong visuals are connected via recycled clips that quickly become repetitive. The third Flash Gordon serial suffers by comparison to the other two entries in the series and feels derivative of not only earlier Flash Gordon stories but competitor franchises like Buck Rogers.

Recastings (like Carol Hughes taking over the role of Dale from Jean Rogers) can’t match the charm of the earlier performances. It’s the same for Roland Drew as Prince Barin and Shirley Deane as Aura, with all these new performances failing to match the charms of the prior performers. Overall, Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe is a far-blander approach to the material but remains an important showing from an early era of sci-fi film.

4 Defenders of the Earth (1986–1987)

A Surprisingly Ambitious Crossover

Defenders Of The Earth, including Flash Gordon

Debuting in 1986, Defenders of Earth brings together multiple major heroes owned by the King Features Syndicate to combat Ming. The central cast works to protect the world from Ming, who seeks to conquer the Earth. An interesting touch of the series is the way it incorporates the children of the Defenders as allies to the main heroes, even diverting some of their focus to the younger generation. The show travels across the globe and alternates between single-episode stories and overarching plots.

While it feels familiar to the other cartoons of the time like G.I. Joe, the series embraces a wide roster of characters for some fun (and frequently over-the-top) adventures. It’s oddly blunt and does fall prey to some problematic tropes and elements. For all the flaws, Defenders of the Earth does a good job of balancing the cast together, with the best episodes helping elevate an enjoyable animated series meant for younger audiences.

3 Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars (1938)

One Of The Serial’s Best Villains

Flash Gordon Trip To Mars Mud People

Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars built upon the success of the first Flash Gordon serial, but can’t quite reach the heights of the first one. The 15-part serial reunites the stars of the original Flash Gordon. Flash Gordon (Buster Crabbe), Dr. Zarkov (Frank Shannon), and Dale Arden (Jean Rogers) alongside new ally Happy Hapgood (Donald Kerr) race to Mars on a mission to save the Earth from Ming (Charle B. Middleton) and his alliance with Azura (Beatrice Roberts).

The biggest flaws of the serial stem from the rushed production by Universal, which produced it quickly to try and capitalize on the success of War of the Worlds. Azura is a highlight of the serials though, introducing an interesting alternate villain to Ming that helps add to the universe and highlights what makes Ming so dangerous. While it’s not perfect, Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars is an entertaining serial of its era.

2 Flash Gordon

Engaging Even Beyond The Influence

Flash Gordon Coloried Shot

Flash Gordon was the serial that established the title character as a box office draw and remains one of the most important and influential sci-fi stories of the 20th century. Released across the course of 13 chapters, Flash Gordon is a thrilling piece of classic cinema. Coming at a time when the sci-fi genre on-screen was still being defined, Flash Gordon embraces a quick pace to showcase many visually exciting sequences that, while featuring dated special effects, remain entertaining.

Their influence is still felt today, perhaps most importantly as one of the concepts that caught the attention of a young George Lucas. Flash Gordon is dated and cheesy, but also retains a fun sense of enthusiastic adventure that helps it stand out from the serials it went on to inspire. In retrospect, Flash Gordon gets by a lot on its sense of charm, which enough memorable beats to combat the queasy and dated approach to characters like Ming.

1 Flash Gordon (1980)

The Best Version Of Flash Gordon

Far away the most entertaining adaption of the Flash Gordon mythos, the 1980s’ Flash Gordon nails the bombastic tone of the original comics with a keen eye for the vivid visuals that define the original stories. Embracing a bright color palette and full of self-aware over-the-top performances by Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, and a truly committed Brian Blessed, Flash Gordon works because of its wholehearted attempt to recreate the original comics, the serials that came before, and other stories that they inspired.

Bolstered by an iconic title score and title song from Queen, Flash Gordon works as well as it does thanks to a wholehearted commitment to the absurd qualities of the source material. The film holds up, all thanks to a mastery of the world’s tone. There’s an inherent glee to the big-scope action and adventure, which benefits the film’s wild tone and visuals. Flash Gordon is the best representation of the original stories and a classic of the post-Star Wars sci-fi genre.

flash gordon

Director
Mike Hodges

Cast
Topol, Melody Anderson, Max Von Sydow, Sam J. Jones

Genres
Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure



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