Before there were Marvel movies there were Marvel cartoons. In fact, within a few years of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and the rest of the Bullpen launching the Marvel Age of Comics, the company’s characters were already fixtures on animated television, starting with 1966’s The Marvel Super Heroes and continuing with very few interruptions right through the present day.
Almost all of these shows featured opening credits sequences full of eye-popping animation and backed by catchy (or not-so-catchy) theme songs. If you’re in the mood for a nostalgic tour through Marvel animated history, the list below features every single Marvel cartoon introduction, ranked from the worst (How’s it going, Fred and Barney Meet the Thing?) to the best. In recent years, most Marvel TV series have done away with these sorts of elaborate intros, opting instead for brief title cards. If they ever return, I’ll be sure to update this list. In the meantime, please continue to make mine Marvel.
Fred and Barney Meet the Thing (1979)
For one very brief, very confusing year, Hanna-Barbera had a show that was half Flintstones and half The Thing — but only vaguely the guy you know from Fantastic Four comics. (In this version, Ben Grimm is a teenager who can transform into the Thing by slamming two magic rings together.) Regardless of what the title claims, Fred and Barney only met the Thing during the opening credits — their episodes were otherwise totally distinct. So that’s at least one thing going for this very bizarre intro. But it’s also the only thing.
Maybe the least heralded (Marvel jokes!) of all of the ’90s Marvel animated series was this short-lived blend of 2D and computer animation. Some of the images are cool, but the music is totally forgettable.
Avengers: United They Stand (1999)
The music here has some pizzazz but the split screen introductions to the Avengers roster is awkward; some characters have to share their intro with others, and there’s even a typo. (It’s “Wonder Man” not “Wonderman”!)
Spider-Man Unlimited (1999)
This clip does an okay job of establishing this sci-fi show’s premise, where Spider-Man winds up on a “Counter-Earth” vastly different from the typical Marvel Universe. The music, however, is laughably derivative. Just try not to scream “Mortal Kombat!” while you listen to it.
The ’90s Fantastic Four cartoon arrived with a hilariously earnest theme song, featuring lyrics that retold the team’s classic origin. After a chorus of voices sings “Fantastic Four!” another voice replies “Don’t need no more!” and another chimes in “That’s ungrammatical!” Uh, so is the word “ungrammatical.”
The Sub-Mariner was the least popular of the shorts that appeared on the syndicated Marvel Super Heroes cartoon of the 1960s, and it also boasts the least memorable theme song and intro. He’s stronger than a whale, and can swim anywhere? Whoa, this I gotta see!
The New Fantastic Four (1978)
The rights to the Human Torch was unavailable during the period when this animated series was produced, so he was replaced by a robot named H.E.R.B.I.E. (Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics). Beyond the absent Johnny Storm, there’s not much to distinguish this intro, which features generic Hanna-Barbera library music.
“Look, up on the building! It’s Spider-Woman!” That familiar-sounding refrain kicks off the intro to Spider-Woman’s lone animated series, which features some moody images of Jessica Drew soaring through a moonlit night, and a bombastic, horn-filled score.
The theme song doesn’t have lyrics (thankfully, given how that turned out in the ’90s), but the upbeat jazz music captures the swinging vibe of its era. (It also sounds enough like Michael Giacchino’s score for The Incredibles that you wonder whether it was an influence on his work.) The visuals are nicely chosen as well; the piece opens with the Fantastic Four Signal Device blasting into the sky and introduces each of the leads and their powers.
Iron Man: Armored Adventures (2009)
Rooney provides the theme music for this computer-animated series, but some of the lyrics are questionable. “He’s a man on a mission / In armor of high-tech ammunition”? His armor has ammunition but it’s not made out of ammunition. If it was made out of ammunition he would explode literally every time someone attacked him.
The Marvel Super Heroes (1966)
This theme song is trying waaaaaaay too hard, and includes nonsense words like “over-bulky,” “two-fist-ic,” and “ultimatest.” This syndicated series was made using images pulled directly out of Marvel Comics of the period that were then minimally animated, something that’s clear right from get-go in this video, which features some classic (and a little stiff) Jack Kirby art.
The Incredible Hulk (1982)
The Hulk is so mad in this thing. Just constantly screaming and growling. He smashes the ground below his own logo! Then he picks up another version of his logo that looks like it’s made out of an enormous piece of steel while his theme music swells. This gets you fired up to watch the Hulk smash some stuff.
At the same time Spidey was hanging out with his Amazing Friends, he also starred in this solo series featuring similar character designs and music. The main problem with this intro is it’s not particularly Spider-Man-y — it features Spidey shrinking and growing, bad guys shooting lots of lasers, lightning bolts streaking through cloudy skies, and Spider-Man’s eyes glowing for some unknown reason.
"Doc Bruce Banner / Belted by gamma rays / Turned into the Hulk / Ain’t he unglamo-rays?” Yes, I can answer this question. He is. He is unglamo-rays.
It’s fun to consider that when this series premiered in the mid-1990s, a lot of the audience had only the vaguest idea who Iron Man was; it wasn’t until the movie some 15 years later that the character really became a household name. With that in mind, this intro might raise more questions than it answers — like who is the dude with weird green skin? (That’s the Mandarin, oddly.) How come the Avengers include a gray-skinned dude with an axe? (This team was actually known as “Force Works,” and the dude with the axe is an obscure hero named Century.) When Iron Man returned for a second season from a new animation studio, this sequence got a much-needed makeover.
Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (2003)
You might expect an animated series on MTV to have catchy or at least recognizable music. Sadly, the opening to Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, an otherwise fun show loosely inspired by the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, features a fairly unimpressive theme song. However, the title cards for each main character, which make S:TNAS look like a teen soap opera (which it kind of was) are a nice touch.
Marvel Future Avengers (2017)
This Japanese animated series now available on Disney+ features impressive character designs loosely inspired by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and establishes the series premise of three kids who’ve been genetically altered by Hydra who then join the Avengers for training as the next generation of super heroes.
The Super Hero Squad (2009)
This series for younger audiences features a catchy pop-punk theme song from Nerf Herder lead vocalist Parry Grip, and energetic first-person visuals as the Super Hero Squad zoom around a villain-infested cityscape. It’s hard to imagine any kid not getting excited about this show after its first 60 seconds.
X-Men: Evolution is not nearly as famous as its ’90s predecessor, and neither is its intro. Still, the theme song by William Kevin Anderson holds up well on its own merits, as does the ending where all the X-Men appear together at the Xavier Academy.
Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes (2006)
There’s several nice touches in this intro, including the use of the Fantastic Four’s logo as a countdown to the launch of the rocket that takes them into outer space and gives them their powers. The guitar-heavy theme music recalls the ’60s cartoon while adding some modern accents.
Fantastic Four (1994, Second Version)
The second season intro to the ’90s Fantastic Four animated series features improved animation, visuals drawn straight out of the classic Lee-Kirby comics, designs taken from Marvel artist John Byrne’s legendary run on the series, and best of all, no references to things “ungrammatical.”
The ’60s Thor shorts from The Marvel Super Heroes began with this brief intro that sounds like something out of a Broadway musical. It’s cheesy, but it captures some of the self-inflated grandeur of the old Journey Into Mystery comics.
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981)
You have to love the ’80s-ness of this intro, with Spider-Man swooping down from the gigantic version of his logo and hanging out in a hep bachelor pad that magically transforms into a superhero command center with the flick of a statue on Peter Parker’s mantle. Plus there’s the narrator screaming “SPIDER-MAN! AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS!”
The Incredible Hulk (1996)
This cartoon began each week with the shadowy figure of the Hulk tearing through everything in sight, and features disturbing dream sequences, giant General Rosses, and brutal looking transformations, before the entire might of the U.S. Military and all of the Hulk’s arch enemies team up against him — before he seemingly destroys them all in a giant gamma explosion as ominous chants of “Hulk! Incredible Hulk!” rain down on the soundtrack. For a children’s show airing on mornings or early afternoons, this is admirably nightmarish stuff.
When Captain America throws his mighty shield, all those who chose to oppose his shield must yield. As a wise man once put it: ‘Nuff said.
The Spectacaular Spider-Man (2008)
Though not the most famous Spider-Man song, The Spectacular Spider-Man theme by The Tender Box might be the one that most sounds like an actual song. It’s matched by a dynamic introduction featuring crisp web-swinging, and a quick overview of Peter Parker’s allies and enemies.
Iron Man (1994, Second Version)
“I! Am! Iron! Man!” While Tony Stark pounds on a high-tech anvil, we’re treated to shots of various classic Iron Man armors and some tasty guitar riffs. Between Tony’s mullet, the armor, and the music, the sequence brings new meaning to the phrase “hair metal.”
That’s Aerosmith’s Joe Perry wailing on the guitars in the theme song to the ’90s Spider-Man animated series. Some of the clips from the show in the intro seem like they were chosen a little haphazardly, like the random ending with Venom. Regardless, the song’s robotic “Spider-Man! Spider-Man! Radioactive Spider-Man!” voice remains one of the best musical representations of Spider-Man to date.
Let’s give a nod to writer Jacques Urbont, who figured out a way to rhyme “jets ablaze” with “repulsor rays” in the intro to the ’60s Iron Man cartoon. This theme is so fondly remembered that Jon Favreau snuck it into the first Iron Man movie. (It’s James Rhodes’ cell phone ring tone.)
More than 50 years later, this is the sound people associate with Spider-Man. He does whatever a spider can! Is he strong? Listen bud, he’s got radioactive blood. The visuals are great too, including Spidey cheerfully breaking the fourth wall to wave at the viewer. After a final crescendo, Spider-Man swoops directly into the lens — look out! Here comes the Spider-Maaaaaan.
The gold standard of Marvel cartoon intros (or the blue standard, if you prefer that team of X-Men) features Ron Wasserman’s iconic theme music and dramatic title cards for each team member. Rather than recycling footage from the series, these images were created specifically for the intro, giving the whole thing added impact. It’s like the best parts of an X-Men adventure in a single minute. After that, the actual episode is basically gravy.