The Sonic The Hedgehog Movies And Shows, Ranked From Worst To Best

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Knuckles and Sonic clash.

The Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has seen significantly more television and film adaptations than most video game series can claim. While it’s having its most widespread moment ever with its current live-action movie franchise, the blue blur has been starring in animated series for over 30 years. Each of these adaptations has a distinct vibe. It speaks to how malleable the Sonic cast can be, for better and worse. With the series shifting in tone and setting so many times over the years, it’s only natural that each show would feel of its time, which can make comparing them a bit complicated. But hey, that’s never stopped us before! Let’s rank the Sonic TV and movie adaptations.

The most recent entry in Paramount’s live-action Sonic universe is not only easily the low point for this specific iteration of the blue blur, but also one of the weakest offerings the franchise has ever put out. Despite the name, the Knuckles show isn’t really about the titular echidna. Instead, it leans into the worst parts of the live-action adaptations by focusing almost solely on its uninteresting human characters and doubling the product placement, not to mention that most of its jokes are pop culture references from long before most of its intended audience was even alive.

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Knuckles’ flubbed potential is particularly unfortunate just after the second film showed promising signs of growth. It’s bizarre seeing it lean into everything Paramount knows fans don’t like about these movies. Here’s hoping Sonic the Hedgehog 3 doesn’t fall into the same unnecessary traps.

1999’s Sonic Underground is a weird show to look back on. The 40-episode series is one of the least recognizable in terms of how it adapts the Sonic world, mainly because it doesn’t feel like a Sonic story to begin with. It takes place in a more sci-fi fantasy setting in which Sonic is a prince who, on top of fighting Dr. Robotnik with his speed, incites rebellion as part of a rock band with his siblings. Yeah, on top of that unorthodox setup, Sonic Underground is also a musical, and a lot of its music is pretty fucking bad. The show has a lot of interesting ideas, but its poor execution means it hasn’t maintained the fandom cache of even the other ‘90s animated shows.

1996’s Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie (commonly referred to as Sonic OVA) would probably be better if it were redubbed with tolerable performances. Even though it’s best watched on mute and the plot is mostly incomprehensible, it has some pretty dope action scenes. Metal Sonic is a fierce villain in the latter half, and watching Sonic and his friends go head to head with him and Robotnik still holds up to this day. It’s just a shame the voice acting is so subpar.

While Sonic Underground is rightfully divisive, the other two ‘90s Sonic shows fared slightly better in terms of fan reception. Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the more easygoing adaptations, more akin to Looney Tunes than the more narrative-focused Sonic the Hedgehog animated series that was airing alongside it on a different channel. It has its own problems with jokes not landing and some episodes feeling like filler. But hey, it did give us the Pingas meme. That never got old, right?

While Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog had the “every episode is an entry point” structure of many kids’ cartoons, Sonic the Hedgehog (also known as Sonic SatAM in reference to its Saturday a.m. airtime) had a more narrative-driven approach. Adventures had Sonic defeating Robotnik and thwarting his plans during each episode. In contrast, SatAM leans into a darker tone, evolving character relationships, and an interwoven narrative. The cast of anthropomorphic characters is mostly original and hasn’t continued on, so it still feels like looking into an alternate universe truly distinct from the franchise we know today. Though its vibe is a bit different from what Sonic was doing at the time, it definitely feels like a precursor for the series’ darker pivots in the future.

The first live-action movie starring Ben Schwartz as Sonic could have been a lot worse if it had the original, horrifying character design seen in its first trailer. The movie we got in 2020 isn’t perfect, and is, in many ways, a deeply frustrating adaptation for the same reasons the Knuckles show is. It has a lot of annoying product placement, it leans on pop culture references as one of its only sources of comedy, and while it’s not as lopsided as Knuckles, there’s still a lot of time spent on human characters other than Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik. But elements like Carrey’s performance and some genuinely endearing moments for our titular hero help prop it up. Altogether, it’s a better “kids film” than some of the worst, most time-wasting nonsense that exists strictly to keep a kid looking at a screen for an hour and a half. It still feels distanced from the source material, but the second film would certainly improve that two years later.

Netflix’s animated series Sonic Prime hit just as multiverse stories were in fashion. The show follows Sonic as he hops from universe to universe, encountering different versions of his friends (and also Rouge, whom Sega is trying to reposition as one of Sonic’s pals for some reason). This includes things like a dystopian science fiction world and a wilderness in which the crew tries to survive the elements. Heck, there’s even a pirate version of Knuckles at one point. The thought experiment of recasting these characters as different archetypes is fun, if often unbalanced, as the narrative centers on some worlds while sidelining others. But the best part of the show is easily the relationship between Sonic and his rival Shadow, which is explored to surprising nuance after Shadow had spent years being a Flanderized edgelord.

The Sonic Boom video games were pretty awful, but the animated series based on them has some of the best writing of anything the Sonic franchise has spawned . The 104-episode show is one of the wittiest portrayals of Sonic and his friends, to the point that it puts other Sonic media like the live-action movies to shame in terms of how much it respects its audience. Media that’s made “for kids” has a propensity to talk down to children as if they can only understand the lowest common denominator of humor. Sonic Boom, meanwhile, is full of so many funny gags that plenty of viewers probably miss because they assume it’s “just a kids show.” Eggman being a fourth-wall-breaking Shadow stan will never not be funny. Sonic giving you a soundbite to send to a bad roommate? A gift to humankind. Don’t get me started on the incredible, absurdist humor of Sonic Boom cutting to a real-life Sonic cosplayer as our hero contemplates planes of existence. It’s too good.

The second live-action Sonic movie is about as close to perfect as these movies can be given Paramount’s inability to leave out the human detours, needle drops, and product placement. Unlike the first film, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 hits the gas, bringing all the video game dressings to its live-action universe. Tails and Knuckles are here this time, completing Sonic’s trio, which teams up to defeat Robotnik once more. It’s a straight-up Avengers moment seeing what looks like a whole Sonic Heroes segment as these little guys defend their new home. While those feel-good fanservice moments are fun, Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s integration of concepts like the Master Emeralds and Super transformations, as well as its giving more focus to game characters like Shadow the Hedgehog via its post-credits scene, indicates that the live-action movies are starting to feel like true adaptations of the source material made by people who clearly want to pay tribute to it.

Unless Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is an absolute banger of a film, Sonic X will remain on the Sonic adaptation throne. The anime came out just as the series was in its best era of storytelling, and meaningfully adapted entire games into arcs of its run. The show isekais Sonic and friends on Earth, and weaves its own original human characters into adaptations of games like the Sonic Adventure duology and Sonic Battle. While its original characters are divisive, its willingness to engage with even the darker moments of Sonic stories has made it a fascinating time capsule to compare to more modern adaptations. The Sonic series’ identity has shifted and changed over the years, but Sonic X being such a direct adaptation of some of the franchise’s best material is a testament both to how strong those stories were, and how well X was able to capture what makes the franchise so beloved. Even with all these different iterations of characters and stories, this is the era many Sonic fans hold closest to their hearts. While there are a few bumps in the road, Sonic X captures that moment in the series’ history to pretty great effect.

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