Ranking the Live-Action Superman Films
He’s faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. He has the ability to leap tall buildings in a single build. He’s Superman. For more than 80 years, Superman has taken audiences on adventures through Metropolis, Kansas, Krypton, and beyond. He’s been featured in comic books, television shows, radio shows, movies, video games and more. He was the first superhero, that’s all. Batman quickly followed, and then the floodgates opened. But Superman was the first. And, personal feelings aside, he will always be the most important.
When judging Superman’s impact on the world, it’s important to take into consideration all mediums in which he has been a part. Comics had him first, and did him best. But if it wasn’t for his radio shows, he wouldn’t have ever gotten a TV show. If it wasn’t for his TV show, he may never have gotten a movie. And, if it weren’t for the movies, entire generations might not even know who Superman is. As of this writing, there have been 8 film adaptations of Superman. Some of those films were great. Some were mediocre. Through it all, though, Superman has remained a beacon of hope, both in fiction and in our real lives.
8) Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Okay so. Superman IV is like the “Batman and Robin” of Superman films. It isn’t good. But it was Christopher Reeve’s last performance as Superman, so at least it’s notable. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace saw Superman become a bit of a tyrant. Fed up with the nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia, Superman decides to take matters into his own hands. He fetches every nuclear warhead between the two countries and throws them into space! With that issue resolved, Superman must now focus his efforts on Lex Luthor and the newly created Nuclear Man. Yeah, it’s as bad as it sounds.
7) Superman III (1983)
On paper, it seemed like a good idea. Richard Pryor was one of the fastest-rising comedians of the ’80s. He was a bonafide star and featuring him in a Superman movie was a no-brainer. In fact, it was. The only problem was, the entire movie seemed like it didn’t have a brain. Pryor starred as a computer programmer named Gus Gorman, who was hired by a bad guy to control the weather or something. Superman stops him, so then the bad guy makes Gus use a satellite to locate Kryptonite. Trouble ensues and Superman has to fight himself or something. We don’t know. It wasn’t as outright bad as Superman IV, but it was a lot weirder.
6) Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
The first-time meeting between Batman and Superman SHOULD have been the biggest thing to hit movie screens since, like, sound. Unfortunately, that was not to be. Batman was thrust into what should have just been a sequel to Man of Steel, and the “DC Extended Universe” was born. It was undoubtedly cool to see Batman and Superman battle to the death. But the reason for why they were fighting left a lot to be desired. So did the villain. So did the reason they stopped fighting. Basically, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice left a lot to be desired. It was a rushed, messy cash-grab that did more harm than good to our favorite DC Characters.
5) Superman Returns (2006)
As an unofficial sequel to the Christopher Reeves Superman series, Superman Returns wasn’t a great film, but it was light years ahead of Superman III and IV. After an extended absence, Superman returns (heh) to Metropolis to reclaim his status as a hero. The problem is, the world has kind of moved on without him. That actually sounds like a decent premise but it’s generally glossed over to feature yet another Superman/Lex Luthor battle. The good news is, Brandon Routh did an excellent job as “Superman Circa 1977” while Lex Luthor was played by Kevin Spacey.
4) Justice League (2017)
Technically, this movie maybe shouldn’t even count. Superman was only on screen for pretty much the last act. Still, though, this version of Superman was the one fans wanted to see in BVS. After being killed at the end of that movie, Superman was resurrected in this film. At first, he came back as “Bad Superman,” but he quickly changed his tune and helped his buddies fight off the bad guys. Finally, finally Superman became what fans had wanted from him the whole time. He was lighthearted, charming and kind. Most importantly, he was finally the hero that he was always destined to be.
3) Superman II (1980)
Superman II somehow lived up to the precedent set by its predecessor. After defeating Lex Luthor in the first film, Superman decided to renounce his superpowers to live a normal life as Clark Kent with Lois Lane. Unfortunately for Clark, General Zod and his hench-people have just invaded Earth and now Supes must suit up to prevent the Kryptonians from destroying the only world that Superman has left. This sequel, especially the Richard Donner cut, was almost as good as the original. It featured one of Superman’s best adversaries in General Zod, and it also explored the heavy toll that being a hero takes on somebody.
2) Man of Steel (2013)
After the success of the Dark Knight Trilogy, it was Superman that needed a retelling and a retooling. He got exactly that in Zack Synder’s Man of Steel. While this film divided some fans, it’s actually a pretty accurate portrayal of what humanity would look like if we lived among gods. Or aliens. Or both. Following in the Dark Knight’s footsteps, Man of Steel showed a more “realistic” take on The Man of Tomorrow. Audiences saw the destruction of Krypton, the trials and tribulations of growing up with superpowers, the death of both of Kal-El’s dads and a myriad of other scenarios that turned Clark Kent into Superman.
1) Superman: The Movie (1978)
You will believe a man can fly. That was the tagline of the original Superman film, released in 1978. And boy, did audiences believe. Superman: The Movie cast Christopher Reeve as Superman and if there has ever been a better casting decision, we’d love to hear them. Joining Reeve wasGene Hackman as the evil Lex Luthor and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane. Much like Man of Steel would do 35 years later, Superman: The Movie explored the backstory of Superman, as well as the destruction of Krypton. Marlon Brando starred as Jor-El, the father of Kal-El. Jor-El, knowing what Kal-El is capable of, sent the baby into space on a collision course. Jor-El knew how powerful his son was, but he couldn’t have known the history he was about to make, as Kal-El became Clark Kent who would, eventually, become Superman.
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