Ranking Superman: How The Man of Steel Changed Through The Years

For the past 82 years, Superman has been a staple in pop culture. He is, and always will be, the most iconic superhero of all time. There have been many films and television shows with the ‘Man of Steel’. It has been a difficult journey for Superman and his films, from Kirk Alyn in 1948 to Henry Cavill of today.

Since there have been so many iterations, this content varies from campy Boy Scout to an introspective Supes. Depending on your perspective, the favorite “Superman” varies from person to person.

“It’s true what they say… no one stays good in this world.”

Superman, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

After watching all the live action Superman films, I’ve noticed Kal-El’s spirit has changed depending on his respective world view when he is featured. From Christopher Reeve to Brandon Routh to Henry Cavill, the story of Superman has gotten sufficiently darker and more complex.

The character has evolved, as a reflection of its current socio-political era and how Superman fits into that narrative. Therefore, ranking the Man of Steel, the Son of Krypton is subjective. That is, if you love the character as much as many do.

Let’s discover the fact-filled and opinion-ridden ranking of Superman movies…

1. Man of Steel (2013)

The best Superman movie ever is 'Man of Steel' without question.
Source: Warner Bros./Cruel and Unusual Films

Henry Cavill’s Superman was the start of something powerful. No one can deny that. He embodied Superman in every way possible. His strength and determination to his vulnerability and innocence. Zack Snyder ensured it was all on display. This is Superman in his purest form, which definitely delivered in all aspects.

The film is a masterclass in comic book artistry. Snyder gave us deified visuals deeply rooted in mythology. Snyder is dedicated to his work and to these characters. No one can match the detail that has gone into this ‘trilogy’.

Snyder knew what he wanted from the start and expanded it in the best way. If you don’t appreciate his vision, then you simply don’t understand the genius behind the camera. With Man of Steel, Snyder and Cavill make you feel every image put on screen. Comic book lovers and casual fans alike can experience these beloved characters in the most unique and powerful way. He allows their humanity to overpower their abilities, in order for audiences to relate to their struggles.

2. Superman (1978)

Source: Warner Bros./Dovemead Films

If I could rank this as “One a.” and “One b.”, I would because Superman’s debut in 1978 was monumental. Richard Donner created a spectacle. Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman is one of the best early casting decisions ever made. No one will ever forget how iconic Reeve’s looked as Superman. No matter who dawns the cape after him, he will always be the best Boy Scout version of both Clark Kent and Superman.

Even though this was a very cheesy ’70s version of a superhero, John Williams’ incredible Superman score and theme always gives chills when watching this film. Christopher Reeve’s carries this entire film on his back with his charm, goofiness, and pure spirit. There was something about watching Reeve that made him wholesome. Who else could have played Superman then? Superman: The Movie is a classic and monumental comic book film that gave the greenlight to everything that came after it.

3. Superman 2 (1980)

Richard Donner created a sequel worthy of his original Superman film
Source: Warner Bros./Dovemead Films

The sequel to the original Superman film was fairly solid because they used more of his powers and further explored his relationship with Lois. Margot Kidder as Lois Lane was a good choice but the writing for Lois wasn’t as strong as it was for Clark. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) was also underused and I couldn’t appreciate his performance at all. The campiness from the first one was bearable, but it somehow got a bit worse in the sequel.

The highlight of the sequel was seeing Zod (Terence Stamp) and his minions come to Earth and dominate everyone and everything. Stamp was a great Zod and his presence on screen was definitely felt. The script wasn’t the best in this film either, Mario Puzo was seriously lacking when writing for the first two installments. Sure, the dialogue was decent but the pacing was definitely off in this one.

4. Superman Returns (2006)

Source: Warner Bros./Legendary Entertainment/Peters Entertainment

Back in 2006, this was definitely considered a B-list cast of actors trying to make a big-budget superhero film. Brandon Routh was a solid Superman. Yet again, the writing for his character and his development wasn’t quite there. The visuals were definitely improved but the overuse of CGI made it look incredibly animated, which took away from the performance.

It’s also the return of “the original” Superman, so this is technically a continuation of Reeve’s character arc, considering they used Marlon Brando’s original hologram as Jor-El. The story also relies heavily on Superman’s and Lois’ (Kate Bosworth) relationship rather than her relationship with Clark. That’s what’s so exhausting about the film. Kevin Spacey‘s Lex Luthor was also underused and didn’t have a plan until the very end. It felt very long and dragged out for a film that didn’t have any substance.

5. Superman III (1983)

Source: Warner Bros./Dovemead Films/Cantharus Productions

This was not a Superman movie. This was a film to showcase how funny Richard Pryor was as a lead. There is no way anyone can even classify this as a comic book movie because of how campy and ridiculous it was. For each of these films, I could tell from the tacky and obviously outdated opening titles, how bad it was going to be.

Sure, Clark going back to Smallville for his high school reunion and seeing Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole) was pretty fun, considering O’Toole would later go on to play Martha Kent in Smallville (2001). Then the massive fight between Superman and his weaker alter ego Clark, was beyond confusing but it worked.

I guess.

6. Superman IV: THE Quest For Peace (1987)

Nothing, and I mean, nothing, prepared me for how bad this was going to be.

People warned me but I said, “Nah, it can’t be worse than Josstice League?” Well, it was. For the amount of times Lois Lane got amnesia alone. I wish I had gotten it instead so I could have no memory of ever watching this film or the one before it.

The campiness was at its peak in this one, where there were long scenes of people just doing basic, everyday activities.

Then this guy, on the right, is Nuclear Man, created by Lex Luthor to defeat Superman.

Meanwhile “the quest for peace” was against a huge corporation trying to destroy the Daily Planet.

Nuclear Man was so poorly created. The special effects for his character were terrible and the most he could do was make his nails grow longer. (Really.)

It felt like two plastic toys fighting for 15 minutes. The writing and the depth to these characters wasn’t present at all. That’s what hurt this original saga in the long run.

Whether you’re a fan of the original films, or a huge Snyder fan, or even appreciate Brandon Routh as Superman, it’s safe to say that no matter who dawns the cape, the world loves the Man of Steel.

He is an iconic character and everyone knows his story, it’s an 82 year old tale that will continuously be reinvented and used in the future. The beauty of Superman is not his superhuman abilities but his heart and his genuine love for humanity.

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