Superman is history’s first superhero, and thus he has been portrayed in the media numerous times, so doing a list on the best of them might prove to be more than just a “tad difficult.” However, in honour of Superman’s 80 years, I tried to make a compelling list to share with you my favorite Superman interpretations over the years.
You may disagree with me on some and you may agree with me on others, or you might hate my entire list, I’m not sure, but as this is a Superman list, I ask you to be respectful and kind. No hate, please.
Having said that, let’s begin.
10. The DCEU (Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman)
Note: I’m not including Justice League because I do not agree with what they did in the movie with Superman. He was treated more like a “Deus Ex Machina” than an actual character and just thinking about it makes me mad all over again.
In number 10, I bring you what is surely the most “controversial” choice of my list, as it’s been said by a lot of people this is not the most “accurate” representation of Superman.
But anyway, I choose this representation as my number ten pick for a particular reason and is that, while it might be divisive, is the one that, in my opinion, has shown the most human, relatable Clark Kent story that we’ve seen in a long time.
Hear me out: We see a Clark Kent who’s lost, who doesn’t know his place in the world, who is learning about his powers and what to do with them, who went on a journey of “self discovery” to understand himself better and who became Superman to save the people from Earth, his home, and found a purpose… a reason to be. And haven’t we all felt like that at some points in our lives?
Besides, remember that scene where Clark learns he can fly? The sheer joy on his face when he flew over the Arctic with Hans Zimmer’s score in the background? To this day, that scene still brings me joy and hope for the future.
While Man of Steel might have ignored a couple of aspects from Clark’s personality *cough cough
his reporter side that was just presented in the end and in some extra scenes, among other things cough cough*, the reality is that through this film we got a deeper understanding of who Clark Kent was and what his motivations to become Superman are. It’s a breath of fresh air in a story where people think Clark Kent is just your typical boy scout, with no deeper layers whatsoever.
And in Batman V Superman, stay with me, we are presented with a Superman who has lost faith in humanity, a humanity that’s divided between worshiping like a God and treating him as Earth’s biggest threat, and is still at lost in this world, but still wants to do good, to help people and be there when the time comes, even giving his life to save the world, his world.
Henry Cavill’s Superman is a layered character, a man who can feel hope, despair, sorrow, regret, love, friendship, forgiveness, all in the face of adversity. Yes, he’s not always smiling and joyful, as he is human. Yes, a Kryptonian but who was raised as a human, which (in Bruce’s words) makes him more human than a lot of people.
I’m not saying is perfect, but is a universe that, if completed, could’ve been a great journey for us Superman’s fans.
He may have been only in the show for a couple of episodes, but boy wasn’t he a sight to behold in those few minutes.
Tyler Hoechlin did a wonderful job presenting us with a more experienced, knowable Superman while at the same time showing us a dorky reporter who’s not used to get people’s attention and is enamored with his girlfriend, the fierce Lois Lane.
People might disagree on Hoechlin’s looks as Superman but in my opinion… If he understands both parts of the character and does a great job at playing them, the all mighty cheekbones and jaw of steel don’t really matter that much.
I’d love to see more of Hoechlin’s work as Superman, know what he’s capable of on a more deeper level, but while I know we might not get it anytime soon, I’m glad I was able to see him for just a couple of episodes, even if I may not agree with what happened in that finale.
8. Justice League Doom
While this is not a Superman film, it is an animated film that features a version of Superman that I’m particularly fond of, so it has earned a spot on this list.
In this film, the Justice League must face the League of Doom after Vandal Savage hijacks Batman’s contingency plans in case the League ever goes rogue, making them deadly rather than contingency. In this film, Superman is a hero that’s known to the world, admired by all, who cares for his friends and is loyal to the people he loves… he’s the character we know. Besides, it’s voiced by Tim Daly (STAS), so… there’s that.
Yes, this movie might not give something new or “refreshing” for the character, but you know what was what convinced me to put this movie on my list? That final conversation Clark shared with Bruce when confronting him after the events of the movie (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it… which I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so).
In it, Clark is concerned as to what brought his friend to do what he did, but still hoping he had a good reason to do so, knowing Batman and how his mind works. At the end of the talk, he gets the answer he was hoping for and put his trust in Batman once more, proving the trusting relationship Superman and Batman have, while still somewhat sad at his friend’s decision.
Superman is a trusting guy, loyal to his friends even when they do things that might not look entirely good or noble, going through great lengths so they can prove they’re worthy of that trust.
And now that I’ve mentioned the Batman/Superman dynamic, I bring you my next choice.
7. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
This is the movie where we see the World’s Finest at it’s… well, at its finest moments, as they work together to stop Luthor from taking over the world and clean their name in the process, as they’re being hunt down by some fellow superheroes.
Batman and Superman are basically outlaws, and we see them working together as detective and investigative journalist in order to stop Luthor. More than relaying in their “special abilities” they rely on each other and what they can do with their intelligence, proving they are more than just “Batman and Superman”.
I like to show this movie to people that constantly say “Batman and Superman are enemies or at best they tolerate each other” because I don’t think they really understand the dynamic between these characters and what they do for the other.
We see them banter, we see them as best friends, comrades in arms, teammates who have worked together for a long time. They genuinely care about each other and have the back of the other no matter what. But is seeing Superman break when he thinks he has lost his best friend what really seals the deal as there is nothing compared to seeing him break the barrier of sound when there’a glimmer of hope to find Bruce and bring him back safe.
6. Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
Another Superman/Batman film, that serves as a sequel for Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, but this time with the special appearances of two very important characters in Superman’s history: Darkseid and Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin.
In this film, we see a Superman that, when it’s revealed he’s not the last Kryptonian, tries desperately to keep Kara around, being her mentor and secure a place in his life for her, showing himself angry when he thinks people want to keep them apart.
Kal-El has always dealt with a sense of isolation, of not belonging in the world and being forever alone and misunderstood, as being the last Kryptonian is somewhat of a burden to him, In every version he’s introduced to the existence of Kara, he’s faced with that feeling once more, but now with the bright optimism of having someone who understands him and can bring him closer to his Kryptonian heritage.
I personally feel this is a great movie to show us that, as well as seeing Big Barda in the DC Universe with the Trinity. It might not be the greatest Superman film, but is a good one at exploring the character’s relationship with Kara Zor-El.
5. All-Star Superman
An adaptation of the classic comic, All-Star Superman presents us the story of a Kal-El who knows he’s dying after an overexposure to solar radiation but instead of letting himself brood and mope for his luck, he decides to do what he knows best, being there to save people and love Lois Lane with all his heart and soul.
We see a vulnerable Superman, a side not really shown of the character, and while the comic book is something that’s on my never-ending list of must-reads, the truth is the movie and James Denton both do a pretty good job at portraying a Superman who’s dying but who hasn’t given up.
He’s strong and powerful, but he’s also compassionate, showing a deep, genuine love for Earth and its people. In showing him at an emotional maturity, we are embraced in the real source of Superman’s powers… his ability to being there for everyone, despite his inner turmoil.
This story breaks my heart in so many ways, it had to be on this list. That’s how masochist I am.
4. Superman Returns
Look, I won’t say this was a good movie ‘cause let’s be real… It was not. However, what Brandon Routh did with the character in this movie is something that should be more recognized, more praised, as he is, in my opinion, one of the greatest actors to have ever played the blue superhero on the big screen.
Surrounded by a cheesy, uninteresting plot and really, really bad dialogue, the casting of this movie was on point. Brandon Routh did an amazing work with understanding Clark Kent and Superman, showing us in the process a well round performance of the Man of Steel.
Not only did he had the looks but every scene where he was, he did an amazing job as the Kryptonian reporter and blue-clad Superhero. He brought back to collective memory the values the character represents, in some sort of “love letter” to Christopher Reeve’s Superman, as it was some sort of “continuation” of Superman and Superman II.
With a better script, I’m positive he would’ve shone more than he did, and he would be a lot more present in people’s minds when thinking about Superman’s portrayals, but alas that’s not the world we live in.
Some people seem to think that Clark Kent is a persona “created” and not someone who’s actually intrinsic part of the character, but that’s far from the truth. Clark Kent IS Superman and Superman IS Clark Kent, there’s no other way, no “Clark Kent is his fictional persona and he’s his real self when he’s Superman”. It’s a little more complicated than that.
I have this theory that the “real Clark” is a combination of the exaggerated Clark Kent (the clumsy, mild-mannered reporter) and Superman. He’s a Farm Boy at heart with a desire to do good for humanity and bring hope all over the world… And this show is the perfect representation of what I’m talking about.
Through the span of ten years, we see teenager Clark Kent become the symbol of hope, truth, and justice we’ve come to love in this past 80 years while dealing with his sense of isolation (from being a Kryptonian among humans) and learning to use his powers for the greater good… All while he’s dealing with teenager experiences like crushes, heartbreaks, awkwardness, etc.
Yes, this was a show about Clark Kent, but there is no Superman without Clark Kent. His childhood at the Farm with Martha and Jonathan Kent, his friendship with Lana and Pete (and Chloe, created for this show particularly), his love with Lois Lane, his “rivalry” with Lex Luthor… All his experiences made him the Superhero he became, and he wouldn’t be the Superman we love if he weren’t Clark Kent first.
2. Superman The Animated Series and Justice League (Cartoon)
My first “contact” with the superhero, to put it in a way, is the one that in my heart I love the most. I wasn’t even born when Superman The Animated Series premiered, but through re-runs, in my early childhood I was able to know and embrace the character of Superman.
A reporter by day and a Superhero whenever the world needed one, Superman was there to save the day from a small kid who wanted his cat back to a whole city being attacked by a madman, even crossing with certain Gothamite blowing our young minds in the process.
I remember watching STAS and being marveled at how it felt like I was watching a comic book came into life, showing me a complex Superman with a sharp mind and sense of right and wrong, but still being compassionate to everyone around him, even if they didn’t deserve it at all.
And then, he went on and created the Justice League, with Batman’s help and money (of course), in order to keep the people from Earth safe from outside attackers and help the other members of the League not feel entirely alone, showing us strong men are stronger when working together.
Seeing Superman learning how to be a leader, with his unbreakable loyalty to the League who would eventually become his friends and even part of his family, has to be one of the greatest things I’ve seen as a Superman fan, and at the time I didn’t even know what a fan was.
But that’s not it, as it is in this Universe that we also get to see the “formation” of the World’s Finest, a relationship that started out as hate for each other and would eventually develop into mutual respect to later become best friends, even leading the League together, no matter what Batman said he was “just part-time”.
Tim Daly is the voice of Superman, as he perfectly understood Clark’s personality when being Superman and when being Clark, showing us who he is through his friendships with Bruce and Jimmy, and his, let’s say… complicated, relationship with Lois.
I’m glad this is the version I grew up with, I truly am.
1. Superman (1978) and Superman II Christopher Reeve
¿Did you seriously expected something else as my number one pick? The man was Superman, he understood better than anyone the character and portrayed him like no one has ever been able to do it in a long time.
In Superman, we and the world are introduced to Superman’s backstory and his abilities in full display, while at the same time we see Reeve balancing both Clark Kent and Superman’s life to the public. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone go from this both personas with so much contrast and differences as Reeve did it in its time.
I love the scene in Superman when he literally goes from Clark Kent to Superman in a space of seconds, with only changing his body language and his voice. It was like someone else entirely and still gives me chills just to think about it. With him the “it’s just a pair of glasses” excuse doesn’t work, because it’s the accent, the body language, the posture, the tone of the voice, the eyes. Everything changes with him.
But is in Superman II where Reeves really, really shines, as he’s more familiar with the character, more comfortable in his skin. He understands it better than he did in Superman and gets to explore it more in an intimate way.
Christopher Reeve is the man we compare every other Superman actor with, and while there have been great ones, no one compares to the job Christopher Reeve did in his time.
Superman, Kal-El, Clark Kent, whatever you want to call him, has been around for 80 years, more than most of us have been alive, and while he has faced some bumps in the road, the truth is that he has been part of our lives for a long time, and has meant a lot for a lot of people, not only a character with his underwear on the outside.
He’s a symbol of hope and… don’t we all need a little bit of hope in our lives, especially in the times we’re living right now?
Today we celebrate Superman’s Action Comics #1000, a milestone in the character’s history, and I think a great to celebrate this is by revisiting ten of his best multimedia interpretations.
But, like I said, this are my choices, so I’m curious about yours. Let us know in the comments section down below and be sure to check out Action Comics #1000 this Wednesday, available on every comic store near you!