It has been over eight decades since Superman first appeared in the pages of DC comics. Since then, the love and craze for the iconic superhero have only grown with every Superman film and show adaptation. Such is his renown that DC Entertainment declared 12 June as Man of Steel Day (commonly known as Superman Day) to mark the release of 2013 film of the same name that was set to premiere two days later.
Over the years, a number of great actors have portrayed the Superman character. Whether it was Kirk Alyn essaying the role in the 1940s or Henry Cavill making an appearance in Zack Snyder’s Justice League in 2021 — each actor has added a new layer to every Superman movie.
From the inception of its journey post World War II till today, the Superman film series, animated shows and TV adaptations have seen the rise of a loyal fan base. Starting with Superman (1941) and other Christopher Reeve films of the 1980s to Snyder bringing major DC heroes under one roof, fans have remained glued to the screen watch the Man of Steel take down the bad guys.
Here are some of the best Superman films and shows every DC fan must watch
The first of the animated superhero cartoons, this 1941 flick was nominated at the 1942 Academy Awards in the Best Short Subject, Cartoons category.
The short film revolved around an evil character who is called The Mad Scientist (voiced by Jack Mercer, uncredited). He is determined to use his Electrothanasia Ray to inflict ultimate damage and pain on anyone who had made fun of him. Lois Lane (voiced by Joan Alexander, uncredited), a star reporter at The Daily Planet newspaper in Metropolis and Superman’s love interest, tries to reach his laboratory atop a mountain but is held captive. The Mad Scientist uses the ray to destroy a bridge. But when he uses it to ruin The Daily Planet building, Superman (voiced by Bud Collyer, uncredited), who is living in the guise of a journalist named Clark Kent, comes to the rescue.
This was the first superhero movie and depicts the origin story of Superman from the Krypton planet. Clark, whose actual name is Kal-El, is essayed by Christopher Reeve in this movie.
When his biological father and scientist Jor-El (Marlon Brando) fails to convince the people of the Krypton planet of their impending danger, he sends his infant son to earth so that he can survive.
The film shows the young boy growing up to build the magnificent Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic and realise his true purpose on earth. After rigorous training, he emerges in the iconic blue suit boasting the family crest and a fluttering red cape.
Clark moves to the city of Metropolis where he is hired as a reporter for The Daily Planet newspaper. As the film progresses, he falls for Lois (Margot Kidder) but cannot gain her affection while in the guise of an ordinary human. However, the famous scene of him donning the superhero suit and flying to rescue Lois who is seen falling to her death from a malfunctioning helicopter is an unforgettable one. She gives him the title of Superman as well.
Later in the movie, he fights his arch-nemesis Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), who intends to sink the American West Coast with nuclear weapons, making it one of the best classic Superman films to watch.
Watch Superman here.
Superman II (1980)
In this sequel to the first film, Reeve is in the titular role of Superman, too. The movie opens with a prologue by the infamous and disgraced General Zod (Terence Stamp) and his allies Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran) being banished to the Phantom Zone for their crimes and intention to take over the Krypton planet.
On earth, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Planet and Clark’s boss, Perry White (Jackie Cooper), informs him that their reporter Lois (Margot Kidder) is in Paris where terrorists are out to tear the city down by exploding a hydrogen bomb.
In a sequence of events that follows, Superman saves Lois. However, in doing so, he sends the hydrogen bomb into the atmosphere where it explodes, breaking the conduit of the Phantom Zone and releasing General Zod, Ursa and Non. Now, Lex (Gene Hackman) conspires with them to destroy Superman.
The film, though helmed by Richard Lester, is fraught with controversy as director Richard Donner claims to have directed the majority portion before being pulled out of the project. In fact, this Warner Bros film was released in Europe and later in the US in 1981, something that is quite unusual for a project of such stature.
Watch Superman II here.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993—1997)
The romance between Lois and Superman was brought to the television screen in this hit series of the mid-1990s.
Dean Cain and Terri Hatcher play Superman and Lane, respectively. Other notable cast members include Lane Smith as Perry White, John Shea as Lex Luthor, while Eddie Jones and K Callan portray the roles of Jonathan and Martha Kent, respectively.
Spanning four seasons and 88 episodes, the series also showed a number of action-packed moments and introduced new villains. All of these, when combined with the charm and enigma of the superhero, make the series a Superman Day must-watch.
The live-action drama is the journey of a young Clark Kent (Tom Welling) who goes on to become the mighty Superman. Named after the fictional town in which Kal-El was raised after his spaceship crashed, Smallville was aired by The WB in 2001, but it merged with UPN to form The CW, with which the series ended in 2011.
The series is one of its kind in the superhero genre, as it depicts the high school period of the hero. His coming-of-age journey in the show entails attending school at Smallville High with arch-rival Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), realising his powers and saving the day from notorious enemies.
With 10 seasons and 217 episodes, it is the longest Superman series. Smallville also stars Annette O’Toole as Martha Kent, John Schneider as Jonathan Kent and Erica Durance as Lois Lane.
Watch Smallville here.
Superman Returns (2006)
Superman Returns is one film that has to be on your list of must-watch Superman movies. Brandon Routh plays the hero in this Bryan Singer directorial, which also stars Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, Kal Penn as Stanford (Luthor’s henchman) and Frank Langella as Perry White.
Paying homage to the first two films starring Reeve, Superman Returns is a sequel to Superman II. However, it is not in line with the events of Superman III and Superman IV and is set in ‘modern day’ 2006.
After being missing for five years, Superman is back as Clark at The Daily Planet newspaper. He is deeply saddened to learn that Lois has moved on with her life during his absence and is now a mother and a Pulitzer Prize winner. Meanwhile, Superman has to tackle Lex Luthor who intends to destroy the US and create his new continent.
Watch Superman Returns here.
Man of Steel (2013)
In Man of Steel, which is one of the most successful superhero films, Henry Cavill took over the reins of the protagonist. The movie follows a young Clark Kent who blames himself for the death of his adopted father. He leaves his hometown to hide his supernatural powers and learns about his true identity and where he came from.
However, when antagonists and Kryptonite terrorists led by General Zod (Michael Shannon) threaten to destroy the world, Superman must emerge to save humanity.
Directed by Snyder with Christopher Nolan penning the story, the film also stars Amy Adams as Lois while Russell Crowe essays the role of Jor-El.
Watch Man of Steel here.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Who knew that two of the greatest DC superheroes would become staunch rivals in a film?
This Zack Snyder film pits the two against each other as Batman (Ben Affleck) sees Superman (Henry Cavill) as an alien power who is on the earth to wreak havoc. Superman, on the other hand, sees Batman as a terrorist on the loose, keeping an eye on all.
While one tries to overpower the other, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) hatches an evil plan to destroy the planet. How the two superheroes tackle the enemy at hand and save the day makes the film a must-watch.
Watch Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice here.
The Death of Superman (2018)
Superman (voiced by Jerry O’Connell) has become the true hero of Metropolis but when a monstrous creature wreaks havoc on the city, he has to fight the unstoppable demon to save his people.
The monster reaches the US coastline and kills campers before attacking the police. The Justice League arrives to combat this deadly force but is ruthlessly defeated. The heroes call the Man of Steel who reveals himself as Superman to Lois (voiced by Rebecca Romijn). A fierce fight ensues which is being covered by Lois, and she names the monster Doomsday. What happens to the monster, Superman and Lois at the end is what makes this animated film earn a 92 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Created by Jake Castorena and Sam Liu, this Superman movie has a number of noted names who lend their voices to prominent characters. These include Rainn Wilson as Lex Luthor, Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman, Christopher Gorham as The Flash and Shemar Moore as Cyborg.
Watch The Death of Superman here.
Justice League (2021)
Released by HBO Max, the film sees a massive cinematic gathering of the DC super team, including Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Superman (Henry Cavill) and Aquaman (Jason Mamoa). Amy Adams plays the role of Lois Lane.
Reeling from Superman’s death, the other superheroes must join forces with Wonder Woman and protect the world from the evil clutches of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) who intends to turn the earth into an uninhabitable planet. However, the dangers lurking are far more threatening than what Bruce Wayne had imagined. The other heroes have to fight their own pasts and obstacles to give a fitting tribute to Superman’s sacrifice.
Watch Justice League here.
(Main and feature image credit: Man of Steel/ IMDb)