Richard Donner's 'Superman' turns 40 today.
First released in 1978, the movie was a particularly difficult production. Names like Al Pacino, Muhammad Ali, Sylvester Stallone and even Steve McQueen were considered as early choices for the role. Eventually, it ended up going to Christopher Reeve, a virtual unknown at the time and a graduate of Julliard, who quickly became synonymous with the role and effectively defined the character for a generation.
Needless to say, you can guess where he comes in our ranking of the best on-screen Supermen(?) from movie and TV history.
Take a look.
6. GEORGE REEVES / KIRK ALYN - 'The Adventures Of Superman'
The original Supermen, George Reeves and Kirk Alyn, brought the comic books to life and helped forge a lot of the tropes of Superman that exist to this day. Outside of this, they're usually only mentioned in articles like this or when discussing the so-called Superman Curse, which is a fascinating and genuinely frightening phenomenon that would take way too long to go into. Check out 'Hollywoodland', which oddly enough stars Ben Affleck - who'd go on to play Batman - which goes into George Reeves' later life. It's grim, but definitely worth a watch.
5. HENRY CAVILL - 'Man of Steel', 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice', 'Justice League'
Ooof. Right, let's be brutally honest here. Henry Cavill can't act. He just can't. He might physically resemble Superman in every possible way - jaw made out of marble, black hair, impressive physique, slightly doe-eyed looking as Clark Kent - but he CAN'T act. What's more, going by 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice', they deep-down probably knew this themselves. They're acutely aware of that fact because he's given significantly less to do this time around. In a way, Cavill's representation of Superman is analogous of Zack Snyder's take on the entire DC Universe: it looks the part, but it's just... wrong.
4. BRANDON ROUTH - 'Superman Returns'
Nobody's really sure what happened with 'Superman Returns'. It was decently made, Bryan Singer had a pretty firm grip on the character and Brandon Routh was acceptable as Superman. By all accounts, it should have worked - but it just didn't. It might have been down to the fact that Kevin Spacey basically stole the entire film out from under Routh. It could also have been the fact that, well, Routh wasn't able to hold our attention for very long and the story didn't really make a lot of sense, either. A decent effort, but not a super one. Groan.
3.DEAN CAIN - 'Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman'
Plastered to the doors of more teenage girls (and boys, probably) than any other Superman, Dean Cain's mid-'90s Superman was one of the TV versions of Superman in recent years. Tom Welling, sure, he had Clark Kent down but they never really realised Superman. Cain, however, was able to blend the bookish Kent and the messianic Superman into one. Not only that, the chemistry between himself and Teri Hatcher's Lois Lane practically oozed out of the screen. The will-they / won't-they of their relationship in the first season was on par with 'Friends'. Also, that theme tune and opening credits is now iconic.
2. TOM WELLING - 'Smallville'
In a way, Smallville was perfect for the time it was released. Back in the mid to late '00s, teen dramas on TV were all the rage. You had 'Roswell', 'Buffy' and 'Angel' were tapering off, you had 'Felicity', 'Popular', all sorts really. Taking the iconic character of Superman and stripping him back to his awkward, teenage years was definitely an inspiring take. Tom Welling, again not the best of actors, more than made up for that fact by playing Clark Kent as a wide-eyed, almost naive teenager. It worked, of course, as 'Smallville' lasted a total of ten seasons.
1. CHRISTOPHER REEVE - 'Superman', 'Superman II', 'Superman III', 'Superman IV: The Quest For Peace'
Without a shadow of a doubt, Christopher Reeve was the best representation of Superman / Clark Kent on screen. Why? Probably because he was, actually, a Superman. Reeve excelled in sports and academics in school and came from a long line of wealthy businessmen, however his parents eschewed that life to work as - you guessed it - journalists. Reeve adopted a then-modern approach to both Superman and Clark Kent, making him more rounded and human than any previous portrayal, be it in comics or on television. Reeve's Superman was the very essence of humility and courage whilst Clark Kent, for all his bungling, was common decency. That's what Superman's supposed to be - the best in all of us. Reeve nailed it.