Ranking the Best Superman Actors Over the Years
Superman, a worldwide icon since his debut in ‘Action Comics #1’ in 1938, has inspired numerous adaptations on the big screen and television. Over the decades, a variety of actors have donned the famous red boots to bring this legendary hero to life.
This comprehensive ranking of the most notable Superman actors sheds light on the unique qualities that each performer brought to the role.
10. John Haymes Newton
The syndicated Superboy TV series followed the adventures of Superman during his college years and lasted four seasons. John Haymes Newton portrayed the character only in the first season, bringing a wise, tough, and no-nonsense approach to the role. This portrayal of Clark Kent as an alienated outsider rather than a mild-mannered klutz predated Smallville by over a decade.
Superboy may not be everyone’s cup of tea due to its subpar production values, odd scripts, and inconsistent performances. However, Newton deserves recognition for attempting to bring something new to the role, even if the first season is mainly for die-hard fans.
9. Kirk Alyn
Kirk Alyn, the original Superman on the silver screen, may be at the bottom of this list, but that does not imply a poor performance. As an early pioneer of superhero adaptations, Alyn had to work with the limited technology available and follow the directors’ guidance. His performance was admirable given the circumstances.
Alyn’s portrayal suffered from a stiff demeanor and forceful movements, making him appear more like a marionette than a human being. His dialogue also felt forced and overly scripted. Despite these shortcomings, Alyn looked great in the suit and possessed a captivating old-Hollywood voice perfect for the role. His iconic jump launch into flight is still endearing to fans.
8. Brandon Routh
Superman Returns (2006)
Brandon Routh’s performance in Superman Returns featured impressive action sequences and an imposing physical presence. However, his attempt to make the character darker and edgier often came across as brooding and moody. Routh’s Superman was less respectful than most other portrayals, invading Lois Lane’s privacy in ways that left fans wanting more.
Despite these flaws, Routh excelled at transforming into Clark Kent, genuinely appearing as a different person when not wearing the cape.
7. Bud Collyer
The New Adventures of Superman (1966-1970)
Bud Collyer, a radio actor and voice star, first portrayed the beloved superhero in a popular 1940 radio serial before reprising the role in the 1966 animated series The New Adventures of Superman. The show enjoyed a successful four-season run, introducing Superman/Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Perry White in animated form for the first time since the 1940s Fleischer Superman shorts.
Collyer made the character his own, delivering a distinctive vocal performance by altering his voice for the two on-screen personas. He spoke as Clark Kent in a tenor and adopted a commanding baritone for Superman, effectively differentiating the crime-fighting pair.
6. George Reeves
Adventures of Superman (1952-1958)
One of the classic Supermen, George Reeves captured the suave, noir side of the people’s hero in Adventures of Superman. His performance felt natural and charming, a departure from the overacting common in film adaptations of the era. However, Reeves’ Superman appeared somewhat standoffish, with Clark Kent’s serious demeanor often bleeding through.
When Reeves did open up, his performance was sweet and endearing. Tragically, the actor died mysteriously in 1959, and his life and death were later explored in the 2006 neo-noir film Hollywoodland, with Ben Affleck portraying Reeves.
5. Dean Cain
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997)
Dean Cain brought a sense of humor and warmth to his portrayal of Superman in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. While the show itself may not hold up to the standard set by Smallville, Cain’s performance as a friendly, approachable hero endeared him to audiences.
Cain’s Superman was kind and loving, often engaging with people in dire situations and connecting with Lois Lane on a personal level. Although his portrayal may have felt less heroic and more like ‘one of the guys,’ his youthful outlook was enjoyable and refreshing.
4. Tom Welling
The strength of Smallville lies in its focus on developing Clark Kent as a character. Tom Welling portrayed a younger, more human Superman as he discovered his powers and grappled with his identity. Welling’s humble, naïve, and occasionally self-doubting portrayal resonated with viewers.
As the story unfolded, Clark formed deep connections with friends, family, and Lois Lane, providing a fresh perspective on Superman’s relationships. The series finale captured the old-Hollywood feel of original Superman shows and is often hailed as one of the most satisfying conclusions in television history.
3. Tyler Hoechlin
Superman & Lois (2021-present)
Tyler Hoechlin currently stars as Clark Kent alongside Elizabeth Tulloch as Lois Lane in the hit show Superman & Lois. Set in The CW’s Arrowverse, the series follows the legendary superhero and the Daily Planet’s top reporter as they return to Smallville with their sons Jonathan and Jordan.
Superman & Lois has quickly become one of The CW’s highest-rated series and has been renewed for a third season, thanks in part to Hoechlin’s compelling portrayal of the Man of Steel.
2. Christopher Reeve
Superman, Superman II (1978-1980)
Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman in the 1978 film and its sequel remains one of the most wholesome interpretations of the character. His performance was sweet, considerate, and undeniably heroic, while maintaining a sense of humility and self-assurance.
Reeve’s deadpan exterior made his humorous and flirtatious interactions with Lois Lane all the more enjoyable. His embodiment of purity, wholesomeness, and a subdued sense of humor made him a fan favorite.
1. Henry Cavill
Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League (2013-2017)
Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Superman stands out as the most authentic and fully realized interpretation of the character. He strikes the perfect balance between humility, kindness, and an innate drive to help others, all while displaying a sense of world-weariness.
Cavill’s Superman is grittier than previous portrayals, unafraid to mete out justice when necessary. He also exhibits a range of emotions, including sass, humor, irritation, and self-doubt. Cavill’s passionate performance, both physically and emotionally, cements him as the quintessential Superman.
The Many Famous Faces of Superman
In conclusion, each actor who has taken on the role of Superman has brought unique qualities to the character, leaving a lasting impact on fans and pop culture. As the Man of Steel continues to soar on the big screen and television, future actors will undoubtedly find inspiration from these iconic portrayals.