The Batman franchise continues to be as eventful and as successful as ever, with The Batman (2022) being the latest reboot in a movie series that started way back in the ’60s. But it’s easy to forget about the one superhero that started it all where the silver screen is concerned.
Yes, Adam West may have donned cape and cowl back in 1966, but it was really Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) that marked the beginning of the era of superhero movies in cinema. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s all the live-action Superman movies ranked from worst to best!
9. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
It’s difficult to say whether Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) is a widely hated Superman movie, or whether people simply forget it exists. Either way, budget cuts led to gaping plot holes and terrible special effects (they use the same shot of Superman flying throughout the film).
Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), and Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor) are as charming to watch as ever, but in this case, they just aren’t enough to remedy the movie’s many problems. But perhaps The Quest for Peace‘s worst sin is that it’s simply boring, which could be why it’s so forgettable.
8. Superman III
Superman III is the first Superman movie in the Christopher Reeve Superman series not to be directed by Richard Donner. Lex Luthor is also absent, while late comedian Richard Pryor’s August Gorman, a computer hacker, is one of the movie’s villains.
While hardly the worst superhero movie of all time, Superman III does make the camp tone of the original film in the series look like something out of Man of Steel (2013). The special effects were mostly well received (unlike Superman IV), but the slapstick remains a bone of contention for many fans.
7. Justice League
We really wanted to put this movie at the bottom, and we’re pretty sure that many Superman fans would have done just that. So let us us start by saying that Joss Whedon‘s Justice League (2017) — which fans have since taken to calling “Joss-tice League” — is not a good Superman movie.
It’s all over the place, the CGI is horrible, and then, of course, there’s Henry Cavill‘s moustache fiasco (if you’re unfamiliar, Cavill had to grow a beard for 2018’s Mission: Impossible Fallout, and wasn’t allowed to shave for Justice League, which resulted in some horrible CG hair-removal). But putting all that aside, Justice League does at least focus largely on the character of Clark Kent/Superman, even if he doesn’t actually show up until the third act.
6. Superman Returns
Superman Returns (2006) is something of an oddity. Is it a sequel? Is it a reboot? Who knows — but it is a Superman movie, and seemingly follows the first four Superman movies. But given the fact that everyone has been recast — including the Man of Steel himself — then it’s also a remake.
Nevertheless, Superman Returns is a better film than the last two Reeve entries — but then that’s not much of a compliment. While Brandon Routh shines as Clark Kent/Superman, everything else feels a little flat, with Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane being the most dull portrayal so far. The movie also stars James Marsden (Richard White) and Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor).
5. Superman II
When it comes to the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, while the 1980 original is the most beloved, many fans have a lot of nostalgia for Superman II (1980), which sees the return of Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman. But this time, he must face General Zod (Terence Stamp).
Zod and his two sidekicks — Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran) — are easily the most unsettling villains in the entire Reeve series, and it’s wildly entertaining to watch Superman go toe to toe with his fellow Kryptonians. While Superman II is hardly the greatest superhero sequel of all time, it did go on to inspire Man of Steel.
4. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
The fact that Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) exists is still pretty surreal, as it’s the first time a major Hollywood blockbuster has been given a complete do-over due to public demand. Within four years of the release of 2017 film, Zack Snyder delivered his original vision of the movie.
As a superhero ensemble, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is everything the 2017 one wasn’t. And as a Superman movie, it’s a perfect trilogy-topper to Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), as the whole thing essentially rests of Superman’s shoulders (he can take it). It’s also great fun to see him team up with Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck), Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher).
3. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is generally considered something of a mixed bag, which is largely due to the fact that it’s often slaughtered by critics and defended by fans. While there’s certainly a lot going on, the “Ultimate Edition” does a lot to remedy some of those flaws.
The film still has its share of problems, but it’s wonderfully directed and incredibly entertaining nonetheless. And not only does Batman v Superman give us one of the best portrayals of Bruce Wayne/Batman, in the form of Ben Affleck, it also serves as an excellent continuation to Man of Steel, as this time, the titular hero faces the repercussions of his world-changing actions in the 2013 film.
Superman (1978) is one of those movies that knows what it is — it’s camp, uplifting, and makes you wish you could fly. While Tim Burton is often credited for paving the way for mainstream superhero movies with Batman (1989), it’s really the first Superman movie that gave birth to the genre.
Christopher Reeve is a joy to watch as Clark Kent/Superman, and nails the character on both sides of the cape and spandex. Margot Kidder is also incredibly charming as Lois Lane, while Gene Hackman takes moustache-twirling villain to a whole new level. Sure, the whole flying-around-the-world-to-reverse-time thing is very silly, but Richard Donner’s genre-defining movie is an absolute classic.
1. Man of Steel
Zack Snyder‘s first entry in the DCEU was his very own Superman movie, Man of Steel. But it isn’t just the title that separates this film from its predecessors — Snyder’s vision is gritty, and gives even Batman a run for his money (something that would actually happen in the 2016 follow-up).
While essentially a remake of Superman II, Man of Steel breathes new life into the character, with an excellent performance from Henry Cavill. Snyder directs as if he’s tearing pages from a graphic novel and throwing them at the screen, while Hans Zimmer’s score is incredibly pulse-pounding. Amy Adams‘ Lois Lane is also the best we’ve had since Teri Hatcher in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993 –1997).
How would you rank all the Superman movies? Let us know in the comments below!