Ranking the Superman Movies


Superman’s film lineage is absolutely fascinating. Even when you remove the on-again-off-again projects during the lost years of the 1990s and early 2000s (not to mention the Richard Donner fiasco of 1980), the six films themselves are so different and so uniquely imperfect. 

Do we have a definitive Superman movie? Not a chance. I’ll get to my choice for the best so far in a minute, but saying or implying there isn’t room for improvement would be an extraordinarily foolhardy statement. 

But in not perfecting the formula just yet, there’s room for future filmmakers to play. Even the last two to tackle this legendary material, Bryan Singer and Zack Snyder, went off in two radically different directions—one choosing to craft an homage to the original, the other redefining the character as a cold and damaged soul. 

Filmmakers have struggled to varying degrees in overcoming the obvious obstacle of creating stakes or a credible threat against a seemingly invincible protagonist, and there’s a clear correlation, at least for me, between solving this problem and the quality of a Superman film. 

With that said, I share with you my attempt at ranking the Superman movies. Share yours below!

6.) Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

I’ve endured bouts of food poisoning more enjoyable than this movie. Nuclear Man just isn’t an acceptable villain in any way, shape, or form. Born out of the fertile womb of the sun (you literally see him as a “sun fetus”), he’s defeated by darkness. Yo Supe, no need to fly him to the dark side of the moon. Just bring him out after eight. World saved. Mic dropped.

5.) Superman III

That this film doesn’t represent Superman bottoming out is a shame and indicative of just how bad Superman IV is. This Richard Pryor vehicle cares more about sight gags than a coherent or exciting story, and its ideas of computer technology feel insultingly stupid today.

4.) Superman Returns

We now make a healthy jump from the toilet bowl to a state of mediocrity. Bryan Singer smartly ignored films III and IV completely, but his reverence for Superman and Superman II seems to get in the way of advancing the story or the character. It doesn’t help that Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, and Kevin Spacey all sleepwalk through the film.

3.) Superman

The next two on this list are truly neck and neck in my mind. This film has the amazing scenes on Krypton and doesn’t have Superman II‘s unfortunate forays into slapstick. That said, it doesn’t have much of a credible villain. Gene Hackman is a terrific snake oil salesman, but it’s hard to feel like his megalomania is much of a threat to Superman.

2.) Superman II

“Kneel before Zod!” Terence Stamp almost single-handedly made this film the best Superman film pre-last weekend. Yes, it gets a little goofy (the Richard Donner cut is definitely a more serious and satisfying version of this film), but Zod and his evil friends are truly threatening. Superman II also has the most involving incarnation of the Lois and Clark romance.

1.) Man of Steel

Zack Snyder’s new film is full of problems. It’s a big, lumbering mess of a movie that values sometimes-impossible-to-follow action above all else. But it nearly stole my heart. I adored its willingness to shake up the character. Henry Cavill’s Superman doesn’t know his place. He’s frightened by himself and everyone around him. And doesn’t mistake subtle chemistry for no chemistry at all; he and Amy Adams are a dynamite duo. Ultimately, this film tops the list because it’s an essential superhero film—impossibly, both an origin story and a radical attempt to shake up the formula. I’m probably more vociferous in my defense of Man of Steel because the reception has been rather icy; like I said, it has its problems. But it’s a gorgeous, satisfying summer epic, and my favorite Superman film to date.

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