He’s one of the original superheroes. The poster boy against all evil. Near-indestructible, faster than a speeding locomotive, strong enough to lift entire planets. He’s Superman! The Man of Steel.
Kal-El’s journey from doomed homeworld to Earth makes him the last surviving son of Krypton. He’s a child sent away by his parents so that he would survive. The only one who stood a chance at living.
That’s what makes the Superman story so universal: at his core, he’s no more than an immigrant who’s trying to live his best life. He just happens to have godly powers that he must wield responsibly.
The stories of Superman and Clark Kent have been translated to the big screen by many filmmakers by now, yet not all have been successful. Here are the best Superman movies worth watching, including both animated and live-action movies.
7. Man of Steel (2013)
After years of false starts for the Superman franchise, Zack Snyder brought him back for a new age in 2013’s Man of Steel. Henry Cavill was cast as the eponymous hero and immediately went to work on getting the look right, which he absolutely nailed.
Zack Snyder, on the other hand, went to work in much the same way that 12-year-old would—putting together vast action sequences where everything crumbled and burned, all thanks to monumental clashes.
The final result was decidedly mixed. Critics praised Cavill’s performance as grounded and dedicated, but criticized Snyder’s input for being too action-heavy.
In retrospect, with knowledge of what Snyder was trying to achieve in the DC Universe, Man of Steel looks better… but one can’t escape the feeling that it was a fumbled opportunity.
6. Superman: Doomsday (2007)
Boiled down to its essence, Superman: Doomsday is an epic animated version of the “Death of Superman” storyline.
After Superman and Doomsday die because of injuries sustained in their fight, a clone of Superman that’s controlled by Lex Luther arrives in Metropolis. The real Superman is resurrected to fight off the clone, which leads to all kinds of thrilling sequences.
Superman’s fight against Doomsday is well brought to life by the animation, and as a result, every hit that either Superman or Doomsday lands feels like it’s Earth-shattering.
The voice cast does well throughout the movie, even if they lack the recognizability of the DC Animated Universe’s better-known actors.
5. Superman Returns (2006)
When Superman Returns arrived in 2006, it wasn’t the hit that Warner Brothers thought it’d be.
Of the many reasons why Superman Returns failed to live up to audience expectations, a big one was that Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins had breathed new life into DC’s other franchise only a year prior. By comparison, Superman Returns felt old-fashioned.
But in hindsight, Superman Returns is a much better movie than any pure Superman film since. It was a tough ask for Brandon Routh to play Christopher Reeve-playing-Superman, but he pulled it off well.
Superman Returns is an ode to the old days, yes, but it’s a classic Superman story with heart and vulnerability. Time has shown that it succeeded in being a visceral adventure with a great script.
4. The Dark Knight Returns (2013)
Although it’s technically a Batman film, Superman plays a big role in The Dark Knight Returns as an agent of the US government, and his showdown with Batman gives Kal-El a different edge.
It’s a faithful rendition of The Dark Knight Returns comic series, which follows the final days of Bruce Wayne’s Batman and why the US government brings in Superman to stop him.
The central fight is extraordinary between the two heroes, all while Robin and Green Arrow work together to weaken Superman enough to allow Batman to have a fair duel with Kal-El.
It’s a two-part movie and Superman only comes out in Part 2, but when he does, he’s well-thought-out and his throwdown with Batman is emotionally devastating for him who doesn’t want to kill a friend.
3. Superman (1978)
To this day, Christopher Reeve is the Superman. He may not have been the bulkiest version or the best actor to take up the role, but he was—and always will be—the perfect actor for the part.
Richard Donner’s classic movie was a glimpse into the future of cinema. He did a superhero blockbuster film before anybody else, and he made it look cool. The plot was straight out of a comic book, complete with dastardly villain and helpless heroine.
While times have changed since 1978, Superman still has something special: a beating heart. Reeve’s performance is still the bar against which all future Superman actors are measured, and so far nobody has managed to reach it (although some have come close).
2. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
He may not appear on screen for over an hour, but Zack Snyder’s realized vision of Justice League is more than four-hours long—so we think it deserves recognition as a major Superman film.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a flawed masterpiece. It’s the culmination of the story he’s been developing since Man of Steel, which sees the rebirth of Superman from his darker iteration to the better-known, more Reeve-esque version.
Henry Cavill plays the part very well (as he always does) and nails the more hopeful outlook of the resurrected hero. It might be an imperfect movie, but nobody can question its ambition and intent.
1. Superman 2: Richard Donner Cut (1981)
If the original Superman was the spark, then the director’s cut of Superman 2 was the fire.
The theatrical cut of Superman 2 wasn’t bad, but it was flawed. Thematically, it didn’t feel like a sequel to the original film. Fortunately, director Richard Donner came back to change all of that.
With the Richard Donner Cut of Superman 2, the shaky theatrical cut transformed into a monster of a film.
Marlon Brando’s Jor-El—who was cruelly cut from the theatrical version—returned to the screen, and Christopher Reeve’s performance in the movie remains Superman’s finest hour in cinema.
It’s always better late than never, and Richard Donner’s Superman 2 was worth it. Seeing the director’s true vision for the movie in full glory is a cinematic experience to behold, and watching Kal-El go toe-to-toe with General Zod has never been better.