Worst To First: Ranking the Superman Movies

Later this month, Superman and Batman will appear on the big screen for the first time.  Leading up to the release of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, we’ll be looking back at the cinematic history of the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight.  To kick things off, we’re going to rank the Superman movies from worst to first.

Let me start off by saying something that is very hard for me to say as a lifelong Superman fan.  Most of the movies featuring the Last Son of Krypton aren’t very good.  There’s really only two that are worth watching.  For the rest of the bunch, we’re splitting hairs to determine which belong at the bottom of the barrel.

Superman IV The Quest for Peace

7. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Summary: Superman tries to end the threat of nuclear war by throwing all of the world’s nuclear weapons into the sun.  But instead he ends up battling a nuclear-powered clone created by his arch-enemy Lex Luthor.  Meanwhile, the Daily Planet is threatened by a hostile takeover and Superman’s love life gets complicated when the paper’s new owner falls for Clark Kent.

What’s Good: After a few years away from the series, Christopher Reeve donned the cape and tights one last time.  While just about everything about The Quest For Peace falls short, it’s great to see Reeve sparring with Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor.  Their scenes together work despite everything else that is wrong with the movie.  And it’s good to have Margot Kidder back as Lois Lane after she was mostly written out of the third movie.  It’s just a shame these actors didn’t reunite for a better movie.

What’s Bad: After the disappointment of Superman III and Supergirl, Alexander and Ilya Salkind decided to get out of the Superman business.  They sold the rights to the series to The Cannon Group, a studio that was known for cranking out cheap action movies.  Cannon was looking to improve their reputation by making some big budget movies.  Unfortunately, their spending spree didn’t pay off.  They were going bankrupt and it shows.  The budget for Superman IV was dramatically slashed.

Verdict: Superman IV was built on good intentions.  Christopher Reeve, perhaps naively, thought he was signing on for one last adventure that would rival the better films in the series.  On top of that, he came up with a story that he hoped would help promote world peace at the height of the Cold War.  Instead, with no money to spend on things like flying, Superman IV looks embarrassingly cheap.  The script borrows liberally from the first two Superman movies even going so far as to repeat plot points better left unrepeated (Super-memory-erasing-kiss) but all it accomplishes is to remind the viewer how much better those other movies were by comparison.

Next: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice


Posted on March 11, 2016, in Movies, Super Heroes, Worst to First and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 100 Comments.

  1. Superman 4: The Quest for Peace is tremendously bad. I watched it again some time ago, and it was even worse than my memories from the late 80′ informed me. Never a good sign. It’s not quite Batman & Robin awful, but it’s kind of close.

    I do however have one positive thing to say about it. Christopher Reeve was always great in his portrayal of Clark Kent/Superman. And that even holds true here, even in one of the worst comic book adaptations of all time. As production went on and Reeve saw that Cannon was quickly running out of money, even when you could clearly see the wire work in numerous scenes, Reeve continued to give everything he had in his performance. I think that alone deserves some respect, because I’m sure if I were an actor in his shoes I would have thrown up my hands in disgust and just given up at some point. Kudos, Christopher Reeve, for always respecting the art even when you knew the finished product was going to be terrible. If you’re a big fan of Superman 1 and 2 like I am, Reeve’s top-shelf performance in Quest for Peace almost makes it watchable. Almost.


    • I agree with just about everything you said. Although I’m going to say the incompetence on display in Superman 4 actually makes it worse than Batman and Robin. B&R was a bigger waste of talent and resources. But Superman 4 is just wretched. Reeve and Hackman are great and I enjoy their scenes together. But that’s all the movie has going for it.


      • 10 Movie Franchises That Just Kept Getting Worse


        It says a lot about Christopher Reeve’s iconic portrayal of the Man of Steel that he remains the definitive version of the character, even after suffering through the ignominy of the Superman franchise’s final two installments. You’ll still believe a man can fly, but you won’t believe that Milton Keynes can convincingly double for New York.

        Despite all of the famous behind-the-scenes troubles, both Superman and Superman II still managed to set a benchmark for the superhero genre that wouldn’t be bettered for a decade. Anyone wondering who should take the credit for that saw their fears assuaged when Richard Lester directed 100% of Superman III, essentially a slapstick Richard Pryor vehicle that happened to feature Superman as a supporting character and sent the series on a downward spiral.

        Superman IV is still regarded as one of the worst comic book movies ever made. Made by the notoriously frugal Cannon Films, everything about it looks cheap and shoddily-made, with action scenes that are more unintentionally hilarious than anything else. The Quest for Peace was such a disaster that it would be almost 20 years before the Big Blue Boy Scout was seen on the big screen again.


  2. cheerleadingdaily

    These movies really almost rank themselves. You could flip flop almost any 2 movies in their specific order (#1 could be Superman 2 or # 5 could be Superman 3), but there aren’t many reasonable arguments for huge adjustments. The one and only big swing that I could see an argument for is a better ranking of Man of Steel. I came out of the theater from seeing Man of Steel feeling a little disappointed, but also hopeful that this movie was just the beginning. The character has been pretty much killed by bad movies over the last 30 years. Superman Returns had my hopes through the roof hoping for a revitalization of the original superhero movie franchise, which made it so bitterly disappointing when that movie turned out to be such a stinker. I give Man of Steel credit as a foundation from which a Superman that is more familiar to my generation can evolve from. In other words, it gave Superman a chance for a run of movies that the previous 3 movies did not.

    I don’t disagree with specific complaints about Man of Steel. I would point out that some of the complaints about it also pop up in earlier (higher ranked) movies, and they get a pass. Where Man of Steel destroyed a bullies’ truck, Christopher Reeve beat up a bully in a diner. Reeve’s revenge could be considered more out of line thank Cavill’s. And maybe Superman gets too much credit for protecting the people of Metropolis in Superman II. He certainly took time during the fight to attend to civilians. However, he also didn’t really try to bait the villains into chasing him out of the city. The difference between the fights was that level of destruction that should have occurred in Superman II was watered down because of limitations of special effects of the time. The character’s were landing haymakers that should have been taking down buildings, but they just didn’t. One more thing. The stakes were much higher in Man of Steel. Superman knew that Zod planned to destroy the entire human race. Superman could not afford to lose that fight, no matter the collateral damage. In Superman II, Zod would have ruled humanity, but his plans did not seem to involve mankind’s extinction. I will wholeheartedly agree that the Kents are terribly portrayed in Man of Steel. In addition to your observations of Pa Kent, Ma Kent shows a callousness that is kind of disturbing when she tells Superman (something like) “Be their god, be their savior, be whatever you want to be. You don’t owe them anything.” Ouch Ma Kent.

    From a flavor standpoint, I agree that I prefer the traditional, superhero treatment of the Reeve’s/Routh movies than the heavy sci fi influences in Man of Steel. But I don’t fault the movie for making that choice and sticking with it. And Superman comics of the 60’s and 70’s actually involved quite a lot of sci fi, so there is a precedent for that in cannon.

    At the end of the day, if Man of Steel comes on TV, I’ll usually leave it on, or flip back and forth to it, depending on whatever else is on the other channels. I probably wouldn’t do that for ANY of the other Superman films. Certainly not 3, 4, or Returns. That isn’t a true measure of the quality of a movie, but I think it is worth consideration when evaluating the success/failure of a movie.

    All that being said, I’d rank Superman I and II (collectively) in first place. The two movies were intended to be one long movie and really work best when taken that way. Superman I was light on action but Superman II was light on (good) character development. Together, they form a really good 3 1/2 hour movie. I’d put Man of Steel in 3rd place. I’ll agree with your order for the remaining 3 films.


    • I expect Man of Steel is going to be the most divisive movie of the bunch. At this point, only a couple of readers have done rankings, but both of them put MoS in their top three. I have spoken with plenty of people who are big fans of the movie. But typically, these people defend MoS by talking about how stupid Superman was before Snyder and company reinvented him as a darker character. This is why I have come to believe that MoS is Superman for people who don’t like Superman.

      I understand giving credit to MoS for being the foundation of the new cinematic DC Universe. But I’ll offer two counterpoints. Adjusted for inflation, Man of Steel’s grosses trail Superman I and II. And Superman Returns isn’t far behind. The reason MoS is getting follow ups is because WB has no choice but to build upon it. They need to compete with the Marvel movies. If Superman Returns had been released in 2013, we would be getting sequels to it instead.

      Also, that argument goes both ways. If Batman v. Superman is as wretched as it looks, do I hold that against Man of Steel? BVS appears to draw heavily from The Dark Knight Returns and the works of Frank Miller in which Superman is a tool of the government. His function in DKR is basically to make Batman look awesome. It’s a great Batman story, but one of the worst depictions of Superman ever. If BVS follows suit, it could be the worst Superman movie ever made.

      When I post the reader results in a week or so, I fully expect Man of Steel will be ranked higher by readers than it was by me. But I’ll be interested to see what the spread looks like. Also looking forward to hearing what readers have to say about the movie here in the comments!


  3. You make a good point about the movie business and how DC doesn’t have a choice but to build on Man of Steel. The thing is, I don’t think the Brandon Routh Superman had anywhere to go. He was a continuation of the Christopher Reeve character who somehow lost his way and turned into a jerk. Actually, he might have eventually morphed into the “tool” version of Superman from Dark Knight Returns. But that would not have been a good foundation for the DC movie universe/JLA movies to come, and highly doubt that is where they intend to take the character. The Henry Cavill version of Superman has its flaws, but there are excuses/reasons for them which lends hope that he will turn it around. In fact, I thought the final, brief scene where Cavill dawns his glasses and becomes Clack Kent, Reporter for the first time, was sign that this version of Superman had in fact found his way to the path that original comic book version of Superman traveled.

    I haven’t heard that Batman vs Superman is supposed to be bad. That would be a big disappointment. It is probably 1 of only 3 movies I’ll see in the theater this year, so I am hoping it will deliver.


    • I like Routh a lot on TV. I think he could have made a good Superman. But saddling him with a kid would definitely have been an obstacle for the kind of world building that WB wants to do. I’m sure in 2013, WB would have nixed the idea of making Superman a dad. But even if the movie was released as-is, I expect that his kid would get as much attention in a JLA movie as Pepper Potts gets in The Avengers. A passing reference here and there at best. I really can’t argue that Superman Returns is better than Man of Steel. They are equally flawed movies. My personal preferences lead me to give the slightest of edges to SR only because I have to pick one over the other.

      I did like the final scene of Cavill at the Daily Planet. I had a mixed reaction. On the one hand, yay! On the other, I really wanted to watch the movie where Cavill played that version of the character. The one I recognized. From what we have seen of BVS though, I don’t think it’s going to be the movie I want. I’m kind of dreading its release. Nothing about it leads me to believe it will be anything but bad.

      Civil War, on the other hand, looks like the Avengers movie Age of Ultron should have been.


    • 14 Hollywood Blockbusters That Will Put You To Sleep


      Given the buzz in the air for the upcoming Batman V Superman, a lot of people seem to forget about Brandon Routh in 2006’s Superman Returns. Honestly, it’s not a big deal because that movie is pretty forgettable in general. And it’s sort of sad that it’s forgettable because it had some decent effects, Bryan Singer as the director, and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor.

      That kind of combination sounds awesome at first, but the actual product falls majorly flat. It’s two and a half hours long, but easily feels like an extra hour was tacked on. Routh barely says anything in the film, which makes sense for Clark Kent, but not as Superman. The plot is slow as molasses and nothing happens for the first hour. The film doesn’t know whether it wants to be a reboot, sequel, or remake, which hurts it in terms of pacing.

      Singer expected us to see the previous Superman films so he didn’t have to worry about re-explaining events and for us to just magically get it. What he got was a bland mess that had so much potential.


  4. Jon Cryer gave an interview to AV Club not too long ago where he discussed his involvement in Superman 4, where he played Lenny Luthor. His comment on that film is worth reading; here’s a snippet of his comments:

    “That was an absolutely heartbreaking experience for me, because I had loved the Richard Donner Superman like nobody’s business. I was a Comic-Con-fanboy-crazy guy about that movie. I just loved it so much. So I’d always thought that if I got the opportunity to be in a Superman movie, I’d jump at it….. I came to realize as we kept shooting was that things kept getting… they were running out of money, but I didn’t know that. I just noticed little things, like the craft-service table got more meager and meager. And they took less and less time every day. We would get props that were especially, uh, crappy…..A few months later I ran into Chris Reeve on the street, and I said “Let’s do lunch!” We went out to lunch, and I said “I’m so excited about the movie! When is it coming out?” And he said (takes a deep breath) “You need to know: it’s an absolute mess. We had six months of flying work that we were supposed to shoot; they cut five months of it. They’ve thrown together an edit that barely makes sense.” And I was absolutely devastated, because I really wanted to be a part of bringing Superman back, you know?….. When I finally did see the movie, every frame of it hurt me physically…. To feel like you’re part of a downfall of something that you hoped to resurrect, that’s a tough thing to take.”


    • I read that same anecdote from Reeve’s point of view. He said essentially the same thing in his book. He mentioned the scene where Superman shows up at the UN and how Donner would have had the place packed with extras. But under Canon it looked like it was shot in a mall in Vancouver with whoever was standing around. I’m paraphrasing. I forget the exact comparison he made, but it was something to that effect.


    • I recently got a shout out from Jon Cryer when I sent him an article regarding the troubled production of “Superman IV” (i.e. the producers at Cannon not having enough money and what not)! 🙂


  5. I ranked them in release order. As terrible as SUPERMAN III and especially SUPERMAN IV are, they star Christopher Reeve as Superman, and Christopher Reeve kind of embodied Superman. Not Superman for just a generation, as some people claim, but for all generations.

    SUPERMAN RETURNS and MAN OF STEEL repudiate the character of Superman and are therefore complete garbage.


    • I don’t disagree. I have argued before that Superman IV is better than SR and MOS on the basis of Reeve alone.

      All three movies are bad. Picking a favorite of the three is a reverse Sophie’s Choice. I can’t really live with endorsing any of them. If I had to watch Superman IV, Superman Returns or Man of Steel again right now, I would pick Quest For Peace without hesitation.

      As expected, MoS is proving really divisive. It currently holds an equal number of second-place and last-place votes.


      • You and me both, Lebeau. At least we can laugh at SUPERMAN IV and his ridiculous “Quest for Peace”. With the other two…depression.


        • Amen.

          And I’ll throw in that while Superman III is very flawed, it looks like a masterpiece compared to the three movies I ranked beneath it.


        • I think that when compared to “Superman III”, the “Quest for Peace” at least had its heart more in the right place. “Superman III”, does have an intriguing idea of what would happen if an all powerful demi-god like Superman turned bad (a la Zod, Non and Ursa). But “Superman III” just feels like a more cynical exercise. It’s basically, am early ’80s Richard Pryor comedy that just so happens to feature Superman in it. The Salkinds basically treated “Superman III” like a regular old episode of a TV series instead of the third film in an epic, blockbuster franchise. I guess my point is that, there should’ve been a better case of sequel escalation when it comes to the stakes and odds that Superman has to face. I find it ironic that Brainiac isn’t in “Superman III” even though there’s a technological/computer angle in it.


  6. I just think that man of steel should be a little bit higher ! Despite the excessive CGI the story showed respect to Superman.


    • While I acknowledge that opinions on MOS vary wildly and I am at one end of the spectrum with my hatred of the movie, I will strongly disagree that they makers of MOS respected or even understood Superman. In my opinion, MoS fundamentally got the character wrong in just about every way that matters. If I could wish it out of existence, I would.


    • I’ll quickly concede that Man of Steel is much more expertly crafted than Superman III or IV ever were on a production level. My central problem with Man Of Steel, however, is with its tone. Since Christopher Nolan’s Batman films were hugely successful, for some reason Warners execs decided that every DC-related film from now on has to have that same dark vision. And Superman doesn’t naturally fit into that. Superman is eternally hopeful, he stands for the most optimistic vision of “truth, justice and the American way”. Maybe Warners are wrong to push Superman into that territory, or maybe I’m just too old-fashioned to accept the changing winds, but that’s just not the way I see Superman.

      Batman VS. Superman will be opening in less than two weeks, once the box office numbers pan out we will see if people accept or reject this darker tone once and for all. If the public doesn’t, DC is in some very serious trouble.


      • Given my comments to date, it’s no surprise I agree with you 100%. The Nolan approach worked for Batman (not for nothing, Batman is such a flexible character that just about any approach can be made to fit if the execution is solid). But it’s all wrong for Superman.

        I just read a little blurb comparing the trailers for BVS and Marvel’s upcoming Civil War. They pointed out that Dawn of Justice contains almost no clips during daylight except for a couple of shots of the destruction of Metropolis from MOS. Everything is shot in the rain, at night or on a rainy night. By comparison, Civil War, which has the same hero vs. hero premise, is shot entirely in bright daylight if one is to go be the trailers.

        I expect Dawn of Justice will do well. There’s an appetite for super heroes. Batman is one of the most popular characters in the genre and this is essentially a Batman movie that just happens to have Superman in it. It’s going to appeal to the crowd that posts stupid theories about how Heath Ledger’s Joker was the real hero of The Dark Knight. Basically people who don’t understand super heroes at all.

        I feel my nerd rage building. I’ll stop here for now… 😉


        • You’re actually the first one to point out to me that Batman is as flexible a character as he is: what other superhero could play as a 40’s noirish detective, a 60’s camp hero, an 80’s anti-hero and a post-9/11 center to a crumbling society, just to begin with? I’d say if Batman isn’t the greatest superhero ever created, he sure is the most flexible. And credit where it’s due I never thought of that before until you brought that up. So, kudos for that Lebeau.


        • Well, Spider-Man is the greatest superhero ever created. Batman is just the most flexible.


        • And Spidey’s not far being in terms of flexibility.


        • Batman can do sci-fi, mystery, crime, action, romance, horror… You name it. I’ve even seen Batman in some good Westerns. He’s the only character I can think of in all of fiction that can work in any genre. Superman, on the other hand, has a much more narrow range. He’s very easy to get wrong as the movies show. He can work in science fiction, but you have to get the balance and the tone right. As the template for all super heroes, Superman will always be strongly linked to that genre. You can’t stray too far from that before he stops working.

          Next to Batman, I would say the most flexible super hero is probably Spider-man.


        • Rob, you’re in good company because my favorite comic book superhero also is Spider-man. I just love Spidey, especially the vintage Stan Lee-Steve Ditko 60’s era comics which I gravitated to from reprints as a kid, but anything 62 to mid 80’s works very well for me. But I’d agree with Lebeau that Batman is the most flexible. He’s like the Stretch Armstrong of comic book superheroes. Bend him, shape him, people will accept him that way.


        • I’m assuming you Spidey fans saw the latest Civil War trailer, right?


        • Of course! I’m in love with that costume!


        • It looks good. Although as a Cap fan, I’m not sure about Spidey appropriating Cap’s shield. I have my fingers crossed that Spider comes around to Cap’s side before the movie is over.


        • Spidey BETTER switch sides. It makes no sense that Pete would be cool with divulging his identity. He did it in the comics and they had to retcon it. At first he was Team Iron Man, but switched to Team Cap due to what Team Iron Man was doing. Spidey was the moral center of that saga.


        • Indeed. I will throw in there that I absolutely hated Civil War. I am hoping the movie has little to do with the comic book. The whole secret identity issue doesn’t make much sense in the context of the Marvel cinematic universe. Do any of these characters even have secret IDS? We saw Black Widow testify in front of Congress. Tony had a press conference to announce his identity in his first movie. Cap’s identity is part of an exhibit in the Smithsonian. Hulk, Thor… I don’t think anyone has an identity to protect except Spider-man.


        • That’s because they can’t NOT show their actors’ faces when they should be wearing masks. That part about the MCU is frustrating, but nothing is perfect. Spidey better be able to keep his identity secret though. Hopefully that is what forces him to switch sides. I’m guessing that is why Hawkeye is Team Cap, as he is the only one who seems to have a “secret” life (despite not wearing a mask). I miss that great Hawkeye mask.


        • Yeah, I wish Hawkeye’s costume could be more faithful.

          I suspect the divide in the movie will be more over Winter Soldier and government oversight than secret identities. I don’t expect to hear that phrase uttered as it is kind of meaningless in the MCU.


        • Right on, Craig! Ditko and Romita, Sr. are the go-to Spider-Man versions for me, but that whole period from 1962 until Venom shows up is totally classic. I have been building up my collection lately and those stories and the art from that 25+ year period are just so great.


  7. Coincidentally, two days ago in my local paper I read a story about Brandon Routh and his career as he is from my state.

    I don’t think Superman Returns is a bad movie. I do think that several major characters were miscast and the plot and script needed to be better. Maybe I’m just partial to dead ringers for Chris Reeve…


    • You really couldn’t pick a better Reeve replacement. Sometimes I will hear his voice and just marvel at how much he sounds like the late actor.

      There are parts of Superman Returns I just want to tear off the screen. Anything that involves him being a deadbeat dad, a stalker, or space Jesus. Unfortunately, that’s a lot of the movie. If I could have two hours that lived up to that airplane rescue, I’d be in heaven!


      • I totally agree. After setting down the plane and then after talking to the people inside, when he steps back out and people start cheering when they realize Superman has returned… I do get a little misty every time I see that. Just an iconic moment wasted in a movie that could have been much more.

        And Brandon, yeah, I’m glad his career has turned out well for him. His Superman could really have been something if he had had the proper material.


        • Yeah, Routh was not to blame for that movie sucking. The writing, direction and costuming on the other hand, were ALL to blame for it sucking.


        • Yep.

          One thing I noticed about Superman Returns and Man of Steel is that neither movie really trusted their lead actor to do much. Superman: The Movie lives or dies on Reeve and his enormous charisma. Routh has shown that he can be fun and charming, but Superman Returns doesn’t give him the opportunity to do so. And Cavill, I don’t know what he’s capable of. But Man of Steel gave him even less to do than Routh.


        • That airplane sequence is literally the lone great scene out of the whole movie. Minor detail, but I love how Superman tries to slow down the descent of the plane by pulling strongly against one of the wings of the plane….. and the wing snaps right off, sending the plane into an even more off-kilter plummet towards earth. It’s sort of reminder that yes Superman is superhuman, but even he is not all powerful. Stopping a commercial airplane from crashing is not an easy task, even for him. I could hold Superman Returns accountable for not holding up to that strong early scene, but heck nothing in Man of Steel is even that riveting.


        • I was so psyched after the airplane scene. I was grinning ear to ear. That was exactly what I wanted from a Superman movie. You are right to point out the little details. They are what made the scene work as well as it did.


      • “Superman Returns” wasn’t entirely Brandon Routh’s fault, I agree. It’s just that it seemed like the script and Bryan Singer, the director couldn’t trust their leading man. Hence, why he isn’t given a whole lot to say except react or listen to what other people are saying. I think Routh may had been easily set up to fail by asking him to simply be a place holder or surrogate to Christopher Reeve. In effect, he wasn’t really allowed to embody Superman so to speak, but Christopher Reeve’s Superman (if that makes sense).

        “Superman Returns” forgot to bring anything new to the table. Because Singer is so reverent to the 1978 Richard Donner Superman movie, we’ve gotten a take that’s pretty much, firmly entrenched w/ the pre-crisis, Silver Age take on the character w/ little irony.

        Also, “Superman Returns” commits the worst possible thing that you can do as a superhero movie in that ‘s boring and deary. I really don’t understand why Singer thought that we were interested in Lois Lane’s “Baby’s Daddy” drama or how Superman can just leave earth for five years and she’s the only one who seems pissed off about it.


  8. I’m a big Superman fan (and Supergirl fan) so it’s great to see these films ranked and I can’t really object to the rankings.

    I love Lois Lane so I’m almost tempted to flip Man of Steel and Superman Return’s in the rankings because Kate Bosworth is far inferior to Amy Adams and Margot Kidder. Indeed Bosworth would rank behind Teri Hatcher and Erica Durance also. However I don’t blame her entirely, she’s just woefully miscast.

    It is kind of surreal that Durance, playing Lois as a college aged young woman, was several years older than Bosworth, playing Lois as a famous and established journalist with a five year old son.


    • I’m with you on Lois and poor Kate Bosworth. I kind of liked Amy Adams in Man of Steel. I was torn on the decision to let her figure out Clark was Superman before he even really became Superman. It’s kind of neat for Lois to be that good at her job. But it’s just another way in which Clark/Kal-el is shown to be incompetent in MoS.

      As a Supergirl fan, are you enjoying the TV show? I know I am.


      • Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane is one of the worst cases of miscasting I have ever seen as a moviegoer. I’m starting to see things a bit differently as I get older in terms of casting; I used to just blame the actor or actress if they were wrong for the part but I’ve now gotten to the point where I look at the larger picture and spread the blame out to the director and producers. Denise Richards is a good example in the James Bond flick The World Is Not Enough; she also was woefully miscast as a brilliant scientist in hot short-shorts but at what point do we call out the producers for hiring the wrong person for the part? I would think director Bryan Singer would have enough sense to recognize that Kate Bosworth was not up to the task of playing tough, independent Lois Lane. Singer is as responsible as Bosworth, maybe moreso. Even Robert Zemeckis begged the studio recast Back to the Future when Eric Stoltz wasn’t working out, and he didn’t have any clout at the time. Hot off the success of X-Men, Bryan Singer should have told the studio “look, Bosworth is pretty but she’s a charismatic black hole. We need to recast.”


        • Unless an actor/actress is a big enough star that they can start picking and choosing which parts they want, or they were one of the producers of the film, I generally don’t blame them all that much for being miscast. You don’t build a career in the industry by turning roles down, after all.


      • I like Amy Adams but wasn’t sure she could quite pull off Lois’ edge. Still I did enjoy her and as you say its nice to get a smart Lois.

        I’m really enjoying Supergirl – Melissa Benoist is exactly as I pictured Kara! She has a real sense of charm to her performance. I also like the supporting cast, especially (and to my surprise), Calista Flockhart.

        I’m watching in Ireland but I think we’re only a few episodes behind you guys. I’m looking forward to seeing Silver Banshee – Siobhan and Kara had a fun friendship in the comics, that sadly got dropped after a while. I know they hired a Canadian actress but I hope they keep the character Irish at least.


        • My youngest daughter was named Kara partially after Supergirl. So it’s very gratifying that she watches the show with me every Monday. We both enjoy it quite a bit. The TV shows take a lot of liberties with the source material, but I think they get the heart of the characters right so I don’t mind. And they are just lots of fun.

          I am sorry to report that Siobhan showed no sign of an Irish accent. Maybe her background will be expanded on later.


        • I love Supergirl. Melissa Benoist is a ray of sunshine.


        • Glad you and your youngest enjoy it both! Also great taste in names!

          I’m sorry to hear that about Siobhan, though not entirely surprised (the X-Men films did the same thing with Banshee, turning him into an American anyteen.) It is disappointing – not I’m-going-to-stop-watching-the-show disappointing but definitely a let down. Partly its because in the comics Kara and Siobhan had real shared connection through being immigrants, whether to Earth or just to America. Obviously given the circumstances of the show that would be a harder fit but I think it might have worked.

          Partly its just so rare to see Irish characters on American television, and considering this one was Irish to begin and with that feels a shame.


        • She hasn’t been on the show all that much yet. So it’s possible that will come up later. Fingers crossed that it does.

          When we were choosing names I started throwing out female superhero names as a joke. Diana, Barbara, Lois, Kara, Susan, Mary Jane… blah blah blah. Then my wife stopped me. “Wait, which one is Kara?” She asked. “Supergirl,” I answered. She thought about it for a while and eventually decided she liked the name and the superhero affiliation wasn’t too intrusive.


        • Crosses fingers

          I actually went to school with a Cara (‘C’ spelling.) Interestingly the name seems to have evolved seperately in Ireland/Scotland and Italy/Spain albeit with a reasonably similar pronounciation. In any case it is a nice name!


        • On the show, most of the characters pronounce her name with a soft A. We pronounce it with a hard a (like Care Bear) which is how I have hear it pronounced prior to the TV show. When we were in the Bahamas over the summer, everyone there used the soft a, so Kara accepts that she has the same name as Supergirl even though the say it differently on the show.


        • How Supergirl is a “total rebuke” of Batman v Superman’s grim philosophy

          The CBS superhero series, says Abraham Riesman, “isn’t a prestige drama, aiming for weighty and intricate profundity. It deals in straightforward morals, crystal-clear iconography, and breezy dialogue. By contrast, Batman v Superman thinks itself massively profound, tossing us 150 minutes of sludge-heavy speeches about men and gods, good and evil. But that bluster adds up to virtually nothing. Supergirl, in its sweetness and simplicity, quietly offers us potent parables about the ideals we should hold ourselves to.”


        • Exactly! And Supergirl is all the better for it.


        • It’s a terrific show. Last night’s Flash team-up was tons of fun. Fingers crossed for a renewal announcement.


    • I agree about Kate Bosworth–she came across as a writer for a college newspaper, not the Pulitzer Prize winner she was supposed to be. I certainly can’t blame her for accepting the role, especially as her career was not exactly roaring along at the time–but she was very badly miscast.


      • And the script didn’t do her any favors. Who wants a bitter Lois Lane? I’m not sure anyone could have made that work. But Bosworth definitely wasn’t up to the task.


        • Kate Bosworth was my pick to play Sue Storm in the original Fantastic Four films. I think she would have fit that role much better than Jessica Alba. They wrote Sue all wrong.


        • At least Bosworth is a natural blonde; I never really got my head around a blonde Jessica Alba.


        • Neither did John Byrne. He had some borderline racist comments on the subject:

          “Personal prejudice: Hispanic and Latino women with blond hair look like hookers to me, no matter how clean or “cute” they are. Somehow those skin tones that look so good with dark, dark hair just don’t work for me with lighter shades. Like I said — personal prejudice.”

          Okay, not so borderline.


        • If hookers looked like Jessica Alba, I’d go shopping.


        • Sad I can only give this one thumbs up.


        • I think that Jessica Alba actually half-French Canadian (on her mother’s side.) Not that it makes Byrne’s quote any less racist of course.

          (I do agree she’s stunning.)


    • Kate Bosworth simply put, was way, way too young to be playing that type of Lois Lane. Plus, like LeBeau said, she’s kind of a charisma suck. She lacks that fire and swagger that Margot Kidder’s Lois (whom she’s supposed to be playing pretty much) and is instead a bitter little shrew.


  9. Most of these are pretty much self-ranking. The original did so many things right that it still has a pretty good claim to be the finest superhero film ever made. Superman II suffered from the change of director and tone but still has a lot of merit. Quest for Peace is an automatic last place choice. The two reboots are pretty much neck-and-neck for next to last. It’s been quite a while since I have watched Superman III so I won’t argue with it going unambiguously ahead of the reboots, although I don’t remember it too fondly.

    I agree with all your comments about the inappropriately dark tone and misunderstanding of the character in Man of Steel. The one big merit it does have is that Amy Adams was a terrific choice as Lois Lane. She’s not quite as good as Margot Kidder, but she was very good–at times, the only reason I kept watching the movie, in fact.


  10. Amy adams was amazing in it. However i thought costner and russell crowe stole the show. Lebeau off topic. But this video makes reference that man of steel helped costner a bit if you skip ahead to 3:27 it says ironically superman is capable of helping some career they show Kevin.


  11. jeffthewildman

    This one was easy. The only difference with your ranking is that I flipped Superman Returns and III. Superman Returns has many, many things wrong. But on the whole, it’s more entertaining than III. At least to me anyway.

    Agreed 100% with the notion that the Nolan approaches works for Batman. You can make Batman into a Noir like anti-hero. You can’t do that with Superman.


  12. Another issue I had with Man of Steel is the complete absence of the John Williams music. No disrespect to Hans Zimmer, who is a fine composer, but how can you have a Superman film without the Super-theme?


  13. Wow, this article is getting a huge number of comments! Did this get linked somewhere?

    I agree with much of what you said, especially ranking the original as the best. I like Superman II but it is slow in a lot of places. Plus any movie where spinning the Earth backwards reverses time should win automatically!

    My biggest differences come with Superman 3. I like the Junkyard scene but otherwise hated the movie. I’d rank it second to last. MoS would be third worse, ranking above 3 & 4 mostly for production value and that I did enjoy it while I watched it. It was only later that the many flaws hit home. Don’t misunderstand me, it is circling the drain, but slightly above those other two.

    Despite my misgivings I’m getting more interested in seeing Batman vs. Superman. I know they didn’t learn all the lessons they needed to from MoS. But it is clear that Superman destroying Metropolis is Batman’s major motivation. So they seem somewhat self aware.

    By the way, did you happy to see this article about Zack Snyder’s various defenses of Man of Steel over the past few years? Pretty interesting. I especially like the part where Christopher Nolan flat out tells him not to have Superman kill anyone, and he just ignores it.


    • *happen to see the article…


    • No link beyond the usual stuff. The traffic is what I would expect from a Worst to First article. But the regulars are being extra chatty. Probably not a big surprise that my readership has a lot to say about Superman movies.

      It’s funny you bring up the end of Superman: the Movie. That was originally the ending for Superman II. The first movie was supposed to end with Superman hurling Luthor’s missile into space where it detonates and frees the Phantom Zone villains. The ending would have been a cliffhanger as Zod and company fly to Earth. But Donner worried that wasn’t a strong enough ending for the first movie and if it flopped they might not get to finish Superman II (Ironically, he didn’t get to even though Superman was a hit) so he took the time travel ending that was supposed to be for the sequel and used it for the first movie. As a result, Richard Lester had to figure out a way to undo Lois discovering Clark’s identity that didn’t involve him reversing time again. So he came up with the controversial superkiss.

      I used to hate Superman III. But every movie released since then has caused me to reevaluate it. If you haven’t watched it in a while, give it a fresh look. It’s not in the same class as I and II, but there’s still a lot of good stuff there.

      I will be at BVS opening weekend. As a fan of both characters (and Wonder Woman) I feel compelled to see it. But if anything, it looks worse than MoS to me. Not only do I think they have not learned their lessons from MoS, this one looks darker. I have heard a lot of people say that they find it encouraging that Batman is upset about the destruction of Metropolis. I don’t. That’s just going to call attention to the fact that this Superman isn’t heroic at all. They should be trying to distance themselves from that trainwreck, but instead they are doubling down on it.

      A while back, Zach Snyder was on a radio show and he was defending Aquaman against a couple of DJs. Snyder claimed Aquaman was cool because his trident could cut Superman and make him bleed. Now, that’s a debatable claim. But obviously Snyder’s in charge of the movies so if he says it’s true, then I guess it’s true for this incarnation of the characters. But it also completely misses the mark on both characters. What makes Aquaman cool is that he is a monarch. He is the ruler of a vast and mysterious hidden world. You can do anything you want to with Atlantis. You can do fantasy or sci-fi. You can get as crazy as you want to. The only limit is your imagination. But the limits of Snyder’s imagination is who can make Superman bleed. He seems to be obsessed with it. It also shows that Snyder sees Superman as a character he can use to build up characters like Aquaman.

      Yeah, I have seen Snyder defend MoS. Snyder is like a 9-year-old boy who thinks violence is cool. Everything I read from him makes me wish someone else was in charge of these movies. He doesn’t understand them at all.


      • See, this is exactly what I mean:

        The why of it for me was, well, if it’s truly an origin story, his aversion to killing is unexplained. It’s just in his DNA. And I felt like we needed him to do something—just like him putting on the glasses or going to the Daily Planet, or any of the other things that you’re sort of seeing for the first time, that you realize will then become sort of his thing.

        Why on earth would you need to explain an aversion to killing? Aren’t most people averse to committing murder? Wouldn’t his upbringing in the heart of America by two good-hearted farmers be enough of an explanation for Superman not wanting to kill?

        Snyder doesn’t get Superman at all.


  14. Great read and great rankings, Lebeau. Superman the movie is the best all around film of the lot. Chris Reeve is still the definitive Superman as far as I’m concerned followed closely by George Reeves. They were both fine actors that exuded the best qualities of Superman: his charm his compassion his intelligence his moral clarity and his likability. They had screen presence and gave Superman a personality, something their successors did to varying degrees but not as well. You believed in Christopher Reeve even in poorer films like III and IV. He alone almost makes those films worth watching. Richard Donner got the character because he’s a good storyteller and he’s always been strong with characters. He’s not just some special effects director but a versatile filmmaker. His resume speaks for itself. He understood you have to care about the characters. If they don’t work no amount is special effects of action will matter.

    Routh had the likability it’s just a shame he wasn’t given more to do. Otherwise he was a decent Superman. The rest of the cast was strong except Kate Bosworth who was miscast. SR had the depth but it was structured as too much of an ending of a film series than a new beginning. I like what Singer was going for with the kid but as the third film in a trilogy not the first. Singer also should have realized a Superman film needs more excitement.

    Man of Steel may rank higher on a technical level and objectively there are some good things in it but it gets so much wrong. Cavill has the look but while he’s got more macho screen presence than Routh he’s less likable and pretty bland and wooden at times. He and Amy Adams (who is also miscast) have no chemistry. Tonally it’s so far off the mark at times that it’s painful to watch. After Zods soldiers and ship are sent to the Phantom Zone Superman and Lois rehash the joke from Speed (poorly) and essentially make out on a mass grave. Not the place for any of that.

    The Superman vs Zod fight loses the character anchors and devolves into something akin to watching someone else play a video game for half an hour. I found myself not caring and checking my watch. I don’t mind killing Zod the way he did but it was poorly bought out and you can tell they had the idea and then worked backwards to shoehorn it into the script instead of letting it flow organically from the beginning of the story to a logical ending. When you do something like that you better make sure you know what you’re doing. And when it’s all over the end of the film kind of glosses over the seriousness of what happened by jumping ahead and having Clark get a job at planet and not even deal with the aftermath of all that destruction and the death of Zod. For a moral man like Superman all that SHOULD weigh on him but MOS gives us not one single scene after that overly melodramatic scream.

    SR suffers from some of the same problems as MOS (too concerned with making Superman look like a stoic tortured outsider while forgetting it’s his heart that makes him relatable and a hero in the first place) but I feel it nails the character better. It’s not just his suffering that makes him relatable but his kindness and compassion too. MOS is decent action sci-fi film but a poor Superman film whereas something like Batman Begins (which it was clearly patterned after is a good crime drama AND a good Batman film. Someone should tell Snyder those two things aren’t exclusive.

    I’m all for a different take on Superman but don’t lose the core of the character. If one could mix the character intelligence and drama of the Singer Superman film and the action and epic scale of the Snyder film and inject some hope and joy we might have a decent Superman movie.


    • Terrific post SH, you made a lot of valid points. Bryan Singer’s Superman film is fascinating in a way exactly because of its failure: Singer found tremendous success with the first two X-MEN films despite admittedly having never read an X-MEN comic book in his life prior to accepting the project. Yet most fans felt he nailed the property and turned out two superb films. So when Singer left X-MEN to make a Superman film – a property that he was unabashedly a huge fan of – you just had the sense of ‘wow, if he can nail it with a property that he wasn’t even a fan of, then this superman film should be a home run!’. In every frame of the film you can tell that Singer was a huge fan of Superman 1 and 2, as Superman Returns acts as a direct sequel to those two films, an interesting take yet somehow Singer got Warners to agree to that. Part of why I find Superman Returns an interesting failure is because ultimately Singer made a direct sequel to Superman 1 and 2 but went for a much moodier take; except for that rivieting airplane sequence the film has none of the effervesence or fun that those original two had in abundance. I think if Singer was going to make a direct sequel to those first two Reeves films he should have gone all the way and contined that same fun optimistic tone. His decision to go moodier with a direct sequel is a bit confusing in retrospect.


      • Totally agree. It’s clear from Superman Returns that Singer loves the old movies as much as I do. In some ways, he was too reverent to them. But the changes he decided to make didn’t compliment the elements he decided to keep. It’s frustrating because there’s a great Superman movie somewhere in SR. But it just got buried.


      • Thanks, Craig. Singer was the right guy for X-men. He didn’t go for the flare of the comic as much but he understood the core of the comic. The X-men are about being outcasts who work for acceptance and tolerance. They don’t use people discriminating against them as an excuse to make war even though they could. They work towards peace.

        I think Singer saw similar themes in Superman which there are but to me Supermans never been a character that was as overwhelmed by his feelings of being an alien. He had the Kents there to accept him. He had an idyllic childhood and loving parents. That plays a huge difference. Yeah there should be rough times but in the end they try to teach him to do the right thing and be the best man he can be.

        Now the angle I wish Singer had focused on which was part of SR was feeling like an outsider not so much because he was an alien but because the world kept on spinning after he left and people moved on without him. His place in people’s lives, particularly Lois’s, wasn’t the same. I think Singer got a lot of what made Superman work but he got sidetracked and distracted by other things.

        With MOS I felt Snyder and Goyer were paying Supermans best qualities lip service just to get to things like action and angst. Snyder’s more style over substance and I is it don’t think he “gets” Superman. Goyer has admitted he likes dark heroes. Superman is a complex and sometimes introspective hero but he’s not a dark tortuted one. He’s the antithesis of Batman in a lot of ways. When you make them too similar you lose so much of that character conflict and contrast. There why I hope they’ve figured out Superman in BvS.

        WB and DC shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed by who Superman is. Marvel has embraced who Captain America is and what he stands for. I think he’s become one of the most interesting characters in superhero films because they understand how to explore the character against a modern backdrop and what he means in today’s world without selling him out.


    • Lots of great points. The big fight at the end of MOS really did reach a point where it felt like watching someone play a video game. And you’re right. Snyder has said he pushed to have Superman kill and then had to find a way to back into the ending he wanted. That’s almost never going to work. It’s not organic storytelling.


  15. I don’t have the same passion for Superman as I do Batman, but I still like the character. That being said, I think only the first two films offered to the public are any good (I ranked the fourth Superman film fourth because I viewed it as a kid and liked it then, but I’m aware of its flaws).
    I don’t know about the rebooted Superman films either; they didn’t really do it for me, maybe because Superman has to be handled a certain way, and he just wasn’t red ,white, and blue enough for me in those films. I just don’t believe his narrative can be rewritten as him being troubled in any way, because that just isn’t Superman’s trip.


    • Here’s part of the problem with that approach. Superman is powerful enough to save or destroy the world. A troubled Superman is a scary thing. He has the potential to be Zod. You don’t want that in Superman. The whole point of Superman is that he could use his powers any way he wants, but he chooses to use them selflessly. Anything other than that is a different character.


      • You’re right Lebeau. Supermans not corrupted by his great power. It’s not the powers that make him superman but his sense of right and wrong and his sense of duty and responsibility. If a film really can’t get that right or understand that it’s screwed from inception.

        As for SR I always felt Singer used the vague history explanation because there were certain elements he wanted to use from Donners films even though SR still doesn’t quite line up with STM and SII. The “return” story also works better with an established version of the character. I imagine if Richard Donner had taken the same basic idea and made it with a not injured Chris Reeve it would have turned out better. The way Singer handled it just didn’t work. Like you said it was too reverent for what it needed to be while losing a lot of good things that made the first two Superman films work in the first place

        I’ve always tried to view SR not as a direct continuation of I and II but a universe where similar yet different events took place. Not an offshoot of alternate timeline but a separate (but similar) universe all together. I think Singer should have made that clear while opening the film up in ways that made it work better. I respect what he was going for even if the final product fell short.


  16. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace – Hilariocity Review


    • Like I said before I have a soft spot for IV and cut the filmmakers a little slack because Cannon literally cut the budget in half at the last minute (unlike Batman & Robin which had everything going for it but was ruined purely by poor decisions from WB, Schumacher, and Goldsman). But one scene that just comes off as absurd when I recently rewatched the film is near the end when Nuclear Man sees Lacy Warfields picture in the paper, leaves Lex’s penthouse, and flies back into the city to Lex’s penthouse looking for her. WTH? It obviously makes no sense because a whole sequence was cut out that would make more sense but as it is it’s just ridiculously confusing.

      I know it would have been difficult with scheduling and contracts but what Cannon should have done to save money was to cut out some of the sequences they cut out of the film before they started filming. Cut them in the scripting stage. The entire Nuclear Man mark I subplot could have never been filmed and saved them some money. The rehash of the romantic flying sequence could have been cut and Superman could have come to a decision on his moral dillema by just talking to Lois. Things like that could have been cut at the script stage and the money put somewhere else in the production. Maybe it could have given them more time for other things too. Like I said I know it’s not that easy because of schedules and contracts but I wish they could have tried.


    • Movies That Suck/Franchises: The First Superman Film Series. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)


  17. Batman V Superman: Ranking Every Movie From Worst To Best

    Honorable Mention: The Serials

    Batman and Superman have both been around for over three-quarters of a century, and in that time they’ve journeyed from the comics to just about every creative medium imaginable. In the early years this primarily included radio plays, some of which proved highly influential and remain well-regarded to this day, but there were also quite a few movie serials. While these were collected together into feature length pieces, they’re essentially pre-TV TV series and don’t quite qualify for this list.

    This includes Batman (1943), Superman (1948), Batman and Robin (1949) and Atom Man Vs. Superman (1950), all of which are essential parts of the characters’ screen history, if not quite qualifying as films.


    Supergirl ends in the Poochiest of ways, with Kara Zor-El asking Jimmy Olsen and Lucy Lane to forget they ever saw her as she leaves Earth by flying into the ocean. That’s right; not even the film itself could make it to the end without giving up and wiping itself from history. The audience clearly went along with Jimmy too, because this 1984 atrocity seems to have been forgotten from the cultural memory despite notably being the worst Superman-related film by quite a large margin.

    Made after the Salkinds gave up on the Superman franchise following the fair-but-unremarkable box office take of the third film, Supergirl was conceived as a cheap way to keep the franchise alive without having to bring back any of the essential characters, which is succeeds at while failing in every other manner. Set tangentially in the Reeve continuity (Marc McClure reprises his role as Olsen and there’s several trying nods to the big man himself), it takes every element that didn’t work in the later entries of that series and somehow makes it worse; lazier script, more laughably inept effects, further misunderstanding of the comic basics.

    It’s just awful on every conceivable level. And yet it still managed to attract Peter O’Toole and Faye Dunaway in mentor and villain roles respectively (both are phoning it in as passive takes on previous roles), transforming tat into obscene spectacle; Supergirl is utter drivel that actually needs to be seen to appreciate just how astoundingly bad it gets. And that’s the most glowing endorsement it’s ever got.

    Superman IV: The Quest For Peace

    Superman IV is a cheap-as-f*ck movie. Cannon, the discount production studio that got the rights from the Salkinds, are so notorious for their cost-cutting there’s been a movie made about them, and The Quest For Peace is the fake jewel in their plastic crown. It is quite possibly the worst edited movie of all time, the story a bunch of vaguely connected threads interspersed with Powerpoint level animation and the big battles between Superman and the hastily created Nuclear Man nothing more than clunky.

    Most of the actors are clearly back for the paycheck, yet despite acknowledging the result would be terrible, Christopher Reeve is still a pitch perfect – if slightly more caricaturish – Superman (even if he has to suffer through an unfunny double date as Clark Kent and Supes). It’s just a shame the actor’s obsession with nuclear disarmament got in the way of an interesting story; when Lois describes Clark Kent as a grown-up boy scout, she shouldn’t be also encapsulated his super alter-ego and the performer playing them.

    The only thing that makes it oh-so-slightly more bearable than its Gotham-based counterpart (and even then, only by a Super-hair’s breadth) is that its cynicism is slightly less toxic. Superman IV is a cheap-as-f*ck movie, but it knows it.

    Superman III

    Superman III opens with an extended Rube Goldberg comedy routine, where a hot lady in a dress causes all sorts of disasters, like a man bumping into a lamppost and walking penguin toys setting on fire and a blind man accidentally painting a road. Superman turns up at one point to save a guy from drowning in a car and at the end Clark Kent pies the first guy who walked into a lamppost in the face. The film may not be as comedic as the inclusion of Richard Pryor may suggest, but boy is its tone off.

    Every Superman movie since II has fell victim to trying to stuff too many variables in, but none that made it to release (read up on Superman Flyby) are as convoluted as Superman III. Even with main plot it’s jumbled; you have Clark returning to Smallville and romancing Lana Lang, Jimmy Olsen trying to prove himself as a photographer and Richard Pryor’s inexplicable computer genius becoming a stooge for Robert Vaughn’s Lex Luthor replacement, whose schemes feel directly lifted out of Bond (which, interestingly, is much closer to the latter-day Luthor than the Silver Age property mogul we saw of Gene Hackman in the first two films).

    The big hook is the idea of Superman turning bad (on that note, the personality of Supes in Man Of Steel is pretty much this “evil” Superman), which amounts to making the Leaning Tower of Pisa straight and getting drunk. Boo you Superman. Boo you. Reeve can’t carry this side of the character well, and it’s resolved in the most flippant way. Richard Lester clearly didn’t care much about doing Superman justice, but could have at least tried to care about the film itself?

    Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice

    Batman V Superman is inexplicably worse from Man Of Steel, showing Zack Snyder learning from none of his mistakes and adding a whole bunch of new issues into the mix. There’s the same needless destruction (albeit it with post-production inserts clarifying the lack of bystanders), the same poorly defined supporting cast, the same flippant approach to comic book lore, and through its incoherence Snyder really hammers home his insufficient skills as a director.

    And the director is the problem through and through. He takes style over substance as a badge of honor, letting the choppy story play out with not a care for continuation or contrast. It feels intermittently loose and rigid, with the rare good idea buried because there was a snazzy low-cut dress to be filmed or a sudden action sequence needed to break out.

    He couldn’t even get the central conceit to work. Despite being well over an hour into the film, the fight comes out of nowhere, pushed along by previously only hinted-at motivations, leading to one minute of good stuff before it devolves into a short bout in a toilet and a resolution that is genuine parody. Jeez. You had one job, Zack, one job.

    Man Of Steel

    Man Of Steel gets a lot wrong, and much of it falls in the lap of Snyder, whose trademark style leaves the movie a dreary, over-the-top mess, but I think its central misunderstanding is taking the baton from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and desperately trying to be revisionist.

    Because the Reeve movies remain the definitive take of the character, there’s a clear, conscious effort to be as different from that as possible. Much of it has a grounding in the comics (a Kryptonian ship being the Fortress of Solitude), but the ideas are so jumbled, happening only because DC thought they needed to distance themselves from the boy scout image, and thus not fully fleshed out. The school bus scene leaves all of Smallville knowing Clark is Supes, while the death of both Pa Kent and Zod come from contrived set-pieces so convoluted there’s easy get outs that avoid death.

    There is a chance that, as the original progenitor of the emergent DC Extended Universe will become better regarded as time goes by – like Iron Man it’ll be lauded for what was achieved afterwards – although with the premature soft-reboot Batman V Superman going even worse, that’s unlikely.

    Superman And The Mole Men

    The cinematic pilot for the George Reeves TV series, Superman And The Mole Men is incredibly of its time. And I mean that both in terms of film-making and of its presentation of Superman.

    On a cinematic level, it’s incredibly stagey, with the music constant and basic, the acting (from the big city journalists to rampaging country hicks) hammy and a story that’s built around studio availability and effects feasibility. Superman really only swoops in intermittently to preach of message of compassion – the main plot is mostly concerned with an lynch mob trying to hunt down the weird, diminutive creatures of the title (the term “Men” can only just about be used – there’s just two Mole people involved for much of the film). It’s really what you expect, and it does its job well enough.

    What’s most interesting though is its representation of the Man of Steel. Made in 1951, this is loosely based on Golden Age Superman, a whole Earth away from the one in the comics today. So the morals that defined the character are there in abundance, but there’s an odd approach to some of the character’s key elements; Clark is stated as a mild-mannered coward, but Reeves makes no effort to convey this, even having Kent referring to himself as Superman at one point in a careless joke. Although again, what else would you expect?

    Superman II

    Superman II feels like two very different movies mushed together. One minute you’re in a clear sequel to the original film, with sci-fi inflected Americana and an attempt to dissect the Man of Steel, the next you’re in a vibrant comedy, with action sequences dominated by slapstick and key emotive moments taking place in garish locations. It’s almost like it’s the result of two directors fighting to create two very different movies.

    Oh, that’s because that’s exactly what it is. The first two Christopher Reeve movies were famously filmed back-to-back (pretty groundbreaking, right?), although things didn’t exactly go to plan; original director Richard Donner was kicked off halfway through production of the second part and replaced by Richard Lester. The result is a stark, conflicted film that all too often serves as an unwelcome eye into its creative process.

    There’s a lot of good stuff still in there – Reeve is still excellent, Terrence Stamp is an terrifying Zod (I’d kneel) and the effects, while a bit cheaper than The Movie, are still impressive – but it’s undercut by small, boring locations (there’s a lot of interior sets for what should be big moments) and a general lack of continuity in narrative.

    Superman Returns

    Why is Superman Returns so consistently overlooked? It has its flaws, sure – it’s too long, over-reliant on CGI, boasts some frankly nonsense moments and Brandon Routh’s strong imitation of Christopher Reeve never goes beyond imitation – but it is still at its heart entertaining and emotionally charged. How can this earnest, ambitious film be widely discarded and dour destruction porn trumpeted as a hidden gem?

    The movie that Bryan Singer departed his beloved X-Men for, Returns shows the director’s penchant for flagrant altering of established franchise continuity almost a decade ahead of his mutant return with Days Of Future Past; a pseudo-sequel to Superman II that overwrote Supermans III and IV, Returns was a nostalgia trip to both the Reeve era and the roots of Superman. Fitting of Singer’s passive approach to canon, a lot is changed even from the original films, especially the 1930s aesthetic, but that only ties into the greater sense of the American dream.

    What Returns gets so right is the Jesus metaphor – the man who hears his fathers words in the clouds sacrificing himself to save humanity, only to return to life and ascended to the heavens never feels hokey (unlike some other parts); it’s a genuine logical arc that gets to the heart of Superman as a God and, retroactively, serves as a fitting full stop on the Reeve era.

    Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

    While technically an alternate version of Superman II, The Richard Donner Cut isn’t just the usual extended director’s cut of an existing film – replacing the Richard Lester additions with unused footage originally shot by Donner, it is for all intents and purposes a totally different movie.

    Much of the out-and-out silliness that Lester added is gone – Lois finds out Clark’s secret identity with a gun rather than a bearskin rug and the Battle of Metropolis isn’t just comedic pratfalls – which means the film’s tone is more in keeping with what preceded it and has a greater balance between the outer threat of Zod and Superman’s more internalized journey.

    Still, for all its improvements, it isn’t perfect. By the nature of being pieced together from decades old footage and not having its namesake involved at all, this is less the perfect Superman II, but rather a glimpse to what might have been. Still, had it been released in 1980, we could have a very different superhero landscape now.

    Superman: The Movie

    There’s a group of people who readily dismisses Superman: The Movie, undercutting its status as the first big budget superhero to label it merely a legacy film; good for the time and certainly impactful, but hardly holding up by today’s standards. I call this group “People who haven’t seen Superman: The Movie”.

    It’s a superhero movie blueprint, with a deft mixture of serious drama, thrilling action and a lighthearted comedy leading to something that is at once faithful to the comics (all the key Superman origin beats are hit perfectly) and sufficient as a movie by itself. That does mean it has the quirks of late-seventies cinema, sure (although that’s toned down by John Williams’ timeless score), but the earnesty of the project carries it. From the epic destruction of Krypton to a young Clark Kent reflecting on his place in the world on a Kansas farm, the film looks incredible; with ground-breaking special effects helped along by thoughtful cinematography, it always feel real.

    Above all though, Christopher Reeve is the perfect Superman – powerful, righteous, but still fallible in costume – and an even better Clark Kent; with his sheepish posture and dorky manner, he really sells the oft-mocked glasses disguise. No casting of either Bats or Supes has been more perfect.

    The only major misstep is the ending – Superman travels back in time to save Lois Lane. Now I like the idea behind this – it captures the conflict between Superman’s two fathers perfectly – but its execution (as with the death of Zod in Man Of Steel, which had interesting motivations but was butchered by poor realization) doesn’t work; does Superman travel faster than light to go back or does he simply reverse the Earth? Neither makes sense with what is shown, leaving the ending of an otherwise great film a bit flat.


  18. Critic’s Picks: All 9 Superman Films Ranked Worst to Best

    Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

    Somewhere out there in the Multiverse, there exists an Earth on which the Happy Days-inspired phrase “jump the shark” doesn’t exist. When people want to criticize an entertainment franchise for making itself ridiculous, they say, “that episode really quested for peace, didn’t it?”

    Superman III

    Richard Lester, whose irreverent ’60s comedies included A Hard Day’s Night, was brought in on Superman II when producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind wanted to boot director Richard Donner. Here he got an installment of his own, committing that cardinal sin of superhero movies not called Deadpool: He went for laughs. The jarring presence of an underutilized Richard Pryor in a leading role suggests a series running out of fuel and in desperate need of new ideas.


    If you want to cheer yourself up with some hardcore early ’80s cinema de fromage, check out this cheese-tastic classic. Alongside the delightfully vacuous Helen Slater as the titular heroine, Faye Dunaway, decked out in outrageous wigs and sharpened shoulder pads, struts her stuff as the villainess, aided and abetted by the great English comedian Peter Cook, Brenda Vaccaro, and Peter O’Toole as a space oddity. Like so many camp classics, it’s actually a bit of a slog to watch sober.

    Superman and the Mole Men

    Essentially a long-form pilot for the ’50s TV show presented as a theatrical feature, Mole Men introduced George Reeves as the Man of Steel. However dated and square the production looks now, Reeves’ beefy, uncomplicated hero, and his occasionally wry Clark Kent, retain a corny charm.

    Superman Returns

    Although relatively well received when it came out in 2006 by many critics, fans of director Bryan Singer’s X-Men series and some viewers nostalgic for the most wholesome of superheroes, this inert relaunch failed to re-ignite the franchise. Indeed, it was less a return than a brief visit, and the whole exercise did little for the reputations of Kevin Spacey (as a hammy Lex Luthor), Kate Bosworth (as a stiff Lois Lane) and poor, doomed Brandon Routh as the eponymous man in spandex. Routh’s career still hasn’t recovered.

    Man of Steel

    Warner Bros. and director Zack Snyder’s approach with the second attempt in five years to get Superman back up in the air after the misfire of Superman Returns was to go darker in every sense — even the colors of Henry Cavill’s blue-and-red supersuit looked dingier, muddier and more like distressed plastic. Although the result isn’t entirely satisfying, it’s an improvement on its predecessor and there’s a schadenfreude kick to be had out of watching indie-movie-darling Michael Shannon debasing himself for this nonsense as the baddie, General Zod.

    Superman II

    This somewhat adulterated but enjoyable sequel sees Earth threatened by three Phantom Zone villains led (in an immortally haughty performance) by Terence Stamp’s General Zod. Memorable for an Oval Office scene in which he humiliates the president and demands that Superman “kneel before Zod!” it took risky moves in advancing Clark Kent’s crush on Lois Lane. However gratifying this plotline may be, its resolution requires screenwriters to introduce another one of those idiotic “undiscovered powers” — the ability to wipe memories from others’ minds, in this case — that have weakened the mythology of Superman for ages.

    Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

    Released nearly three decades after the Superman director was replaced with Richard Lester, this reconstituted take on the sequel is more coherent than the one originally released, more serious-minded, and restores some Marlon Brando footage previously believed to be lost. While the differences may not be enormous, it’s as close as we can get to justice for the filmmaker who first made us believe a man could fly.


    A pitch-perfect combination of postwar American idealism with late-’70s urban snark, Richard Donner’s adaptation (with a story by Godfather author Mario Puzo) credibly brought DC’s star-spangled flagship character into the real world. No actor since has been able to live up to Christopher Reeve’s take on the man from Krypton, which beautifully balanced Supes’ invincibility and moral rectitude with the self-inflicted awkwardness of Clark Kent.


  19. Every Adaptation Of Superman, Ranked From Best To Worst

    Superman is a notoriously tough character to get right.

    There was a glorious time when writers simply needed to show Superman rescuing a cat from a tree or punching a mugger and readers would love it. In the years since those simpler times, the world changed quite drastically. Suddenly, heroes needed to be as complex as the evils they fought. Suddenly, the idea of “pure good” seemed childish.

    Even if you put aside Superman’s moral code, there’s still the issue of his wide array of powers. For years, we simply didn’t have the technology needed to showcase Superman in all of his glory. Many wires were snapped trying to make people believe a man could fly.

    That’s why there’s something so special about a great Superman adaptation. A Superman story come to life should make you feel like you’ve just looked up at the sky and witnessed the Man of Steel himself flying by. It should challenge the limits of the character and the expectations of the audience.

    We’d be lying if we said that every Superman adaptation has accomplished that feat, but hey, Superman would be a lot less interesting if kryptonite didn’t occasionally make an appearance.


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