It is not a secret that I am a fan of Superman. I grew up in an era that had the old black and white Adventures of Superman serial airing every weekend.
Although I was watching it in reruns, the series originally ran from 1952-1958 and starred George Reeves in the title role. As hokey as the series might seem to adults now, it was pivotal in my development. It gave me a clear sense of good and evil, as well as a love of country. After all, Superman has always been America’s hero.
In 1978 a new Superman arrived on the scene; this time 30 feet high on the silver screen. Starring in the first of four Superman films, Christopher Reeve gave a new face to the iconic hero. Reeve was Julliard trained and had the handsome, chiseled features of a movie star. To many, Reeve’s interpretation will forever be regarded as defining the role.
An interesting fact is that David Prowse was the man hired to put Superman muscles on Reeves in two months of intense training before shooting began. Prowse is the actor who provided the physical body to the character of Darth Vader in the original three Star Wars films.
The next actor to bring Superman to life was Dean Cain on the television series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Premiering in 1993, Lois & Clark focused on the romance between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. It ran for four seasons. It kind of reminded me of the Bruce Willis series Moonlighting, except with superpowers thrown in.
From 2001 to 2011, Tom Welling showed us a young, high school aged Clark Kent and eventual Superman on the series Smallville. I personally loved the series in the early years and a lot had to do with Welling’s charm. Interestingly, Welling reprised the role of Clark Kent in 2019 on the series Batwoman.
While Welling was still starring in Smallville, director Bryan Singer announced plans for the feature film Superman Returns. The film was to be a sequel to Reeve’s Superman films rather than a reboot. Although Welling’s name was mentioned in rumors, Singer was adamant that he wanted an unknown in the role of Superman. He found him in Brandon Routh, who bears a striking resemblance to Reeve.
Superman Returns was released in 2006 to mixed reviews. Although the film made a profit, it underperformed box office expectations. A sequel starring Routh had several false starts before finally being dropped from consideration.
In 2013 director Zack Snyder oversaw a reboot of the Superman film universe with Man of Steel. British actor Henry Cavill was tapped to play the hero, with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as his Earth parents Jonathan and Martha Kent. Russell Crowe took on the role of Superman’s Kryptonian father Jor-El.
Cavill’s physique is by far the best of any of the actor to have played Superman so far. And, he definitely looks the part. However, Cavill’s Superman has rather underperformed in terms of meeting expectations of the public.
With the unwatchably bad Batman v. Superman as Cavill’s next foray in the Superman suit, it’s clear the actor hasn’t had the benefit of great writing to work from. I like Cavill, he just hasn’t been given good scripts.
In 2016, Tyler Hoechlin was cast as Superman on the television series Supergirl. Appearing in four episodes in the series’ second season, he was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Guest Performance in a Television Series. After several more appearance as Superman in the Arrowverse on the shows Arrow and The Flash, the spinoff Superman & Lois was announced.
Since its premier, I have been an avid fan of Superman & Lois (see ‘Superman & Lois’ is Brilliant TV You Will Fall in Love With). I find it surprising, but out of all the men who have played Superman throughout my lifetime and before, Tyler Hoechlin is my favorite.
Ranking the men who have played Superman is, of course, subjective. In the Rikki Lee Travolta Universe, Tyler Hoechlin is the best Superman actor to date. He is believable as both Clark Kent and Superman. He is also believable as a father and as a husband. Maybe it’s because we get to see him each week, but his Superman is the most comfortable.
In my little ratings world, Christopher Reeve comes in a close second among the actors to have played the part. He was the Superman I grew up with. He’s the actor that made me want to be a superhero too.
Tom Welling comes in third among my favorite Superman actors. Being given the high school years of Clark Kent as his playground, Welling was able to give the character a fresh and modern interpretation. Smallville was a great series.
Henry Cavill has the most impressive muscles of all the actors and has turned in strong performances despite lackluster material. He comes in fourth in the gospel according to Rikki Lee. He’s a great actor, but the scripts he had to work with were subpar.
Rounding out the rankings I have Brandon Routh as fifth and Dean Cain as sixth. Neither Routh or Cain should feel any shame in their performances. There happen to be six very capable actors to be ranked. Just being one of the few actors to ever get to play Superman is a something to be proud of.
I salute all the actors to have played Superman. I also empathize with all the actors who, like me dreamed of one day playing the role and never got the chance. It’s easy to play armchair casting director after the fact. I respect and admire each of these men for adding to the lore of Superman and keeping the character an iconic hero we can all look up to.
Peace. Love. Trust.
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