Top 5: Live Action Superman Films

What a coincidental topic!


5) Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987)

A suddenly telekinetic Superman (hey, why not!) tries to rid the world of nuclear weapons while fighting Nuclear Man, and Jon Cryer appears as Lex Luthor’s multicolor-coiffed nephew Lenny. Even when I was 10 years old I knew this was an unmitigated disaster.


4) Superman II (1980)

The production of this film was a nightmare (Richard Donner being replaced by Richard Lester; Gene Hackman refusing to reshoot with Lester; scenes shot over the course of two years) and it really shows in the uneven quality and tone of the film. It feels very patchwork. Almost all of the grandeur and wonder of the original are missing from the sequel and I have a hard time sitting through this one. I feel the same way about the Richard Donner cut.


3) Superman III (1983)

I love this one. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I was 7 years old when it came out so it’s the first Superman film that I really remember seeing in theaters. This was also the only Superman film we owned on VHS and so I must have seen this over a hundred times. I love the fact that it’s a bit funny and a bit science fiction-y: it’s very much a Silver Age story caught on film. I think that all of the sequences in Smallville are fantastic. There are some truly touching moments between Clark and Lana. And when Superman is infected by the Tar Kryptonite and turns evil? That’s still frightening. Christopher Reeve’s range is remarkable here.


2) Superman Returns (2006)

Hampered a bit by some shaky casting, director Bryan Singer’s haunting love letter to Richard Donner is the first time we truly see Superman in real life, and we get all the awe and wonder that goes along with that.

(Yes, yes, copy and pasted from my Ranking The Modern Age Comics Book / Super Hero Movies article! Efficiency!)


1) Superman: The Movie (1978)

Two words: Christopher Reeve. Two more words: Gene Hackman. One more word: Otisburg.


  1. Solid list, I might not have put II behind III and Returns.  It is sad that there has been only one good Superman movie. 

  2. Richard Pryor on skis.  That’s all I remember from Superman III.  I guess it was the most important part.

    As for the upcoming movie, it would be cool to have Brandon Routh back. I thought that he wasreally good as both Superman and Clark … it’s just thatSuperman Returns itself was somewhat disappointing.

  3. The Richard Donner cut of Superman II should be #2 on this list. Donner had meant The Movie and II to be one long film (like Kill Bill!), and his version fixes a lot of the plot holes.


  4. This list seems correct and makes me sad.

  5. Know what? I just realized how amazing the poster for Superman: The Motion Picture is. Also, I would put the Donner cut at #3 although I do love Superman 3 from the one time I saw it when I was 8 and it was on WB when we had just moves into our new house.

  6. Old Superman movie posters were so awesome.

  7. It just hit me how powerfull the S1 tagline is.  I wish i wasnt born 10 years after it was made.

  8. Superman IV is the first I remember seeing in theaters. I’m pretty sure I’ve also bought Superman on VHS, DVD, and Blu Ray. The only movie I’ve bought more times than Back to the Future. I also loved Superman vs The Mole Men with George Reeves. The first Superman movie I had ever seen and loved every second of it.

  9. I’ll respectfully disagree.  5) IV, 4) III, 3) Returns, 2) I, 1) II.  Neal before Zod!  

    If you had included Supergirl, I’d slip that one in at 5, and IV wouldn’t make the list.

  10. I always like II better than III myself.

  11. BLASPHMY, I SAY. BLASPHMY!! 2 worse than 3 or Returns??? Turn in your geek card, Mr. Kilpatrick.

    On a side note, I always did have a soft spot for 3 – Pryor cashing a check, and that thing with the lady getting sucked into the huge super computer and all wrapped up in wires and stuff? Nice.

  12. Part 2 was very very bad. from a pacing standpoint it’s just uneven and the part where Superman removes his "S" shield and throws it like a frisbee only to have it grow and catch the kryptonian in a superman web was just…it was fucked up

  13. Superman 3 is a sentimental favorite. Richard Pryor is great, and like Conor, i watched that thing on tape (BETA) about a thousand times. That part at the end where the large computer sucks Luthors henchwoman in and turns her into a Brainiac type thing was one of the creepiest moments in any super hero movie. (sorry for the vagueness its been a while since i’ve seen it ironically)

  14. I’ve never seen Superman III or IV.  I’ll have to check them out to give my opinion.  I have seen the two versions of Superman II, and I gotta say that Donner’s cut is a lot stronger.

  15. I loved Superman Returns, am I alone in this?  I find the old ones are great in their campiness but ultimately a product of their time.

  16. It’s amazing how our personal situations impact our perceptions.  I didn;t own Superman II on VHS but it was on HEAVY ROTATION on HBO as I was like 10 or 11 years old and I must have watched that film 100 times.  I have a huge sweet spot for it and feel for it like you do Superman III which I really didn;t enjoy.

  17. I loved Returns. I know that I seem to be in the minority on that one, but I totally dug it, despite it’s problems (Superbaby, Kate Bosworth).

    I do question 3 over 2, though. I really didn’t like 3. 

  18. Shamefully I have yet to watch IV. Only because I heard how bad it was and I don’t think I have the heart to watch Christopher Reeves sink so low to do yet another film.

    The one’s I have seen I would rank: 1) Superman 2) Superman II Richard Donners Cut 3) Superman II (original) 4)Superman III 5) Superman Returns.

    The Donner cut of the sequel is 1000000x better then the original cut of it. If Donner was able to release his version initally, we’d probably still be saying it’s one of (if not the) greatest superhero film of all time.

  19. wow, that poster for Superman I is truly majestic in its simplicity… just wow

  20. I’ll throw my hat in the ring to say that I really enjoyed Superman Returns as well. I wish Supes talked a bit more and had a bit more of a personality. I liked Kevin Spacey as Luthor a lot. 

  21. The  greatest part of Superman 3 is when the villian is talking to his cohorts about how someone is stealing from them, someone so devious and clever that they will have to watch carefully for the slightest slip up. Only to look out the window and watch as Richard Pryor fails over and over to park his brand new Ferrari in the company parking lot. Comedy Gold right there…

  22. Good list. I agree with it. Superman 3 was better than 2 because it was just fun to watch.

  23. I wish Otisburg was in the comics today as Luthor’s lackey. “Otisburg!”

  24. Superman IV is a great movie!!!!

    Yes, it has some made up powers, (telekenesis), and some of the stuff with the villain doesn’t make sense.  But here’s what it also had:

    1.  Superman didn’t have a terrible 1970’s haircut.

    2.  Christopher Reeve seemed more confident with the character.

    3.  Superman is DOING SUPERMAN THINGS!  He’s trying to make the world a better place, not just chasing missiles that one bad guy launched.

    4.  The fight scenes with the villain are way better than they were in Superman II.

    5.  His relationship with Lois is more developed in IV.

    6.  He struggles with the balance of remaining objective and not playing God, and it’s very apparent (I’m not just reading into it).

    7.  It deals with someone trying to buy out the Daily Planet and turn it into a gossip newspaper. 

    I’m sure there are a lot of other things that make it great, too.  It has a couple of different plot lines going throughout as well.  I have a soft spot for it the same way, say, Conor has for III becuase it’s the one he primarily grew up watching.  I think the thing of it is, it appeals to my taste now as an adult because it was a bit more grown up that the others.

    If you haven’t watched it, do it!  If ou haven’t watched it objectively as an adult, do that too!

  25. I prefer II to I. I only saw them recently and have only seen the Donner Cut though.

  26. @RaBoogie: I’ve seen it as an adult. I’m glad you like it, though.

  27. @Conor:  lol.  Noted.

    I DO have problems with it.  The origin of the villain, for example, is rediculous.  I remember thinking when I was 5 years old and watching it, "How would he have clothes?".  But it doesn’t have anything as bad as spinning the world backwards, or pulling a fruit roll up-like "S" shield off of his chest.

    And I think we all want Lenny’s car.

  28. @Conor: …Otisburg?

  29. @Woomer: It’s a little bitty place.

  30. I liked sups returns. I felt it, right in my gut. Not a perfect sups movie but a heartfelt one. I think I got Singer’s idea even thou, some just wanted to see or expected something different. Routh was good too.

  31. This list makes me sad.  I agree on #1, but I loved Superman II.  Terence Stamp was wonderful and the convergence of Clark Kent wanting a normal life and the rise of Zod make the movie fun to watch.  Yes, there were production issues, but no more so than the first movie.  I like to see Superman uncertain that he can win otherwise nothing is on the line.  I ache to see other comic villains in the movies.  I’d love to see a Lex Luthor recruitment movie where he wrangles Parasite, Solomon Grundy, and Bizarro to go at Superman all at once. 

  32. @ Conor..  okay, now the only part you left out that made Superman 1 better than 2 was Marlon Brando as Jor El! & the whole spinning the earth in reverse!!!

    My personal fav was 2 for the fact that Zod was kick ass, and Supes fought Jaws!!(007 actor)

  33. Otisburg?  OTISBURG?!


  35. now, say what you will about superman II, but it does have "australia!"


    also, the best sequel set up of all time 

  36. I  love them all to various degrees, but I really have to give it up to the same top three. I LOVE Part 1, Part III and Returns. The only one I don’t really care about is IV. The only thing that bothers me about Returns is Lois not knowing Superman is Clark. It seems that if they were following off of Part II, it should be pretty goddamned apparent.

  37. I have never actually enjoyed a Superman movie. But then i rarely enjoy Superman comics, except for John Byrne’s Man of Steel mini, so I don’t think I’m the target audience for this.

  38. I’m tempted to agree with Conor, but I gotta fight the urge cuz III just has too many goofy moments and NO Lois.  Althought Annette O’Toole’s Lana and the Smallville stuff sorta makes up for it.  That said..

    5. Superman IV

    4. Superman III

    3. Superman II

    2. Superman Returns

    1. Superman

    PS. I loved Superman Returns.. and woulda liked to see Singer get a sequel, but I’m looking forward to the NOLAN/GOYER/SNYDER take on the Man of Steel!

  39. @Superyan: Lois shows up at the end of III to get jealous of Lana’s huge diamond ring.

  40. Damn, Supes II and III had UGLY posters!

  41. I love Reeve’s drunken Supes in III, he looks a lot like what I would imagine an older Kingdom Come Superman would look like.


    I also like that III was filmed in Calgary, where I live, and that I got to drink in the same bar that Drunk Evil Superman did!!!

  42. 5. Superman IV

    4. Superman Returns

    3. Superman III

    2. Superman II

    1. Superman

    Superman Returns was just plain crap, just like IV.  The kid just ruined it.   II (both versions) are better than 3, 4 and returns.  If Donner had had the chance to finish it the way he wanted, it would have perfectly complimented the first film.