ByJosh Sammons, writer at
Comic and film fan, with a slight obsession with Superman. Writing in this big scary world.

From small screen to big, Superman has featured in some of the best… and worst adaptations of all time, from the greats like Superman: The Movie, to the not so great like Superman and the Mole Men.

Superman has been a mainstay in our lives since his creation way back in 1933, thanks to creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who later sold the character to Detective Comics. It didn't take long for Superman to get his debut, appearing in Action Comics #1 in 1938. Since the 30s, the Man of Steel has come far, leaping from comic to radio, then to television and finally the big screen.

So in honour of the recent casting of Tyler Hoechlin, who has been cast as Superman for the small screen in the upcoming second season of Supergirl, nows a better time than any to do a countdown of the best actors to fit into the tight blue costume.

Kirk Alyn (1948-1950)

Kirk Alyn as Superman
Kirk Alyn as Superman

Starting off the list, we have the first man to ever play a live-action version of the Kryptonian. Alyn played Superman from 1948, first with the Superman movie serial, before reprising the role once again for Atom Man vs. Superman.

As the first live-action Superman, Kirk Alyn laid the foundations for future actors. Though he wasn't terrible in the role, his performance was hindered by an average story. Though the material wasn’t great Alyn looked to be giving it his all and having fun doing so.

In an interesting little fact, Alyn was credited as Superman in the credits for the serial, as they clearly wanted to live up to the illusion of the Man of Steel.

John Haymes Newton (1988-1989)

John Haymes Newton as Superboy
John Haymes Newton as Superboy

John Haymes Newton played the Boy of Steel- Superboy for the first season of the short-lived television series that ran from 1988- 1992.

The premise of the show came about after Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Supergirl the movie flopped and follows a young Boy of Steel coming to grips with his powers, while juggling a college lifestyle.

The first season of the show suffered from severe campiness, cheap effects and dodgy performances. This isn’t to say Newton was terrible in the role, because he wasn’t. He just didn’t get long enough to showcase his version of Clark Kent/Superboy as he was canned after the very first season.

Brandon Routh (2006)

Brandon Routh as Superman in Superman Returns
Brandon Routh as Superman in Superman Returns

Brandon Routh, the star of Superman Returns (2006) had the daunting task of carrying on the legacy left by Christopher Reeve. Routh it seemed, never got a fair crack at laying down his own version of the the character. Instead we got a half decent impression of a man playing Reeve’s playing Superman. Maybe if they decided to actually make a fresh Superman film and not a homage to the Donner films, Routh may have found himself higher on the list and starring in more than one film.

Gerard Christopher (1989-1992)

Gerard Christopher in Superboy
Gerard Christopher in Superboy

Gerard Christopher took over from John Haymes Newton for the second season of Superboy. His version was met with a darker turn for show that benefited from his take on the young hero. Christopher proved to be popular in the role, as he played Superboy for an impressive 73 episodes, which ended in its fourth season.

Tom Welling (2001-2011)

Tom Welling in Smallville
Tom Welling in Smallville

Talking of impressive, Tom Welling played a young Clark Kent for an astounding 10 seasons for the successful television series, Smallville. What’s even more impressive, is that the former model rejected the chance to play Clark on more than one occasion before finally agreeing.

Whilst the show jumped about over the years, and often found itself moving into silliness, Welling more often than not remained popular amongst comic fans.

For all its faults, Smallville did highlight the early years for Superman quite well, taking a few liberties along the way. The show also benefited by a great cast, including the best Lex to date in Michael Rosenbaum.

George Reeves (1952-1958)

George Reeves in The Adventures of Superman
George Reeves in The Adventures of Superman

Actor George Reeves took over from Kirk Alyn in the 1950s bringing Superman crashing onto the television with the popular series, The Adventures of Superman, which ran from 1952-1958, though it was to have carried on before the death of its star.

Reeves was a fine choice for Superman who echoed the typical man of the 50s, barrel chest and all, he was a former boxer and he brought the toughness to the role.

Reeve's was popular among the young target audience of the show, playing the Man of Steel for six seasons before the stars death. But he reportedly disliked playing Superman in fear of being typecast.

Dean Cain (1993-1997)

Dean Cain in Lois and Clark
Dean Cain in Lois and Clark

Dean Cain was the Superman of the 90s thanks to his portrayal of Clark Kent/ Superman for the small screen in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. The show, which was deemed a sexier turn for the Man of Steel, focused less on the hero aspect of the character and more on the relationship between Clark and Lois.

It was the chemistry between the leads that made the show so successful in the first place. Their will-they-won't-they relationship played out for the world to see for a full four seasons before it was cancelled in 1997.

Cain brought a humanity to the role and seemed to relish his scenes as Clark. Gone were the days of the bumbling journalist, instead replaced by a more self assured reporter who balanced well with the frantic, often bullish nature of Hatcher’s Lois.

Henry Cavill (2013-Present)

Henry Cavill in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Henry Cavill in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Next up on the list, and in second place is the latest actor to don the red cape. Henry Cavill has so far, played Superman twice, first in Man of Steel and then in this years Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Whilst both films have come under fire from critics and fans alike, most are in agreement that Henry Cavill makes for a fine Superman.

The actor looks like he’s stepped straight from the comics and plastered onto the big screen. Though he didn’t have an awful lot to do in his latest entry, Cavill gets more time to shine as he gears up once again to play Superman in the upcoming Justice League movies. Here’s hoping he gets his own standalone sequels, so he really gets his chance to shine.

Christopher Reeve (1978-1987)

Christopher Reeve as Superman
Christopher Reeve as Superman

Was there ever any doubt about the number one choice? No actor has of yet topped Christopher Reeve’s performances in the first two Superman movies, and to a lesser extent the third and fourth films (he was still great in them).

The unknown actor was plucked from obscurity and pushed into the limelight, starring opposite Hollywood heavy hitters such as Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, in the lead as Superman in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie.

Reeve became Superman in what is one of the best comic book castings of all time. He balanced his portrayal of Superman with a bumbling approach to Clark Kent.

Superman has enjoyed varied success so far. Who is your favourite live-action Superman to date?


Who is the best live-action Superman?


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