At long last, Superman is coming back to the big screen following Henry Cavill’s cameo at the end of Black Adam, and fans couldn’t be more excited. However, while many have been waiting a while for his return, there’s never been a shortage of time without Superman in films or TV. Just in 2022, there’s also been Superman & Lois season 2, DC League of Super-Pets, Young Justice, and Batman and Superman: Battle of the Super Sons – even Titans showcased him in a way in the season 4 premiere.
Since he’s been a mainstay in entertainment since his introduction in 1938, there have been many iconic actors who’ve portrayed the Man of Steel in films and television. As such, there’s an eternal debate over whom the definitive Superman is, with fans of all ages standing firmly behind each portrayal. From Christopher Reeve to Henry Cavill, Redditors expressed which actor they prefer as the ideal Superman, citing how several of them aptly nail his mannerism from the comics.
Christopher Reeve (1978-87)
The most prolific opinion among fans is that Christopher Reeve gives the best performance as Superman in the four films he wore the cape. Superman246o1 wrote, “with all due respect to the other actors, it’s not even close.” He’s a legend among movie and comics fans with his tenure as Superman really establishing comic book movies as viable and popular forms of entertainment, thus setting the stage for their dominance today.
He marked the perfect balance between Clark Kent and Superman, creating such a strong dichotomy between his two personas that it’s partly believable no one would ever consider them to be the same person. As such, Christopher Reeve is synonymous with Superman in many people’s eyes.
Henry Cavill (2013 – Present)
Of course, Henry Cavill got plenty of love and appreciation online. Many fans enjoy the darker tone and strength that Cavill’s portrayals have showcased. Thankfully, there will be more opportunities to see him shine now that Black Adam correctly proved some theories about how Superman would return to the DCU. After over a decade, Man of Steel is finally getting a true sequel – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was more of a Justice League precursor.
While Reeve’s Superman emulates the classic virtue and hopefulness Superman is known for, Cavill “gives Superman a deep sense of moral complexity and emotional nuance not seen since the DC Animated Universe,” as LeaderVladimir1993 said. This gives his Superman a more developed journey to become the symbol of hope and justice that he is in the comics.
Tyler Hoechlin (2016 – Present)
Although it was initially intended to be an extension of the Arrowverse, Superman & Lois is its own special thing. In only two seasons so far, Tyler Hoechlin’s portrayal of Superman has become very popular as it focuses on him as a father, something missing from most other projects. With the inclusion of Jon and Jordan Kent and other prominent Superman characters like Steel or Morgan Edge, Superman & Lois is what many consider a perfect Superman adaptation.
Reboot422 thinks Hoechlin is “the best because he’s the most accurate to how the character is in the comics. He also feels like a character with a personality,” claiming other portrayals are stiff caricatures. This is another case of nailing the distinct personalities of Clark Kent and Superman but in a way unique to him.
Tim Daly (1996-2012)
While his portrayals in live-action do get a lot of attention, Superman has had an extremely extensive history in animation. Most would recognize Superman: The Animated Series, one of DC’s best animated shows, and Tim Daly as the definitive Superman for voicing him there. For many who grew up with Superman: The Animated Series, Tim Daly is the voice they hear when thinking about Superman or reading the comics.
Adutitorrent puts it perfectly, writing, “There’s something so profound with Tim Daly’s voice that makes him convey being Superman better than anyone else who has taken the role.” That’s certainly high praise, and it’s eagerly supported by many fans on Reddit. Daly has returned periodically to voice Superman again since the end of the animated series, so perhaps he’ll do so again in the future.
George Newbern (2001-19)
The other big voice many will associate with animated Superman is George Newbern. He took over for Tim Daly in voicing him for Justice League and Justice League Unlimited and even did so again for the Injustice video games. Many fans are hopeful for a third game, and as such, they want Newbern to return for it.
As with Daly, other fans like serapius are saying: “George Newbern is the voice I hear whenever I am reading Superman’s lines in any comic.” The way Newbern was able to act his speeches and dialogue throughout the animated series, and how it differed in other portrayals outside the DCAU, really showcased how perfectly suited he was for the role.
George Reeves (1951-58)
Before George Newbern or Christopher Reeve, there was one actor who could claim the title of the people’s Superman, George Reeves. He wasn’t the first person to play him on TV – that would be Kirk Alyn – but George Reeves did so the longest until Christopher Reeve. For his time wearing the cape and spandex, he deserves more recognition.
Redditor stasw said, “playing Superman back then would have been a career low spot, but he gave it his all and is one of the more talented actors on this list.” If not for George Reeves in Adventures of Superman in developing the character’s popularity and his place in entertainment and culture, there wouldn’t have been an opportunity for Christopher Reeve.
Brandon Routh (2006, 2019)
While most actors had several projects to refine their portrayals, Brandon Routh really only got one shot in 2006 with Superman Returns. While it’s not particularly beloved, there’s still plenty to appreciate about Routh’s performance. DashSatan wrote, “I think Routh did a fantastic Reeve impression. Which is what they were going for in that movie.”
It did have the energy of emulating Christopher Reeve’s tenure, and if it was refined better, he could’ve had his own trilogy. Nevertheless, he found more success years later as a different DC hero, the Atom in the Arrowverse – although he did also reprise as Superman again in 2019 for their Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover.
Dean Cain (1993-97)
Before Superman & Lois, there was Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman starring Dean Cain as the caped wonder. This series importantly swapped what had become the standard for Superman, as Clark Kent is a costume Kal-El puts on instead of having Superman be his public disguise.
OneStopChop said, “his Clark ended up being he was, while Superman was ‘what he could do’ so his Superman was a lot more stiff and not as fun as Reeve’s, but I do find his Clark more fun to watch, especially because of his banter with Lois.” It was that connection with Lois that made Dean Cain’s portrayal stand apart from the rest in several fans’ eyes.
Tom Welling (2001-11, 2019)
Tom Welling spent a decade playing Clark Kent in his origin series, Smallville, and while he didn’t take up the name Superman, he’s still considered among the best. Hulkzilla0 stated, “for all intents and purposes, I’d say Tom Welling is the best portray of the character in live-action.” Without the burden of the cape, Welling’s Clark Kent is the most detailed of the bunch.
According to fans, Smallville still stands as one of the best Superman shows, so Welling definitely deserves his status as giving one of the best Superman performances. It really would be no contest if he had gotten the chance to really be Superman after Smallville concluded.
Gerard Christopher (1989-1992)
Smallville was the second live-action show to focus on Superman’s origins with Superboy running from 1988 to 1992. In the first season, John Newton played the young hero, but in season 2 Gerard Christopher took over. Although that time has been overshadowed by other more prominent and prolonged portrayals, Gerard Christopher still has his own set of devoted fans.
FreakOrUnique26 wrote, “Gerard Christopher is one of the most underrated Superman actors in my opinion. He was a true likeness to the character in every way, looks, and character. He got the bumbling Clark Kent down and was a heroic hunky Superboy with values.” While he won’t get the recognition of others like Christopher Reeves or Henry Cavill, Gerard Christopher is still the definitive Superman for many fans.
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