Let me admit at the outset that I’m a Batman fan, through and through, but I wouldn’t deny that Superman IS, without a single shred of doubt, the single most recognizable and iconic superhero on this planet. The ‘S’ shield on his chest, a symbol for hope for many in the comic book kingdom, is an instantly identified icon across the world, and even my parents who are oblivious to the comic book world identify Superman as a heroic being of immense power. The sheer volume of print and other media the big blue boy scout finds himself in, is massive, to say the least. Apart from being at the spearhead of most of DC’s iconic Justice League storylines, the story of Krypton’s last son jettisoned to a blue planet where he would grow up to be no less than a god, has been adapted to the big screen quite a number of times, even though the success rates have been varying.
Actors Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh, and Henry Cavill (and George Reeves in a lesser known indie Superman flick) have portrayed the gleaming beacon of hope on the silver screen, donning the cape and tights, squaring off with the immense gallery of villains exclusive to the Superman-verse, casually saving the Earth from a meteor shower or rescuing his one lady-love in distress repeatedly, albeit laden in flavour and style, and wearing an ever effervescent smile that has allowed him to become the symbol of the American cultural system the world over. In the current golden age of comic-book movies, where Superman finds himself part of a larger ensemble of heroes, the DCEU, we attempt to rank Superman’s cinematic appearances from seemingly worst, to his absolute best comic book incarnation spelt out on celluloid, spanning close to seven decades. Here is the list of all Superman live-action movies, ranked from worst to best.
8. Superman IV: Quest for Peace (1987)
There is no better way to say it, the fourth installment in what could have been a great Superman franchise turned out to be an absolute stinker and spelled doom for the ongoing Superman films, and those in the pipeline. In a way, the direction the last two Superman films went in completely mirrors the direction taken by the last two Batman films by Schumacher, ultimately bringing an abrupt end to their respective franchises. It is frequently counted among the worst films ever made, was a commercial and critical flop, equally bashed by the fans, and the reasons for it, (if you have watched the film, you’ll know) are multifarious. There is so much wrong with ‘Quest for Peace’, both movie making-wise and the depiction of its titular hero, that Superman was put in involuntary cinematic limbo for two decades owing to the bloodbath at the box office and tabloids accompanying its release.
7. Superman III (1983)
If ‘Superman IV’ marked the end of a potential franchise, ‘Superman III’ was the beginning of the end. As stated earlier, the third installment in the first Superman franchise went the campy, comedic way, much like the last two Batman films, and overdid it, especially with the inclusion of Richard Pryor in the cast as Gus Gorman. Pryor was a fine comedian who stood for something important, but the slapstick didn’t fit in too well for a Superman movie. The special effects looked archaic, even though the same VFX team that worked on ‘Superman II’ returned for the third part. The villains too, that formed an important part of the first two Superman films, were a lacking presence in this one. Ross Webster, the film’s main antagonist, was an original character created for the film; a villain who planned on taking over the world’s coffee (!) and oil supply, and later becomes hell-bent on destroying Superman. The film faced critical backlash upon release, although Christopher Reeve was praised for his portrayal (which was a constant at that point), and was barely able to recoup its production budget.