Lex Back In Anger: Remembering Live-Action Luthors in 'Superman' Films

From Lyle Talbot to Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey, revisit Jesse Eisenberg's forerunners as Superman's arch-enemy.
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Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor in 'Superman II'

So now the world has seen the first glimpse of Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor — a man with a cold stare and no hair.

But how will the Social Network star compare to previous on-screen Luthors? As the character celebrates his 75th anniversary (He first appeared in Action Comics No. 23, cover dated Apr. 1940), here's a look back at the other men who've brought Superman's arch-nemesis to life.

Lyle Talbot (Atom Man vs. Superman, 1950)

The first on-screen Luthor came just ten years after the character's creation, in the second Superman movie serial. Talbot played the villain as a mad scientist who not only calls himself Atom Man due to the creation of a device that can turn people into their basic atoms, but he also manages to make kryptonite, as well.

Did Talbot Go Bald? No, he wore a rubber cap that hid his hair.

Gene Hackman (Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, 1978-1987)

When Gene Hackman signed up for Superman: The Movie, he was on top of the world with a resume that included The French Connection and The Conversation. Those who thought that might result in an intense, serious take on Luthor were soon to find otherwise, with Hackman going very broad in the role and turning the evil genius into something closer to a blustering used-car salesman of a bad guy.

Did Hackman Go Bald? Famously not. In fact, with the exception of a handful of scenes, his Luthor wore a wig that allowed the actor to display his full head of hair.

Scott James Wells (Superboy, 1988), Sherman Howard (Superboy, 1989-1992)

Two actors played Luthor in the syndicated Superboy series of the late 1980s and early 1990s, with original choice Wells replaced for the second season of the show onwards, officially for reasons of availability. The change was explained away by a plot that revealed that Lex had plastic surgery to make himself resemble a local inventor because… Well, it's probably better than no-one really thinks about that plot too much.

Did Wells or Howard Go Bald? And ruin those lovely locks? Of course not.

John Shea (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, 1993-1997)

Shea's take on Luthor was influenced by the comic books of the period, recasting the character as a successful (if immoral) businessman who could buy his way out of anything — except when it came to the Man of Steel.

Did Shea Go Bald? For the majority of his appearances, Shea's hair was completely covered, with the actor reportedly reasoning that a rich, self-obsessed businessman should be able to buy himself a cure for baldness if he wanted to. It's not the worst reasoning.

Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville, 2001-2012)

For an entire generation of Super-fans, Rosenbaum is Lex Luthor, thanks to a lengthy stay with the character on the long-lived CW show. This Lex started life as a conflicted, if not necessarily evil threat to Clark Kent, but by the time the series was over, an arch-nemesis had been born.

Did Rosenbaum Go Bald? Yes! Rosenbaum didn't go full method — Luthor famously lost his hair in a chemical accident in the comic books — but but he did deign to shave his head for the role.

Kevin Spacey (Superman Returns, 2006)

There's a lot to enjoy about Bryan Singer's ill-fated revival of the Superman movie franchise, including Spacey's performance as the bad guy of the piece. Bringing a genuine threat to Hackman's established camp, it's like watching the actor's House of Cards character get an early workout at times.

Did Spacey Go Bald? Would you expect anything else of Spacey?

Read more First Photo of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor

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