Critic's Picks: All 9 Superman Films Ranked Worst to Best

8:00 AM 3/24/2016

by Leslie Felperin

Two THR film critics rank all the Superman films and spinoffs, including a revamped version of the 1980 sequel (featuring more Marlon Brando) and the deliriously campy 'Supergirl.'

Superman - H 2016

  1. 9

    Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

    Somewhere out there in the Multiverse, there exists an Earth on which the Happy Days-inspired phrase "jump the shark" doesn't exist. When people want to criticize an entertainment franchise for making itself ridiculous, they say, "that episode really quested for peace, didn't it?"

  2. 8

    Superman III

    Richard Lester, whose irreverent '60s comedies included A Hard Day's Night, was brought in on Superman II when producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind wanted to boot director Richard Donner. Here he got an installment of his own, committing that cardinal sin of superhero movies not called Deadpool: He went for laughs. The jarring presence of an underutilized Richard Pryor in a leading role suggests a series running out of fuel and in desperate need of new ideas.

  3. 7


    If you want to cheer yourself up with some hardcore early '80s cinema de fromage, check out this cheese-tastic classic. Alongside the delightfully vacuous Helen Slater as the titular heroine, Faye Dunaway, decked out in outrageous wigs and sharpened shoulder pads, struts her stuff as the villainess, aided and abetted by the great English comedian Peter Cook, Brenda Vaccaro, and Peter O’Toole as a space oddity. Like so many camp classics, it’s actually a bit of a slog to watch sober.

  4. 6

    Superman and the Mole Men

    Essentially a long-form pilot for the '50s TV show presented as a theatrical feature, Mole Men introduced George Reeves as the Man of Steel. However dated and square the production looks now, Reeves' beefy, uncomplicated hero, and his occasionally wry Clark Kent, retain a corny charm.

  5. 5

    Superman Returns

    Although relatively well received when it came out in 2006 by many critics, fans of director Bryan Singer’s X-Men series and some viewers nostalgic for the most wholesome of superheroes, this inert relaunch failed to re-ignite the franchise. Indeed, it was less a return than a brief visit, and the whole exercise did little for the reputations of Kevin Spacey (as a hammy Lex Luthor), Kate Bosworth (as a stiff Lois Lane) and poor, doomed Brandon Routh as the eponymous man in spandex. Routh's career still hasn’t recovered.

  6. 4

    Man of Steel

    Warner Bros. and director Zack Snyder’s approach with the second attempt in five years to get Superman back up in the air after the misfire of Superman Returns was to go darker in every sense — even the colors of Henry Cavill’s blue-and-red supersuit looked dingier, muddier and more like distressed plastic. Although the result isn’t entirely satisfying, it’s an improvement on its predecessor and there’s a schadenfreude kick to be had out of watching indie-movie-darling Michael Shannon debasing himself for this nonsense as the baddie, General Zod.

  7. 3

    Superman II

    This somewhat adulterated but enjoyable sequel sees Earth threatened by three Phantom Zone villains led (in an immortally haughty performance) by Terence Stamp's General Zod. Memorable for an Oval Office scene in which he humiliates the president and demands that Superman "kneel before Zod!" it took risky moves in advancing Clark Kent's crush on Lois Lane. However gratifying this plotline may be, its resolution requires screenwriters to introduce another one of those idiotic "undiscovered powers" — the ability to wipe memories from others' minds, in this case — that have weakened the mythology of Superman for ages.

  8. 2

    Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

    Released nearly three decades after the Superman director was replaced with Richard Lester, this reconstituted take on the sequel is more coherent than the one originally released, more serious-minded, and restores some Marlon Brando footage previously believed to be lost. While the differences may not be enormous, it's as close as we can get to justice for the filmmaker who first made us believe a man could fly.

  9. 1


    A pitch-perfect combination of postwar American idealism with late-'70s urban snark, Richard Donner's adaptation (with a story by Godfather author Mario Puzo) credibly brought DC's star-spangled flagship character into the real world. No actor since has been able to live up to Christopher Reeve's take on the man from Krypton, which beautifully balanced Supes' invincibility and moral rectitude with the self-inflicted awkwardness of Clark Kent.