Ten Best Hollywood Superman Movies
Jumbo lobby cards: Superman – The Movie (1978)
Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the Superman character first made his appearance in the June 1938 edition of Action Comics #1. The always popular Man of Steel subsequently branched out into radio, serials, movies and television.
Here are ten Superman films that no fan should ever miss. Look, up in the sky…
Superman – The Movie (Warner Bros., 1978)
Christopher Reeve has the dual role of Superman/Clark Kent in this $ 55 million spectacular that promised, “You’ll believe a man can fly!” Also on hand are Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Glenn Ford (Pa Kent), Phyllis Thaxter (Ma Kent), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) and Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen). The Superman legend is all here, from baby Kal-El’s blast-off from the dying planet of Krypton to his eventual coming of age in Metropolis as the Man of Steel. Christopher Reeve is superb in the title role, with Gene Hackman providing the requisite evil as the renegade scientist Lex Luthor. Superman earned three Academy Award nominations: Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Original Music Score. Superman won a Special Achievement Oscar for its stunning visual effects.
Director: Richard Donner
Review: “Superman is a pure delight, a wondrous combination of all the old-fashioned things we never really get tired of: adventure and romance, heroes and villains, earthshaking special effects, and — you know what else? Wit…” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (12/15/78)
On DVD: Superman – The Movie (Warner, 2001)
Superman II (Warner Bros., 1981)
In this sequel to the wildly successful 1978 film, Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper and company return for a rousing encore. In order to marry Lois Lane, Superman/Clark Kent agrees to give up his super powers. It proves to be bad timing, however, as three Kryptonian villains escape their imprisonment from the Phantom Zone following a nuclear explosion in space. Now endowed with super powers, the trio – Ursa (Sarah Douglas), General Zod (Terence Stamp) and Non (Jack O’Halloran) – begin their conquest of Earth with the backing of evil genius Lex Luthor. The scene featuring a now mortal Clark Kent/Superman taking a very human beating at a diner is both painful and humbling.
Director: Richard Lester
Review: “For all the production halts, setbacks, personnel changeovers and legal wrangling that paved its way to the screen, Superman II emerges as a solid, classy, cannily constructed piece of entertainment which gets down to action almost immediately.” – Variety
On DVD: Superman II Two-Disc Special Edition (Warner, 2007)
One sheet movie poster: Superman II (1981)
Superman Returns (Warner Bros., 2006)
Brandon Routh stars as Superman/Clark Kent in this mammoth $ 209 million extravaganza that thrilled fans of the Man of Steel. In this spectacular outing, Superman returns from the ravages of his native Krypton where he once again becomes a beacon of hope for struggling Earthlings while resuming his romance with Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth). Kevin Spacey plays a wicked Lex Luthor, with Frank Langella as Perry White and Sam Huntington as Jimmy Olsen. There’s even archival footage of Marlon Brando as Superman’s dad Jor-El. Superman Returns garnered one Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in Visual Effects and won five prestigious Saturn Awards from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for Best Fantasy Film, Best Actor (Routh), Best Director, Best Music and Best Writing.
Director: Bryan Singer
Review: “Superman Returns is the Superman movie for everyone who was sitting around thinking, ‘I just wish someone would make another Superman movie.’ For everyone else, the picture has to cross one little threshold of skepticism: Why this again?” – Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle (6/27/06)
On DVD: Superman Returns Widescreen Edition (Warner, 2006)
Superman III (Warner Bros., 1983)
Christopher Reeve returned as the Man of Steel in this third installment of the Superman saga. Also returning were Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder and Marc McClure as the gang from the Daily Planet, with Annette O’Toole as Lana Lang, Robert Vaughn as villain Ross Webster and comic Richard Pryor as computer whiz Gus Gorman. Superman III is full of sentimentality, with Clark Kent attending his Smallville High School reunion where he meets a now divorced Lana Lang. The action sequences are outstanding, as the Man of Steel is exposed to deadly Kryptonite and is split in two, resulting in an evil, dysfunctional Superman and a moral Clark Kent.
Director: Richard Lester
Review: “Superman III is the kind of movie I feared the original Superman would be. It’s a cinematic comic book, shallow, silly, filled with stunts and action, without much human interest.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (6/17/83)
On DVD: Superman III (Warner, 2001)
Superman and the Mole Men (Lippert Pictures, 1951)
George Reeves plays Superman/Clark Kent in this nifty little picture shot on a Hollywood back lot in a mere 12 days. In the town of Silsby, the world’s deepest oil well yields subterranean creatures who come to the surface in the dead of night. They are later confronted by town bully Luke Benson (Jeff Corey) and his lynch mob, who fear the “mole men” and wish to do them harm. Superman intervenes, stopping Benson and his followers and allowing the creatures to take their injured comrade and return home to their underground world. Phyllis Coates plays a pushy Lois Lane, with Walter Reed, J. Farrell MacDonald and Stanley Andrews also on board. One of the movie’s highlights: the mole men blast town hothead Luke Benson with a fantastic bazooka ray gun. Superman and the Mole Men was later telecast in two half-hour installments under the title “The Unknown People” on TV’s The Adventures of Superman (1952-58).
Director: Lee Sholem
Review: “Rather mild by today’s standards (the audience never gets to see Superman fly), Superman and the Mole Men served its primary purpose: to act as a theatrical pilot for the very popular Superman TV series, which also starred Reeves and (for the first season, at least) Coates.” – Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
On DVD: The Adventures of Superman – The Complete First Season (Warner, 2005)
Reissue lobby card: Superman and the Mole Men (1951)
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (Warner Bros., 1987)
Christopher Reeve, in his final role as Superman/Clark Kent, once again battles the evil Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), who has created the radioactively-charged super robot Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow). The two super beings then do battle around the globe, with the Statue of Liberty, the Great Wall of China and Mt. Etna in the combat zone. The usual suspects are here, including Perry White (Jackie Cooper), Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and Jimmy Olsen (Mark McClure). Also on hand are Jon Cryer as Lenny Luthor, Sam Wanamaker as David Warfield and Mariel Hemingway as Lacy Warfield.
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Review: “More sluggish than a funeral barge, cheaper than a sale at K mart, it’s a nerd, it’s a shame, it’s Superman IV. Christopher Reeve, in his fourth consecutive role, wrote the story for this film – an unabashed nuclear disarmament message. But by the end of this movie (produced by the Golan-Globus conspiracy), nuclear winter seems more appealing than the prospect of Superman V. – Desson Howe, Washington Post (7/31/87)
On DVD: Superman – The Quest for Peace (Warner, 2001)
Superman (Columbia, 1948)
This 15-chapter movie serial featured Kirk Alyn in the starring role of Superman/Clark Kent, with Lois Lane (Noel Neill), Jimmy Olsen (Tommy Bond) and Perry White (Pierre Watkin) rounding out the Daily Planet principals. The early chapters deal with Superman’s origins on the planet Krypton, his rearing by the Kents and his first trek to Metropolis where he wins a job as a reporter for the Daily Planet. The unlikely villain in this entertaining serial is Spider Lady (Carol Forman) who commands a band of dapper thugs.
Directors: Spencer Gordon Bennet, Thomas Carr
Review: “The action is goofy but plenty of fun, even if the use of a cartoon Superman as a visual effects cheat (used to show the Man of Steel in flight) grows tiresome quickly. As most serials tended to do, Superman zips by at breakneck pace, so even if you’re chuckling at one of the many missteps, your attention will quickly be diverted elsewhere, usually to more entertaining scenes.” – David Cornelius, DVD Talk
On DVD: Superman – The 1948 & 1950 Theatrical Serials Collection (Warner, 2006)
Atom Man vs. Superman (Columbia, 1950)
Kirk Alyn returned as the Man of Steel/Clark Kent in this 15-chapter serial, with Noel Neill, Tommy Bond and Pierre Watkin also reprising their roles. Lyle Talbot donned a rubber scalp to play Lex Luthor – the first actor to portray Superman’s evil nemesis – who becomes Atom Man, inventing a disintegrator that can reassemble the atoms in humans. Luthor gets the best of Superman in one chapter, felling him with Kryptonite and sending him to “The Empty Doom” – their version of the dreaded Phantom Zone.
Director: Spencer Gordon Bennet
Review: ” It’s well acted all around, with Kirk Alyn a very appealing Superman, and Lyle Talbot having a fun time as Lex Luthor. I found it very good for a serial from the fifties.” – David Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
On DVD: Superman – The 1948 & 1950 Theatrical Serials Collection (Warner, 2006)
One sheet movie poster: Atom Man vs. Superman Chapter 9 (1950)
Superman (Paramount, 1941-43)
Fleischer Studios/Famous Studios produced this series of 17 animated shorts. The first entry was Superman a.k.a. The Mad Scientist, which debuted on September 26, 1941. Other series’ titles include The Mechanical Monsters (11/28/41), The Arctic Giant (2/27/42), Terror on the Midway (8/28/42), Destruction, Inc. (12/25/42), The Mummy Strikes (2/19/43) and Secret Agent (7/30/43). Bud Collyer (also radio’s Superman/Clark Kent) provided the voice of the Man of Steel/Clark Kent, with Joan Alexander voicing Lois Lane and Jackson Beck as Perry White. There’s plenty of action here, including war period pieces in which Superman battles Nazi saboteurs and Japanese spies. Free downloads of the 1941-43 Superman cartoon series are available from the Internet Archive.
Directors: Dave Fleischer, Dan Gordon, Seymour Kneitel, Isadore Sparber,
Review: “Besides starring an underpowered Superman, these shorts are also notable for their lack of any compelling super villains. For the most part, Superman is pitted against technologically advanced gangsters and mad scientists. He fights robots and death rays. He also fights a thawed out Tyrannosaurus, a mummy come to life, and underground bird people, but most of his enemies are generic. The Superman of 1941 is a different superhero than he is today. Modern viewers should adjust their expectations accordingly.” – Erich Asperschlager, DVD Verdict
On DVD: Superman – The Movie Four-Disc Special Edition (Warner, 2006)
Supergirl (TriStar, 1984)
The real sleeper (or maybe red Kryptonite) in the genre, Supergirl stars Helen Slater in the role of Kara Zor-El/Supergirl/Linda Lee. The niece of Jor-El and a first cousin to Superman, Kara journeys from the Kryptonian survivor community of Argo City to Earth where she discovers her super powers. She then locks horns with the evil witch Selena (Faye Dunaway), who has her in possession the magical Omegahedron. Budgeted at $ 35 million, Supergirl also features Peter O’Toole, Mia Farrow, Brenda Vaccaro, Peter Cook, Simon Ward, Hart Bochner and Marc McClure reprising his Superman movie series role as Jimmy Olsen.
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Review: “Miss Slater makes a four-square heroine of unrelenting sincerity; a sturdy ingenue, she is great fun to look at but hardly a live wire. Peter Cook and Brenda Vaccaro have largish supporting roles in Miss Dunaway’s retinue, as opposed to the brief cameos for Peter O’Toole, Mia Farrow and Simon Ward.” – Janet Maslin, The New York Times (11/22/84)
On DVD: Supergirl (Warner, 2006)
One sheet movie poster: Supergirl (1984)
All images courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas
Written by William J. Felchner
Filed under: Legal Bud
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