If you watched our last video, you’ll already know DC is looking to figure Superman out in a future live-action movie, but it’s time to honor those who’ve already played the Kryptonian!
And while we wait for the Man of Steel’s next cinematic appearance, it’s time to look at the best actors who’ve helped bring him to life over the years across live-action and animation. You might be surprised at some of the names on our list.
10. Nolan North
Although he’s not a main character in the Young Justice animated series, Nolan North’s version of Superman adds a surprising new depth to the Kryptonian thanks to its heavy use of Conner Kent, A.K.A. Superboy. North’s performance masterfully develops Clark’s humanity thanks to his evolving dynamic with Conner in the third season, as they end up seeing each other as siblings. Young Justice showed that it’s still easy to give Superman complex arcs that push his character further than just defeating yet another villain. Our favorite stand-out moment? Superboy asking the Man of Steel to be his Best Man when he marries M’Gann. Don’t sleep on Young Justice!
9. Mark Valley
Although fans saw elements from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns on the big screen in Batman v Superman, the two-part animated movie perfectly translated the darker version of the hero on-screen. Yes, the explosive fight between the Blue Boy Scout and the Caped Crusader is gripping from start to finish, but it’s an excellent depiction of Clark Kent. The Dark Knight Returns shows that he’ll sacrifice anything he can to still help those in need, even if that means becoming the President’s attack dog. Also let’s not forget that he saves the world from nuclear war too, that’s no small feat!
8. Tyler Hoechlin
Although it took a little time for the Kryptonian to show up on Supergirl, Tyler Hoechlin manages to perfectly portray both Superman’s courageousness and his loveable alter-ego. The CW’s Superman proved that the Man of Steel doesn’t just have to be kept on the big-screen. His adventures in the Arrowverse have developed his relationship with Lois Lane in an interesting way among a host of other DC characters. Luckily we’ll get to see more of them when they debut in their own series from The CW, titled Superman and Lois. It’ll see the couple balance life in Metropolis and superheroics with becoming parents to twins.
7. George Newbern
Where do we even begin with George Newbern? If you grew up watching Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, there’s a strong chance the actor’s voice is the one you hear whenever you read Action Comics. The actor brought the hero to life and explored how Superman adapts to be a team-player among the League. Most recently, Newbern reprised the role in Justice League vs. The Fatal Five, which saw Superman briefly deal with the fact that he wasn’t invulnerable to the attacks of the futuristic villains. Newbern even got the chance to push Superman over the edge in the Injustice series of games, which sees the hero take over the planet after the Joker makes him kill Lois Lane.
6. Tom Welling
One of the longest running actors to bring Superman to life is obviously Tom Welling with Smallville. The groundbreaking show proved how to build an interconnected universe of characters while constantly pushing them to change and develop as new threats were thrown against them. Tom Welling’s Clark grew from an occasionally arrogant teenager to a heartfelt superhero who would throw himself in front of danger to save others in an instant. Although we never got to see Welling in the full costume, that brief tease on the rooftop at the end was still incredibly satisfying.
5. Jason Isaacs
The star voiced a different version of the iconic hero in the animated adaptation of Superman: Red Son. The story sees how different the world would be if Kal-El landed in Soviet Russia instead of Kansas. Isaacs’ take on the hero offers a Superman like no other, with a ruthlessly efficient streak. When that anger is unleashed every so often, it’s great to see Jason Isaacs push Superman even further. In fact, the Kryptonian is depicted more like a villain, and because we’re so used to seeing him up in the sky as our hero, Jason Isaacs’ performance helps challenge those expectations. It’s fascinating to see a politically charged alternate version of the Big Blue Boy Scout.
4. Brandon Routh
Although Superman Returns might not have been the success Warner Bros. hoped for, Brandon Routh delivered us a criminally underrated version of the hero. He embodied everything the hero stood for while feeling like a worthy successor to Christopher Reeve’s mantle. Thankfully, the star got the chance to reprise the role during the Arrowverse crossover, Crisis On Infinite Earths. This time, he donned the stunning Kingdom Come costume as an older, world-weary Clark Kent. It only teased the story from the Kingdom Come storyline, but this version of the hero has suffered the death of Lois Lane after the Joker attacked The Daily Planet.
3. Jerry O’Connell
There’s an often underlooked actor who’s done excellent work in showing how far Superman can go: Jerry O’Connell. The star has voiced the hero in the DC Animated Universe which takes its cues from The New 52 following an adaptation of Flashpoint. As his relationship with Wonder Woman taught him how to blend in with the rest of the world, it’s not till he unsurprisingly falls in love with Lois that he comes into his own. O’Connell’s work in The Death of Superman and Reign of the Superman in particular showed how the Kryptonian deals with his own morality and his willingness to sacrifice himself. Most recently he appeared in Justice League Dark: Apokolips War – and his role explored Superman’s resilience in the face of losing everything to Darkseid. Give the DCAU a chance.
2. Henry Cavill
Now that DC are seemingly bringing back their focus on Superman in live-action, it’s time to recognize Henry Cavill’s genuinely brilliant work in bringing audiences a modern take on the hero – who’s definitely a product of his surroundings. While he started out as a brooding hero with a chip on his shoulder thanks to his confusion about his origins, Cavill’s Superman slowly evolved into truly representing the symbol of hope that he bears so proudly on his chest. Every character deserves room to grow as a person, even someone with all the powers of a God, like Superman. Sure, Justice League is divisive, but once he’s revived, Clark’s newfound positive outlook on life and willingness to work with the team shows how much he’s grown since his Man of Steel days.
Obviously there’s only one clear winner here. Christopher Reeve’s humbling performance as Clark Kent in Richard Donner’s Superman set the bar for what a live action superhero should look like. He mastered the subtle differences between the two personalities – walking around with a hunch as Clark, and a constantly flustered manner of speaking to keep Lois Lane completely unaware about his true self. Other actors might have added their own flair or explored new dimensions to the hero in different stories, but Christopher Reeve flawlessly translates Superman from page-to-screen in an eternally entertaining way.
First up is Dean Cain, who starred in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. With a heavy focus on developing the picture perfect connection between Clark and Lois, the series made Superman the alter-ego rather than using Clark as a disguise. Then there’s the inimitable Tim Daly – who provided the hero’s voice in Superman: The Animated Series, as well as a number of animated features like The Batman/Superman Movie, and Justice League Doom. Meanwhile Darren Criss will be the next actor to voice the Kryptonian in Superman: Man of Tomorrow, which will also feature Zachary Quinto’s Lex Luthor, the alien bounty hunter Lobo, and even Martian Manhunter.
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Henry Cavill was last seen as Superman in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Here’s the official synopsis for the movie:
Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to find and recruit a team of metahumans to stand against this newly awakened threat. But despite the formation of this unprecedented league of heroes—Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash—it may already be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.
Directed by Zack Snyder, the film stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, and Ciarán Hinds.
Justice League is now available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital HD.