As one of the most iconic superheroes in the world, Superman has become an American icon, with appearances not only in comic books but also in TV shows, video games and of course; movies. Indeed, the Man of Steel has graced the silver screen for decades but is perhaps best remembered for his appearances throughout the 1980s, during his first major film series. Since then, the series has become one of the most iconic in the history of film, with it inspiring subsequent superhero films. It can be hard to rank such an influential series of movies, but the list calls for it to be done. Without further ado, here are the classic Superman films from worst to best!
5. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
It’s very difficult to keep a franchise running for four movies and even more difficult to ensure that the films remain high quality. Given this film’s utter financial failure and its critical thrashing, it’s safe to say that Quest for Peace failed in both measures. In this film, nefarious Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) breaks out of prison to create the nefarious Nuclear Man. Once again, it’s up to Superman (Christopher Reeve) to save the day. Can the Man of Steel stop the madness?
Quest for Peace is an abysmal disappointment on every level. The story is cheesy, the acting is bland and the writing is atrocious. It put an end to the original franchise, with only one film to be released years later. It’s rightfully remembered as a disappointment and will be forgotten.
4. Superman III (1983)
While better than the previous film ranked, Superman III does not rise high above either. After ne’er do well Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor) gets mixed up in a plot to kill the Man of Steel, Superman must save the day while also dealing with personal demons spurred by a piece of junky kryptonite. Can he save the world from himself?
There are some elements to like in Superman III, such as the comedy between Reeve and Pryor, but it’s not enough to save this film. The series was growing tired by this point and the lackluster story is proof of this.
3. Superman Returns (2006)
It may seem strange to rank this title on the list, but this remake/sequel/reboot by Bryan Singer of X-Men fame was intended to serve as a sequel to the first two films, while ignoring III and IV. When Superman (Brandon Routh) returns to the earth after a five yeard absence, arch-nemesis Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has been released from prison and plans to take over the world with an island of kryptonite. Can he stop the evil mastermind and rekindle things with Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth)?
Returns captures the spirit of the original two films and has a somber, thoughtful atmosphere that pervades the film. It doesn’t quite live up to the first two, but it’s a sincere ode to what made them touchstones of culture.
2. Superman II (1980)
Creating a successful follow-up to a successful first installment can be a challenge. Often times, there’s the risk of imitating the first too strongly and coming off as unoriginal. Fortunately, Superman II avoids this in spades. After the events of the first film, Superman must not contend with his past when the evil General Zod (Terence Stamp) returns with a vengeance. When Lex Luthor joins up with Zod, complications grow and Superman must save the day.
II features more action and new villains. Still, it doesn’t quite reach the charm of the original, but it’s still a classic nonetheless.
1. Superman (1978)
Without question, the original is the clear victor in this case. In the story known by all, Kryptonian Kal-El is sent to the earth as an infant to avoid the destruction of his home planet. Raised as Clark Kent, he grows up to be the world’s savior, Superman. As he adjusts to earth life, courting feisty Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and handling the zany schemes of Lex Luthor, Superman becomes an icon of truth, justice and the American way.
From its iconic score to its breathtaking flight sequences, Superman is the film that defined the modern superhero picture. It holds up in 2019 just as well as it did in 1978 and will forever be a part of our hearts.