3 of the Best vs 3 of the Worst Actors who have played Superman

3 of the Best vs 3 of the Worst is exactly what it sounds like – 3 of the best examples of either an actor, film series, genre, etc. versus 3 of the worst. It’s also an opportunity for you to have your say on my choices and whether you would have placed something ahead of my best or my worst. Today is actors who have played Superman…

Having recently seen Man of Steel and being bombarded with all the promotional material that goes with it, it got me thinking about all the other versions of Superman on-screen. There haven’t been many but I’ve managed to pick six to make a 3 of the Best vs 3 of the Worst that I’m sure will be as controversial as always. I don’t see myself as a huge Superman fan but I know what I like. So here we go…

3 of the Best

3 – Tom Welling

I’m going to start controversial but in my defense, for ten years, Tom Welling has been Clark Kent. Not the bumbling, “clumsy-on-purpose” Clark Kent of the comics or the films, but Superman without the cape. He has grown into the righteous, forthright and morally incorruptible character that we associate with the comics and when he did finally become Superman in the series finale, I kind of wanted a season of him in the cape and the tights.

2 – Henry Cavill

Again with the controversy but he actually did a decent job as Superman. Not so much Clark Kent but his Superman was fair, commanding and powerful without being too distancing. When he has his meeting with Lois in the interrogation room, it felt very Superman, and he channelled the person in the number one spot better than the actor who was hired to actually portray him. I want to see Cavill as Superman, just in a better film than Man of Steel.

1 – Christopher Reeve

I never really appreciated Reeve’s Superman until more recently. I always saw him as too weedy and “human” to portray the powerhouse from the comics. Seeing the films though, its clear why he is a whole generation’s version of Superman. He plays him with great authority and a comforting, assertive smile. His Clark Kent is the one to follow and imitate and he clearly sets the benchmark that Cavill is close to reaching.

3 of the Worst

3 – George Reeves

This one is a harsh choice. I’m not hugely familiar with Reeves’ Superman but from what I’ve seen, he is a very “stunted” Superman. He doesn’t have the freedom that the others do and he is hardly comforting or approachable. He seems more like a hard-nosed detective from a traditional 50’s show than a representation of the most famous superhero in the world but he is a product of the time the show was filmed.

2 – Brandon Routh

I feel sorry for Brandon Routh. He wasn’t awful as Superman. He does a great job of imitating Christopher Reeve and looks enough like him to be passable. He has some great Superman moments but he never really convinces. He never seems like the man to take control of a situation or for everyone to get behind. While I watch Routh, I can never shake the feeling that he is “pretending” to be Superman rather than portraying the character properly.

1 – Dean Cain

Dean Cain’s Clark Kent is the best. Better than Reeve and better than Welling. He is sensitive, clumsy but in a more believable way and he hides his powers while using them fantastically. There is a reason why ninety percent of the Lois and Clark (New Adventures of Superman) were about Clark Kent rather than Superman. When Cain became Superman he never made a great transformation. He was nothing more than a smiley face and a stern look. He was never a convincing Superman and was always Clark Kent, even wearing the blue and red.

Overall, a difficult list this week because there are so few to choose from. I was reluctant to include George Reeves at all but there was only one other person on the list I missed out (Kirk Alyn) and I hadn’t seen enough of his show to make an informed judgement. I’m sure the order will be the controversial, debatable aspect so bring it on… I welcome the comments (gulp).

Maybe the cartoon is the best version of Superman?

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20 comments

  1. I grew to dislike Tom Welling’s CK as the show kept going, but I actually agree with the list 100%. In particular, I really appreciate that you highlighted Dean Cain’s admirable traits as CK as opposed to simply berating his Supes; he was an enjoyable Clark, a Clark that was the product of his time (just as you mentioned with Reeves).

  2. Well, I watched the series with George Reeves recently, and i must say that he was an adult. Not an overgrown sensitive teen, but a father figure who got the job done, like a superman should be.

  3. George Reeves shouldn’t be listed as one of the worst. Henry Cavill is just as bad as Dean Cain so far. (They both only shine while playing one character)

    • I’ll admit I haven’t seen much of Reeves Superman but from what I did see, it wasn’t really how I see Superman being portrayed. He’s a victim of his time but when only six people have played the Man of Steel, he has to fall somewhere.

      As for Cavill, he’s had some good, lesser-known roles that proved his worth. He is very good in The Tudors for example. I think Cavill’s Superman has potential yet, we just need to see where his story progresses.

      • When I said they both shine while only playing one character I meant that Dean Cain shines as Kent, and his version of the man of steel is essential the same as his Clark Kent. The same can be said about Cavill only with the roles reverced. The actor that portrays superman should excel in both roles not just superman. (Which is why Christopher Reeves is always considered number one.) There is still hope for Cavill but as of right now I don’t think he should be considered the second best actor to portray superman.

      • He was great as Superman though. If we look at al the people that played Superman (of which there are only a few) he is probably the second best.

        We can’t really judge his Clark Kent because he hasn’t played the alter-ego role yet.

  4. Great list! I didn’t mind any of them (Cavill still has to sell me a bit more and Cain I have never really watched enough of) but pointing out Welling was inspired! Good pick there, Ben. Smallville’s series finale was one of the highlights in Superman canon. Even Routh, your observation being very astute, was pretty bearable for me. I did enjoy his turn but I think he was given too much of a “ode to Donner’s vision” kind of story and couldn’t make Superman his own. I always wonder how a second film would have been if Routh had the right story and perhaps another director. Awesome post!

  5. Superman Returns has many, many, maaaaaaaaaany things wrong with it but I never felt like Brandon Routh was one of them, in fact I preferred him to Cavill. This is a difficult list though because there’s never really been a terrible Superman actor.

  6. I think George Reeves then Dean Cain were probably the best portrayals of C.K. Their versions of Kent were a more defined character. Christopher Reeve’s C.K. was good more comical not unlike Nigel Bruce’s Dr. Watson any way that’s my opinion. As for Route and Cahill there Kent screen time is so short in their movies its hard to judge. And also no one mentioned the 1st Superman Kirk Allyn.

  7. Christopher Reeve lost me with his bumbling and idiotic Clark Kent portrayal. For me, Superman will always be either George Reeves or Dean Cain. Both were excellent in both roles.

    • I liked that aspect of Reeves’ Kent. Think it added something to the role and made the fact he was clearly the same guy in glasses seem more plausible. Dean Cain owns the role for me.

  8. For me personally, Christopher Reeve will always be the best, most Iconic Superman of all, he he even looked like the Superman in the comics before the 1978 movie was made, the facial likeness is so uncanny, it’s like they chose him because he looked the part. Christopher’s performance along with John Williams score is so inspiring and moving, on these things alone, this is the reason why Chris Reeves out shines them all, the others don’t even come close, shouldn’t even be in the running !!!

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