Before Dawn Of Justice: Ranking The Superman Films

What’s being billed as the “greatest gladiator match in the history of the world” is just around the corner. “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” opens this week, but before it does, I figured I would put together a short series ranking the Superman and Batman movies.

For these lists, I’ll only be doing the more modern films, not the couple made before the 1970s. First up are the Superman films.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace


The fourth “Superman” film from the Christopher Reeve era was unfortunately the worst of the original series. Released in 1987, the film included poor acting, bad effects and an awful villain.

Before tearing the movie completely apart, though, I’ll give the lightest praise. I can at the very least give the movie credit for, one, taking on the subject of nuclear weapons which were of course a topic of the time. Second, I can also understand wanting to create another type of villain similar in power and strength to Superman, and having it be born from nuclear energy could work. Heck, even the idea of Superman questioning how much he should intervene could work.

But, wow, was the execution bad. Instead of taking on an important subject with subtlety, the film instead bashes the audience over the head, and then insults the intelligence of the viewer by how Superman rids the world of nukes as well as how the villain Nuclear Man is made.

Then there’s the fight scenes, the unbearable, terrible fight scenes. The movie reuses a bunch of flying scenes from other films and basically shows Superman cleaning up messes left by Nuclear Man. When the two actually come to blows, the fight choreography is easily the worst. I could go on, but I’ve bashed the film enough.

Superman III


“Superman III” was a prime example of superhero/comic book movies not knowing how to handle a saga like they do today. After the great sequel, the third Superman film seemed like it didn’t really know where to go. So instead of building on the series, the film instead went more for a comedic tone, even going so far as to hire Richard Pryor for a lead role.

Like the last movie, there is an interesting idea that pops up. This time around, Superman is split into two personas, one good and one bad and they duke it out. Besides that, there’s not much else to admire about this picture. The film couldn’t even get a good villain, instead it just shows off Lex Luthor-Lite.

Superman Returns


A new Superman film a year after the awesome “Batman Begins” and directed by a Bryan Singer who helmed the fantastic “X-Men” sequel just a few years prior equaled plenty of hype. Unfortunately, instead of being a new and exciting adventure for the great hero, what came to theaters was basically a rehash of old ideas and the whole thing came off as if it was made as just an homage to the original two films.

The picture felt way too long and had no major pay offs in terms of excitement, the grand finale being a prime example. There was simply never a moment to cheer Superman on, especially since all he was up against was Kevin Spacey doing a Gene Hackman impression. I remember seeing the film in Imax and leaving the theater with a feeling of “meh.”

I didn’t enjoy Brando Routh as Superman very much, either. I think it’s because he was being directed to be reminiscent of Christopher Reeve, but he didn’t have what Reeve had and he couldn’t really bring his own style to the character. Speaking of the character, I wasn’t particularly engaged by the route they went with why Clark left Earth as well as his relationship with Lois Lane.

With that said, though, “Superman Returns” was better than the third and fourth films of the older series. While I do think Singer was too focused on making a tribute to the original films, the guy is still a competent filmmaker and the picture was at least well crafted.



Now we’re getting into the good stuff. Directed by Richard Donner and written by Academy Award winner Mario Puzo, the 1978 “Superman” was a great telling of the character’s origin story. In fact, one of the best scenes of the movie happens before Clark even dons the suit. In the scene following Jonathan Kent’s death, Clark talks about how despite having all his super powers, he couldn’t save his father. It was a great learning point for the hero and a solid launching point for what happened next.

The movie includes great performances from the supporting cast, too, such as Hackman as Lex Luthor, Marlon Brando as Jor El and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane. Sure, the ending of this one was a bit cheesy, but for its time, it was great, especially some of the flying scenes. Plus, there was that incredible theme song that to this day is one of the best.

Man of Steel


Probably the most divisive superhero film ever, there were quite a lot of people that really dislike this movie. I’m not one of them. I loved nearly everything about this Superman picture, the only flaw being the romance between Lois and Superman being rather rushed.

The sci-fi movie opening on Krypton, the aspect of fatherhood portrayed, the new idea for the Fortress of Solitude, how Clark became a drifter and how his backstory was told through flashbacks were all handled well. The scene where he first uses his x-ray vision, for example, really shows why Clark was such a lost character at first.

I also enjoyed the performances. Henry Cavill was a great Superman in my view, showing his inner conflict about where he comes from, his love for his parents and especially his unrefined approach at being a hero, which made sense since he is just at the starting block in the movie. On the opposing side, Michael Shannon was awesome as General Zod, separating himself from the performance of Terence Stamp who also portrayed the character. Shannon’s villain was a great balance between intelligent and insane.

Both Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe were great as Superman’s fathers, too, both being believable as men who are trying to find the best course for their sons in the midst of difficult situations.

The battle scenes were things of beauty, too. As a big fan of both “Dragon Ball Z” and the animated series “Justice League Unlimited,” I loved seeing the large scale fight sequences with characters throwing seismic punches and doing battle in the air.

Superman II


As much as I enjoyed “Man of Steel,” it can’t top one of the most perfect sequels ever. Everything that the first “Superman” did, its sequel expanded upon. It called back to the first movie’s trial of General Zod and subsequently introduced a character who could match Superman in power.

Additionally it furthered the romance between Lois and Clark and explored what would happen if Superman had his powers removed. The way Superman defeats the enemies was great, too, as the hero used a clever trick to best Zod.

Stealing a lot of the show in “Superman II” was Stamp who was incredible as Zod. The straightforward, demanding tone in Stamp’s delivery fit exactly what the character needed. The returning cast was solid, too.

A minor flaw in the movie, though, is what happens at the end between Lois and Clark.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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