By Jim Foote & Josh Krubner
I love Superman. He's my dude. So, it's only natural Josh and I take on the movies of The Man of Steel. The Man of Tomorrow. The Last Son of Krypton. Kal-El. Clark Kent. Superman! Okay, I'm getting carried away. Point is, whether you enjoy the character or you don't, this franchise/series has some of the best and worst comic book or superhero movies have produced. Having seen Josh's rankings, I can say we DO disagree often, but some of our reasonings are similar. Before we get to the rankings themselves, we'd like to talk about a few things that influenced this list, the standings, and what we look for in Superman. We're going to expand more on such themes and aspects in our next piece, but for now, I'll let Josh take it away. - Jim
If you’re as much as a Super-fan as Jim and I are, you tend to know things that the average reporter wouldn’t. Superman couldn’t fly until the mid 1940s. Originally, he was only able to “leap tall buildings in a single bound."
Over the years, Supes gained more and more powers and after flight/next in the description, people took a keen notice of his “super speed." Despite racing time and time again throughout the ages and against various speedsters, Superman is not and has never been touted as “The Fastest Man Alive.” Most recently, in the old DC universe, Barry races Clark to the Speed Force and for once, goes full force without holding back, leaving him in the dust remarking “Clark, those races were for charity.” While it’s true, in the movies he can fly fast enough to reverse time/the Earth’s axis, “Faster than a speeding bullet” (circa 1950) 1500-1700 mph. Sure, the Sound Barrier will break at 800mph give or take, and he’d be the fastest Olympian ever, but “speedster” he is not.
Other nifty powers added to and taken away from supes over the years/incarnations, the ability to breathe in space, telescopic vision, x-ray infrared heat vision, super intellect, super hearing, super telepathy (quickly taken away), super voice throwing, super voice changing, and a few others that never once included throwing a plastic S-shield prison. I really can (and gladly will sometime before BVS) write about the big blue boyscout at length, but for the purposes of this list, I’ll move on to one last basic in any Superman story… make that two, and they're called The Kents. - Josh
Before I let Josh finish, I'd like to dive into something important. There is a reason it's extra difficult for Superman to translate into the movie world nowadays. Because of his boy scout nature, it's as if everyone feels the need to make Supes dark and broody. They shouldn't. That's Batman's territory. Superman should be loud in color, flying high and proud, an inspiration of hope. Instead, he's dark, brooding, and moody. Well, at least in the last couple of entries. It's almost as if the filmmakers don't really get the character. In my eyes, he's incredibly tragic. He's destined to outlive those he loves, doesn't really know what it means to live amongst his own, and the only piece of his home... can kill him. But you see, that's the thing. Despite all of those tragic factors, he rises above.
This brings me to the main problem overlooking the cinematic universes of both Marvel and DC, the tone. The tone of a single movie can be anything. However, once the tone of each movie starts merging, you wind up pushing out the same kind of story each time. Let's take the latest attempt at Fantastic Four. With Fant4stic, they... of course... tried to make it serious and dark. It's the fucking FANTASTIC FOUR! They should be fun, goofy, zany, etc. Think Incredibles, but live action. What made me like movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier so much is that they had different tones. They went somewhere different, be it comedy or turning a comic property into a spy-thriller. Iron Man and Man of Steel set the tone for each cinematic universe. Thing is, you need to branch out. Each needs to tread the line of having its own identity while not taking a shit on your expanding universe. That's why Superman doesn't need to be dark and gritty. We have that in Batman and from the looks of it, that's where things are headed over in the MCU. DC has the chance to be different, but nope.
Anyway, back to Supes. I'll go more in depth, as we both shall, as to what we look for in the character. To me, he IS Clark Kent. Superman is the mask. Being Superman lets him do what he does without involving his family. That's the difference between Supes and Bats. Bats IS the real. Bruce Wayne is the mask. Supes, though, is the mask that covers Clark. Why? It's simple, and it's what I'll allow Josh to get into next. - Jim
Whether Superman comes from a futuristic nihilistic society of assholes who have given up on human to human sexual relations, or a 30s Krypton that looks like “1986 Earth," his rocket lands in the heartland, where he is taken in and taught the value of human life by his adopted… scratch that, “his parents," Jonathan and Martha Kent. Jonathan doesn’t always make it to see Clark in Metropolis, but with what little time he has with his son, he ALMOST always instills some of the best lessons anyone could ever teach. Clark is taught to forgo things like ego, pride, wealth, and “being an asshole,” in favor of understanding, compassion, morality, and “not being an asshole." Jonathan Kent is like the guy on the Folger’s commercial who gets a bad call in slow pitch adult league softball to lose the game, only to pull over and change the tire for the ref who lost him the game three hours later in pouring rain. This is the man we should expect him to be, and he is one of the two biggest reasons that “Superman” is not only “super,” but that he even has the “truth, justice, and the American Way” credo. - Josh
I think it's a safe bet if you ask anyone who has seen these movies, most of your viewers will have this pick at the bottom. It's absolute shit. Look at that picture, how in the absolute fuck is she breathing in space? How is she surviving reentry into Earth's atmosphere on the way back? Why in the hell are both Superman and Nuculur (I'll get to the spelling of that in a moment) Man's capes flapping in the non-air having space? Also, we get Ducky as Lex's next henchman. Lex somehow manages to get a strand of Clark's hair by simply cutting it. His hair is able to hold (I think it is) 1000 pounds, which they make sure to tell you, yet it can just be cut. These movies also have a terrible problem with simple pronunciation. Marlon Brando says Kull-El instead of Kal and Kryptin instead of Krypton. Here, Lex says NUCULUR (pronounced Nook-you-lurr) instead of Nuclear. Maybe if I wrote a letter to Superman, he'd randomly show up and get rid of this movie.
Yes it’s on the bottom of my list, and I hope it burns in hell. Like I said, I’ll save the concise and coherent “bashing” for the main article. I’ll say here, the flying in this movie is amazing. I’ve been told “it looks like what would happen if two people with godlike powers had a street fight.” It absolutely does. You know what else did? Chronicle. You know who wasn’t in Chronicle? Superman! Clark Kent SHOULD know better. Instead of laying into this wonderful little movie yet again, I’ll spend the rest of the rankings defending this choice/this position.
The sixth spot was always going to be one of two flicks. You'll see the other in my fifth spot, but it came down to a very pivotal factor. The last time I watched this, when Josh and I were re-watching each of the films, I fell asleep mid-movie. I wanted to love Superman Returns SO BAD. It was picking up the tone, look, and feel of the Donner films. Hell, let's even look at that picture. They recreated Action Comics #1! That's where it ends and where the abortions begin. It's so BORING. Almost nothing happens. I'll recap it right now.
1. Superman comes back after 5 year absence of looking for Kryptin.
2. Lois is married with a kid to Cyclops.
3. Lex married an old broad, who dies. Lex gets money. Has Parker Posey and Kal Penn as cohorts now. No Ducky in sight.
4. Superman pretty much stalks Lois.
5. Lex kidnaps Lois and kid.
6. Kid throws piano at cohort not named Posey or Penn.
7. Lex stabs Superman.
8. Cyclops flies plane, saves Superman.
9. Superman lifts Kryptonite island and foils Lex's plan.
10. Superman dies.
11. Not really.
12. Lois tells Superman she knows the kid is his.
13. Lex and Posey trapped on island.
Yes. Superman pretty much stalks Lois. He just casually x-rays into her house, hanging right outside. Lots of longing looks and glances. Bryan Singer pretty much just recreated Donner's flicks, but badly. Nothing. Fucking. Happens. Some plucky Jimmy Olsen. Some bossy Perry White. Lex is into land AGAIN. For a guy who's supposed to be one of the smartest people on the planet, he's pretty dumb here. Kal Penn is in the background, sans Harold. No White Castle. Bleh. Of course, I'm overlooking the biggest plot mishap here. Did you catch it? I first caught it via Kevin Smith. Follow my logic here.
Superman Returns disregards parts 3 and 4. So, you're timeline looks like Superman: The Movie, Superman II, and then Returns. Do you remember how Part 2 ended? Clark kisses Lois, erasing her memory of the film. She no longer remembers Clark is Superman and Superman is Clark. Hence, she doesn't remember their time together post-revealing his secret to her. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but unless his kiss is SUPER-specific (pun most definitely intended), then she doesn't remember them having sex. So... ixo-facto, what's her reasoning for telling Superman HE, not James Cyclops White Marsden, is the father? Either she's intentionally trying to fuck with his mind (which isn't a stretch, since Lois is the worst character of the films) or she's intentionally overlooking one big thing. Superman and Lois having sex is NOT in her memory, so why isn't her first reaction to ask Superman when and why he RAPED LOIS?!
I realize I may have jumped the shark, to you, with my reasoning. Go back and read what I wrote. Hell, I'll say it again. Part 2, he erases her memory and knowledge of both their time together and his also being Clark. IXO-GOD DAMN-FACTO, the memory of them having sex is GONE. WOOSH. NOT THERE. So why in the world would she tell Clark he's the father?! I tried to find the clip on youtube, so you could watch the scene. Instead, I found several random clips made into music videos by youtubers, set to songs by Breaking Staind Trapt Benja-Shinedown whatever.
Brandon Routh, man. You got the shit end of the stick. They gave you a great part, but gave you a shit plot, a shit Lois, a shit Lex, a shit kid, and a shit suit. They gave you shit.
Jimmy Olsen was pretty cool, though.
I know, I know, it wasn’t easy for me either. This kinda came down to “is it so bad it’s good? Or is it just boring and forgettable?” It’s that. I saw the movie once in theaters, and didn’t remember anything but the plane rescue and the island of kryptonite. I watched it again last week, during which Jim fell fast asleep, and outside of uncomfortable stalking scenes, I can’t remember a single thing other than “the plane rescue” and “the island of kryptonite." There’s also a very true and very horrible implication that Kevin Smith raised, which Jim alerted me to. Perhaps Jim will cover that point, maybe we’ll wait for the main article.
(I did! I totally did! - Jim)
This and Returns came REAL close to a switch in spots. Ultimately, the boring factor decided it, as I explained above. As bad as this is, and I'll get to that in a second, at least I can stay awake here. With the last one being so boring, they WAYYYYY overcompensated here. "Superman didn't do anything in the last one, so let's have him DESTROY EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE!" When it first came out, I freaking loved this movie. I saw it in theaters thrice. I couldn't get enough. I've explained this to Josh on several occasions. He still likes to throw me under the bus for this and chooses to forget my explanation. I'm incredibly bias when it comes to Supes. When I see him on screen, I revert back to the fanboy in me and chug soda, cram popcorn in my mouth, and clap my hands together like a monkey with cymbals. Thing is, the more I watched it... cracks started forming. It was during the HBO premiere of MoS when it hit me... "what a piece of shit!"
It only can exist as some kind of asshole, elseworlds version of Superman to pass as anything other than a failure of the character. He's careless (which results in the deaths of at the very least, hundreds of thousands of people), has no chemistry with Lois, lacks the sheer color and brightness of Superman, and has the single worst Jonathan Kent ever. EVER. Let me explain something to you, which I'll get more into when we do the accompanying article. Smallville, the tv show, has the best Mr. Kent. The Kents, as Josh explained earlier, are the backbone for Clark. The reason he is who he is... isn't because of his Kryptin livin' parents. If you've seen this flick, you know where I'm going with this. When little Clark saves a kid from drowning, revealing him powers in the process, he asks his father, "what was I supposed to do? Let him die?" Costner-Kent goes, "maybe."
THE FUCK HE JUST SAY?
Also, the Fortress of Solitude is now a thousands year old spaceship with a Jor-El flash drive. Fuck you, stupid movie.
No, I didn’t put it here cause it’s “number 4." It’s so bad, it’s horrible. But it’s memorable. People remember Nuclear Man! They remember the God awful green screen “fight” on the moon, the elevator, and the fingernails…
...oh lord the finger nails.
I'm pretty sure Josh is going, "what the..." on this one. Josh is combining both versions, and I'm not, hence the 7 picks to 6. This version falls short, in my opinion. It's a must-buy for any Superman fan, but it's not without its problems. Look at the picture. Lois actively shoots Clark to prove he's Superman. What if he wasn't? Lois Lane: The Murderer. She doesn't care about his motives for keeping his secret. She's selfish. Donner goes for the super-serious tone as opposed to the light-Richard Lester version. It may be crazy to say, but I enjoy the camp. The ice cream will never not be fun for me. Also, this version is incomplete. The pieces are put together via some screen tests and whatnot, but that's why it falls a few spots and sits, super-safely at number four.
I'm never not going to do the super-puns. That would be super-stupid.
Superman III gets a bad rap and it shouldn’t…ok it should, but not AS bad. With the outright ridiculous camp that happens just in the opening scene, they throw some serious and dark elements into this one. They also bring in a new love interest, for Clark. See, in these movies, Lois never had any interest in Clark Kent. When she finds out that he is Superman in either version of Superman II, she’s relieved she can have her cake and eat it too. She’s the one who tells him to give up his powers and she’s the one who tells him to go back to being Superman after he gets beat up in a diner.
In Superman III, Lana reveals she has zero interest in Superman, and moves herself (and her son) to Metropolis, strictly for Clark. Richard Pryor gets away with murder (several/literally) and Superman turns “evil” from synthetic kryptonite. There’s even a confusing broad daylight scene reminiscent of Fight Club in this one. It’s better than people give it credit for… and then you see a scene like Pryor falling off a skyscraper, landing perfectly on skis with no Superman rescue in sight… yea, it’s not that “good."
I love this one. Some would say I love it for all the wrong reasons. It's ridiculous, but the right kind of ridiculous. When Josh and I watched this last week, I had to take notes. The following things happen, and no... I'm not kidding.
1. Richard Pryor skis off a building (which had snow), onto the street without Superman. He sticks the landing.
2. No Lois. We get Lana Lang instead.
3. No Lex. We get a corrupt businessman in search of oil instead.
4. We get an evil woman turned into a Cyborg monster via super computer.
5-a. Richard Pryor is responsible for so many deaths, yet Superman lets him go.
5-b. Superman even tries to get him a job.
6. Synthetic Kryptonite. Clark vs. Drunk/Evil Superman.
7-a. Evil Superman does evil things like...
7-b. Straightens leaning tower of Piza.
7-c. Blows out Olympic Torch.
7-d. Gets drunk. I'm assuming the kryptonite allows him to get drunk.
Expanding on the "No Lois" plot point, they write her off as going on vacation. In comes Lana Lang, Clark's crush from high school. Josh pointed out the difference. Lana genuinely likes Clark. Superman even comes onto her during his, "evil" phase, to which she turns him down. Lois just likes Clark when she figures out he's Superman. Lana likes Clark for Clark.
Superman III is incredibly over the top, but not in the bad way like Nuculur Man. It has plenty of over-the-top fun moments that make you think you're reading a random issue of an old Superman comic. I approve.
Superman the movie was probably “better” in a time before origin story movies had all but become a genre. It was also probably “better” in a time before Michael Keaton’s Batman. It’s a broad daylight sprawling origin story character piece with a VERY slow burn. Lex’s plan is very zany/very 60s or 70s Bond villainesque and his henchmen (and Miss Teshmacher) just add to the camp. The original planned ending/storyline was scrapped and given a last minute hatchet-job resulting in a jarring and disjointed final act that most fans still bitch about to this day, when Lois dies in an earthquake, and Superman pulls a “Cher."
This is the one that etched Christopher Reeve into everyone's minds as Superman. A huge difference between Supes and Bats is people can have a discussion over who's the best Batman. There is no discussion about the best Superman. Christopher Reeve IS Superman. One thing people often forget is how long before Reeve even shows up. Jeff East, who I'm sure everyone will remember..., plays a high school age Clark Kent, coming into his own. You get all the elements of a great origin story. The Kents are there to, even if it's for a few minutes, show how they left their mark in raising the young Clark. He even shows he's faster than a locomotive. This is, of course, after the opening sequence starring Marlon Brando as Jor-El and the fall of Krypton. There's even a little taste of a certain villain, before they are sent to the Phantom Zone. Before this film came out, people were unsure if Superman was a viable movie franchise. There were no movie slates, no easter eggs for future crossovers, etc. Just one man... showing us how he could fly.
I think these are split into two different entries on Jim’s ranks. I didn’t want to have the “same” movie at number one and number two, and they are about 85% the “same” movie in the first place. If you haven’t seen the Donnor Cut, I would actually advise skipping it unless you’re a die hard. Yes, the version I’m keeping has some ridiculous camp and ice cream smacking people in the face, but it’s wholesome, and it works.
The Donnor Cut was meant as a companion-piece followup to the original beginning in the “ending scene” of the original, like Planet of the Apes, or Aliens. There are several key differences, mainly from one or two core characters, and the way these events are handled in the two versions can either delight or enrage audiences. The Donnor Cut has that “darker,” more menacing and serious tone which works… in theory, but seems out of place when contrasted against or sandwiched between the first and third movies. The ending takes the same “time travel” ending from the first movie with a slightly new visual effect. It will leave anyone watching them back to back thinking “oh this again?”
Before I get to the differences, let’s go a little bit on the “what’s good/great?”
Following the events of the first movie, Lex and Otis attempt to escape from jail. The villains this time around are the Kryptonians that Marlon Brando exiled to the Phantom Zone in the first flick, freed by the detonation of the deflected missile from the end of the first movie and revisited here. General Zod, a cool, calm, military leader wants to rule the world while rooting out the “son of Jor-El". The son of Jor-El went and got himself a girlfriend, and in order to consummate the union, had to take his powers away to live among mortals. This infuriates Zod and leaves the people of Earth in the lurch. When Lex brings Zod to Metropolis to capture Lois and assault Perry and Jimmy, Clark retreats to the arctic to get his powers back, giving up his humanity in the process.
The trio brings Lois with them to witness Zod’s defeat and submission of Clark, who tricks them and Lex firing the “power loss” crystals into the fortress itself. A fully powered Superman emerges, knocking Zod and co into the abyss (with a little help from Lois). Lex goes back to jail and it’s all smiles and laughs… 'cause you can’t be tried for murdering aliens? For good measure, Clark goes back to the diner where he got beat up to teach those punks a lesson, but not before paying for the damages (and on a reporter’s salary!).
The absolute best moment in Superman II (especially when compared to the fight in Man of Steel) is Superman vs Zod, and how every second of that fight is spent with Superman scanning for civilians and putting out small fires/catching debris Zod is throwing at them while exploiting Clark’s “obvious weakness.”
The Donner Differences:
1. In the theatrical cut, Clark wants to tell Lois his secret and “trips,” falling into their romantic fireplace in the honeymoon suite. With the cat out of the bag, he confesses that he tripped on purpose (if not subconsciously) and couldn’t bear to keep her in the dark.
1D. In the Donner Cut, an obsessed Lois, like her 50s-60s comic counterpart, goes to DRASTIC measures to out Clark, shooting him point blank with a gun. Luckily for her, he’s Superman and wasn’t killed.
2. After the previous scene, Clark and Lois decide to be boyfriend and girlfriend. Having never played “put my kryptonite in the lead box” before, he flies to the artic to ask his ghost dad hologram “how is babby formed?” where Jor-El tiptoes around a LONG-RUNNING theory that races through fandom… can a “superman” have “non super sex?" Brando says “no dice” and Clark takes the ultimate step to sacrifice his powers to do the dirty. Lois is floored he made this decision for her and seems to be even more into it.
2D. Clark and Lois bone. Nothing says “hot sex” like a chick trying to kill you - trust me, I would know! The next scene shows a restless Lois, implying that maybe he wasn’t that “super(I mean hey, it was likely his first time)." For no reason at all other than being “pussy-whipped,” Clark decides to not be Superman anymore, so he can be Lois’s full-time boyfriend she never asked for and didn’t want. He gives up his powers following this scene for…why exactly? This makes as much sense as "Superman Zod" trying to turn the earth into Krypton to take away his pow - sorry… I had to have ONE.
3. Ice Cream FIIIIGGGGHHHHTTTTTT!
3D. No ice cream. The horror…the horror.
Disclaimer: I will NOT talk about any of the implications raised in these next two, I’ll leave that all for Jim. This is the one time I go against the theatrical partially in favor of the Donner cut, but only if the time travel was taken out of the original. I don’t want to see it twice/back-to-back.
4. After defeating Zod and co., Clark realizes that the world needs a Superman and Lois Lane can’t have him all to herself. He gives her a “super kiss,” wiping her memory of the last 48-72 hours (and the entire Kryptonian Invasion/The President surrendering/Superman disappearing), effectively destroying her journalism career, but keeping secret their forbidden romance.
4D. After defeating Zod and co., Clark realizes that the world needs a Superman and Lois Lane can’t have him all to herself. Also, Zod and co. REALLY fucked up the planet! They even got the President of the United States to surrender on national television. Deciding “it would be better had that shit not happened,” he turns back time to the ending of Superman: The Movie, deflecting the rocket again, and punting the Phantom Zone prison into the great unknown, effectively erasing all of the events of Superman II, including Lois finding out his secret and their relationship that followed.
Well there ya have it, until next time, up, up and … aw you get it.
Everyone who knows me, knows I love me some Superman II. However, I used to place the Donner version higher. After rewatching it, I like the way they ended it. Originally, the ending was gone from Part 1 and done here. That makes me wonder how Part 1 would've ended, if Lois wouldn't have died, etc. It's a weird rabbit hole to jump down, but we deal with what we have.
Zod is, in my opinion, the best comic book/superhero villain we've ever seen on the big screen. No, not Michael Shannon's Zod. Terence Stamp IS Zod just like Christopher Reeve IS Superman. Lets examine the character of Zod here.
1. He means what he says and says what he means. In the opening to the first movie, we see him put the entire blame of his imprisonment to the Phantom Zone on Marlon Brando's Jor-El. Even though the entire roundtable of floating heads decides to banish him, the vote needs to be unanimous. For this, he tells Jor-El he will come back and take his anger out on his heir(s). He's sent away and we don't see/hear from him again in Part 1. In Part 2, he is released by way of a nuclear bomb detonation in space. What does he do? He comes after Jor-El's heir.
2. He's cool and collected. He knows he's the shit. There's no reason for him to scream, to whine, or to throw a tantrum. When you're the strongest being on Earth, whom cannot be killed, there's no need to be anything other than cool.
3. He replaces God with Zod. Come on. That's badass.
4. The main difference with the two Zods is their end plan. Michael Shannon's wants to terraform Earth into a new Krypton, which would effectively change the atmosphere and he'd lose the powers he has on Earth. Stamp's Zod realizes no one can match him, so he just wants to be the ruler OF Earth.
5. He's just as smart as he is powerful. Lex tries to talk his way into a win in Zod's new world order. Zod sees Lex for what he is, makes promises to get compliance, and then would've killed him if it were not for Superman. The ending isn't Superman directly tricking Zod. It's actually Superman tricking Lex, which indirectly tricks Zod. Superman knows Lex will turn on him, and uses it to get Zod to go along with the, "plan."
Josh alluded to it, and I expanded earlier in my discussion on Returns. The problem with wiping out the memory is not great, but it's better than repeating the same ending twice. I can live with a memory wiping kiss before I could with turning back time. If he can turn back time, why doesn't he do it all the time? Why not do it in Superman III and or Superman Returns? That's another reason why the first flick doesn't take the number one spot. Say what you want about Donner's version, but he had some shitty endings.
Furthermore, the biggest complaint I hear from supposed fanboys of Man of Steel is Superman killing Zod. If you'd watch this one, you'd see he does the exact same thing. He throws Zod, who falls to his death. It's not this idea of Superman not killing, but rather how it happens. In MoS, he kills him because Zod threatens a family with heat vision... after so many people already lost their lives. In this, Superman is all about protecting people. He puts out fires, scans for civilians, and lets Zod go when Lois is threatened.
Ultimately, this movie is my all-time favorite superhero/comic book movie ever. This is the kind of Superman we need, and we need him desperately. He was bright. He was colorful. He was an inspiration of hope.
And he fought in the streets where the worst thing that happened to a civilian was an ice cream cone smushing in someone's face.