Truth. Justice. The American way. These are the ideals that Superman, the last son of Krypton, fights for, in six different movies (if you count the two very different versions of the first sequel). Forget Batman and Spider-Man. How would these super flicks rank if they were fighting each other? Here’s one opinion.
1. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
The theatrically released Superman II is really good, but with some serious flaws — it’s a little too campy, and the fact that Marlon Brando’s scenes were cut left a gaping hole. That’s because Richard Donner, the director, was fired halfway through filming. Many years later, the movie was eventually pieced back together on Donner’s own terms, using the Brando footage. The results are stunning: a darker, complete, and more evocative epic that ranks as the masterpiece of the Superman genre.
2. Superman II
Sure, it’s the second best of the Superman II movies, but the first version of the sequel remains an all-time comic book classic, too. Superman battles himself, three powerful Kryptonian villains, and his even more powerful feelings for Lois. They’re still perfect ingredients for a rollicking good time. Some may argue that the goofy moments create some incongruity stylistically, but the original Superman II is still leagues better than any other Man of Steel flick. And when you compare it to other comic book movie sequels like Iron Man 2 and X2, your respect only grows.
3. Superman Returns
Technically, this is Superman III redux. Director Bryan Singer ignores III and IV and continues the Superman of his childhood, by making a homage to the Donner films that stands on its own. With advances in technology, gone are the green-screen flights, and, for the first time, we truly see what it looks like when Superman flies, runs, and fights onscreen. With Kevin Spacey hamming it up as Lex Luthor and an even balance between comedy and action, Singer gets the Man of Steel just right.
4. Superman: The Movie
Richard Donner’s spectacular visuals and Reeve’s performance explain why this movie spawned a mini-empire. Though it feels like two films cobbled together — it was originally a comedy and, thankfully, ended up a sweeping epic — Superman truly made an entire generation believe that a man could fly. From the unearthly vistas of icy Krypton to the cornfields of Smallville, Superman is Donner’s most important achievement, a superhero movie that influenced each and every subsequent movie in the genre.
5. Superman III
Few moments terrified as many eighties children as the climactic battle of Superman III. Vera is pulled into a supercomputer and turned into an evil cyborg who caused geeky kids everywhere to hide under the covers…for hours. Though it’s a Richard Pryor comedy, iconic moments — like the final battle, Pryor’s penny-pinching scheme (reused, hilariously, in Office Space), and Annette O’Toole’s dreamy Lana Lang — make this movie well worth watching, even if it lacks the drama of its forerunners.
6. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Ignore the whole “Lois can breathe on the moon” scene and focus on the noble message: Superman, with the cooperation of the United Nations, throws every nuclear weapon into the sun. Though, technically, the fall of the Berlin Wall signaled the end of the Cold War, we like to think it was all Supes. But, despite the message, there’s no way to forget the many indignities inflicted on the franchise (including the Lois-breathing-on-the-moon thing) in this flick. It has to sit at the bottom.