The problem with Superman is that he’s so super that it’s hard to come up with equal adversaries. And yet screenwriters have been doing it for close to 70 years, drawing equally on characters who debuted in the comics and their own evil inventions. The result is an eclectic rogue’s gallery that ranges from shady ladies to fellow Kryptonians.Who’s his fiercest foe?
10. The Mole Men, Superman and the Mole Men (1951)
These stunted, underground humanoids with furry bodies and bald heads glow in the dark and crawl out of oil shafts. Yuck! But they’re really just misunderstood creatures who don’t start brandishing a weapon (that looks like a Stanley Cup) unless working to rescue a comrade attacked and injured by an angry mob. All Superman has to do is mediate.
9. Perry White Superman: The Movie (1978), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), Superman Returns (2006)
On the one hand, Daily Planet editor Perry White is a puny human: Superman could squash him like a bug. On the other, he’s Clark Kent’s boss, berating him constantly for his failures as a reporter. Superman has to suck it up because he needs an alter ego: That’s gotta hurt at least a little.Is Perry a villain? Clark might think so.
8. Spider Lady, Superman, (1948)
An underworld queen-pin who’s got her heart set on acquiring some secret super-weapon called a “relativity reducer ray,” Spider Woman has a va-va-va-voom figure (that fails to sway the Man of Steel), an electrified spider web, and a gang of thugs at her disposal. Superman makes short work of her.
7. Non, Superman: The Movie (1978), Superman II (1980)
All brawn and no brain, Non is a renegade Kryptonian who answers to the sociopathic Superman-hater General Zod. Since he too has super-strength, Non gives Superman a couple of rough knocks when they go mano-a-mano, but he’s just too dumb to be an ongoing threat himself.
6. Lorelei Ambrosia, Superman III (1983)
Evil industrialist Ross Webster’s psychic nutritionist seems like a dumb bunny but turns out smarter than anyone suspects. He may blame her ability to get him into bed on kryptonite poisoning but you have to admit she’s the first villainous vamp to successfully seduce this superhero who prides himself on being morally upright .
5. Ross Webster, Superman III (2003)
The power-crazed multimillionaire behind Webscoe Industries plots to rule the world by taking control of its oil supply. Worse yet, he hires a computer genius who hacks a weather satellite to cause floods, tornados and other natural disasters. Webster isn’t Lex Luthor, but using the faux-kryptonite to turn Superman literally against himself is brilliantly wicked.
4. Ursa, Superman: The Movie (1978), Superman II (1980)
One of three Kryptonians exiled to the Phantom Zone by Jor-El, Ursa’s as eager to destroy Superman’s adopted home as her leader, General Zod. Smart and sadistic, she’s a real threat to Earth. Her tactic to throw a manhole cover at her opponent may seem kind of girlie but you have to give her points for thinking on her feet: There were no manhole covers on Krypton!
3. Nuclear Man, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
“Nuclear Man” is the name given to the evil Superman clone created by Ross Webster, and he’s a real problem: Like Ursa, he shares the same powers as Superman plus radioactive fingernails. Needless to say, he does some serious damage before right bests might.
2. General Zod, Superman: The Movie (1978), Superman II (1980)
The leader of the renegade Kryptonians, the General has a God complex and a seething grudge against Superman’s dad. He’s also a ruthless leader who tricks Lex Luther into being his accomplice. On top of all that, he grasps that Superman’s Achilles heel isn’t kryptonite; it’s his love for the people of Earth. Zod and company win the first battle with Superman by exploiting that weakness then lose to moral authority and laser projections.
1. Lex Luthor (Superman, Superman II, Superman IV, Superman Returns)
He’s only human, but Luthor’s lust for money and power is equaled only by his hatred of Superman, the big blue boy scout who’s always thwarting his wicked plans. He may be vain and pompous, but he’s not to be trifled with: Luthor is thoroughly amoral, has superhuman ambition coupled with the money to buy the best of everything, and for all his megalomania, he doesn’t hesitate to ally himself — however temporarily — with like-minded villains. And that’s why he just keeps coming back to bedevil the Man of Steel.