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FEATURE: Ranking All of the Superman Movies

It’s Day 2 of Watchtower Of Babel’s 25 Days Of Batman v Superman. Yesterday we kicked off this event with a ranked list of Batman’s big screen outings, and now it’s only natural to continue with a look at Superman’s films.

Just like Batman, most films in Superman’s franchise have been hit or miss, with movies ranging from nearly unwatchable to, dare I say, cinematic masterpiece. So let’s look at the best and worst the Last Son Of Krypton has to offer, all while keeping in mind that this is only one guy’s opinion.

7. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace

After two great movies, and one not-so-great movie, Christopher Reeve‘s fourth outing as Superman is garbage. Too harsh? Absolutely not. I know many people who haven’t seen Superman IV: The Quest For Peace because of the bad reputation it gets, and if you haven’t actually seen this yet, there’s no way I can ever recommend this atrocity.

The plot? Superman sets out to rid the world of nuclear weapons, by saying he’s going to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Every country then proceeds to give him their bombs, and then yadda yadda yadda, Lex Luthor somehow creates this awful new villain called Nuclear Man using the bombs and a strand of Superman’s hair that was on display in a museum. It makes so little sense. In the end, Superman explains that all wars could be ended and we can have world peace, but only if we want it enough. That’s the best part.

If god-awful dialogue, terrible acting, boring “action,” poor special effects, nonsensical morals, a lot of plot holes, and a laughably bad villain is your kind of thing, then by all means watch this movie. If you’re a normal human being and you don’t care for these things, then avoid this. Don’t let your morbid curiosity get the best of you.

6. Supergirl
“I’m considering nothing less than world domination.” -Selena

I may not be the biggest fan of the new Supergirl TV Series on CBS, but at least it’s better than the 1984 attempt at a feature length Supergirl film. Helen Slater was fine in the role, but the movie itself wasn’t good. The best I can say is that this movie isn’t broken like Superman IV, and it at least functions as a film. That being said, it’s very difficult to find enjoyment in the movie if you’re either a fan of film or at least a fan of comics.

This film has literally nothing to do with the mythology of Superman or his cousin Kara Zor-El/Linda Lee. The plot of this movie basically revolves around magical orbs and witches, and a bunch of other nonsense that was never established in this canon (it is technically in continuity with the Christopher Reeve films.)

This all wouldn’t be a problem if the things they did differently didn’t feel out of place in this world and do nothing to positively add to what was already established. In addition to this, the villain, a wicked witch named Selena, played by Faye Dunaway, has no clear motivation and is extremely underdeveloped. The effects are pretty bad (even for 1984), most of the acting is awful, and the plot makes very little sense. It’s better than Superman IV though, but that’s not saying much.

5. Superman III
“Well, I hope you don’t expect me to save you, ’cause I don’t do that anymore.” -Evil Superman

It’s pretty sad when you can look at a movie as bad as this and say, “you know, this is actually only the third worst movie in the franchise.” This here is the movie where everything went wrong. Just as the Batman franchise started declining with Batman Forever, Superman III marks the fall of the Superman franchise, and it took years for the franchise to get back on track.

The ridiculous plot of this movie is based around some weird Kryptonite variant that splits Superman into two: an evil tyrant and mild mannered Clark Kent. Instead of simply bringing back Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, we’re introduced to new villainous characters, played by Richard Pryor and Robert Vaughn. None of these guys are compelling, and every scene involving them is painful to watch. They try to emulate Lex’s intentionally goofy scenes in the first two movies, but they fail miserably.

I want to say that this movie might not be that bad if it weren’t for a few changes, but really, this was doomed from the start. Once Richard Donner was completely wiped from this franchise with zero involvement, a new team was left crafting this movie, and the result is a much more childish tone with unnecessary slapstick humor that doesn’t fit the story, as well as rehashed plot points, bad dialogue, and embarrassing action.

4. Superman Returns
“Swell.” -Clark Kent

The Brandon Routh starring Superman Returns has a lot of criticism directed its way, and to an extent I can agree with it. What you have to accept is that this is actually a pretty well made movie with complex emotional intensity and fantastic acting (Kevin Spacey stole the movie). This isn’t the kind of superhero movie you’re used to, if it can even be called a “superhero movie.” They may have succeeded in making a fine movie, but they sure didn’t make a good superhero movie.

The “action” in this movie consists mainly of Superman lifting heavy things. That is why its been given the reputation as being the superhero movie in which the hero doesn’t actually punch anyone. But as I mentioned earlier, this is actually a pretty good movie, regardless of the lack of action. It would have been a better standalone film if Bryan Singer separated this movie from the first two Christopher Reeve movies, even though he made the right call in ignoring the later films.

Not only should they have allowed themselves to be more free with how they tell the story, it also would be much better with a tighter script, which would help shorten the run time a little bit and get rid of a few big plot holes and issues with the storytelling. This prevents the movie from placing any higher, as this could have actually been a truly amazing film.

3. Superman
“You will carry me inside you, all the days of your life” -Jor-El

This was the first attempt to bring the man of steel to the big screen. When you consider when this movie was made, you’ll appreciate it so much more. This came out only a year after Star Wars, a movie that did some practically impossible things at the time. The team behind Superman: The Movie managed to help advance visual effects even further, and the result was a visually amazing movie that could appeal to fans of all ages.

As for the plot, this is exactly what you’d expect from a Superman origin story. I know there are people who don’t care for origin movies, but I personally love seeing how our hero came to be, and seeing different directors’ take on it. Richard Donner did a great job of taking the classic tale of Superman and making it work on screen, while also saving time to give us a great story showing Clark Kent as an adult working a day job while partaking in superhero antics whenever necessary.

I’ll admit that this movie may not hold up quite so well today, but even watching it now it’s difficult not to smile knowing this is the first mainstream superhero movie to get it right. As silly as some things are now, this movie is such a thrill, and it nailed certain elements spot on. I still say the death of Pa Kent was handled perfectly in this movie, and the Krypton scenes were very entertaining and unique.

2. Superman II
“Kneel before Zod!” -Zod

There’s a lot of heated debates over whether or not the follow-up to Richard Donner‘s Superman: The Movie is better than the original. While a lot of arguments could be made that the original was the best one, I personally believe that the sequel managed to improve on everything in the first film to give us the greatest comic book movie of the 20th century.

Superman II built upon the world established in the first movie, further developing our main characters and their relationships with each other. We also get a great villain in General Zod (played by Terrance Stamp), who we were briefly introduced to at the beginning of the first movie. Because of the fact that we had already met him, he didn’t feel forced into this movie. Zod showing up on Earth was the natural progression of the story, and they did a great job and tying him into Superman’s world.

This film has a much tighter story and better dialogue, and while people question if the first movie has aged well, I look at this movie and I can say that it definitely aged well. The action is really well done and it remains exciting to this day, and the subplot between Clark and Lois is actually handled surprisingly well considering it was one of the weaker points in the original. One thing is for sure though: The Richard Donner Cut is the definitive way to watch this film.

1. Man of Steel

Whether I put this movie at the top of my list or at the bottom, or even in the middle, there will be hoards of fans attacking me. This is because this movie has divided so many. There are legitimate points to be made as to why it’s a “bad” movie, but Man Of Steel to me is the greatest Superman film ever made, and perhaps even among the greatest comic book movies ever made. This is also the greatest interpretation of the Superman character in film.

Director Zack Snyder retold Superman’s origins, but instead of simply copying the original movie and only making a few minor changes, we saw a pretty big distinction in the way this story was told. We saw many different moments throughout Clark‘s childhood that help to make us understand how this character is looked upon in this universe, but never for a moment did it feel like it was rehashing scenes from the original.

Without getting into a heated argument about this movie, I’ll just say that this movie is beautifully crafted, with fantastic performances (particularly by Henry Cavil and Michael Shannon), great dialogue, thrilling action, and perfectly placed themes and morals. When you look at the essence of Kal-El, you can easily see a rich character that not only stays true to the character, but also expands on certain things to bring the loveable boy scout into the modern age of cinema, all while setting the tone for things to come in the DC Extended Universe.

Superman is one of the most beloved and well known characters in all of comic book, and so it’s no wonder we’ve seen so many different iterations of this character on film. Each iteration is very different from each other, so it’s going to be up to personal preference which movies you enjoyed more than others. If you disagree with this ranking, please tell us how you would rank the Superman films by tweeting @WatchtowerBabel with your list.

25 Days Of Batman v Superman will continue tomorrow with a brand new feature.

Professional theorist and outer of spies.