Movie Reviews

How To Watch Superman Movies in Order (Chronologically & By Release Date)

Summary

  • Superman’s rich cinematic history showcases cutting-edge special effects and a legacy spanning multiple reboots and adaptations over the years.
  • From George Reeves to Henry Cavill, Superman’s iconic character has been portrayed by several actors, each leaving their mark on the superhero genre.
  • The DCEU’s Superman movies, including Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, have redefined the character for modern audiences, setting a darker tone.



SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY

SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT

Superman is one of DC’s most illustrious properties with a chronology of live-action movies whose release dates span decades, with several reboots begging the question of how to watch them in order. With modern comic book movies being so prolific, Superman boasts a status as one of the most iconic originators, with DC heroes in general being the most prevalent in earlier decades. While the Superhero genre may stoke debate among cinema-goers nowadays, Superman’s prevalence in media proves just how influential superheroes have been in cinema since as early as the 1940s.


It isn’t hard to see why Superman has such a well-established back catalog given the spectacle the character offers a big-screen adaptation. His cinematic outings are often facilitators of cutting-edge special effects as adaptations depict Superman’s vast array of superpowers from flight to heat vision. This history is poised to continue with Superman kicking off a new era of DC in cinema with the DCU with 2025’s Superman, which faces a challenge in bringing something unique to a character that has appeared so frequently on the big screen thus far.

Related

Every Actor Who’s Played Superman in Live-Action

The first major superhero to be created, Superman is one of pop culture’s biggest icons, and here are all the actors who’ve played him in live-action.


Every Superman Movie In Order

Christopher Reeve takes flight in Superman The Movie


With a cinematic legacy that began in the 1940s, Superman boasts one of the oldest filmographies in the superhero movie genre. His cross-generational legacy also boasts the accolade of featuring the first feature-length movie of any superhero, which would give way to entire cinematic franchises. These franchises would comprise the first two of Superman’s cinematic career before the DCU debuts his third with Superman in 2025 and subsequent as-yet-unannounced sequels. Until then, these are the 13 movies that star Superman in order of their release dates.

Movie Name

Year of Release

Superman

1948

Atom Man vs. Superman

1950

Superman and the Mole-Men

1951

Superman

1978

Superman II

1981

Superman III

1983

Superman IV: The Quest For Peace

1987

Superman Returns

2006

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

2006

Man of Steel

2013

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

2016

Justice League

2017

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

2021


The Best Order To Watch Superman Movies (& Which To Skip)

Split image of Henry Cavill and Christopher Reeve as Superman both looking stoic
Custom image by Ollie Bradley

The definitive list of Superman movies comprises just 7 of his 13-movie back catalog. These movies span three franchises and star four actors in the eponymous role, with each garnering a loyal fanbase for their faithful and nuanced depictions of the Man of Steel. Much like the eponymous hero, Superman movies are far from infallible, with Reeves’ lattermost two outings being largely lambasted for missing the mark – something which the Brandon Routh-fronted Superman Returns helped to rectify in 2006.


Two of Superman’s cinematic releases are Directors’ cuts intended to add more value to the originals in the form of added scenes and a more accurate depiction of the original creative vision. The earliest live-action depictions of Superman, meanwhile, are potentially too dated to be thoroughly enjoyed by modern audiences, while Superman and the Mole Men offers the definitive example of Superman in his earliest guise. For the most rewarding Superman marathon, however, these are the best to watch in chronological order.

Superman And The Mole Men (1951)

superman poses proudly while green mole men stand behind him in Superman and the Mole Men poster

The first feature-length appearance of a DC hero in cinema features one of the most comic-accurate renditions of Superman in live-action thanks to George Reeves. Though the black-and-white movie falls short of doing Superman’s famously vibrant outfit justice, this live-action depiction of Superman in the tail-end of the Golden Age of Comic Books expertly depicted a more lighthearted era as he confronts a particularly hammy cohort of villains. The movie was ahead of its time as it ultimately delivers a message rallying against prejudice, turning the titular Mole Men into some of the earliest sympathetic villains in comic book movies.


Superman (1978)

Superman

Release Date
December 13, 1978

Cast
Marlon Brando , Gene Hackman , Christopher Reeve , Ned Beatty , Jackie Cooper , Glenn Ford

Runtime
127 Mins

To date, Reeve’s debut remains the best-rated Superman movie and stands as a paradigm for subsequent movies to follow.

The first movie to star Christopher Reeve in the eponymous role remains the best of his tenure, with even less favorable reviews citing his depiction of Superman as a highlight. In many ways, Superman is the definitive cinematic take on the hero, debuting such ingrained features of Superman’s mythos on the big screen as Lex Luthor and the Fortress of Solitude in the first of his origin stories to be committed to a feature-length movie. To date, it remains the best-rated Superman movie and stands as a paradigm for subsequent movies to follow.


Superman II (1981)

Superman II (1980)

Director
Richard Lester

Release Date
June 19, 1981

Cast
Gene Hackman , Christopher Reeve , Ned Beatty , Jackie Cooper , Sarah Douglas , Margo Kidder , Jack O’Halloran , Valerie Perrine

Runtime
127 Minutes

The first Superman sequel experienced some developmental issues as the original movie’s director, Richard Donner, was fired part-way through production, with Richard Lester taking the reins in his stead. This led to re-shoots, resulting in a new beginning and ending for the movie, while several cast and crew departed in protest. Thankfully, the switch-up did not hamper the final product, with Lester’s vision of Superman II housing some of the most memorable moments in Superman’s cinematic career, including his amnesia-inducing kiss and the slightly inconvenient deployment of a cellophane “S” symbol.


The Donner Cut of
Superman II
is also worth a watch for fans of the director’s original vision, though
Superman II
has had a greater impact on Superman’s cinematic legacy.

Superman Returns (2006)

Superman Returns

Director
Bryn Singer

Release Date
June 30, 2006

Cast
Brandon Routh , Kevin Spacey , Kate Bosworth , James Marsden , Parker Posey , Frank Langella , Sam Huntington , Eva Marie Saint

Runtime
154 Minutes


Superman Returns is a soft reboot of the original franchise, continuing the story from Superman II and ignoring the events of Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, which were far less well-received than Reeve’s preceding movies. Brandon Routh was cast out of thousands of actors and would garner significant praise for his portrayal as Superman returning to Earth after a five-year absence. Superman Returns succeeds in remaining true to the original movies while capitalizing on the special effects of the era, rounding out the first franchise in a more satisfying manner than Reeve’s final two portrayals.

Routh would go on to reprise his role in the Arrowverse’s Crisis on Infinite Earths adaptation.

Man Of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel

Release Date
June 14, 2013

Cast
Kevin Costner , Laurence Fishburne , Richard Schiff , Amy Adams , Harry Lennix , Antje Traue , Michael Shannon , Henry Cavill , Christopher Meloni , Diane Lane , Russell Crowe

Runtime
143 minutes


Though it wasn’t intended at the time, Man of Steel would kick off the DCEU with an all-new retelling of Superman’s iconic origin story. Henry Cavill originally auditioned for the eponymous role in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, though it fell to Man of Steel to vindicate his efforts as he drew substantial praise for his nuanced take on the character. Man of Steel would set the darker tone for which the DCEU would become known and featured the controversial decision to have Superman kill in his debut movie. Despite this, it remains one of the best-rated DCEU movies.

Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)


The DCEU’s second movie drew a substantial level of criticism for being overstuffed and failing to win over superfans of its main characters for questionable characterization decisions. Despite this, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice offers a decidedly off-piste take on the titular heroes that warrants a watch, and plenty of visual spectacles typical of Director Zack Snyder’s distinctive style. Batman v Superman is evidently designed to be one part of a sprawling franchise that debuted three members of the Justice League, but the movie was nonetheless a compelling portrayal of an antagonistic Superman.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Release Date
March 18, 2021

Cast
Ben Affleck , Henry Cavill , Amy Adams , Gal Gadot , Ray Fisher , Jason Momoa , Ezra Miller , Jesse Eisenberg , Jeremy Irons , J.K. Simmons , Willem Dafoe

Runtime
242 Minutes


The theatrical release of Justice League was criticized for tonal inconsistencies, though the switch to Joss Whedon as director was hard to avoid. Thankfully, the cacophony of calls for the “Snyder Cut” would bear fruit and give way to the definitive take that is Zack Snyder’s Justice League, in which Superman’s unique characterization is vindicated in a darker movie more tonally consistent with his previous two DCEU outings. The movie is bulkier by some margin, giving the titular team the sprawling epic they deserved before they were forced to disband with the DCEU’s demise.

Superman’s 4 Movie Timelines Explained

Superman lifts a heavy object in Superman Returns


Several reboots and alternate timelines have warranted an understandable level of confusion when it comes to Superman’s cinematic continuity. With two directors’ cuts and one alternative sequel, it can be hard to judge where one franchise ends and the other begins. Generally speaking, however, there are three Superman franchises and one standalone movie so far, before the DCU’s Superman gives rise to a fourth franchise.

The Original Superman Serial Timeline

The original Superman serial debuted with 1948’s Superman and 1950’s Atom Man vs. Superman. Kirk Alyn starred in both serials, which were each composed of 15 chapters that totaled 244 and 252 minutes, respectively, and featured Superman’s origin story and encounters with Lex Luthor. A timeline of feature length Superman movies wouldn’t appear until three decades later, with Christopher Reeve in the starring role.

The Standalone George Reeves Timeline

The standalone movie Superman and the Mole Men does not depict a Superman origin story and works on the assumption that audiences are generally familiar with the character. Given the movie released just one year after the Alyn-starring serial, this isn’t too surprising, though it was never billed as a straight sequel to the serial. Nevertheless, this is perhaps the neatest of Superman’s timelines insofar as it comprises just one movie without any alternative sequels or Directors’ cuts to muddy the waters.


The Christopher Reeve Timeline

The Christopher Reeve franchise of Superman is possibly the most confusing owing to the Brandon Routh-fronted reboot of 2006. Superman Returns is ostensibly the third sequel to 1978’s Superman, offering a branching timeline of subsequent events following Superman II. Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, meanwhile, are the original continuations of this same story, ostensibly leaving it up to the viewer to discern which branch of the Christopher Reeve timeline they would prefer to accept as canon.

The DCEU Timeline

The DCEU timeline includes all of Henry Cavill’s appearances as Superman. These include Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League, while Zack Snyder’s Justice League offers a different version of events in yet another branching timeline. Although the DCEU would fizzle out before a direct Justice League sequel could emerge, The Flash would establish Zack Snyder’s Justice League as being official DCEU canon, which leaves the canonicity of the theatrical Justice League up for debate. What isn’t in question is the fact that Henry Cavill’s Superman will not be canon in the upcoming DCU reboot.


Back to top button