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Superman actors ranked - who’s the best Man of Steel?

From Henry Cavill back to Christopher Reeve, our list of the best Superman actors looks at the finest who became the Man of Steel in DC movies and TV history.

Best Superman actors

Who are the best Superman actors? If you ask people to visualize a superhero, the picture they conjure is likely that of our favorite Kryptonian. Since 1938, when he was brought to life by DC Comics, Superman has defined what it means to be a superhero.

Throughout the history of the DCU, many actors have played the Man of Steel. If you watch the Superman movies in order, you’ll know some were great, others less so, and a select few were so iconic their portrayals of the character became synonymous with the role. But who is the best of them all?

Well, we consider ourselves experts when it comes to superhero movies (We even managed to work out how to watch all the DC movies in order, which is no easy task) and TV series, so we’ve put together a comprehensive list of the best Superman actors of all time. Warning, if you’re vulnerable to hot takes, you may want to leave now.

The best Superman actors ranked:

  1. Dean Cain
  2. Brandon Routh
  3. Kirk Alyn
  4. George Reeves
  5. Tyler Hoechlin
  6. Tom Welling
  7. Christopher Reeve
  8. Henry Cavill

Best Superman actors: Dean Cain as Superman

8. Dean Cain

Appears in: Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997)

It’s fitting that Dean Cain starred in a show entitled Lois & Clark because this television iteration of the DC hero seemed to put a lot more emphasis on the Clark Kent side of things than they did with, you know, Superman.

That isn’t to say Cain’s portrayal of Kent wasn’t good, but at the end of the day, Clark Kent is meant to be a secondary aspect of Superman as opposed to the other way around.

Best Superman actors: Brandon Routh as Superman

7. Brandon Routh

Appears in: Superman Returns (2006)

OK, let me get this out of the way quickly. I’m by no means saying that Brandon Routh’s interpretation of Clark was bad. Whatever you think about him snooping around Lois’ desk or being a bit of a shitty dad, he certainly looked the part.

But being a dead ringer for the Man of Steel isn’t enough to save Superman Returns, a ‘2000s movie that tries its best to be edgy but, when push comes to shove, ends up being a little bit boring.

Best Superman actors: Kirk Alyn as Superman

6. Kirk Alyn

Appears in: Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs. Superman (1950)

Kirk Alyn will always have a special place in our hearts as the first person to bring Superman to the screen, donning the red cape for the first time all the way back in 1948.

But while his athleticism and previous dance experience made stunt and action scenes nice to look at, his performance as a whole was rather wooden at times, and he himself ended up being bitter about the legacy of playing Superman, describing it once as “ruining [his] career.”

Best Superman actors: George Reeves as Superman

5. George Reeves

Appears in: Superman and the Mole Men (1951) and Adventures of Superman (1952-1958)

Like Kirk Alyn, George Reeves made no secret of his personal dislike of the role of Superman and the impact it had on his career, but you can’t deny that he gave it all he had. He was one of the earlier proponents of the role but gave a slightly edgier, more nuanced performance than Alyn.

His Superman was charming, muscular, confident, and heroic, but he also had a rare softer side. He captures everything that makes Supes one of the best DC characters ever. He undoubtedly paved the way for Superman’s on-screen characterizations moving forward.

Best Superman actors: Tyler Hoechlin as Superman

4. Tyler Hoechlin

Appears in: Supergirl (2016-2021) and Superman & Lois (2021-Present)

The DC movies might sometimes be a mess, but when it came to the Arrowverse, you knew you were in safe hands. The vast majority of these DC-inspired thriller series were consistently good, and Superman & Lois, which delivers consistently high ratings, is one of the CW’s crown jewels.

A big reason for this is Tyler Hoechlin’s critically lauded portrayal of the character, as he brings an equally satisfying and grounded approach to both Clark and Superman.

Best Superman actors: Tom Welling as Superman

3. Tom Welling

Appears in: Smallville (2001-2011)

To sum it up briefly, Tom Welling was to Superman what Cameron Monaghan was to Batman villain Joker. Both actors were given the near-impossible job of portraying the origins of iconic characters without being able to fall back on costumes or lore of the comic books — but in doing this, they both managed to push the envelope and create incredibly in-depth and well-crafted characters.

In Smallville, we see a lot more of Clark than Superman, but Welling does a great job of providing a layered, rich backstory for the Kryptonian for the decade he portrayed the character.

Best Superman actors: Christopher Reeve as Superman

2. Christopher Reeve

Appears in: Superman (1978), Superman II (1981), Superman III (1983), and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987)

For many, Christopher Reeve simply is Superman. 1978’s Superman is considered by many to be one of the best movies of all time, and that’s largely because in his performance, Reeve embodied the perfect, All-American hero. He was funny. Warm. Gentlemanly. He fought the bad guys and saved the day not because of some God complex or brooding ideal about justice — he did it because he was simply a stand-up guy with a strong moral compass.

It certainly helped that his iteration of Clark Kent was goofy and charming, too. However, after Superman II, the sequels began to go downhill rapidly in terms of quality, with Reeve being their only saving grace. For a long time, it felt like nobody could come close to Reeve’s portrayal of the character and his indelible mark on pop culture.

He was even revived by CGI in 2023 for The Flash (read our The Flash review here for more). But then, 2014’s Man of Steel came along…

Best Superman actors: Henry Cavill as Superman

1. Henry Cavill

Appears in: Man of Steel (2013), Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016), Justice League (2017), and Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

Henry Cavill delivered what Superman Returns tried and failed to do. He completely nailed the darker, grittier iteration of Superman the 2006 movie was going for. His Man of Steel was world-weary but not jaded.  He had a strong sense of justice but clearly grappled with the magnitude that being a person like Superman entailed.

It was refreshing to see a version of the character who was unafraid to show his emotions (even though it led to that ‘Martha’ scene in Batman v Superman), and his fight scenes were incredibly gripping and well-choreographed. Whatever you think of the DCEU, it’s very difficult to fault Cavill’s version of the hero, and it’s equally as difficult to see how whoever takes on the role next could do a better job.

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Next up to take on the cape will be David Corenswet, who’ll debut in the Superman Legacy release date. Check out our guide to James Gunn and Peter Safran’s all-new DC slate, subtitled Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters, for more on The Brave and the Bold release date and the Swamp Thing release date.

Or, if you want to learn more about the famous faces behind other comic book characters, check out our rankings of the best Batman actors and the best DC villains of all time. Also, be sure to read through our lists of the best movies ever made and all the new movies heading our way this year.