Superman on Television and Movies

Kirk Alyn
Kirk Alyn

Live action Superman on television and movies in the last 77 years has been played by nine actors. Kirk Alyn the first actor to play the DC Comics character Superman in live-action for the 1948 movie serial Superman and its 1950 sequel Atom Man vs. Superman. Alyn played Superman in the first Superman movie serial, released in 1948. The serial consisted of 15 episodes which recounted Superman’s arrival on Earth, getting a job as a reporter at the Daily Planet newspaper, and meeting Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. The main plot consisted of Superman’s battle against the arch criminal the Spider Lady.

Two years later, Atom Man vs. Superman was released, featuring Lyle Talbot as Superman’s arch-villain Lex Luthor. This serial also included a sequence involving an eerie alternate dimension, not unlike the Phantom Zone, which would not appear in the comics for another 11 years.

George Reeves
George Reeves
George Reeves played Clark Kent/Superman, with Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen, John Hamilton as Perry White, and Robert Shayne as Inspector Henderson. Phyllis Coates played Lois Lane in the first season, with Noel Neill stepping into the role in the second season (1953). Superman battles crooks, gangsters, and other villains in the fictional city of Metropolis while masquerading “off-duty” as Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent. Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, Clark’s colleagues at the office, often find themselves in dangerous situations which can only be resolved with Superman’s timely intervention.

This show is the first television series to feature Superman and began filming in 1951 in California on RKO-Pathé stages and the RKO Forty Acres back lot. It was sponsored by cereal manufacturer Kellogg’s. The syndicated show’s first and last air dates are disputed but generally accepted as September 19, 1952 and April 28, 1958.

Christopher Reeve
Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve became Superman in the movies from 1978 to 1987. He made four films to be exact. Superman The Movie, the first film redefined the character in Hollywood. The most expensive film made up to that point, with a budget of $55 million, Superman was released in December 1978 to critical acclaim and financial success, earning $300 million during its original theatrical run. Reviewers particularly praised Reeve’s performance. It was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Film Editing, Best Music (Original Score), and Best Sound Mixing, and received a Special Achievement Academy Award for Visual Effects.

John Haymes Newton
John Haymes Newton

The Superboy series was brought to the TV screen by executive producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind, the producers of the first three Superman movies and the 1984 Supergirl movie. The first season of the series, which began airing in October 1988, focused on Superboy/Clark Kent (John Haymes Newton), his childhood friend and love interest Lana Lang (Stacy Haiduk) and his college roommate T.J. White (Jim Calvert), son of Daily Planet editor Perry White. The lead role as Superboy was replaced by Gerard Christopher for the next 3 years and ended in 1991.

Gerard Christopher
Gerard Christopher

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman stared Dean Cain as Clark Kent/Superman and Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane. The series aired on ABC from September 12, 1993 to June 14, 1997. Developed for television by Deborah Joy LeVine. The series loosely followed the modern origin of Superman, where Clark Kent is the true personality and Superman a disguise. As the show’s title suggests, the series focused on the relationship and romance between Clark and Lois as much as the adventures of Clark’s alter-ego, Superman.

Dean Cain & Teri Hatcher
Dean Cain & Teri Hatcher
Tom Welling
Tom Welling

Smallville initially broadcast by The WB, premiered on October 16, 2001. After Smallville’s fifth season, The WB and UPN merged to form The CW, the series’ later United States broadcaster. Smallville, which ended its tenth and final season on May 13, 2011, follows Clark Kent (Tom Welling) in the fictional town of Smallville, Kansas, before he becomes known as Superman.

During its ten seasons, Smallville won awards ranging from Emmy’s to Teen Choice Awards. Smallville was a cult success and story about Clark Kent the young man becoming Superman and building relationships while fighting the bad guys. Although it took him 10 years Clark eventually put the suit on and became Superman the Man of Steel.

Warner Bros. hired Bryan Singer to direct and develop Superman Returns in July 2004. The movie was released in June of 2006 with Brandon Routh as Superman. Superman Returns received positive reviews, with critics praising its story, visual effects, musical score, and style. However, it received mixed reviews from audiences, who criticized the film for its length, the story, and lack of action sequences. Warner Bros. was also disappointed with the worldwide box office return. A sequel was planned for a summer 2009 release, but the project was later canceled.

Brandon Routh
Brandon Routh

The Superman film series was rebooted in 2013 with the film Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder and starring Henry Cavill as Superman. Man of Steel was released to the general public on June 14, 2013, in conventional, 3D, and IMAX theaters. Despite receiving mixed reviews, the film became a box office success, grossing over $668 million worldwide. Critics praised the film’s visuals, action sequences and Hans Zimmer’s musical score but criticized its pacing and lack of character development.

Henry Cavill
Henry Cavill

Melissa Benoist as Supergirl -- The CW
Melissa Benoist as Supergirl — The CW
Now on Supergirl the CW creators and producers want to bring Superman to television again. Will Warner Bros. let them use Superman to kick off Supergirl’s second season on a new network? Producer and creator Andrew Kreisberg said that the small screen Man of Steel (played by Tyler Hoechlin) was an easy sell to Warner Bros.

“I think people would love to hear that we had to promise our children and there was a blood right, and a goat was sacrificed, but the truth is we’re all partners, and we all want what’s best and so it really wasn’t a tough sell. We had our plan, and we presented it to Warner Bros. and to DC and they were totally supportive of it,” Kreisberg said. “It was more once they actually said yes, it was like, ‘Oh crap, now we have to do Superman!’ We have to find the right actor, and we have to write the best scripts. We have to make the suit. That was the stuff that gave us [headaches]. Actually pulling it off.”

While the live-action DC television shows and the DC films aren’t interconnected like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Warner Bros. has generally avoided any major character overlap between TV and movies – leading some fans to believe than a full-scale Superman appearance in the small-screen would be impossible. But according to Kreisberg, that’s not the case.

“But behind the scenes, everybody at Warner Bros. and DC and the CW, we’re all growing in the same direction.” 

Kreisberg went on to say that this Superman arc was planned well before the show jumped from CBS to the CW, but was held back to the second season to allow Melissa Benoist’s character to get her footing.

“I think we’ve spent a year establishing her, and the year ended triumphantly with her saving the world, so there wasn’t any sort of doubt that Supergirl couldn’t do it on her own,” Kreisberg continued. “It felt like you weren’t bringing him in to save the day. It was bringing him in the same way that the crossovers with Flash and the Arrow… it becomes about a partnership. It becomes about deepening the characters’ relationships, not ‘Well, Arrow couldn’t do it alone!’ or ‘Flash couldn’t do it alone!’ So that’s why it felt right.”

Kreisberg said that this arc will dive headlong into the idea that Superman is a more known name than Supergirl, both for viewers and for people inside the continuity of the show.

“When Supergirl and Superman walk into the room, everyone gets really quiet about him. And her reaction is, ‘Oh, please…’ We sort of liken it to if your brother was a famous rock star, or a famous movie star, all you remember is a lifetime of growing up and fighting over who’s sitting in the backseat, and sharing a bathroom, and he pulled my hair. And then you go to a restaurant, and people are sending him drinks, like, ‘Oh, right this way…’ and that’s sort of Kara’s interaction,” said the showrunner. “People have asked us how do you make sure that Superman doesn’t overwhelm the lead of your show? Rather than shy away from that, we’re embracing it. It’s kind of the idea like, yeah, he is more popular than she is. How does she deal with that? That’s our take on that dynamic that’s between them.”
superman-tyler-hoechlin
Currently, Hoechlin is scheduled to appear in just the first two episodes of Supergirl’s second season, but Kreisberg said that there’s the possibility for more.

“That’s going to be up to Warner Bros., DC, and the audience, quite frankly. He so much a part of [this world], but the show is called Supergirl. It’s about her,” Kreisberg said. “If it turns out as well as we hope, and the audience responds, then we’ll see what happens down the road.”

Supergirl returns for its second season beginning October 10 on the CW. 🙂 Walt