100 Essential Superhero Movies – The Superman Movies

I decided that I wanted to make a list of 100 superhero movies that I thought were the essentials, the ones that everyone needs to see at one point in time if they want to be a fully fledged superhero movie afficionado, and while I am having guest bloggers this month help me fill out the list, there are many much more obvious choices that were easy to make and I’m here to share some of those with you now starting with the biggest superhero out there, the one that probably most people know of no matter what country they are in, and that of course is Superman. He’s been the star of many different movies through the years and while I haven’t selected every single one of them, I have picked most of them for one reason or another.

Superman and the Mole Men

Superman and the Mole Men

This is Superman’s first outing in a full length feature film even though it was really much more like a fancy pilot for the upcoming Superman TV series starring George Reeves. There wasn’t much fighting, there wasn’t much of a budget, and the tone felt much more like a mediocre Twilight Zone episode than what we’ve come to think of as a typical Superman story, but it deserves credit for being essentially the first full length superhero movie after a run of serials from a few other superheroes and for that it especially deserves its place on this list.

Superman: The Movie

When you think of a superhero movie and are above the age of 30, this is probably one of the first movies that you think of. The tagline of the movie is something that’s so memorable that it’s hard not to quote “You will believe a man can fly” when talking about this movie. It hits all the right notes, with Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Superman’s origin story, and there’s still no one else that has really captured the essence of Superman and Clark Kent the way that Christopher Reeve did. It’s stood the test of time and it’s the reason why I chose to take a look at the Superman movies first when sharing my list.


Superman II

Even with the massive success of the first Superman, it didn’t take long for controversy to brew. This sequel was mostly shot concurrently with the first Superman movie, but before it was completed there were disagreements between the producers the Salkinds, the director Richard Donner, and Marlon Brando. The exact details aren’t entirely clear aside from Marlon Brando’s massive payday, but for whatever reasons Richard Donner didn’t return to finish Superman II and instead Richard Lester came in to finish the sequel and even reshot much of the footage. But even with a change in directors, there is still a lot to love in the sequel where Superman actually gets to fight someone that is equal in power to himself. Personally, I do prefer the Richard Donner cut that came out in 2006, but either way this is still a fantastic sequel and helped set the standard that still exists for a superhero sequel to ramp up the action once the exposition of the origin is out of the way.

Superman III

Of course, not every Superman movie with Christopher Reeve was a great one, and this was the first that showed signs of struggles from declining budgets and creative differences. In this sequel the comedy was ramped up with the addition of Richard Pryor who in many cases practically stole the show from Superman in his own movie. Many things weren’t taken seriously, and a few of the actors from the first movie didn’t want to return after the departure of Richard Donner which led to the addition of a Lex Luthor-lite villain. The one saving grace of this movie is the bizarre, though still quite silly, subplot with bad superman and the battle he has with himself in the junkyard. Many people still hold a place for this movie in their hearts, but personally I think it’s essential because it’s one of the first failures.


But of course, Superman III wasn’t the last failure. With an even more declining budgets, there was a desire to keep the Superman brand and this spinoff featuring Superman’s cousin was made which does share the distinction of being the first full length superhero movie with a female lead. Unfortunately everything else in this movie is a complete disaster. The special effects look cheap, the acting and plot are quite poor, but there’s still something charming about it. Or at the very least you can laugh at how incredibly bad this movie is

superman returns

Superman Returns

This is another movie that is now met with mixed feelings even though when it first came out it was hailed as an excellent return for Superman. Bryan Singer left the X-Men franchise after a successful 2 movie run in order to take a shot at his favorite superhero and decided to make this more or less a continuation of the first two Superman movies and disregard the latter two sequels. Relative unknown Brandon Routh took the role of Superman/Clark Kent and was noted as having a striking resemblance to Christopher Reeve himself as well as continuing the clumsy/oafish portrayal of Clark Kent. Unfortunately there were plenty of major plot holes, not that much action, and a love story that didn’t completely work. It’s still a significant movie, but one whose artistic merit has greatly diminished over time.

Superman: Doomsday

I’ve made no secret that I’m a big fan of DC Animation and while I haven’t been a huge fan of all of the Superman-centered features it would be a mistake to not include this one. While this wasn’t the first release from DC animation, this was the first that was rated PG-13 which has started their trend away from the kid-centric storylines and towards a more adult sensibility that has continued even further in recent years. This was also based on the extremely noteworthy comic book run of the Death of Superman. It’s still a good movie in its own right, though it’s not nearly as good as some of the more recent films to come out of DC Animation.

Man of Steel

Man of Steel

I will finish off this list of Superman movies with the most recent one from Zack Snyder. Even though it’s gotten a lot of mixed reviews, it’s still a very notable film. It’s the beginning of what appears to be DC’s own new cinematic universe with the Batman/Superman movie in a couple years followed by the Justice League movie and possibly Wonder Woman afterwards. It’s another version of Superman’s origin story though there’s a lot of controversy over how he ultimately defeats General Zod. Personally, I was and am still a fan of this movie, but even disregarding how I feel about the movie itself, it’s still an important piece of superhero movie history.

What didn’t make the cut

Obviously I didn’t include all of the Superman movies out there, I didn’t feel the need to include Superman IV: The Quest for Peace which was the last of the Christopher Reeve movies and also arguably the worst. I also left out quite a few of the animated Superman movies including all of the ones that were TV movies from the animated series, but also All-Star Superman, Superman vs. the Elite, and Superman: Unbound. Even though I enjoyed them, I didn’t think they quite made the cut. Disagree with me? Write your own argument on why you think it’s an essential superhero movie and e-mail it to me at Bubbawheat@msn.com and I just might post it along with a poll so the readers can decide if it should make the list. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.


About Bubbawheat

I'm a comic book movie enthusiast who has watched and reviewed over 500 superhero and comic book movies in the past seven years, my goal is to continue to find and watch and review every superhero movie ever made.

Posted on May 4, 2014, in Lists and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Superman: The Movie is the #1 superhero movie of all time. What else could be more influential and historic than this movie? Iron Man? The Avengers? All of them owe their success to what Superman 1978 achieved.

    • Exactly, even though I’m not ranking these 100 movies there’s little doubt that Superman: The Movie would be #1 closely followed by the Dark Knight.

  2. Superman IV is so bad it almost becomes good. Great list

    • It does have a very young John Cryer in it, and a fight with the Nuclear Man on the moon, what could have gone wrong? 🙂

    • If the uncut original 134-minute version ever surfaces (it has a second Nuclear Man), Superman IV will then become a movie so bad it becomes great.

  3. I remember seeing SuperGirl more when I was younger because my sister watched it a lot, but I didnt mind because she was pretty cute. Agree that the Donner cut of SuperMan 2 is better. Nice Review

  4. Coming in way late on this… I absolutely agree with the inclusion of “Mole Men” due to its importance, and of course the first two Christopher Reeve movies. I also think including Supergirl is a nice touch, considering it is as you said the first feature film centered on a female superhero — and until Elektra and Catwoman, the only one, unless we want to count semi-comic-book characters such as Red Sonja and Sheena — and I still think it’s a shame that even with that allowance, we’re basically looking at an 0 for 5 track record here. But hey, at least Helen Slater looked good in the costume.

    • Yeah, the best female-led superhero-ish comic book movie is Tank Girl and that one is pretty wacky too, while the best female-led comic book movie has nothing close to superheroes in it as either Ghost World or Blue is the Warmest Color depending who you ask.

  1. Pingback: 100 Essential Superhero Movies | Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights

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