You spend nearly 80 years fighting for truth, justice and all the rest, you're gonna go through a lot of tights, and Superman certainly has. Over the course of several generations he's been brought to life on film, television, in animation, for video games, on radio and even the Broadway stage. What follows, then, is a look at 50 actors who have portrayed the last son of Krypton.
Superman's first live action film appearance was in the movie serials (or "weekly chapter plays") Superman (1948) and Atom Man Vs Superman (1950), with Kirk Alyn in the lead role. “My strong dancer’s legs helped me a great deal,” Alyn reflected. “I didn’t need a trampoline to help me get off the ground, and I did it gracefully. I had to do everything gracefully, because everything was supposed to be easy for him. If I leaped off the top of a building, I had to land gracefully. You know, there were several times when they forgot I was an actor, when, given everything they had me do, they must have thought I really was Superman.”
The 2015 Infinite Crisis video game gave Troy Baker some time to consider voicing the Man Of Steel: "On the surface he’s flawless, and as humans we naturally search for a flaw. That’s one of the disconnections he has, being an alien. Everyone else looks normal in our view and he puts on a costume. But for Superman, Clark Kent is the costume and it becomes this juxtaposition of who the hero is and what the mask looks like.”
He has a history of kicking ass even without super powers, whether on Firefly or The Last Ship, but Adam Baldwin has twice had the chance to voice Superman: the 2007 animated film Superman: Doomsday and the 2011 video game DC Universe Online. He describes the former as consisting of a “lot of more” in the sense of more intense, more emotion, more action, more investigation into relationships and, ultimately, the death and resurrection of Superman. “So it’s arguably the darkest of all Superman films,” says Baldwin, obviously having missed Man Of Steel or Batman V Superman.
Brett Ratner was supposed to direct Matt Bomer in Superman Flyby from the J.J. Abrams screenplay, but Superman Returns was produced instead. In the end Bomer did play the Man Of Steel – albeit vocally – in 2013’s animated film Superman: Unbound. “The film features a very mature Superman,” he details. “He’s always dealing with weighty issues, but he’s very paternal towards Supergirl, he’s very protective of Lois and he’s also having to deal with Brainiac, who is a very intense adversary. So I tried to balance the heavier, more mature version of him with a lighter, fun, more-charming sense of playfulness with Lois in our scenes.”
Producer Bruce Timm turned the Justice League on its head in 2015's animated film and webseries Justice League: Gods And Monsters. Among the changes, Superman is the son of Zod rather than Jor-El. “We live in different times,” says Bratt, “and what I appreciate about this film is that it’s sort of built for a more plugged-in audience. One that’s aware of world politics and social upheaval and things that seem to be on everyone’s minds these days. It’s not about lifting the car off the tracks, we’re talking about the actual saving of humanity. I would say this Superman has a lot more edge than any Superman I’ve ever encountered. He retains a sort of goodness from the original, but this Superman’s got more balls.” Must be a Kryptonian thing.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman (1993-97) had its focus firmly on the relationship of the two title characters. Teri Hatcher was cast as Lois, with Dean Cain taking on the role of Big Blue. Of Superman he reflected to geeknation, "I modeled my Superman after Christopher Reeve. I thought he played that role fantastically, and as Clark Kent as well. I just didn't particularly love Clark Kent being the mealy-mouthed kind of guy. I liked the George Reeves version where he was more of a substantial guy. I was happy that I got to sort of pair those two in my portrayal of the character."
Another actor who at one time came this close to playing Superman (in that case for McG), Henry Cavill actually went on to claim the part in 2013’s Man Of Steel, 2016’s Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and next year’s Justice League. Cavill believes the character genuinely represents hope and struggle in the face of adversity. “Really facing up to seemingly insurmountable odds and, hopefully, winning,” he offers. “So, yes, he is a shining light, but what makes it interesting is that he’s still susceptible to human emotions. That adds a realism to it and a way of associating and feeling a part of this character, of getting inside his head, which I think was necessary as opposed to this very separate thing. He is both a part of Earth and so very much apart from Earth. That's what makes him fascinating.”
He may have been the second actor to take on the title role in the Adventures Of Superboy TV series (which ran from 1988-92), but Gerard Christopher most assuredly made the character his own, looking very much as though he’d stepped off of the comic book page. “It was a pretty awesome thing to do, to see the effect this character has on kids — on all people — all over the world,” he states. “It was a little bit scary, but a lot of fun. It turned into a great experience; one that I couldn’t have imagined when I started out.”
He played Superman more than anyone, but you’d be hard-pressed to know what he looks like. His name was Clayton “Bud” Collyer, and he voiced the character for The Adventures Of Superman radio show from 1940-51, 17 animated theatrical shorts between 1941 and 1943, and on television in The New Adventures Of Superman from 1966-70. The irony is that when he was initially offered the role, he turned it down flat. “I thought the character would be nothing but an embarrassment, both personally and professionally,” he explained. “Of course it grew into a magnificent career-within-a-career. It was great fun and a great way to get out all your inhibitions real fast.”
Geared for a younger audience, 2005’s Krypto: The Superdog was focused firmly on the Man Of Steel’s pet. As actor Michael Dangerfield explained to the Supermanhomepage, “Superman has a young boy named Kevin look after Krypto while he's away saving the world.” As to playing the part — albeit briefly — he added, “It’s a great honor to play the role of Superman. I’ve loved the character since my childhood.”
It was a small part, but at least they kept it in the family: The 2013 animated Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox saw Tim Daly’s son, Sam, take on the role of Superman on a time-altered Earth. Says Daly, “It’s so incredible that we’re the first ever father and son in real life to be part of the Superman family in one way or another. To be able to have that bond with such an iconic character is something that they can never take away from us.”
In the aftermath of the success of Batman: The Animated Series in the 1990s, the decision was made to give Superman a show of his own, and actor Tim Daly was tapped to provide his voice. He did so in Superman (1996-2000), the Superman: Shadow Of Apokalips video game (2003), and the animated films Superman: Brainiac Attacks (2006), Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Superman/Batman: Apokalips (2010) and Justice League: Doom (2012). When promoting Public Enemies, he admitted, “The most surprising thing about voicing Superman for this film was that I realized how much I missed it. I found that I really had missed doing Superman. You know, I feel badly that when I did the series, I did not realize how important Superman was to a lot of people. I had a really good time doing it, but I didn’t take it as seriously as I perhaps should have.”
Another actor with a long history voicing the Man Of Steel, who was Superman for a generation of kids growing up, is Danny Dark. He vocally brought Supes to life on Super Friends (1973), The All-New Super Friends (1977), Challenge Of The Super Friends (1978), The Super Friends Hour (1980), Super Friends: The Lost Episodes (1983), The Legendary Super Powers Show (1984), and Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (1985).
Based on the epic 12-issue maxi-series by Grant Morrison, this adaptation chronicles the final days of Superman, with actor James Denton being brought on to voice the character. In describing his approach, he says, “The fun thing was making Clark Kent human while taking much more of the emotion out of Superman to make him more controlled. I remember Grant Morrison saying one time that there were kind of three people there. Superman and Clark Kent are the masks, and the real guy is the Clark Kent who was very secure, very strong, knew how to drive a tractor and was raised by Ma and Pa Kent. That really struck me and made it more interesting.”
While the Superman character will be coming to the second season of Supergirl, in the first year he was only seen through blurred-out images, CG trickery and as a 13-year-old Kal-El in the episode "For The Girl Who Has Everything," based on the comic story by Alan Moore. Young actor Daniel DiMaggio snagged the role.
He was the teenaged Clark Kent in 1978's Superman: The Movie (whose voice was dubbed by Christopher Reeve). You know, the one that encouraged his father to run after him on the farm, triggering a fatal heart attack; and the one who found a green crystal and followed it to the North Pole, abandoning his mother for a decade. Actually, he sounds like kind of a douche, but really wasn't. Of Superman, East reflected to the Supermanhomepage, "He's the best comic book character ever, and I was a huge fan of the TV series with George Reeves. [Comic book] research was part of Richard Donner's homework. I also used some past experience in regards to first year into film acting, and the way my peers treated me as being different, to draw from for the role of young Superman."
A voice actor for a wide variety of video games and Anime, Freeman is Superman in the 2006 Justice League Heroes game. Of being cast he says, "It was completely surreal. They did an interview with me after we finished recording and they asked me, 'How does it feel to play Superman?' and I thought to myself, 'Did you hear what you just asked me? How does it feel to play Superman? It feels amazing!' But, of course, I probably answered with something much more pithy and intellectual."
The Justice League take on their counterparts on a parallel Earth in the 2010 animated film Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths, and Mark Harmon takes on the part of the Man Of Steel. “The things that attracted me to Superman are really the human part of the character, or at least the part that was more real," he details. "Hopefully that’s what I brought to it. He’s a leader. He’s a quarterback. He can be tough when he needs to be. He can certainly be direct. No matter who he’s talking to, he tries to speak honestly. I understand those values.”
A star of radio, film and TV (fans remember him from McHale's Navy), Bob Hastings voices the Boy Of Steel in The Adventures of Superboy segments of The New Adventures Of Superman animated series from 1966-69.
The Teen Wolf star will be making his debut as Superman in the first two episodes of season two of Supergirl when the show returns this fall. As to his approach, Hoechlin says, "I never try to compare and contrast performances, because it's such an iconic character already. Superman is Superman, so I'm just going to try to carry on the tradition of that and play that part. I think the fun is going to be finding where Clark Kent is in this world. I'm just excited to find out Clark's sense of humour."
Back in 1966, Bob Holiday was the man who brought Superman to the Broadway stage in the musical production It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Superman. He told sliceofscifi, "I was honored to become a live action version of Superman. I was a big fan from when I was a kid, so I felt that I'd been connected to him from childhood."
Lex Luthor manipulates the space-time continuum to prevent baby Kal-El's arrival on Earth in the 2014 animated JLA Adventures: Trapped In Time. Actor Peter Jessop voices Superman in this film that is geared for a younger audience.
Extremely in demand as a voice actor in animation and Anime, David Kaye played Superman in 2010's animated film DC Super Friends and, beginning in 2013, the DC Nation animated shorts, "Tales Of Metropolis."
Having provided his voice for a number of games, Kramer had his most prominent role in 2002's Superman: The Man Of Steel. Designed for the Xbox platform and based on the comic Y2K, Superman battles Brainiac 13, who has infected Metropolis with a technological virus.
What would have happened if baby Kal-El landed in Russia rather than America? That was the question raised by writer Mark Millar in Superman: Red Son, which was adapted into a 2009 motion comic with David Lodge providing the voice of the lead role.
In 2006, the actor voiced the role of Superman (who should have been Superboy, but there were legal hassles with the estate of Jerry Siegel) on the two-season animated Legion Of Superheroes. Of connecting with the character he related to viewster.com, "I identify with most of my characters in some way... I may fancy myself the bad boy, but at heart, I'm really the boy scout."
The actor, well known for his film and TV parts (including Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks), took on the role of Superman in the 2008 animated film Justice League: The New Frontier. Based on the acclaimed Darwyn Cooke graphic novel of the same name, the early '60s set era influenced the actor's portrayal. "There's a sort of moral imperative that Superman has," MacLachlan says, "and I think the language he uses is a little more proper. He's just not a guy who uses his words casually, so maybe, unconsciously, that 1950s tone just creeps in there for me."
The animated series Batman Beyond (which launched in 1999) is set 50 years in the future, and while the focus is on a new, younger Batman, an older version of the Man Of Steel appears. Actor Christopher McDonald admits he was happy to voice the character: "For me," he told futuremovies, "the tradition of superheroes started with Superman, because we all want to look up to something that will save the day. Especially when it can be so bleak out there in the real world."
Gear a number of DC characters for a younger audience, and you have the 2015 animated shorts "DC Super Friends", for which Matthew Mercer provided the voice of Superman. He enthusiastically tweeted on the subject, "I am honored to be Superman & Two-Face in this fun, new take on DC's Super Friends."
The actor who has the distinction of being the first to ever bring Superman to life is Ray Middleton, who donned the character's red and blue costume for "Superman Day" as part of the 1939 New York World's Fair. The date of his appearance was July 3, 1940.
Once Tim Daly became tied up in other projects, George Newbern became the voice of the Man Of Steel on television, doing so for Static Shock (2000), The Batman (2004), Justice League (2001-04) and Justice League Unlimited (2004-06); the animated short film DC Showcase: Superman/Shazam!: The Return Of Black Adam (2010) , the animated film Superman Vs The Elite (2012), and the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us (2013). Says Newbern, "With Superman, super powers are just ancillary. It's that character, with all those principles and understanding... that's who he is right there. I htink I tried to portray a sense of trust and power and charisma for Superman. That's what we believe Superman is."
John Haymes Newton
The Adventures Of Superboy TV series ran from 1988 until 1992, but Newton was only there for season one, ultimately replaced by Gerard Christopher when contract negotiations collapsed. Haymes actually wanted to avoid the Christopher Reeve take on the character, which was enormously popular at the time. "I had my own anti-Chris Reeve thing going on," he said, "which, looking back on it all, I feel like I overdid it. I wish I had made Clark more 'insecure' instead of 'not-nerdy.' I also realized about halfway through that one of the things that makes Superman so powerful isn't acting powerful, as much as how everyone around him reacts to his presence."
North has had plenty of time voicing Superman, his credits including Young Justice (2010, in which he voices both the Man Of Steel and Superboy), Young Justice: Legacy (video game, 2013), DC Super Heroes: Batman Be-Leaguered (2014), Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League Vs Bizarro League (2015), Lego DC Super Heroes: Justice League - Attack Of The Legion Of Doom (2015), and Lego DC Super Heroes: Justice League - Cosmic Clash (2016).
For a guy whose credits range from the film Stand By Me to the TV series Sliders, among many others, O'Connell seems to have really enjoyed voicing Superman in Justice League: Throne Of Atlantis (2015) and Justice League Vs Teen Titans (2016). At the same time, he admits, "It is a little daunting. I am not kidding you. I go to the gym more when I voice Superman. That is actually not even a joke. For two reasons: one is you just want to be bigger and two is I cannot allow Jason O'Mara [who voices Batman] to be more muscular than me."
For at least two generations he was Superman, thrilling children of all ages and continuing to do so as those kids became adults and had children of their own. George Reeves debuted in the role in the 1951 feature Superman And The Mole Men, which was more or less a pilot for the Adventures Of Superman TV show that ran from 1952-58. It seems that Reeves, who also played the character on an episode of the I Love Lucy sitcom, had no idea what he was getting into when he first signed on for the show. Or the impact that he would ultimately have. "My reaction was, Superman? What's that?'" he explained to a reporter at the time. "Of course I'd heard of the comic strip, but that's about all I knew. I've played about every type of part you can think of. Why not Superman?"
With all due respect to those who came before him and those who would don the cape after, to many Christopher Reeve remains the quintessential Man Of Steel, debuting in the role in Superman: The Movie (1978) and reprising it in Superman II (1981), Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. It was as though the comic book character had literally been brought to life, a responsibility that Reeve recognized. In trying to describe the character, he offered, "In a sense, Superman is a stranger in a strange land. A solitary man with incredible powers, trying to fit into his adopted planet. He has warmth and a great sense of humor. And while he has sworn to uphold 'truth, justice and the American way,' there's nothing self-conscious about him. That's simply what he believes in, in a world fille with arch criminals and evil geniuses."
Following the conclusion of production of The Adventures Of Superman, in 1961 a pilot for The Adventures Of Superboy was shot. Actor Johnny Rockwell related to author Chuck Harter how he was cast in the part: "When Superboy was casting, I was on the lot working on a pilot called Time Out For Ginger. As soon as I heard about the part being available, I went over and found out where the office was on a break. I walked in and [producer] Whitney Ellsworth was playing gin rummy with the head of the studio. I told him, 'You don't have to look any further. I can fly.' I was also a very good gin player at the time, so I said I would play the winner. Whit won, so I started playing him and began winning. At that point I more or less knew I had the job. I did have to read a few lines, but I think I got the job because I was a good gin player."
Batman v'd Superman on the "Battle Of The Superheroes" episode of the series Batman: The Brave And The Bold, and the actor voicing the Man Of Steel was Roger Rose (who did so two additional times).
After 10 years of development hell, the Man Of Steel was back on the big screen in 2006's Superman Returns, starring Brandon Routh (currently of the TV series DC's Legends Of Tomorrow) in the title role. More or less a sequel to Superman: The Movie and Superman II, Routh plays a Superman who has been away from earth for several years and finds that the world has changed in his absence. Says Routh, "He really tries to connect with the world, with humanity, with his humanity. I mean, he's an alien, but he's human. He lives here. He wants to be part of this world." During 2006 he also provided the performance for the video game based on the film.
This British-born actor provided the voice for Superman in the 2011 video game LittleBigPlanet2 and 2012's LittleBigPlanet P Vita.
Christopher Corey Smith
Although he's acted in a number of TV roles, Smith has provided his vocal abilities to a wide variety of video games. He voiced Superman in 2008's Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe.
The success of the Superman radio show in America led to one in Australia, which ran from 1949 to 1954 with a production of 1,040 episodes. Actor Leonard Teale provided the voice of Superman and Clark Kent.
Tudyk, late of Firefly and who co-stars on this fall's new DC-related series Powerless, voiced Superman in the first animated film inspired by DC's New 52, 2014's Justice League: War.
The actor, whose television series include Boston Legal and Human Target, voiced Superman in 2013's adaptation of the Frank Miller classic, The Dark Knight Returns. "It's fun to play a hero," Valley notes, "but I love to be able to put a little bit of irreverence into it, or a little bit of humanity as well as sarcasm or irony. It's interesting to see who these people are with these immense abilities and huge responsibilities, but still have time to kind of have fun with it."
To part of his fanbase, Patrick Warburton is best remembered as Puddy on Seinfeld. To another, he will always be Ben Edlund's The Tick. But for a brief time he was also an animated Superman, interacting with the real-life Jerry Seinfeld in a pair of American Express commercials that aired in 2003 and 2004.
In 1988, Ruby-Spears produced the animated series Superman, which saw Weaver cast as the voice of the title role. "This was a real dream come true for me," he told noblemania. "I was a huge comic book fan growing up in Oklahoma. My grandfather ran a drug store in a small town; he kept three racks full of comic book in stock and I discovered every one of them. I read everything, but my absolute favorite was DC Comics superheroes. And for me, it was always about Superman."
It was the show governed by the rule "no flights, no tights," and was essentially the Superman series without Superman. But somehow Tom Welling made it work for ten years from 2001-11 in the role of Clark Kent on the road towards his destiny as the Man Of Steel. Welling recognizes the challenge of keeping the character identifiable for the modern audience. "Superman is interesting," he mused to birthmoviesdeath, "because if you look at where he came from, and the time period that he was created, we're in very different times now. And I think trying to maintain that relevancy has been a challenge." He added to buzzfeed, "This needed to be a show about Clark Kent, not about Superman. That was always the rule.”
If you think of Lego Superman, you're no doubt thinking of Travis Willingham, who has voiced the character in Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (2012), Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (2014) and Lego Dimensions (2015). "When they were auditioning for Superman," he says, "I asked: 'What kind of Superman? Is he straight on? Is he subtle? Is he heroic?' And they said, 'Yes, yes, and yes, but we want more of a true blue, ultimate boy scout Superman. And one who is completely oblivious to the fact that he's annoying Batman at every turn.'"
In 1975, the ABC network in America broadcast a production of the Broadway musical It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Superman. Cast in the dual role of Clark Kent and Superman was actor David Wilson. Over the years Wilson has appeared on stage, in film and on television.