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Every DC Superman movie from worst to best, ranked by Rotten Tomatoes

Superman movies
Henry Cavill and Christopher Reeve as Superman. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

Superman might be the most iconic superhero of all time, and when a Superman movie is announced, it is often a cause for excitement.

However, unlike Batman, a street-level hero with a dark persona that plays well on the big screen, Superman is a tougher nut to crack.

Superman is an all-powerful character, stronger than almost anyone in the universe, and that makes giving him a threat that he actually struggles with a difficult task.

In DC Comics, Superman is hard to write, and there are just as many bad Superman stories as there were great ones. Superman movies are no different.

When a Superman movie tries to give the character a threat that actually causes fear for the audience, the movie can be a huge blockbuster. Other times, it falls flat, and no one ever really buys into the threat Superman has to stop.

There have been six Superman movies (not counting the classics from 1948, 1950, and 1951), and there were two more that Superman appeared in, plus a director’s cut of Justice League that was different enough to count as its own movie.

Here is a look at every Superman movie, ranked by critics scores on Rotten Tomatoes.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) – 11%

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Superman battles Nuclear Man in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

Released in 1987, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is widely considered one of the worst superhero movies of all time and is easily the worst Superman movie ever made.

Christopher Reeve was iconic in his role as Superman, but after the disappointing Superman III, Reeve wanted a bigger hand in the film to return. He wanted Superman to try to save the world during the fear of nuclear wars in the ’80s.

This was a big mistake.

Superman can’t save the world from nuclear war because it pushes him over the limit of his standing as a superhero. If he can do this, why can’t he solve world hunger? This makes him a god and not a hero, and that ruins the character and destroys his future as someone who can lead a movie because he is almost omnipotent.

It also hurts that his villain here was terrible, with the Nuclear Man uninteresting and carried by an inexperienced actor in Mark Pillow.

Gene Hackman returned as Lex Luthor and Jon Cryer was fun as his nephew Lenny, but the movie was so bad that Reeve quit after this and there wasn’t another Superman movie made for 19 years.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – 29%

Batman V Superman Dawn of Justice
Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck as Superman and Batman in Batman V Superman Dawn of Justice. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

There are fans of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, but most fans and critics alike had a lot to complain about.

The movie only checked in at two-and-a-half hours, but it felt longer and was bloated with enough story for two movies. That was the biggest problem.

If the Batman vs. Superman battle was one movie and the Doomsday “Death of Superman” story was a second, it might have been a better experience and could have held up well in hindsight.

There were other problems, including a Batman who kills and a Superman who moped around and didn’t seem to want to be a hero. It betrayed both character’s comic book personas.

However, enough Zack Snyder fans loved it to allow the director to move on with his Justice League plans.

Superman III (1983) – 30%

Superman III
Christopher Reeve and Richard Pryor in Superman III. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

Superman III was a huge disappointment and almost caused Christopher Reeve to leave the franchise after this movie.

This was a Superman movie, but it featured almost too much of comedian Richard Pryor, who had the name value and stroke to ensure he was as big a star as the Man of Steel.

That dragged this movie down and made it a bit too goofy for a Superman movie, especially after the first two films in this franchise were so great.

There was one moment that holds this movie up higher than it could have ranked. Superman vs. Superman was fantastic, as the evil side of Superman emerged and Reeve got the chance to play the good and evil versions of his character.

Justice League (2017) – 40%

Justice League
Superman with the Justice League. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

There were two versions of the same movie, but the two Justice League films were so different that they deserve different spots in this list of Superman movies.

This version was the Joss Whedon Justice League movie that hit theaters and left critics and fans disappointed. It was Zack Snyder’s story, but Whedon had to make changes per studio orders to lighten it up, making the movie feel uneven, to put it nicely.

The movie softened up Superman and much of the action, and while the lack of ultra-violence was nice, it didn’t feel right in the universe the story took place in.

This movie was more of fan lip service for the comic book fans, but it wasn’t a good story and was a weak movie.

Man of Steel (2013) – 56%

Man of Steel
Henry Cavill as Superman in Man of Steel. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

Man of Steel suffers from expectations. However, as a Superman movie, it was a breath of fresh air that might be better than fans remember.

Henry Cavill took over as Superman and was great in the role. The movie took a different look at Superman, trying to decipher how the world would see him in today’s society.

There were a few bad moments, for sure, and it mostly centered around Jonathan Kent and the movie’s betrayal of that comic book icon. He told Superman it was better to let children die in an accident than to risk his identity and then forced Superman to let him die for the same reason.

However, Michael Shannon was fantastic as General Zod, and while fans hated Superman killing Zod at the end, it was something he had to do to save the world from the overpowered military genius with superhuman powers.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) – 71%

Zack Snyder's Justice League
Henry Cavill as Superman in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Pic credit: HBO Max

Zack Snyder’s Justice League was miles better than the theatrical cut, but it wasn’t perfect.

For one thing, it was four hours long and had several moments that needed to be cut to tighten up the movie and make it more enjoyable.

However, there were several added scenes that cleared up things that seemed forced in the theatrical movie. The motivations were clearer here, the fights made more sense, and the movie, as a whole, felt more connected and that made it a marked improvement.

It also vastly improved Cyborg’s character and let fans see Superman for the first time in his black costume.

It was clear that Snyder wanted to show fans what the DCEU would have looked like if he had kept control, and that is fair. It just made the movie too long, and that holds it back from being a great movie on its own.

Superman Returns (2006) – 75%

Superman Returns
Brandon Routh as Superman in Superman Returns. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

Superman Returns was a highly misunderstood movie when it hit in 2006.

Brandon Routh was the new Superman, and he was honestly very good considering he was playing Christopher Reeve as Superman.

This was a sequel to Superman II and lives in a world that pretended the third and fourth movies never happened. Superman left Earth after his battle with Zod and went to find out what happened to Krypton.

When he saw his home planet was destroyed, he returned to Earth and found Lois Lane was married with a child and Superman had to find his new place in the world.

Fans were not excited, as this was not a movie about Superman fighting villains, although Lex Luthor was the villain here. It was about Superman figuring out who he was supposed to be, and that made it very interesting and highly underrated.

Superman II (1980) – 86%

Superman II
General Zod and his warriors in Superman II. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

There are two versions of Superman II, the theatrical cut and the original director’s cut. That is because Warner Bros. fired Richard Donner and brought in Richard Lester to recut and remake the movie.

Donner had made Superman: The Movie and Superman II at the same time, but the studio wanted major changes and had Lester make them.

For one thing, Marlon Brando had his contract that stated he would get more money from the second movie, even though it was for no more work than he already did, so they cut his role out of the second movie’s theatrical cut.

Regardless, both movies are good, and there are reasons why either one could be considered the definitive Superman movie. General Zod (the legendary Terrance Stamp) arrived on Earth with his soldiers and they attempted a hostile takeover.

This was the only movie in the first four where Superman seemed to be overmatched and overpowered, and it made it one of the best Superman movies of all time as he had to fight as the underdog to win.

Superman: The Movie (1978) – 94%

Superman The Movie
Christopher Reeve as Superman. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

The highest-rated Superman movie of all time was the 1978 film, Superman: The Movie.

This was the first superhero movie to hit the big screen as a big-budget blockbuster and it was one that proved that a comic book character could make it as a theatrical release.

Christopher Reeve might still be considered the best Superman of all time, and it was this movie that showed him at his best. He was the good and pure Superman, a man who always did the right thing, and stood for all that was good about humankind.

His enemy was Lex Luthor, who used his brains to outwit Superman at every turn, but the real story here was showing Superman trying to figure out his place in the world, and proving that he was a true hero that the world deserved.

What is your pick as the best Superman movies of all time? Let us know.

Shawn S. Lealos


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