Superman is the superhero to end all superheroes. He's the archetype on which all others are based. Earth’s protector and a modern day Greek God, he's existed for over 80 years (making his comic debut in 1938) and the world has never got fed up of him even as he’s gone through several incarnations, a few lows and even a couple of deaths.


When not saving the world from Zod or Lex Luthor, Superman is Clark Kent, an affable if awkward journalist for the Daily Planet in Metropolis who dearly loves his Lois Lane.

There have been many an actor whose dream it is to play Superman but only a select few have succeeded. Nicolas Cage very nearly became Tim Burton's Man of Steel in the early '00s, DJ Cotrona was supposed to play Superman in George Miller's version of Justice League before that was cancelled, and even Will Smith was considered before the series was rebooted with Superman Returns.

With the cape currently vacant on the big screen after the departure of Henry Cavill, whoever is next in line to save Metropolis will be following a line of iconic actors.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about the stars who have played Superman.

Christopher Reeve (1978 - 1987)

Christopher Reeve in Superman
Christopher Reeve in Superman. Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Films: Superman, Superman II, Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

The definitive take on the Man of Steel, Reeve perfectly captured the stoicism of Superman and the awkwardness of his alter ego Clark Kent even as the films gave increasingly diminished returns. With his matinee idol looks and general wholesomeness, there's something very 1950s about Reeve's take on the most famous superhero of them all.

Playing Superman for longer than any other actor, Reeve is usually the face people think of when they think of Superman. The original Richard Donner film celebrates its 45th anniversary this year and is being re-released in cinemas for a whole new generation to fall in love with Reeve.

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Dean Cain (1993 - 1997)

Dean Cain superman
Dean Cain in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. ABC

Appears in: Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

With a pre-Bond girl Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane, Dean Cain donned the red cape in this sitcom-y take on Superman as the series was generally more focused on the romantic comings and goings of its main duo than saving the world.

Cain has an everyman quality that suits a TV version of Superman and the show was popular on both sides of the Atlantic during its four-season run.

Tom Welling (2001 - 2011)

Tom Welling in the Smallville finale
Tom Welling in Smallville. The CW

Appears in: Smallville

Smallville is credited with redefining Superman for the 21st century teen. The long-running show begins with Clark Kent not yet Superman nor aware of his powers, which begin to emerge throughout the early seasons of the series.

Welling's performance, as well as the show at large, was well-received, particularly in its early years which showed a more relatable Man of Steel going through teen love life problems and wanting to play high school football. This version of Superman also started off good friends with Lex Luther before they became enemies.

Brandon Routh (2006)

Brandon Routh in Superman Returns. Warner Bros Pictures

Appears in: Superman Returns

Brandon Routh looked the part. In fact, he looked so much like Christopher Reeve he could have been his offspring but his version of Superman was less of a hit with fans. The actor, who later played The Atom in Legends of Tomorrow, attempted to bring a more psychological edge to Superman but many fans just thought he came off as mardy.

As Superman Returns was not the juggernaut many were hoping for after the success of Batman Begins, Routh only ever reprised the role in a brief appearance in Arrowverse crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Henry Cavill (2013 - 2023)

Man Of Steel Herny Cavill as Kal-El TM & © DC Comics
Henry Cavill in Man of Steel. DC Studios

Appears in: Man of Steel, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League, Zack Snyder's Justice League, Black Adam

Henry Cavill has been through the ringer as Superman. He was the launching pad for the DC Extended Universe – which underperformed commercially and critically – before it looked like he had quietly been ushered out of the role before he was then brought back in very public fashion for a cameo in Black Adam and then dumped once again after James Gunn was made head of DC Studios.

Despite the divisiveness of the Zack Snyder incarnation, Cavill remains incredibly popular with fans but in the end, only ever got to lead one solo Superman film. A self-professed nerd, the role probably meant more to Cavill than any other actor.

Tyler Hoechlin (2016 - present)

Tyler Hoechlin stars in Superman & Lois
Tyler Hoechlin in Superman & Lois. BBC/Warner Bros

Appears in: Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, Batwoman, Legends of Tomorrow, Superman & Lois

Set initially in the sprawling Arrowverse that also features TV incarnations of The Flash, Supergirl and Batwoman, Superman & Lois was quickly retconned to be set in its own world to stand alone from the other shows.

First appearing as Superman in Supergirl, Hoechlin proved to be a hit with fans so the former Teen Wolf star kept popping up until they gave him his own show. The spin-off recently premiered its third season which has been positively reviewed by fans and critics.

Superman: Legacy will be released in cinemas on 11th July 2025. Check out more of our Film coverage or find something to watch now with our TV Guide and Streaming Guide.


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