There is perhaps no role more sought after by Hollywood’s leading men than that of Superman. After all, joining the select pantheon of Superman actors guarantees to make you something of a super actor! And though the films and television shows featuring Superman may have different degrees of success, everyone knows the Superman actors just by looking at them. It may surprise many film buffs to learn that only a handful of actors have played the role over the many decades that it’s been around, earning them a spot as one of the select few Superman actors.
Christopher Reeve is the definitive Superman. Though a few others have tried their hand at playing the role, no one else has come even close to owning the role the way Reeve did. Audiences certainly loved him in the role, allowing him to play the character in four features that were both critically lauded and popular smashes at the box-office. Reeve himself thought he was a long shot for the role as he was a self-described “skinny WASP”. In fact, producers threw out his picture every time it was given to them by the casting director of the first Superman. But tenacity and persistence paid off, with Reeve eventually winning the role after screen testing in London. His portrayal stood out for its ability to convey the gentility and vulnerability inside Superman, two qualities one does not normally associate with an all-powerful superhero.
Reeve also proved to be something of a superhero in real life as well, surviving a tragic accident while horse riding in 1995. The cervical spinal injury he sustained paralyzed him from the neck down. Though he died in 2004, he left behind a legacy not only in the movies, but one as an activist in dogged pursuit of a cure for spinal cord injuries. It is safe to say he will be missed as long as Hollywood and Superman are around.
Dean Cain is best known for his work as Superman on the ABC series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. He co-starred with Teri Hatcher (as Lois Lane) on the series that ran from 1993 to 1997 for four seasons. The series was very popular in its heyday with an average weekly audience of 15 million viewers. In fact, when it became known that ABC was toying with the idea of canceling the series, many fans took to the streets to protest what they saw as a grossly misguided decision. Cain himself is best remembered in the role as being a much cuter Superman than audiences had seen before, especially with those famous dimples. The show also helped establish Cain as something of a romantic lead as it focused on the romance between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Currently, Cain is enjoying work behind the scenes, working these days as a writer and director.
George Reeves was the first actor to achieve widespread popularity playing Superman. He starred as the lead in the 1950s television program Adventures of Superman, aimed largely at children and teens that were also fans of the comic. Reeves’s acting career began with a minor role in Gone WithThe Wind where he appears in the opening scene as one of Scarlett O’Hara’s suitors. Later, he went on to star in feature films alongside Ronald Reagan, James Cagney, and Merle Oberon. Perhaps his most famous spot playing Superman was a special guest spot on I Love Lucy where Lucy does her best to impersonate Superman while he visits her apartment. Needless to say, it ends in disaster (for Lucy)!
Reeves’s premature death at the age of 45 is also the subject of a great deal of controversy as some believe he committed suicide while others maintain that he was the victim of an accidental shooting (or perhaps murder). The 2006 film Hollywoodland starring Adrien Brody and Ben Affleck as Reeves attempts to shed light on the various explanations of his death. All three versions of his death are shown in the film, leaving viewers to judge for themselves what really happened to Reeves that fateful night.
The most recent actor to play Superman, Brandon Routh landed the part because of his striking resemblance to Christopher Reeve. As a child, he thought a career in acting was unrealistic because he was from a small town in Iowa, so he relegated himself to the plays and musicals about town. But when a manager told him he would sign him because he looked like Superman, there was no turning back for Brandon. His agent told him that if there was ever another Superman film or television series, Brandon would be surely cast as the lead. That is one prescient manager! Since playing Superman, Routh has gone on to play a variety of roles, including an independent film opposite his wife, the stoner comedy Zack & Miri Make A Porno, and a guest spot on the series Chuck. He even played himself in the 2009 Bollywood feature, Kambakkth Ishq (Stupid Love). Now that’s variety!