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Superman's Live-Action Costumes Ranked Worst To Best

Superman represents what we should all ultimately strive to be: A good person who stands up for others. He's truly one of pop culture's most wholesome, endearing, and wildly beloved mainstays — and his attire is a big part of that.

The Man of Steel's look has been through many changes, developments, and revamps since his introduction in Action Comics #1, way back in 1938. The design of Superman's costume often goes hand-in-hand with the tone of the comic, movie, or show he's in: He's sported everything from minimalist spacesuits to ultra-'90s mullets. Some designs become classics. Some are widely derided. But one fact remains ironclad: There sure are a whole lot of Superman costumes.

Superman's most visible looks are the ones that make it into live-action productions. But which of these designs soar above the clouds ... and which fall to Earth like stones? We're here to answer that very question, by ranking the Man of Tomorrow's most notable live-action attire from worst to best. We'll be going less by the overall quality of the performer and more by the quality of the suit itself, though how the actor acts while wearing the suit will be mentioned as well. Get on your cape and shine up your spit curl: It's time to paw through Superman's closet.

Tom Welling - Smallville

This placement is not a critique of Smallville, which, for all its '00s cheesiness, is a very important milestone in the history of Superman media. The series focuses on Clark Kent's journey, from his humble beginnings in Smallville, Kansas to his eventual discovery of his extraterrestrial origins. It lasted for a solid 10 years, and helped put The CW on the map. This success was due in no small part to Tom Welling's performance as Clark Kent: Welling brought a sincere, youthful energy to the role that endeared him to millions of viewers

All of that praise aside ... his Superman attire never quite hits the mark. Whether we're talking about his red emblem jacket, the dark variant from the final season, or the brief glimpse of the legitimate costume from the series finale, nothing ever truly captures the essence of what makes the character so visually endearing.

None of this is the fault of Tom Welling, who, again, did a superb job. His portrayal is remembered so fondly that people flipped out when he returned for a brief cameo on The CW's 2019 multi-show crossover event, Crisis on Infinite Earths. Still, Welling's outfits may be a hit in Smallville, Kansas, but they certainly aren't ready for the bright lights of Metropolis.

Kirk Alyn - Superman film serial

Behold Kirk Alyn, the man who first brought Superman to life on screen in 1948. In appearing in Columbia Pictures' 15-part Superman film serial, Alyn was in totally uncharted waters: Up until that point, Superman had only been depicted outside of comic books in Fleischer Studios' legendary cartoons and weekly radio serials. Additionally, this was the first time the Superman costume was showcased in live-action — a daunting task to say the least. 

Alyn's portrayal is charming, but sadly, his costume definitely needs a bit more refining in the light of the modern day. The elements are there, but the wonkiness of the emblem is distracting. Moreover, the sweater cuffs on his sleeves are just strange. You should still definitely give the old Superman film serial a whirl: It's dated, but remains an intriguing time capsule of old-school cinema. Just go in knowing it took a bit longer for the Man of Steel to look his best.

George Reeves - Adventures of Superman

George Reeves' campy-yet-likable interpretation of the character is best known from the 1952 TV series, Adventures of Superman. Reeves himself, sadly, is known more for the controversy surrounding his passing in 1959, which ended up dramatized in the 2006 film Hollywoodland. But that shouldn't be all he's remembered for: Television was a booming industry at this time in history, and Reeves was many people's first glimpse of what the last son of Krypton looked like in action. Reeves brought a unique level of dignity and authority to the role, traits that have stuck with the character to this day.

Reeves' get-up — a simple cloth costume not too dissimilar from Kirk Alyn's, with a less wonky emblem — looks pretty close to its comic book counterpart. Overall, it's a marked improvement over Alyn's affair, but the restraints of '50s TV could only do so much for a far-out concept like Superman. He looks good, but not his best.

Dean Cain - Lois & Clark

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman is a charming and romantic installment of the Superman franchise, which ran from 1993 to 1997. It contains a corny but lovable portrayal of the big blue Boy Scout from Dean Cain. Cain's comedic timing is pitch-perfect for this show, and his wonderful chemistry with Teri Hatcher, who portrayed Lois Lane, is a huge part of the series' appeal.

Dean flies into action in a suit that is definitely more vibrant than previous incarnations. This is, of course, a bit of a given in some cases, as certain prior costumes could not be filmed and broadcast in color. Still, the suit utilizes a shinier and more striking shade of blue, and a larger, redder emblem on the chest than many other takes on the classic look. This is optimal — the first thing that should be noticed about Superman's suit is his symbol. It's a glossy, vivid, and eye-catching design. When you claim to represent truth, justice, and the American way, that is most definitely a good thing.

Tyler Hoechlin - Supergirl, Superman & Lois

One of the most delightful surprises to come out of The CW's DC television universe is Tyler Hoechlin's endearingly old-school take on the Man of Tomorrow. From his first few moments on screen alongside Melissa Benoist on Supergirl, it's clear that Hoechlin has a definite understanding of what makes the character work. His take is a solid mix of Christopher Reeve's charm and Tom Welling's youthful energy, with a core of something all his own.

Hoechlin's main attire is a visually interesting blend of Henry Cavill's Snyderverse suit, and the more vibrant, comic book-style look that the Arrowverse's costumes are known for. Furthermore, a Superman & Lois flashback to one of the character's first public appearances pays tribute to Superman's suit from the original comics, which is a genuinely heartwarming sight for longtime fans of the character. This incarnation of Superman's suit is definitely one of the strongest.

Henry Cavill - The DCEU

The most highly anticipated and scrutinized interpretation of recent memory, Henry Cavill's Superman has a serious physical presence and an interestingly dignified charm. But sadly, he never quite manages to represent the key ideals of the character. This is also due to inconsistent writing and bizarre character choices, not the least of which was the controversial decision to have this Superman snap the neck of General Zod (Michael Shannon) in Man of Steel.

However, one can't deny that the design and presentation of the Superman costume in these films is anything less than stellar. The dark blue bodysuit, metallic red and yellow chest emblem, and scarlet cape make for a grittier and more alien-looking suit. While this design choice has not been embraced by everyone, it makes an unforgettable statement: Clark Kent was made in Kansas, but Kal-El came from beyond the stars.

We'll probably be debating the quality of Zack Snyder's vision of Superman and the DC universe for at least the next decade. But no one can deny Snyder's bold visual direction, or how it reaches its zenith in this costume.

Brandon Routh - Superman Returns

Brandon Routh stars in 2006's Superman Returns, which sees Superman face his deadliest challenge yet ... lifting a giant island out of the ocean. Also fatherhood. Comic book films were still kinda figuring stuff out around this time, if you couldn't tell.

The quality of Brandon Routh's portrayal is often debated by fans: Some see it as a mildly serviceable tribute to Christopher Reeve's performance, while others see it as a genuinely quality rendition of the character. Regardless of what you think of his performance, this suit is one of the most visually pleasing ever made, choosing only to mildly touch up the classic design from the original Richard Donner films. The costume bears the iconic colors, and is adorned with a more three-dimensional chest emblem, which catches the eye nicely.

Routh's Superman popped up one more time on screen, as a character in The CW's Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event. In this appearance, he wears a version of the suit based heavily on Superman's attire in Mark Waid and Alex Ross' comic Kingdom Come. Regardless of suit, Routh has always brought 110 percent to his performance, and that counts for a whole lot. But boy, do the suits look great.

Christopher Reeve - Superman

1978's blockbuster Superman set the tone for the character for many years to come — and for good reason. Boasting impressive effects for its era, an incredible soundtrack, and great performances from the likes of Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, and, of course, the incomparable Christopher Reeve, this movie has it all.

Reeve brought an amazing balance of hapless charm and blue-eyed charisma to the role, which helped cement how the character would be perceived in pop culture for decades. His suit is an absolute dream: The classic emblem is vibrant, and the colors are in perfect balance with each other. There is a reason why, when most people think of Superman, they think of this film, this performance, and, most importantly for our purposes, this suit. When you need a hero to show up at the last second to set things right, this is definitely what you want them to be wearing.

On a first inspection (especially if the inspector is, say, 14), it's easy to write this suit off as bright and cheesy. But honestly, when did that become such a bad thing? In today's world, it's nice to celebrate a hero who just loves being a good guy. Plus, for older viewers, it's nice to recall a simpler time, when it wasn't impossible to think that a man could fly or jump a tall building in a single bound. Reeve's look is a classic, full stop.