How Superman Returns Ended Brandon Routh's Acting Career

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's one of the most coveted roles for any actor who once tied a pillow case around his neck and ran around the house pretending to fly. Playing Superman on the big screen is, in many ways, an honor as much as it is a lucrative paycheck. Being asked to don the red "S" means being asked to play one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history. It means being entrusted with over 80 years of canon, history, and mythology.

When Brandon Routh was cast as the Man of Steel for 2006's "Superman Returns," the sixth film in a series begun by the late Christopher Reeve in 1978, he knew he "had to take it seriously, to honor the character, to honor Christopher Reeve's legacy, to uphold that image" (via SyFy Wire). 

Whatever dreams Routh had of superstardom following the release of "Superman Returns" quickly fizzled, and the role that should have launched his career instead nearly ended it entirely.

Brandon Routh picked up where Christopher Reeve left off

Of all the many actors who have played Krypton's favorite son over the years, Christopher Reeve, who starred in four Superman films, is arguably the one most associated with the role. Though his fourth outing, in 1987's "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace," was a critical and box office disappointment, there was some talk in the early nineties that he'd return for a fifth film (via Screen Rant). The film languished in the concept stage for some time, and when Reeve suffered the catastrophic injury that would leave him paralyzed from the neck down, any notion of it was abandoned.

When plans for a new Superman film took shape in the early 2000s, director Bryan Singer knew he wanted an unknown actor to replace Reeve, which therefore involved watching numerous audition tapes. Eventually, Singer came across Routh's tape, and he immediately wanted to meet with the young actor. Though Routh admits to being nervous during that first meeting, he received a call about two months later informing him that he'd be the next Superman (via IGN).

Brandon Routh's Superman failed to take flight

"Superman Returns" was released in 2006 with a storyline that ignored "Superman III" and "Superman IV," and focused on the return of Superman after a five-year absence from the world. Critics received the film well, giving it an impressive 75% favorable score on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the critical praise, and the fact that it was the first Superman movie in nearly 20 years, movie fans did not turn out. With a budget of $270 million, the film only earned $390 million at the box office (via Box Office Mojo).

The poor box office return jeopardized plans for a 2009 sequel, which had been the intention when Singer and Warner Bros. began work on "Superman Returns" (via IGN). In an interview with The Geek House Show, Routh stated that the combination of lackluster ticket sales and the unavailability of the creative team ended all hopes for a sequel (via Cinema Blend). 

In a relatively short period of time, Brandon Routh went from the cusp of mega-stardom to a lead actor with no films.

Brandon Routh found solace in his wife and video games

Even before a sequel was officially abandoned, Brandon Routh faced a string of bad luck. He was cast in the film "Without Remorse," but the movie never happened. Another film, 2008's "The Informers," cast Routh, but all of his scenes were dropped from the movie's final cut (via Giant Freakin Robot). When the Superman sequel died, Routh was understandably crushed. On Michael Rosenbaum's podcast "Inside of You," Routh said he "had to really come to terms with a lot of that." For Routh, he found his escape in a popular video game, telling Rosenbaum, "I played World of Warcraft endlessly. That was my addiction."

Over time, Routh realized that his addiction to WoW was not actually helping him process the loss of a major role, it only masked the pain. With help from his wife, Routh began the process of examining the situation, understanding it, and, eventually, coming to terms with it (via Inverse). On "Inside of You," the actor said that recovering from the loss "was a long, drawn-out process with me in denial for much of it."

For several years, Routh took small parts in films and television series. Eventually, he landed a recurring role on NBC's "Chuck" in 2010. Slowly, Routh's career was beginning to rebound. 

In 2014, he even returned to the DC world as Ray Palmer in The CW's Arrowverse, playing the role on "Arrow," "The Flash," "Legends of Tomorrow," "Supergirl," and "Batwoman." Though Routh never got to play Superman in a movie sequel, he did don the tights and cape once more for the Arrowverse's crossover saga "Crisis on Infinite Earths," which gave Routh and his version of Kal-El some much-needed closure, and earned widespread acclaim from Superman fans — bringing a long-awaited happy ending to Routh's Superman story.