Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Things That Happen In Every Superman Movie

Superman's career of heroism stretches from the 1930s all the way to the 21st century. His fictional history is just as impressive. Kal-El, an infant survivor of the planet Krypton's destruction, makes his way to Kansas in an interstellar rocket. There, he's raised to fight for truth and justice by his kindly adoptive parents. He eventually grows into the hero known as Superman, who saves the world on countless occasions. 

A character that dynamic couldn't be constricted to comic books for long. The Man of Steel has starred in radio serials, cartoons, television series, theme park rides, and, of course, blockbuster movies. Superman and the silver screen are a natural pair, from Richard Donner's 1978 classic "Superman: The Movie" to 2021's "Zack Snyder's Justice League." There are so many Superman movies, in fact, that they have their own tropes, formulas, and motifs. Once you've watched enough films starring the Man of Tomorrow, you start to pick up on these commonalities, and often appreciate them in greater depth. We're here to take a look at the things that happen in every Superman movie, from romance between reporters to threats to Metropolis.

Superman and Lois Lane's love connection

No matter which version of Superman we're talking about, he's always got a thing for Lois Lane. The Man of Steel just can't help but be drawn to the intrepid reporter — and make no mistake, she always responds in kind. Of course, not every version of Superman and Lois actually get to live happily ever after. 2006's "Superman Returns" sees Lois (Kate Bosworth) raise their half-Kryptonian son with another man, while Superman (kind of creepily) watches from afar. The Superman and Lois Lane played by Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder share a similar fate, though with a much more hopeful finish.

In contrast, the DC Extended Universe's Superman (Henry Cavill) and Lois (Amy Adams) eventually get their own happy ending. After Superman returns from the grave in "Zack Snyder's Justice League" and Lois accepts his post-mortem proposal, he quickly learns she's pregnant with their child. It's an exciting development, and a lot more in line with where these characters currently are in modern DC Comics publications, as well as live-action interpretations like The CW's "Superman & Lois" series.

The world must be threatened with catastrophe

It wouldn't be a Superman movie without some sort of world-ending disaster looming over the entire film. With someone as powerful as Superman at the helm, a movie can't just follow him as he pulls cats from trees and pines after Lois Lane. There must be some sort of global catastrophe only the Man of Steel can rectify. In "Superman: The Movie," Lex Luthor's (Gene Hackman) real estate schemes involve military warheads and a plan to launch half the West Coast into the Pacific. If not for Superman's time-traveling abilities, Lois Lane would have died in the chaos and nearly half the country would be underwater.

Likewise, in 2013's "Man of Steel," Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his army threaten to turn the Earth into a new Krypton. This will be suitable for their own needs but fatal to most humans. Superman alone is able to stop this cataclysmic event before it completely destroys both Metropolis and the world, though not without massive casualties. This crisis is further explored in 2016's "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," which sees Superman actually die (albeit temporarily) in the effort to save the world. "Zack Snyder's Justice League" pushes the universe into even further peril, and promises more in the future. But at least Superman will be there to stop it!

Lex Luthor's presence looms over the events

Of all Superman's greatest foes, none is more persistent or legendary than Lex Luthor himself. Often portrayed as a billionaire industrialist, Luthor owns LexCorp, his own private company, which always serves as the ultimate vehicle for his otherworldly experiments and schemes to kill Superman. Whether he's portrayed as an older man or a younger one, a billionaire heir or a criminal mastermind, Lex is always a staple of a good Superman film. Even when he doesn't appear on screen, his presence is felt in nearly every frame.

Lex doesn't show up in either "Man of Steel" or 1983's "Superman III." But LexCorp is seen in the former film, and the latter only occurs after Lex's plots are foiled twice over in "Superman: The Movie" and 1980's even more exciting "Superman II." The bald baddie returns to kill Superman in 1987's "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace," then again as Kevin Spacey in "Superman Returns." Most recently, Jesse Eisenberg played the role in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and both cuts of "Justice League." If one thing can be said about Lex Luthor, it's that he doesn't give up. His hatred for Metropolis' greatest hero knows no limits — it's only right that he should cast such a large shadow across his movies.

Sci-fi babble

A true staple of most genre films, sci-fi babble is all over Superman's movies. What is sci-fi babble? In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's Tony Stark and Bruce Banner's technological ramblings. Here, it typically comes from Lex Luthor, Dr. Emil Hamilton, or Jor-El himself. They blather on about world engines, the Phantom Zone, Fortress crystals, birthing matrixes, sentient artificial intelligences, and even cloned creatures who lose all power when not in the sun (looking at you, Nuclear Man). This kind of science-y mumbo jumbo is all the rage in Superman media, no matter the era.

This isn't a bad thing, mind you. Superman's origin inherently mixes alien technology with wacky takes on human-ish biology. There's bound to be a lot of strange conversations between these movie's characters, who have to make sense of things like exploding planets and men who can fly. Sci-fi babble is even key to these films' depth: Stuff like phantom drives and Kryptonian keys make it clear that there's a lot more to Superman's world than meets the eye. That's just what happens when an advanced alien being makes his way to Earth.

The Daily Planet

No Superman movie would be complete without a visit to the offices of the Daily Planet, the most famous fictional newspaper around. Clark Kent works there, alongside most of Superman's supporting cast. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Steve Lombard, and plenty of other Daily Planet folks make their way into every cinematic incarnation of the Man of Steel's story at some point or another. Honestly, it just wouldn't be a Superman movie without some investigative journalism.

Of course, Lois is the most famous member of Superman's supporting cast, but Jimmy Olsen is a close second. While Zack Snyder's interpretation imagines him as a CIA agent in disguise, he's more traditionally depicted as a freckled photographer who works closely with either Lois or Clark. In "Superman III," Jimmy (Marc McClure) follows Clark to his high school reunion in Smallville. "Superman: The Movie" sees him investigate Lex Luthor's real estate scheme alongside Lois. Though he's just one member of the Daily Planet's staff, he's solidly representative of the paper's courageous, ethical, and incisive approach. No wonder Clark Kent has made the office into his second home.

Lois investigates a story

No matter the time, place, or version of Superman we're following, Lois Lane is always working on a life-endangering story. Whether she's trapped in an exploding elevator, kidnapped by Lex Luthor, or sent into space with Superman to learn more about General Zod and his Kryptonian army, she's eternally hungry for a story and almost always gets her fill. While you might think this would get old after a while, the truth is, Lois' extracurriculars are often vital to the film's plot. They're also pretty darn exciting unto themselves, and a key component of her personality. If there's a scoop to be had, you can bet Lois Lane will get it. This tenacity is why we, and Clark Kent, love her.

Superman-centric TV shows like "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," "Smallville," and "Superman & Lois" typically have more time to flesh out Lois' reporter instincts. But movies like "Superman: The Movie," "Superman Returns," and "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" are able to show off her skills with unique intensity. Here, the stakes can be truly huge — we're talking world-endingly huge. For example, in "Superman Returns," she investigates Lex Luthor's plan to grow a new landmass using Kryptonian crystals, which would destroy the continental United States. Lois is also depicted as being utterly undaunted by just about everything: Though she's deep in mourning over Clark in "Justice League," she still manages to return to the Daily Planet.

Superman faces an evenly matched opponent

It's easy to pit a character as powerful as Superman against some seriously inferior foes. The vast majority of characters in the DC universe are far more weak than he is, after all. Thus, to make things a little more interesting, moviemakers concoct enemies who are an equal match for the Kryptonian powerhouse. Don't misunderstand us — the Man of Steel still goes up against many bad guys who are not his physical equal. But many of them are an equal match intellectually. Remember, Superman comes from an advanced planet and has inherited his Kryptonian parents' brilliance. He's also a respected reporter. The dude has brains, and that's where plenty of bad guys seek to strike him.

Superman goes up against the brawny likes of General Zod, Doomsday, Steppenwolf, Nuclear Man, and an evil version of himself in his various movies. But his biggest bad guy remains Lex Luthor, a villain completely defined by his genius. Superman even tends to outsmart his physically formidable foes, rather that simply defeat them with force. This is made abundantly clear in "Superman II" ("The Richard Donner Cut" especially) when Superman uses his Fortress of Solitude to strip Zod, Non, and Ursa of their Kryptonian powers while keeping his own intact. It's as clever a double-cross as you've ever seen.

Metropolis gets wrecked

Metropolis never gets a break from being put in peril. Sure, their general crime rate isn't as bad as, say, Gotham City's. But because of Superman's presence, Metropolis is a beacon for extraterrestrial threats, evil geniuses, and mad scientists, who tend to leave the place in ruins. "Superman II" and "Man of Steel" are prime examples of this: Both movies see hostile Kryptonian invaders led by General Zod cause untold damage. There's no doubt things would be much worse if Superman weren't there to stop them, but that's probably cold comfort to the city's citizens.

Things get even more intense in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice": Lex Luthor's Doomsday nearly destroys the entire city. It takes the combined might of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman to defeat the hybrid creature, an effort that ultimately requires Superman to sacrifice his own life. Without this selfless act, both Metropolis and Gotham City might've been obliterated. While no one in their right mind would want to live in Gotham, it's becoming increasingly clear that Metropolis might not be the shining City of Tomorrow it's often touted as. A more accurate name might be City of Tomorrow's Pile of Smoking Wreckage.

Clark Kent keeps his ear to the ground

When they're not fighting bad guys, superheroes revert to their secret identities. Batman is billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, whose wealth helps fund his nighttime activities. Spider-Man is struggling Peter Parker, who blends photography, teaching, and occasional scientific endeavors to make ends meet. Superman, on the other hand, is just as much a hero on the ground as he is in the sky. As mild-mannered Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent, he keeps his ear to the ground, uncovers city-wide corruption, and usually manages to keep others (namely Lois) out of harm's way. 

This iconic façade keeps folks from discovering that Superman and Clark Kent are the same person. Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh emphasize his bumbling nature to widen the gulf between Superman and Clark Kent, but that isn't always how it goes down. In Henry Cavill's hands, Clark is a more assertive reporter who works to bring the masked vigilante Batman to justice after he gets exponentially tougher on crime. Recent portrayals don't file Clark Kent away as a simple disguise — he's more of an extension of Superman, able to attack villainy in a totally different way. 

The Last Son of Krypton

Clark Kent isn't the only identity Superman has to manage on the daily. He's also Kal-El, the Last Son of Krypton. Born to Jor-El and Lara, Kryptonian scientists who predicted the planet's impending doom, Kal-El has inherited the knowledge of his ancestors via his mythic Fortress of Solitude. In some form or fashion, every movie sees him shoulder the responsibility of continuing Krypton's legacy. 

In "Superman Returns" and "Zack Snyder's Justice League," Superman furthers his alien race in the most traditional way: He conceives a child with Lois Lane. "Man of Steel" reveals that the Kryptonian birthing matrix used to grow life on Krypton was actually fused with young Kal-El's cells, which means he alone can produce more Kryptonians while on Earth. This interpretation makes Superman's role as Krypton's heir all the more lonely, especially after he's forced to kill General Zod and banish his army to the Phantom Zone. That said, Kal-El isn't really the only survivor of Krypton's destruction – but he's certainly the most famous.

Krypton's destruction

Just like every Batman movie has to reference the death of Bruce Wayne's parents, every Superman movie must incorporate Krypton's destruction.  "Superman: The Movie," "Superman II," and "Man of Steel" all open on Krypton and offer various amounts of worldbuilding. Usually, our experience with this planet is restricted to its final minutes. But even these brief, panicked scenes help us better understand where Superman comes from.

Superman movies often reference Krypton's destruction through Kryptonite, radioactive pieces of Superman's home world. These green rocks are the Man of Steel's greatest weakness. He has others, including magic and red sun radiation, but Kryptonite presents the greatest danger and also happens to be the most readily available. Whether it's used by Lex Luthor, Batman, the Websters, or an evil supercomputer, Kryptonite is a constant menace to Superman as he attempts to make the world a better place. Thankfully, his incredible allies and amazing willpower help him overcome even this most deadly weakness.