With the notable exception of certain caped crusader, no DC hero has been portrayed more often and more distinctly in animation than Superman. Over 80 years of animated adventures, the expectations of how cartoon Superman should sound have shifted considerably. From the traditionally deep-voiced matinee hero version of the 1940s radio dramas, to the more nuanced, emotionally complex takes of the 21st century, Superman has enjoyed a remarkable evolution. Despite the bogus claims that he’s boring and old fashioned, Superman has shifted with the times, even if those shifts are sometimes subtle.
A genuinely remarkable group of actors have lent their pipes to Superman over the years. While a few of the performances were off the mark, the acting talent involved has never been less than top notch; a strong indicator of the respect and enthusiasm the character has always engendered. With that in mind, here is Every Superman Voice, Ranked Worst To Best.
15. Mark Valley
Mark Valley is no stranger to genre fare. The prolific actor has had memorable turns on shows like Fringe, where he played an FBI agent with shady allegiances, and Human Target, a loose adaptation of the DC comic about a man who takes on the identities of other people.
Valley’s turn as the Man of Steel, however, was underwhelming. As part of DC Animation’s adaptation of the classic Frank Miller comic The Dark Knight Returns, Superman plays a pivotal role in the film’s climax. Valley does what he can with the material, but it just doesn’t connect in the way the rest of the project’s amazing voice cast does (seriously, go back and listen to Michael Emerson’s turn as the Joker– it is hauntingly good). It’s not really Valley’s fault. He’s just simply miscast; his voice just doesn’t lend itself to Superman’s surface level altruism, particularly this version of the character.
14. Jerry O’Connell
Jerry O’Connell has certainly had an unusual career path. He originally came to prominence in the 1986 classic Stand By Me, where he played Vern Tessio, the chubby, timid member of the movie’s quartet of young boys. To the shock of many, an adult O’Connell re-emerged as something of a heartthrob in the late ’90s in such mainstream films as Jerry Maguire and Scream 2. Genre fans likely remember him most fondly for his turn as the lead on the dimension-hopping science fiction show Sliders.
O’Connell is no stranger to voice acting work. He even had a brief, well-received stint as Shazam in DC Animation prior to his current work as Superman. But after a couple outings as the Man of Steel, the role still doesn’t fit O’Connell quite right. It’s possible he could grow into the part, but at the moment, he’s a decidedly minor entry in the pantheon of Superman voices.
13. Yuri Lowenthal
Among the long, storied run of DC animated shows, Legion of Super Heroes is something of a redheaded stepchild. Based on the classic DC Comics where young Clark Kent has future adventures with the titular superteam, the show lasted only two seasons before being unceremoniously canceled. Bizarrely for a DC show, you’d have trouble even finding a devoted cult following associated with it.
The show also had to do some unfortunate legal maneuvering; the Legion of Super Heroes adventures traditionally featured Superboy, a young Clark Kent who had not yet become Superman. DC, tied up in complicated litigation at the time, were reluctant to use the name “Superboy,” so Legion of Super Heroes ended up featuring a very, very young “Superman.”
Yuri Lowenthal does perfectly serviceable work in the role, but it’s difficult to really evaluate the performance as actually being the Man of Steel, as this iteration exists in a sort of no man’s land between Superboy and Superman. It’s a largely forgettable performance in a largely forgettable show.
12. Roger Rose
To a certain sort of DC fan, The Brave and the Bold is as good as it gets. A light, funny, tongue in cheek show that almost never veered into full on buffoonery, The Brave and the Bold was a delight for all ages. The series teamed Batman with a new DC compatriot every week in a decidedly hard break from the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini era of DC Animated Series, and has been a surprisingly enduring success.
Superman was not a major presence on The Brave and the Bold, and only properly appeared in one episode, where he was voiced by Roger Rose. It’s a largely unremarkable performance, owing a considerable debt to the man who tops this list (no spoilers, promise). Ironically, the plot involves Superman being exposed to Red Kryptonite and temporarily turning evil, and it’s as this more sinister version of the character that Rose really shines.
11. David Kaye
David Kaye is one of the most prolific voice actors in the world right now. He’s played everyone from The X-Men’s Professor X to GI Joe’s General Hawk. He’s the voice of Clank in the popular Ratchet and Clank video game series. His anime credits could fill a phone book… if they still made phone books. His most high profile job to date has been on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, where he narrates the popular “And Now” segments.
Kaye is a voiceover renaissance man, which is best embodied by his work in the Transformers franchise, where he holds the distinction of being the only actor to regularly portray both Optimus Prime (in Transformers Animated) and Megatron (in about a half dozen series, most notably the smooth, idiosyncratic Megatron of Beast Wars).
Interestingly, Kaye has voiced Superman a few times, but every time has been in a relatively low-profile, obscure project, like DC Super Friends, a series of videos created to promote a toy line, and Tales of Metropolis, a handful of shorts from an era where DC Animation was playing with form. He was great in both instances, and he deserves a shot at a proper series turn in the role.
10. Jason Lewis
When Justice League Action was announced, much fanfare was made over the well-publicized fact that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill would both reprise their roles as Batman and the Joker, respectively. Longtime titans of the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini era of DC animation, there was an unspoken expectation that one of the Superman voices from that era would likely come along for the ride as well.
That ultimately didn’t happen, and relative unknown Jason Lewis took on the iconic role with big red shoes to fill. Lewis has acquitted himself well; he hasn’t exactly reinvented the Kryptonian wheel, but he’s taken some of the strongest aspects of the earlier vocal interpretations of the character and landed on something approaching a greatest hits version of the last son of Krypton’s voice. Humble, assured, and friendly, there’s never a point where you doubt you’re listening to Superman with Lewis, which is a surprisingly difficult trick to pull off.
9. Adam Baldwin
Adam Baldwin has been a live-action acting stalwart for well over 30 years, starring in such diverse projects as Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, Roland Emmerich’s alien disaster flick Independence Day, and the cult hit TV show Chuck. However, Baldwin is known almost universally as Jayne Cobb from Joss Whedon’s dearly departed western sci-fi series Firefly. Baldwin played the murderous, dim-witted mercenary Jayne with a sort of puppy dog obliviousness that made him endearing, if not exactly lovable.
Baldwin’s voiced Superman a few times, but the most notable performance was in DC’s first foray into direct to video, adult-targeted movies; Superman: Doomsday. An adaptation of the infamous Death of Superman comic, it’s a dark, brutal movie, and Baldwin brings a grittiness to the character that’s not generally associated with Superman, but fits well in his fatal battle with the monster Doomsday. It’s a tough, restrained performance, and one that’s held up remarkably well.
8. Kyle MacLachlan
America’s most beloved coffee and pie enthusiast, Kyle MacLachlan has had an incredibly accomplished career in front of the camera. He had long stints on Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City, as well as recurring roles on The Good Wife and Agents of SHIELD, and as the beloved mayor on Portlandia. But really, to most people MacLachlan will always be FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, the protagonist of the cult classic (and soon to be revived) David Lynch series Twin Peaks. He brought a strange, boyish energy to the role that ended up being the glue that (mostly) held the entire bizarre enterprise together.
As avant garde as his signature work has been, MacLachlan’s Superman is a decidedly old fashioned take. Featured in an adaptation of Darwyn Cooke’s immortal The New Frontier, MacLachlan’s Superman exists in the 1950’s, as the iconic paragon of truth, justice, and the American way. MacLachlan might not have been a great fit for a more modern take of the character, but he’s just about perfect as the Silver age iteration.
7. Alan Tudyk
There’s not a lot Alan Tudyk can’t do. A man of seemingly endless talents, he’s portrayed sitcom dads, insane murderers, snarky robots, and neurotic European hitmen with seeming ease. He very nearly stole the show in Star Wars: Rogue One as K-2SO, Cassian Andor’s loyal but blunt droid. He’s currently starring on NBC’s Powerless as, of all things, Bruce Wayne’s witless cousin Van Wayne. Like another entrant on this list, he’s likely most beloved for his turn as Hoban “Wash” Washburne on Firefly.
While he’s no stranger to voiceover work (he even had a long run as Green Arrow in several DC projects), Tudyk seemed an unusual choice for Superman when he was announced for Justice League: War. And yet he ended up embodying the slightly younger, less open version of Superman perfectly. It’s a shame DC decided to recast the role going forward, as Tudyk could have explored several layers to the character that some of his successors haven’t.
6. Nolan North
If you’ve watched a cartoon or played a video game in the last 15 years, you’ve heard Nolan North’s voice. Almost inconceivably prolific, North has hundreds of credits spanning virtually every franchise you could think of. It’s a rare actor who can claim to have roles in everything from Kung Fu Panda to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Rick and Morty. The man is a Frank Welker-esque force of nature.
Naturally, North has portrayed Superman more than once, though the most notable iteration is likely the version from Young Justice. Controversially, this iteration of Superman is reluctant to form a relationship with Conner Kent, a version of Superboy who is a clone of both the Man of Steel and his greatest enemy, Lex Luthor (North also voiced Superboy, because of course he did). It was a complicated dynamic that ended up defining this version of Superman in surprising and rewarding ways.
5. Bud Collyer
Bud Collyer was an entertainment pioneer in more ways than one. He became one of the first famous television game show hosts with stints hosting ABC’s Beat The Clock and CBS’s To Tell The Truth. America knew him as a beloved game show host for two decades, and he established many of the tried and true tropes of that job.
Bud Collyer set the tone for not just Superman, but virtually all superhero voice acting. Collyer began portraying the Man of Steel in the 1940s in radio dramas, would eventually go on to portray him in the legendary Fleischer Studios Superman shorts, and continued in the role off and on up into the late 1960s.
Among his great innovations was his decision to change the inflection of his voice between Clark Kent and Superman. It seems like a simple enough notion today, but it was a brilliant bit of acting that still gets used to this very day.
4. Christopher McDonald
Christopher McDonald is probably a perfectly nice guy, but there are few actors who have played as many genuine scumbags with as much ease. McDonald has enjoyed a long, varied career in both film and television. Sci-fi fans likely remember him most fondly as Lieutenant Richard Castillo on the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” To the average viewer, though, McDonald will likely always be Shooter McGavin, the obnoxious, sexist jerk who serves as Adam Sandler’s primary rival in Happy Gilmore.
Playing against his usual type, McDonald recurred as Jor-El, Superman’s biological father, in the classic Superman: The Animated Series. Appropriately, he also portrayed an older version of Superman himself on the futuristic series Batman Beyond.
It’s a great turn; not only does McDonald do great work as the straightforward, earnest Superman, he also gets to indulge in his more familiar jerk mode, as Superman is being mind controlled for the majority of his appearance on the show. He ended up being a surprisingly natural fit for the character, and it’s a shame he never got another chance to play Superman.
3. Danny Dark
For decades, Danny Dark’s voice was essentially inescapable. One of the most prolific voice actors ever, Dark’s voice popped up countless commercials. Whether you were looking to sell beer, margarine, tuna, or roach killer, you definitely wanted Danny Dark doing your shilling for you. He did the voiceover for the long running western Bonanza, and at one time or another was the voice of both CBS and NBC, narrating the promos for their primetime programming. Simply put, you’ve likely heard a lot of Danny Dark without ever realizing it.
Dark’s turn as the Man of Steel came in one of the most warmly remembered iterations of the DC Universe: Super Friends. The Hanna-Barbera animated series (which, stunningly, ran for 12 years) seems quaint and simplistic today, but for many kids it was the first time they got to see their favorite DC heroes interacting on screen. It’s still impressive how much of the DCU Super Friends actually utilized over its run. Dark’s Superman was the prototypically deep-voiced, paternalistic superhero. It defined a lot about Superman for a generation.
2. Tim Daly
After the unprecedented success of Batman: The Animated Series, Bruce Timm and his collaborators turned their attention toward reinvigorating the Man of Steel in similar fashion. The producers had already showcased their preternatural understanding of what made iconic DC characters work, a revolutionary animation style, and movie-worthy scores, but perhaps the most important key to Batman’s success had been the casting of big name, live-action actors, something that didn’t generally happen in kid’s television animation at the time.
By the mid-1990s, Tim Daly had already appeared in dozens of TV shows and films, but he was best known as the lead on the long running NBC sitcom Wings, where he was the uptight, stressed-out owner of a small airline. He may have seemed a somewhat peculiar choice to voice Superman, but he immediately made the role his own.
Daly’s greatest innovation was perhaps that there was very little difference in how he voiced Superman and Clark Kent. The latter was never portrayed as a Christopher Reeve-like bumbling nerd; this version of Clark was self assured and competent. Daly’s Superman set the template for how the character has been voiced ever since.
1. George Newbern
When it was announced that Bruce Timm and his team were making a Justice League animated series, DC fans rejoiced. When it was announced Tim Daly would not be returning to voice Superman… fans did not rejoice. For many, Daly felt as essential to the animated version of Superman as Kevin Conroy did to Batman. Whatever the reasons for Daly’s omission, it felt like a massive mistake.
And then we heard George Newbern. Newbern had a long career in front of the camera before (figuratively) donning the red cape, with memorable turns in the Father of the Bride movies, as well as sitcoms like Friends and Designing Women. Though he was a solid character actor, those roles never screamed “this guy should be Superman!” And yet he ended up being the ultimate version of the Man of Steel.
Newbern’s Superman shared a lot of the strengths of Daly’s version, but he also introduced a level of emotional vulnerability that was absent from that previous version. Superman’s relationships with his fellow Justice Leaguers ended up being richer and more rewarding than those from his solo show, and Newbern made those connections feel authentic. His speech to Darkseid in the series finale about living in a cardboard world is some of the very best acting DC Animation has ever given us. Superman has been blessed with a deep bench of voice acting talent, but Newbern is the essential Man of Steel.
Which Superman voice actor is your favorite? Share in the comments!
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