The symbol of Superman’s ‘S’ is one of the most recognizable marks in the world. Even decades after his creation, the comic book character remains one of the most popular superheroes in history. With his enormous star power, it’s no wonder we’ve seen countless big screen interpretations of the Man of Steel throughout the years. While the quality of Superman movies range from the amazing to the questionable, he no doubt has a long list of fantastic moments that could be pulled from almost any one of them (excluding Superman IV: The Quest for Peace of course).
For this list, we’re taking a look at the most classic and memorable scenes in Superman’s film career. The movies in question can either be live adaptations, or full-length animated features as long as they’re not just extended episodes of a series. The moments themselves must be unforgettable, fantastical, and dare we say it, super, all contributing to making the Man of Steel the cinematic icon he is today.
"Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive", and one of cinema's biggest superheroes of all time, here are Superman’s Best Movie Moments, Ranked.
16 Bullet Time – Superman Returns
Superman is faster than a speeding bullet, but as he shows in this scene from Superman Returns, he’s also far more powerful. After an insane gunman takes to the rooftops of Metropolis, he unleashes a deadly hail of gunfire at pursuing cop cars. When two cops get cornered on the roof, it seems only a matter of seconds before they’re torn to shreds.
Just as the bullets rip out of the gun towards the officers, Superman heroically flies in the middle and stands tall as thousands of rounds bounce off him like paper clips. As the stunned gunman runs out of ammo, he desperately pulls out a handgun and fires a round point-blank at Superman’s face. It’s a breathtaking shot as the bullet closes in on the Man of Steel’s eye, and collapses like a piece of tinfoil all without our hero batting an eyelash. It’s a scene that showcases just how indestructible the Man of Steel really is.
15 Superman vs. Clark – Superman III
Between a confusing plot about cornering the tobacco industry, and the awkward decision of adding Richard Pryor to the cast, there isn’t much to be happy about in Superman III. However, its one definite highlight is the all-out brawl between Superman and Clark Kent at a junk yard. This literal and metaphorical duel captures everything about the duality of Superman’s character, even within an otherwise lackluster production. After his psyche splits in two, the evil Superman is forced to do battle with the noble Clark Kent.
It’s a fight of mental and physical strength as Superman relentlessly bashes Kent into oblivion. Superman’s animalistic rage is disturbing to watch as Clark desperately tries to put up a fight and fails at every turn. Everything seems lost when Kent is put on a compactor belt, until he busts out the side, catches Superman off guard, and proceeds to brutally choke his counterpart until he disappears and our hero is reborn. This scene is a grisly and entertaining fight, even if it isn’t all that practical at times. It’s best not to ask questions about why Superman knows how to use a trash compactor.
14 Superman vs. Machester Black and Elite – Superman vs. The Elite
The first animated movie to make it onto this list, Superman vs. The Elite, has the Man of Steel up against a team of ruthless heroes whose ideals clash with that of Superman’s moral code. It all leads up to a brawl on the moon between Superman and Manchester Black and his cronies. At first the Elite seem to have the upper hand, until Superman decides to take the gloves off and kicks it up a notch.
The Man of Steel starts picking off members of the group one by one, knocking them into oblivion using lethal force. Manchester Black becomes horrified at the new deranged Superman, who robs him of his powers by using his heat vision on Black’s brain. This is when Supes reveals that he’s been messing with Black the whole time, showing he hasn’t actually killed anyone, proving to Manchester just how wrong he is. Superman stands up for his morals, and proves that it’s always better to solve a conflict without ending a life.
13 Listening to the World – Superman Returns
Superman is an alien who, although he looks human, is not one of us. As noble as he is, he will always feel like a stranger, on the outside looking in. This scene in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns perfectly captures that feeling of isolation and undying responsibility. As our hero races toward the sky, he reflects on the words spoken by his father Jor-El, that although he may have been raised human, he is “not one of them.”
Superman drifts into outer space, clears his mind, and zeroes in on the many noises heard on Earth. Clark can hear everything vividly, but he’s forced to observe from the shadows and recesses of space as he watches the planet that adopted him as its savior from afar. It is a fascinating scene that is both haunting and, at the same time, uplifting. We’ll just ignore the fact that sound can’t pass through the endless vacuum that is space, making it impossible to hear anything. Unless you’re Superman, of course.
12 Superman and Kara vs. Darkseid – Superman/Batman Apocalypse
Our number eleven is another super throw-down that comes from the DC animated movie Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. After Clark and his cousin Kara narrowly survive the crisis on planet Apokolips they return to the Smallville farm, only to be completely caught off guard by a very pissed off Darkseid. As he erupts from the house, Darkseid tears into the Kryptonians like a man on a mission. The fight that follows is absolutely brutal.
Superman is relentlessly blasted by Darkseid’s super powerful Omega Beams, being tossed around like a ragdoll. With the Man of Steel out of action after being launched into space, Kara summons some much need inner strength and goes toe-to-toe with the intergalactic brute. It’s an action packed super brawl as Supergirl delivers one blow after another. Once Clark gets back to the farm, the two cousins are able to send Darkseid hurtling through space with some well-timed punches. It’s a great fight to cap off a great movie, and one that is so enthralling, it just may make you want to throw a few punches of your own by the end.
11 Superman Takes Flight – Man of Steel
There are numerous versions of Superman learning to fly, but this one from Man of Steel might be the most awe-inspiring. After an inspirational pow-wow with father Jor-El, Clark decides to keep testing the limits of his abilities on Earth. While in the Arctic, Clark makes a series of leaps and jumps until he reaches heights like never before. It proves to be too much however, as he loses focus and crashes through a mountain and into the icy tundra.
After reflecting on some more inspirational words from his father, Clark dusts himself off and powers up for his best launch yet. With the giddy smile of a child, he soars into the sky with a sonic boom, and seamlessly travels around the globe at a lightning-fast speed. Clark caps off his first flight by looking down at the Earth before heading to edge of the atmosphere, signaling that a new chapter of his life's about to begin. It’s one of the few joyous moments in the DCEU version of Superman, and arguably something the franchise needs now more than ever.
10 Fortress of Solitude Switcheroo – Superman II
Superman is a hero with strength unrivaled. However, his mind is just as sharp when it comes to a game of wits. When Zod and his cronies journey to Clark’s Fortress of Solitude at the end of Superman II, the Man of Steel is forced into a molecule chamber designed to rob him of his powers. Upon exiting the chamber, Superman stumbles in a weakened state, and finally kneels down to the tyrannical ruler.
Zod asks Superman to take his hand and swear eternal loyalty, but is flabbergasted when the Man of Steel crushes his hand like a soda can instead. With one arm, Superman picks up Zod and launches him across the room and the General falls to his death. After dispatching his followers, Superman then reveals that he reversed the effects of the molecular chamber, leaving his powers intact while zapping away Zod’s instead. It’s a crafty ruse that’s even appreciated by master trickster Lex Luthor, and shows how Superman doesn't rely on pure strength alone.
9 Airplane Rescue – Superman Returns
From saving a helpless kitten out of a tree to repairing the entire San Andreas Fault, Superman has had a long history of cinematic rescues. It’s kind of his thing. So when an airplane designed as a basis to launch a spaceship goes haywire in Superman Returns, you know it’s just a matter of time until the boy in blue makes his move to save the day.
As the spaceship misfires, it sets the tail end of the plane ablaze, sending the crew into a panic, and onboard is the love of Clark Kent's life, Lois Lane. Just when everything seems lost, Superman shows up with John Williams' classic score thundering behind him. The Man of Steel grabs the spaceship and launches it into space while attempting to keep the burning wreck of a plane from spinning out. It’s a classic feat of heroics as Superman slows the aircraft down just in the nick of time, and delivers the plane square in the middle of a packed baseball stadium which erupts in applause. It doesn’t get more heroic than that.
8 Pa Kent’s Funereal – Superman: The Movie
“All those things I can do, all those powers, and I couldn’t even save him.”
As most fans of the character know, Clark was shaped into the morally righteous hero he is by the guidance of his adopted Earth parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent. In Superman: The Movie, a disgruntled teenage Clark comes home from school lamenting the fact that he must hide his powers from others. In effort to put things into perspective, Pa Kent tells his son that there is a bigger reason he was put on this Earth, not simply “to score touchdowns.”
As fate would have it, Jonathan Kent suffers a fatal heart attack immediately after. It’s a heartbreaking moment at Jonathan’s funeral as Clark realizes that with all his strength, he must accept the fact that his powers can do nothing to stop death itself. With John Williams’ elegiac score in the background, the scene is a poetic and somber, and certainly one of the most touching moments in Superman’s film career.
7 Superman and Batman Throwdown – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
"God vs. Man. Day vs. Night."
Sure, Zack Snyder’s long awaited Batman v Superman might not have been exactly what fans were expecting, but the actual confrontation between the two titular heavyweights is the stuff comic book dreams are made of. When he’s roped into the confrontation by the madman Lex Luthor, the Man of Steel is finally pitted against the Dark Knight in an all-out brawl that is strikingly brutal and devastating.
Fumigating Supes with a kryptonite gas, Bruce Wayne is able to bring the Man of Steel down to his level by zapping him of his superhuman strength. Superman is left vulnerable as Batman mercilessly wales on him with one punch after another, throwing him through walls and flinging him into concrete. When Superman does regain his strength and goes on the offensive, he’s hit again with another kryptonite gas trap, giving Batman the definitive upper hand.
Director Zack Snyder creates a fantastic action sequence, taking images from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns and having them leap onto the screen. While the movie on the whole is a bit divisive, the main attraction of Superman finally going toe-to-toe with his vigilante counterpart is worth more than the price of admission alone. We just wish it had ended on a rather fitting note ("Martha?" Seriously?).
6 Lex vs. Superman – All-Star Superman
Lex Luthor has always been the definitive rival of Superman. Using brain instead of brawn, the villain has tried again and again to best the Man of Steel in a game of wits. The tables turned however in 2011’s All-Star Superman, a faithful animated movie adaptation of the comic by the same name, in which Luthor is finally granted superhuman powers to crush the Man of Steel once and for all.
Lex steals a super-serum recipe from Clark and takes it for himself, gaining all the powers of Superman, including heat vision, ice breath, super strength, and the ability to fly. After attacking the Daily Planet, Luthor enters hand-to-hand combat with Superman himself. Unfortunately, the Man of Steel is suffering from radiation poisoning at the time, and is quickly bested by Luthor.
As Lex drags Superman’s body into the middle of Metropolis, he has a striking epiphany when his newly endowed powers allow him to view the world exactly as his arch-nemesis sees it. Realizing that everything in the Universe is interconnected, Lex has a sudden new appreciation for life. Superman finally makes Lex acknowledge that, instead of using his intelligence to destroy his rival, he could have used to it to save mankind a hundred times over. It may sound a bit corny reading it here, but trust us, it’s a lot more profound coming out of Luthor’s mouth.
5 Smallville Brawl – Man of Steel
When Bryan Singer’s much awaited Superman Returns was finally released, most fans complained that for a Superman movie, there simply wasn’t enough action. Zack Snyder heard those complaints loud and clear and, with his 2013 reboot Man of Steel, decided to crank the action all the way up to 11. The first film in the DCEU is a bonanza of high-octane super brawls, and while the ending bout with General Zod is certainly up there, we’re going with the brawl in Smallville for one of Superman’s most action packed moments.
When Zod and his companions launch an assault on the Kent farm, Superman comes at them with full force. After leaving Zod incapacitated, the Man of Steel does battle with Faora and a rather hulking Kryptonian in the middle of Smallville. The battle is absolutely devastating as Superman and his enemies continuously trade blows, with all forms of weaponry being fired at them by the military.
Huge amounts of destruction are the result of the ensuing battle, which is one of the overwhelming fights ever captured on screen. Say what you will about him, but Zack Snyder is a master of action, and when he’s doing his thing, few people do it better.
4 Departure from Krypton – Superman: The Movie
Superman: The Movie is indeed an epic picture, thanks partly to the amazing cast that was assembled, which includes legendary actor Marlon Brando who plays Superman’s father, Jor-El. While Russell Crowe was just fine as Papa Krypton in Man of Steel, there’s just something about the gravitas that Brando brings to the role, with a certain weight that is almost Shakespearean.
Realizing that his home planet Krypton is mere moments away from exploding, Brando’s Jor-El performs the difficult task of sending his infant child away to another planet. As his wife Lara places baby Kal-El into the crystalized space ship, Jor-El reflects on the love he has for his son with a speech that is so eloquent it could almost fit into King Lear. Although Jor-El will not be able to raise his little Kal, he sacrifices everything so that he can have a future in hopes that his strength will become his son’s own, “the son becomes the father, and the father the son.”
It’s a powerful moment that is both beautiful and poetic, but what else would you expect from an actor like Brando? The guy could have read off the ingredients from a bubblegum wrapper and it would have sounded Oscar-worthy.
3 “General, would you care to step outside?” – Superman II
Even when Superman needs to squash a beef, he does it in a somewhat polite manner. When General Zod and his cohorts take control of Metropolis in Superman II, they pay a visit to the Daily Planet to cause a little mayhem. With his powers newly restored, Superman returns and flies right up to Zod from a window and briskly asks, “General, would you care to step outside?” Talk about making an entrance.
Of course, an enraged General does agree to come outside, but not before revisiting his favorite line by scowling, “Kneel before Zod!” What follows is one of the first super fights ever caught on film as the trio of Kryptonian criminals led by Zod duke it out with the Man of Steel on the streets and rooftops of Metropolis. The battle, although dated, is indeed impressive, but what else would you expect when the battle lines are drawn with such a cool line of dialogue?
2 “You’ve got me? Who’s got you?” – Superman: The Movie
Our number one slot goes to the moment where Superman makes his first public appearance as a heroic icon in Superman: The Movie. As much as we love a super-brawl, there’s just no denying that this classic moment gives us goosebumps even decades after its release. It’s the perfect buildup of suspense as Lois Lane’s helicopter collapses on the edge of the Daily Planet’s roof. As Clark Kent looks up at the madness, he realizes it’s time to finally reveal Superman to the world.
After swinging through a revolving door, the Man of Steel flies up a now falling Lois and catches her midair. “Easy Miss, I’ve got you,” says the ever polite Superman. “You’ve got me? Who’s got you?” is Lois Lane’s captivated response. It’s a magical moment, in which audiences believed for the first time in modern cinema that a man could fly.
There are so many classic elements from this scene including John William’s iconic score, the revolutionary special effects, and what can be said about Christopher Reeves performance that hasn’t been already? He simply is Superman. Even the sight gag about a modern telephone box being a terrible changing room is fantastic. Sometimes there’s just nothing quite like the feeling of seeing Clark Kent ripping opening his shirt to reveal that iconic S underneath as he races to fight crime.
1 Honorable Mentions
Superman has been a cinematic icon now for decades, and has had more than enough classic movie moments to go around. Here are some fantastic scenes that just barely missed the cut for this list.
- Superman vs. Zod – Man of Steel: Though we picked the brawl in Smallville as an actual addition to this list, the climactic square-off between Superman and General Zod is just too epic not to mention. After his evil plans have been thwarted, Zod realizes he has nothing left to fight for, and decides to take his aggression out on the Man of Steel. What follows is a no-holds-barred fight to the death that levels half of Metropolis in the process. Superman and Zod punch each other through skyscrapers, zap each other with heat vision, and even fling themselves into satellites in outer space. It is a thrilling conclusion that ends on a rather controversial note, but the confrontation leading up to it is no doubt jaw-dropping.
- Fortress of Solitude Formation – Superman: The Movie: As Clark makes his way into the Arctic, he is overcome by a feeling of instinct. As he reaches into his backpack, he pulls out the green crystal that was found in the spaceship he traveled to Earth in as a child. He flings the crystal miles ahead, where it sinks into the ice and causes giant Kryptonian crystals to come bursting out. The Fortress of Solitude is born as a young Clark journeys inside to see what awaits him. It’s an intriguing moment of mystery and suspense, and one which is heightened yet again by John Williams’ fantastic soundtrack in Superman: The Movie.
- The Interview – Superman: The Movie: Naturally, if Superman really existed most people would have some questions. In Superman: The Movie, Lois Lane is given the chance to ask those question in an interview with the Man of Steel herself, which is one part professional, and another part, well, something else. The plucky reporter stumbles through questions like a giddy schoolgirl, asking Superman “How big are you?” before quickly changing her phrasing with, “Erm, how much do you weigh?” It’s a funny yet romantic scene, which ends with Superman taking Lois on a flight through Metropolis, which is magical or campy depending on who you ask.