Superman has an impressive array of superpowers – even by superhero standards. Since he first debuted in 1938, the Man of Steel’s abilities have developed dramatically, to the point where the character’s detractors argue that his adventures are no longer entertaining.
After all, these days, Superman moves many times faster than a speeding bullet, and is far more powerful than any locomotive. As for skyscrapers? He doesn’t leap over them so much as soar.
This presents a challenge for writers: how can they make Superman’s struggles compelling, when the guy can do pretty much anything? Over the past few decades, solutions have included everything from decreasing the upper limits of his powers to beefing up those of the enemies he faces.
Critics are divided over whether either of these approaches is the right one – or whether the answer really lies with writers getting more creative. Nevertheless, the one thing everyone – writers and readers alike – seems to agree on is that the last thing Superman needs is more superpowers.
Apparently, this doesn’t extend to the filmmakers behind the various Superman movies, though, who have a perplexing habit of attributing new abilities – and, more understandably – weaknesses to our hero. What’s more, many of these new strengths and vulnerabilities come across as downright strange – even for a character who can fire microwaves out of his eyes!
With this in mind, here are 7 Weird Superpowers (And 8 Weaknesses) Superman Only Has In The Movies.
15 Weakness – Poor Eyesight
Superman disguising himself as Clark Kent primarily through the use of pair of eyeglasses is one of the most famous (and lampooned) conceits in comic book history. Of course, underlying this spec-related subterfuge is the understanding that the Man of Steel doesn’t actually need to wear glasses – his eyesight is about as perfect as it gets.
Not only that, but it’s also pretty much set in stone that Superman (as Clark) only began incorporating eyewear into his wardrobe shortly before the start of his crimefighting career. Before that, he had no reason to wear any – he had nothing to hide, after all.
That makes it all the more baffling when it’s heavily implied in Superman Returns that a young Clark Kent not only wore glasses, but that they really were fitted with corrective lenses! This rather shocking revelation comes early on in the film, when Superman reminisces about his upbringing on the Kent farm.
In a flashback, a bespectacled teenaged Clark graduates from gigantic leaps to proper, controlled flight – losing his glasses on the barn floor along the way.
Hovering inches from the ground, the someday-Superman observes his discarded specs, and the look he gives them suggests he no longer needs them, now that his powers have properly kicked-in.
14 Superpower – Memory-Wipe Kiss
Part of Superman’s deal is that he’s pretty much “super” at everything – and this extends to kissing. Over the past 80 years, the Man of Tomorrow has planted some powerful pashes on many of his romantic interests, leaving the likes of Lois Lane and Lana Lang visibly swooning.
One side-effect of locking lips with Superman that fans definitely haven’t seen in the pages of a comic book is short-term amnesia!
Kissing the Last Son of Krypton is truly an unforgettable experience – unless said kiss takes place on screen, that is.
In Superman II, Lois learns that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same, and our hero retires so that they can enjoy a normal relationship together. Unfortunately for our two lovebirds, Earth comes under attack from a trio of Kryptonian criminals lead by General Zod, and Superman is drawn back into the world-saving game.
Superman manages to overcome Zod and his cronies, and in doing so, realizes that he can never truly stop being Superman – nor can he ever settle down with Lois. A tearful Lois admirably accepts his decision, but it’s clear she’ll struggle to move on.
So Superman kisses Lois tenderly, in the process removing her memories of their relationship - somehow. It’s an odd development which also undermines Superman’s respect for Lois as a strong, capable woman – and it doesn’t get any less strange when he pulls a similar stunt in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
13 Weakness – Kryptonian Environmental Conditions
Depending on the comic book canon in place at the time, Superman derives some or all of his fantastic powers from the yellow rays of Earth’s sun. As a result, should the Man of Steel find himself on a world orbiting a red sun – or in an environment that otherwise replicates these conditions – his godlike abilities vanish.
This is something that has been portrayed somewhat consistently in both the comics and in the films, although 2013’s Man of Steel takes things a step further. Here, Superman isn’t just susceptible to the effects of a red sun – he’s also adversely affected by Kryptonian environmental conditions more broadly.
This is seen when he boards General Zod’s spaceship, which mimics Krypton’s distinctly non-Earth-like atmosphere.
Not only do Superman’s powers quickly disappear – courtesy of red solar radiation present – but he’s so severely overwhelmed by the Kryptonian environment that he actually passes out!
The explanation we’re given here is that, as an alien, Superman first had to acclimatize himself to life on Earth – he was even sickly for his first few years of life, as his body adjusted. This left him physically unprepared for the harsher environmental conditions of his homeworld, causing him to fall unconscious.
This stands in stark contrast to the comics where – other than losing his powers, should he be exposed to red solar radiation – Superman experiences no ill-effects in foreign environments, Kryptonian or otherwise.
12 Superpower – Telekinesis Vision
Superman’s Kryptonian eyes are capable of feats well beyond those of ordinary peepers. Among his many unbelievable optical gifts, Superman can see through solid objects, emit targeted heat blasts, and just generally peer across the wider spectrum.
One thing the Man of Steel’s baby blues can’t do, however, is shoot rays of telekinetic force – except for that time that they did, in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Admittedly, Superman IV is notorious for being the worst Superman film ever made, and several of its more bonkers moments are the result of behind-the-scenes budget cuts.
When the Man of Tomorrow repairs the Great Wall of China with a mere glance, we’re left to wonder whether this was the result of sloppy screenwriting, or the effects crew simply doing the best they could with the resources available to them.
This isn’t the only instance of Superman using his “telekinesis vision” in the film, either. Later on in the film, our hero rescues a group of imperilled bystanders by lowering them to the ground with a stare. It gets to the point where you aren’t sure if the filmmakers knew Superman didn’t have this power and gave it to him anyway, or whether they just didn’t care.
In fairness to the Superman IV team, this isn’t the first time in the Christopher Reeve-starring franchise that Kryptonians are shown to have telekinetic abilities. No, that dubious honor goes to Superman II, when General Zod miraculously levitates a would-be assailant’s gun into his hands!
11 Weakness – Suffocation
As kids (and let’s be honest, even as adults), most of us have played the game of seeing how long we can hold our breath under water. We’re not sure if Superman has ever engaged in this kind of frivolity, but if has, he would certainly set a world record. Seriously: the dude’s lung capacity is insane!
The Man of Steel’s lungs can store so much oxygen, he’s been depicted as being able to survive in space unaided, and – at his most powerful – of doing so indefinitely. It’s fair to say that a fear of suffocation is pretty far down the list of things that keep Superman up at night.
Imagine our surprise, then, when the Last Son of Krypton nearly lost his life from oxygen deprivation in Superman III. This occurs during the movie’s finale, when Superman faces off against a giant supercomputer supposedly able to defeat any opponent.
During this climactic battle, the supercomputer temporarily traps Superman inside a steadily-shrinking, airless bubble.
Not only does the Man of Tomorrow prove unable to tear through a bubble’s elastic surface, he soon grows fatigued as his oxygen supply is rapidly depleted.
Fortunately, a focused blast of heat vision punctures the bubble, and Superman is ready for Round 2 – but it was a much closer call than comics fans would’ve ever expected.
10 Superpower – “Cellophane” S-Shield
Full disclosure: we’ll be the first to admit that we have absolutely no idea exactly what the deal is with the “cellophane” version of Superman’s S-Shield seen in Superman II.
Is the cellophane S – which Superman appears to remove from his chest, before hurling at his Kryptonian attacker – something he conjured up using some hitherto unknown mental power?
Or is it some kind of defensive weapon built into the fabric of his otherworldly costume?
Only director Richard Lester and his team truly know for sure, as there’s no explanation provided for the cellophane S in the movie itself – and no precedent for it in the comics, either! That’s right: whatever this craziness is, it belongs exclusively to the big screen incarnation of the character.
Ignoring the mysterious origins of the cellophane S, easily the most galling aspect surrounding its inclusion – other than how much it left audiences collectively scratching their heads – is how poorly the effects involved were executed.
In case the name “cellophane S” wasn’t enough of a giveaway, the prop used looked embarrassingly flimsy and cheap, especially once it has expanded to full size. Similarly, the cell animation used to simulate the projectile in flight is equally unconvincing, adding up to movie moment fans are eager to forget.
9 Weakness – Drinking
A by-product of Superman’s alien physiology is that he can’t get inebriated from alcohol, no matter how much he consumes. This is well-established in the comics – as well as in 2006’s Superman Returns, based on how many beers our hero knocks back before successfully rescuing a plane.
Not so in Superman III, however, where we witness the typically straight-laced Superman get well and truly hammered in a dive bar! True, at the time, the Man of Steel was under the influence of a Kryptonite variant which (rather than end him) transformed him into a super-jerk.
All the same, Superman still retained his many amazing powers – including his invulnerability to toxins found on Earth – which should have made becoming intoxicated impossible.
Yet intoxicated he did indeed get – and it wasn’t pretty. Just how bad was Superman’s little bender?
He was flicking cashews across the bar so violently that they smash up nearby liquor bottles, and using heat vision to melt a mirror.
All of this is behavior likely to get the Man of Tomorrow banned from this particular establishment – presumably for life. On the other hand, considering the degree of havoc an inebriated Superman could cause if he really lost control – and the prospect is frankly terrifying – we’d say the bartender and his patrons got off relatively easy.
8 Superpower – Oxygen-Sharing
The Superman movies of the 1970s-80s are fondly remembered by fans of a certain age, thanks in large part to Christopher Reeve’s iconic portrayal of the Man of Steel. That said, even the most ardent defender of the films would agree that the science on display is occasionally more than a little ropey.
Now, you don’t necessarily attend the screening of a Superman flick expecting to see a high degree of scientific accuracy – the main character can fly, for crying out loud! Even so, it’s not too much to demand at least a little bit of lip service be paid to basic realism.
For example: if an ordinary human character like Daily Planet editor Lacy Warfield is taken into the vacuum of space, at the very least, we expect to see her start to suffocate. Nevertheless, during her excursion among the stars in Superman IV – during which time she’s chaperoned first by baddie Nuclear Man and then by Superman – Lacy continues to breathe just fine.
Now, the obvious reason for this is that it’s merely one of many goofs that riddle Superman IV, but that’s bit too boring and easy. Maybe that’s why fans have long speculated that Superman (and his quasi-clone, Nuclear Man), were able to somehow “share” their oxygen supplies with Lacy.
Sure, there’s nothing in the comics to back this up – but it’s the kind of tongue-in-cheek theorizing that makes being part of superhero fandom so much fun.
7 Weakness – Smoke Grenades
Superman’s x-ray vision allows him to see through anything – provided it’s not made out of lead. Much like real-life x-rays, the beams that emanate from the Man of Steel’s eyes can’t penetrate that particular substance. Everything else is fair game though – and that includes smoke.
When Batman is able to evade Superman by unleashing a smoke grenade in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a lot of viewers were a bit puzzled.
Surely, the Last Son of Krypton shouldn’t have any trouble pinpointing the Dark Knight’s location, no matter how much of a smokescreen he lays down?
In fairness, supporting material published to tie-in with the film apparently makes it clear that the grenade’s chemical composition was lead-based and capable of blocking Superman’s x-ray vision. This seems like something director Zack Snyder might have wanted to feature in the movie itself – but even if he did, the effectiveness of the smoke grenade doesn’t quite stack up.
Think about it: not only does Superman have several other vision-based powers that would have made tracking Batman a cinch – hello, infra-red vision – he also has super-hearing. Even if he couldn’t see his opponent, he could still hear his heartbeat and follow that.
Really, there’s no way that a smoke grenade – even one filled to the brim with lead – should have caused Superman any grief. That’s still how things went down in Batman v Superman, regardless.
6 Superpower – Teleportation & Hologram Projection
If this list hasn’t made it clear enough already, please allow us to reiterate: Superman II invents a lot of new abilities for its hero. Unlike the previous film’s director, Richard Donner – who treated the character with the kind of reverence deserving of an American pop culture icon – replacement auteur Richard Lester didn’t take Superman entirely seriously.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the random powers he has Superman and his enemies General Zod, Non, and Ursa exhibit throughout Superman II.
Take the showdown between Superman and the villainous trio in the Fortress of Solitude. Whereas Donner – who directed roughly 75% of the film before being fired – approached this as an emotional climax, following the earlier battle over the skies of Metropolis, Lester felt the need to add another action set piece.
Rather than have the Kryptonian combatants call upon any of their existing abilities, Lester decided that they would instead teleport around the Fortress.
It’s a disorienting scene, not least of all because we’re unsure if we’re seeing a brand new superpower at play, or if this is the Fortress’s security systems coming online. Either way, it’s undeniably bizarre – especially when Superman starts creating intangible hologram copies of himself!
Superman II apologists have tried to explain the teleportation as the characters moving at super speed (so that they only appear to be teleporting), and the holograms as Superman creating mirage effects similar to those seen in the current Flash TV series. But honestly? We don’t buy it.
5 Weakness – Radiation Poisoning
When it comes to radiation, there are only two types that have traditionally caused Superman any real headaches. The first kind is that given off by Kryptonite, which causes him serious pain and – if he’s subjected to it long enough – death. The second is the sunlight of a red sun, which robs him of his tremendous powers.
Other than that, though, Superman is generally speaking immune to any form of radiation poisoning. We say “generally speaking” because the exception to this rule comes along in Superman IV, when the Man of Steel contracts a near-fatal case of nuclear radiation sickness.
Superman is stricken with this ailment following a confrontation with Nuclear Man, who – as his name suggests – is powered by nuclear energy.
The bouffant-haired bad guy rakes his extendable claws across the Last Son of Krypton’s neck, piercing our hero’s otherwise-indestructible flesh.
From this seemingly minor flesh wound, Superman swiftly contracts a serious case of radiation poisoning. His hair goes grey and begins to fall out, his skin becomes pallid and drawn, and his once-mighty frame becomes gaunt. Indeed, before too long, the Man of Steel finds himself on the edge of life.
Luckily, Superman is able to reverse his symptoms and is soon fighting fit again. There’s no denying that he very nearly perished from radiation poisoning for a minute there.
4 Superpower – Force Beams
In terms of offensive, long-range powers, Superman has more than a few at his disposal. He can cut loose with blasts of heat vision from his eyes, as well as exhale powerful gusts of wind or frosty sheets of ice. Exactly why Superman II’s filmmakers felt the need to give him yet another ranged ability – a white-hued force beam fired from the fingertips – is downright mystifying!
True, we never actually see Superman himself use this power – it’s actually General Zod, Non and Ursa who let rip with this one. But considering all Kryptonians all share the same superpowers, it’s fair to say that this is a power the Man of Steel can lay claim to, as well.
The interesting thing about these white force beams – other than how random and unnecessary they are, of course – is that their properties are really poorly defined.
At one point, Zod employs the power as essentially another form of telekinesis, only this time channeled through a gesture.
Still later, he, Ursa, and Non combine their beams in an attempt to destroy Superman, rather than displace him. From the way our hero grimaces and glows red, it appears the energies involved can be used to inflict pain, although your guess is as good as ours as to how this actually works.
3 Weakness –Bolt Cutters
Superman IV strikes again! Director Sidney J. Furie and his crew were hampered so badly by the film’s low budget, it almost seems unfair to take shots at the movie for its many, many flaws. On the other hand, Superman IV is such an ineptly made flick that it’s kind of hard not to poke fun at it.
Among the litany of errors on display in Superman IV is the plot hole whereby Lex Luthor is able to steal a strand of Superman’s hair, on display in a museum, by cutting through it with bolt cutters. Yes, you read that correctly: Luthor shears through one of the Man of Steel’s invulnerable locks with little more than a garden-variety maintenance tool.
The thing is, the filmmakers could have worked their way around this goof by having Luthor cut the metal ring around which the indestructible hair was wrapped – but that would have been too much trouble.
They lead audiences to believe that Superman’s famed physical resilience can be overcome by any enemy wielding a decent pair of bolt cutters.
That’s not the only flub in this particularly scene, either. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that before actor Gene Hackman slices through the strand of “hair”, releasing the massive “weight” it holds aloft, he knocks loose the hidden panel the weight prop was meant to plummet through!
2 Superpower – Super Warmth
Hoo-boy: this is a weird one. A major subplot in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns concerns the relationship between Superman and former flame Lois Lane.
Lois remains justifiably miffed that the Man of Steel left on a five year interstellar round-trip without so much as a goodbye. For his part, Superman is hurt by an article Lois wrote entitled “Why The World Doesn’t Need Superman” – but he’s still keen for the pair to get back together.
As part of the Last Son of Krypton’s efforts to woo his ex-girlfriend – and, as it transpires, baby mama – back, he tries to recapture their old magic by taking Lois for an evening flight over the city. As the one-time lovers slowly ascend into the night sky, Lois remarks “I forgot how warm you are.”
Now, maybe we’re reading too much into this. After all, even if it is an awkward comment to make (and it is), it could amount to nothing more than Lois expressing aloud that she’d forgotten how Superman’s (otherwise humanoid) embrace feels.
Interpreting this in a more literal sense means that – thanks to his alien physiology – the Man of Tomorrow’s body temperature is unnaturally high. If that's what this implies, it's just strange.
1 Weakness – Tar
Superman III earned the ire of fans and critics alike partly due to its ludicrous plot, which saw improbable computer genius Gus Gorman turn the Man of Steel into a twisted version of himself. Gorman – played by comedy legend Richard Pryor – achieved this by accident, as he originally intended to eliminate Superman by exposing him to synthetic Kryptonite.
The problem was, Gus wasn’t able to get his hands on the complete recipe for the radioactive mineral, so he substituted tar in place of a missing ingredient - after looking at the back of cigarette packet, naturally. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the resultant imitation Kryptonite would have no effect on Superman – but that would make too much sense.
What the tar did is exert a corrupting influence over our hero – revealing that his true Achilles heel may well be taking a long drag on an unfiltered smoke stick.
On the plus side, Gus’ Kryptonite didn’t make Superman evil so much as it made him wildly antisocial. Rather than cracking the planet in two or declaring himself global dictator, the compromised Last Son of Krypton contented himself with next level acts of vandalism like snuffing out the Olympic Flame and straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa, instead!
This made it pretty easy for him to correct the majority of the damage – and restore his good name – by the time the credits rolled.
Did we miss out any weird superpowers or weaknesses Superman only has in the movies? Let us know in the comments!