Superman is, without a doubt, the best-know superhero in comic book history… but that doesn’t mean that he’s always as perfect as his reputation. Over the years since Supes made his Action Comics debut (in 1938), the Big Blue Boy Scout has been adapted and altered time and time again.
From comic book reboots and alternate universes to video games, TV shows, animation, and big screen adventures, there have been dozens of versions of Clark Kent (and his caped alter ego).
Some of these have become iconic: Christopher Reeve’s portrayal in Superman, the original Golden Age hero, all the classics that embody how the world sees Superman.
Other versions of the Kryptonian hero, however… well, let’s just say that they range from misunderstanding about the core elements that make the hero so appealing, to straight-up travesties that just so happen to have an "S" on their chest.
Some of these cringeworthy variants come from the pages of comics, proving that just because something makes it into DC canon, that doesn’t mean it’s always good.
Others are from live action, whether big or small screen, and all of them show that there is a right and a (very) wrong way to adapt this classic hero.
Here are the 15 Worst Versions Of Superman, Ranked.
15 DCAU Superman
For many, Superman’s appearance in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited are impeccable; a version of the character that was a gateway to the comics for those who were kids in the early 2000s.
The series as a whole are fantastic, however, this interpretation of Superman is seen by others to be extremely two-dimensional. His physical strength takes precedence over any real emotional depth, and his power-set is focused entirely on brute force.
Superman’s complex emotional life is underplayed, he is often shockingly naive and one of the easiest members of the team to manipulate, and he acts as more of a baseline by which other heroes are measured, rather than a stunning hero in his own right.
This may not be the worst version of Superman to ever hit the screen, but it certainly could have been a whole lot better.
14 Supergirl (Tyler Hoechlin)
Another controversial inclusion, as many feel that Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman is one of the best we’ve seen in recent years. He certainly has a kind of brightly-colored charm that is lacking in the DCEU, and saves people with a wink and a grin.
However, by virtue of the fact that the CW’s series is a Supergirl series, not a Superman series, he is woefully underused, and often seems to be weaker than fans would expect.
During the invasion of Earth by the Daxamites, Superman was easily controlled by Queen Rhea using silver kryptonite-- and while we appreciate a Super-family showdown, that just doesn’t track with the uber-powerful hero that Supes should be.
He also rarely shows up to help Kara with world-ending villains, even though he would presumably be on the front lines when the entire world is threatened.
13 Young Justice Superman
The Young Justice version of Superman does improve as the series continues, but he’s just kind of mean to poor Superboy.
The presence of a CADMUS clone clearly freaks him out, and he takes it out on the kid. Superman refuses to help him figure out how to be a hero, or take any responsibility for him - instead, he’s constantly trying to pawn Superboy off on other heroes, and struggles to even be in the same room as him.
When Batman suggests (reasonably enough) that Superman is a kind of father to his young clone, Superman loses his temper: which is absolutely shocking, given the consequences should Supes lose control and give in to anger.
By later in the series, he seems to get over this, but he spends the first season in a tempter tantrum… not very heroic behavior.
This oft-forgotten TV series is forgotten for a reason… it just wasn’t particularly good! Similar to Smallville, Superboy told the story of the young Clark Kent, learning to be a hero while still in college.
However, the show had some major issues, including constant changes that prevented it ever really becoming a hit.
Both Superboy (John Haymes Newton, Gerard Christopher) himself and Lex Luthor (Scott James Wells, Sherman Howard) were recast between the first and second season, the title of the show was changed between the second and third season (Superboy to The Adventures of Superboy), and the tone and type of villains changed throughout.
It was uneven and frustrating-- especially to comic fans, for whom "Superboy" is a very different person to "Superman."
This much-better-known portrayal of Superman’s early years placed Clark Kent (Tom Welling) in a Kansas high school, where he becomes friends with Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) and deals with the trials and tribulations of teenagehood.
While the show itself is actually a pretty great example of the superhero genre, and ran for an impressive ten seasons, it makes it onto the list because it’s not really a portrayal of Superman at all.
It’s a prologue to his time as the hero, and he only really takes on the Superman mantle in the final season (which is not the strongest of the ten, to say the least). Smallville is a solid version of Clark Kent… it’s just not a great adaptation of Superman.
10 Blogger Superman
Off the screen and back to the comics, for a fairly recent version of Superman who chooses to eschew his long-held position as a journalist in order to become a blogger.
The shift happened in 2012, when a grumpy, hoodie-wearing Clark gets yelled at at the Daily Planet because he hasn’t turned in any stories this week (which, given that all he has to write about is himself, really shouldn’t be that hard).
Rather than accepting that he should actually do his job, he throws a temper tantrum in the middle of the office, lecturing his boss on journalistic integrity and not pandering to the readers, and then storms out. To become a blogger.
Which is not only painfully unrealistic, but boring to read (no one wants to read comics about bloggers. Superman puzzling out SEO is not exciting).
9 Superman III & IV
While 1978’s Superman was a phenomenal example of how to bring the hero to life on the big screen, the later installments in this franchise were progressively worse, until the travesty that is Superman IV: A Quest For Peace ended things in 1987.
Despite keeping the incredible Christopher Reeve in the lead role, A Quest For Peace fails on basically every level: the budget was slashed, it was heavily edited, it gives a human character the impossible ability to breathe in space, and it’s packed with plot holes and problems.
Superman III, meanwhile, may be an improvement on the fourth in the series, but is still far from a good adaptation of Clark Kent - and one saved almost entirely by Reeve’s stunning performance.
8 Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman
In many ways, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman is a really enjoyable version of the Man of Steel.
However, it also let down many fans of the original comic hero because it’s not really about his super-heroics at all. Instead, this ‘90s series turned the comic mythos into a romantic comedy about the love triangle between Lois, Clark and Superman.
Dean Cain may have been a great pick as Clark Kent, but there’s something incredibly frustrating about a show that refused to take the hero in the least bit seriously, and was more concerned with love life drama than with actually saving the world.
Add in some later episodes that most certainly jumped the super-shark, and this show has not aged well at all.
7 Act Of God
The basic premise of this limited series is actually a good one: what would happen if all the heroes of the Earth were mysteriously de-powered?
However, Act of God failed utterly to live up to its potential with a story that sees our heroes reacting in a completely unrealistic way… especially Superman and Lois. Supes gives up totally without his powers. Rather than attempting to adapt, or simply to use his work in journalism to do good, he becomes a useless drunk, and Lois finds that she’s no longer attracted to Superman sans-abilities and leaves him.
Their relationship implodes, his life is ruined, and he hits rock bottom drinking on the streets. While he does get an almost-happy ending, this is just an utterly miserable depiction of the hero: one utterly without hope, which should be everything Superman stands for.
6 Kingdom Come Superman
Another comic story where Superman abandons both hope and humanity, Kingdom Come sees our hero destroyed by the combined loss of Lois Lane and the realization that humanity cannot live up to his own ideals.
Lois is killed by the Joker (along with the entire Daily Planet staff), Joker is killed by Magog, and Magog is treated as a hero by the people of Metropolis… which Clark cannot stand, as he sees Magog as a killer, not a victor.
He then runs off and sulks at the Fortress of Solitude, something that many fans believe is simply unthinkable for a hero who has dedicated his life to helping others.
Superman does eventually return to the fray, but his initial behaviour is what makes Kingdom Come a hated story for a lot of those who believe Superman would never let his own values come above his desire to help others.
5 Superman Returns
Superman Returns is one of the more polarizing adaptations of Superman, and one that somehow always seems to be forgotten.
Starring Brandon Routh as Superman himself, Superman Returns has a lot going for it; great acting, a beautiful concept of the return of Superman to a cynical world where he struggles to hold on to hope, etc… but there are a few huge flaws, primarily with the whole ‘super-son with Lois’ choice.
As a sequel to Superman II, where Supes sleeps with Lois and then erases her memory, Superman Returns is problematic. Frankly, it's a little bit rapey to suggest he's ok with super-power-roofies.
Even choosing to get Lois pregnant and not erase her memory, the decision not to reveal his true identity, and then to become an absentee father… is a terrible one on the part of the writers. Superman is better than that.
4 DCEU Superman
The unfortunate thing about the DCEU Superman is that at this point, it seems impossible to create a Superman that will make everyone happy.
Henry Cavill’s earlier portrayals of Superman in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman upset those people who didn’t want to see a Supes so dark, so gritty, so seemingly comfortable with killing people left, right, and center.
The resurrected Superman of Justice League addressed those concerns, introducing a brighter, happier Superman who actually seemed to enjoy being alive again, and even gets to laugh… which, of course, annoys those fans who appreciated the dark’n’gritty Cavill of the earlier films, and felt that the changes were pandering to the audience.
Leaving us in a place now where no one is happy, except with the casting.
3 Mullet Superman
Superman has a very iconic look, for the vast majority of his comic history, and it’s one that has carried over to almost every single adaptation of the character: tall, white, with a square jaw and short dark hair (with a single curl at the front).
It’s the Superman look, and it works. Except, of course, in the ‘90s, during the Death and Return of Superman arc, when Supes returned with a style that was supposed to be long hair, but was quickly dubbed the "Super-Mullet."
Changing an iconic style is one thing, but changing it to give this handsome big-city journo the worst hairstyle of all time? Absolute travesty.
It was finally ditched a few years later, but there were rumors that Cavill could have sported the super-mullet in Justice League; thankfully, those rumors turned out to be false!
2 It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman!
In 1966, the decision was made to create a Broadway musical centered on Superman… and thankfully, for those who like to punish themselves by watching terrible things, it was turned into a made-for-tv movie in 1975.
It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman is everything you would expect from a cheesy attempt to cash in on the popularity of a comic book hero without any real understanding of what makes him great in the first place-- and while the original production received positive reviews for the energy of the cast and the pure enjoyment factor, the heavily edited made-for-TV special missed the mark completely.
In recent years, the show has returned to the stage, having a lot of fun with the silliness of Superman, but the amount of fun poked at the character may leave comic fans unimpressed.
1 Injustice Superman
One of the most hated portrayals of the Man of Steel, Injustice: Gods Among Us turns the world’s best known hero into an outright villain. After the loss of Lois and the destruction of Metropolis, Supes goes completely off the rails, becomes a world-conquering psychopath, and re-names himself High Councillor and leader of The Regime.
He is brutal, utterly without mercy, and is well on the way to subjugating the entire human race. While the idea of an evil Superman isn’t without merit, the biggest issue with the Injustice version of the character is that this about-face takes place over only a few years, which seems totally implausible.
A slow twist from good to evil may have been interesting, but Injustice essentially flips Supes’s ‘evil switch’ and leaves it at that.
What Superman do you think is the worst version? Sound off in the comments!