All 7 TV versions of Superman ranked from worst to best

DC's Superman has enjoyed a ton of success on TV, but which small screen versions are truly super?

Batwoman -- "Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part Two" -- Image Number: BWN108b_0224.jpg -- Pictured: Brandon Routh as Superman -- Photo: Katie Yu/The CW -- © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Batwoman -- "Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part Two" -- Image Number: BWN108b_0224.jpg -- Pictured: Brandon Routh as Superman -- Photo: Katie Yu/The CW -- © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved. /

The Man of Steel is an cinematic icon, changing hearts and minds on the silver screen since his '40s and '50s movie serials. However, something of a lesser-known fact is that he's achieved even greater levels of success on the small screen.

It's true; Superman has been a TV icon for decades, appearing in various TV shows like Adventures of Superman, Smallville, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Supergirl, and the current Superman and Lois. And honestly it's easy to see why, because the legendary DC Comics hero is a timeless character who appeals to generation after generation, and his storylines are so ambitious and larger-than-life, that they are always more compelling when allowed to breathe in the long-form format.

That being said, which show and / or actor truly captured the magic of Superman the best? Let's look back at the various TV Men of Steel and deduce which of the small screen Supermen was the most triumphant of all?

Note: This list will look at all of the live-action versions of Superman to appear on TV over the years, so it won't feature his countless animated adaptations.

7. Superboy

Portrayed by: John Haymes Newton, Gerard Christopher

The Superboy TV series is often forgotten about when it comes to the Man of Steel's TV history because that is the name of a separate DC character these days. But believe it or not, it actually was about the young Kal-El of Krypton, showcasing his early adventures as the Boy of Steel.

The version of Clark that we saw was pretty comic-accurate, but the show hasn't aged well. It wasn't even that well-received by critics when it aired, with its first season in particular receiving a negative response. It also replaced its main actor and reinvented itself after season 1; which ultimately ended up benefitting it in the long-run as it became more loyal to the comics.

Superboy had its moments, but the hero at the center of it needed a stronger project to shine in.

196cain22000_20001021_10145.jpg / Getty Images/GettyImages

6. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

Portrayed by: Dean Cain

After Christopher Reeve gifted us all with the definitive version of Superman on the silver screen, the Man of Steel returned to television to entertain us throughout the '90s. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman starred Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher in the title roles as the series explored their dynamic both in the Daily Planet as Clark Kent and Lois Lane and in the many super adventures they got up to outside of the workplace.

This was one of the first modern portrayals of Superman as it highlighted that he was more than the perfect superhero he had been portrayed as throughout the years; he was a young man looking for his place in the world, still dealing with the loss of Krypton and his family all while falling in love with Lois Lane. It was a more nuanced Superman for its time, and even though not all of Lois and Clark has aged well, it paved the way for more interesting portrayals of the character.

George Reeves As Superman
George Reeves As Superman / Hulton Archive/GettyImages

5. Adventures of Superman

Portrayed by: George Reeves

George Reeves was the second actor to play Superman in live-action but the very first to bring him to life on TV. Adventures of Superman began airing in 1952 and ran for six seasons, showcasing the larger-than-life hero to homes all across the world. It was the first experience with the hero for many people, and it's safe to say that the Man of Steel made a good impression.

This was as comic-accurate as Superman could be in the '50s, with Reeves effortlessly capturing the uplifting and triumphant nature of the character. Kal-El was a firm hero but one renowned for his strong moral complex and his kindness. Some of the seasons in the back half were a bit sillier and that harmed the show (and the character) in the long-run, but there is no denying the fact that this was an incredible first TV appearance for Superman.

Superman, Supergirl
Supergirl -- "The Last Children of Krypton" -- Image SPG202a_0174-- Pictured (L-R): Tyler Hoechlin as Clark/Superman and Melissa Benoist Kara/Supergirl -- Photo: Robert Falconer/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved /

4. Supergirl

Portrayed by: Tyler Hoechlin

After a year of relying on an instant messaging service and a CGI render, Supergirl finally introduced Superman in its second season. The veteran hero aided his cousin Kara Zor-El in some major adventures early on in what was a huge moment for the show, and it certainly lived up to expectations.

Tyler Hoechlin's performance as the iconic DC character was a delight and he more than proved why he was worthy of playing the character in his own TV series (which he got just a few years later). It was also refreshing to see a more comic-accurate version of the Man of Steel as the one on the big screen at the time just didn't feel like Superman.

While Supergirl didn't always do the character justice, it was a fantastic portrayal of both Clark Kent and Superman.

Batwoman -- "Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part Two" -- Image Number: BWN108b_0181.jpg -- Pictured: Brandon Routh as Superman -- Photo: Katie Yu/The CW -- © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved. /

3. Kingdom Come (Crisis On Infinite Earths)

Portrayed by: Brandon Routh

A big screen version of Superman came to the small screen in the Arrowverse's Crisis On Infinite Earths crossover as Brandon Routh reprised his Superman Returns role. But it was an altered version of the character, who had lost everyone he ever cared about due to an attack on the Daily Planet by The Joker.

This iteration was heavily inspired by the Kingdom Come storyline from DC Comics, with his suit being identical to the one in the source material. It made for a compelling watch as Brandon Routh was finally given the platform to prove what a great Superman he is, producing an incredibly powerful and convincing performance. He also looked amazing in the suit, and the overall characterization of the character was strong.

While he played more of a supporting role in the crossover, it was awesome to see Routh back as Superman one more time - and he made a lasting impression on us all.

2. Smallville

Portrayed by: Tom Welling

The second attempt to bring Superman's early years to the small screen was far more successful. Smallville existed at a time when teen dramas were king and so it found the perfect balance between heroics and heart, allowing us all into a teenage Clark Kent's world. It presented us with the opportunity of seeing things through his eyes and that set it apart for all the right reasons.

Clark was trying to figure himself out, own his identity, and become a hero (sometimes all at once) and before the end of the show's 10-season run he got there; evolving from a kind-hearted outcast blaming himself for everything that went wrong in Smallville to the greatest hero the world had ever seen.

The Smallville version of Superman might be notorious for not donning the cape on-screen (outside of a CGI render) but the strength of his characterization and Tom Welling's layered performance more than made up for that. He is TV's definitive Clark Kent, and deservedly so.

Superman and Lois
Superman & Lois -- “Of Sound Mind” -- Image Number: SML306a_0489r -- Pictured: Tyler Hoechlin as Superman -- Photo: Colin Bentley/The CW -- © 2023 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved. /

1. Superman and Lois

Portrayed by: Tyler Hoechlin

Supergirl's Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch got the chance to reprise their roles in The CW's spinoff series Superman and Lois. The show wasn't anything like its Arrowverse counterparts, and that was an unexpected surprise, as it presented audiences with a much more nuanced take on the pair's relationship. It was cinematic in its approach but it was also stronger than the ones we saw on the big screen too.

This version of Superman is a veteran hero who has been protecting the people of Metropolis (and the world) for 20 years, but he's also a husband, father, son, and Smallville resident just trying to do his best for the people around him. It's a much more grounded and believable portrayal of the character, but the beauty in Hoechlin's performance is that there is still triumph in there, along with some heart too. He's a modern Superman but with all of the hope of the classic version. It's a layered portrayal that never strays too far from the source material, and that makes it an instant classic.

The Man of Steel in Superman and Lois isn't just the best Superman on TV, he's the best Superman to ever grace any screen. It doesn't get better than that.

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