Not Yet Rated Presents: Superman Films Ranked

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I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but Batman -v- Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theaters next week, and to celebrate this titanic battle between the two most well-known superheroes in the world, Not Yet Rated has ranked the every Cinematic Adventure of the House of El.

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(Sit Down, Underoos, you know it’s true!)

So without further ado, Up, Up and Away!

Steel (1997)

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Well someone had to be at the bottom of the list and this one definitely deserves the infamy. Written and Directed by famed television producer Kenneth Johnson (V: The Original Miniseries, Alien Nation Television Series) and Quincy Jones. This movie starred Shaquille O’Neal in the title role and along with Khazam! Serves as a reminder that Shaq is no actor. DC Comics was wise enough to keep Superman out of this one but not wise enough to say no altogether.

Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987)

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It’s pretty tough to make a Superman film to begin with, but as Cannon Films found out, it’s impossible to make one on the cheap. The film company bought production rights from Salkinds, who’d already made two box offices flops, and managed to outdo them. The film’s anti-nuke message was more heavy-handed than a thousand bad sitcoms and to top it off Cannon Films ran out of money during the production and the rest is bad movie history. If you’re going to make a poorly, at least have the decency to leave your politics out of it.

Supergirl (1984)

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I had the “pleasure” to watch this movie for reviewing purposes for Watchtower of Babel’s 25 Days of Batman -v- Superman so you can see my thoughts in more detail HERE but to sum it up; Supergirl’s big problem is the story seems to move along like this; “Well, I guess this happens next.” There doesn’t seem to be any reason for anything to happen in this attempted spin off of the Christopher Reeve films. All the pieces were in place for a good movie; director Jeannot Szwarc (Somewhere in Time), Helen Slater was seemingly an up and comer and she had Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia) and Faye Dunaway (Chinatown) starring opposite and the movie just failed. Sorry Kara, but at least you have a good TV show now.

Superman III (1983)

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Turning the corner, we reach a place where the movies are turning good. Like Supergirl, I reviewed this for Watchtower, but I’ll sum it up as an ill-advised idea that turned out better than it could have which results in an okay movie. There’s not quite enough Christopher Reeve or Annette O’Toole (48 Hours) and a just a bit too much Richard Pryor (Stir Crazy) and slapstick comedy from director Richard Lester. Fortunately, it has just enough heart to keep it afloat.

Superman II (1980)

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Now hold on! I know it feels like I just slapped some of you across the face but let me explain. Superman II is damn near a great movie, until you see the Richard Donner cut. Then you see how much better the movie could have been. The silliness of the movie took much of the punch that Donner had intended for the film to have (including Jor-El essentially sacrificing his spirit to give Clark his powers back) and all we really get in return is a sequence at the Eiffel Tower and a bunch of English and Canadian Actors doing bad French Accents. Richard Lester isn’t a bad director, but he’s no Richard Donner. Besides, keep reading this movie comes back up in a bit.

Superman Returns (2006)

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Ah, Superman Returns! Bryan Singer’s (X-Men: Apocalypse) ill-fated sequel/reboot/love letter to the Richard Donner films. Essentially the Superman III we should’ve gotten, only twenty years too late. Brandon Routh picks up the cape from Christopher Reeve and does an admirable job in a rough place (Essentially playing another actor’s vision of a character.) He looks the part had has plenty of charm as Clark/Superman and there’s plenty of grand spectacle to be had but in the end this was just not what audiences were looking for in a Superhero movie after Singer’s X-men, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins had changed the equation so much. Plus, Superman as a deadbeat dad? No, Bryan. No.

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)

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See, I told it would come back around. Like the Richard Lester cut of the film was marked down for what it could have been, I am marking this film up for what it could have been. The cut of the film came about after so much of Donner’s footage was found in reasonable condition in 2001 as Warner prepared to release the Christopher Reeve films on DVD and was put together in conjunction with some auditon footage from Reeve and Kidder to recreate Clark revealing his secret to Lois as Donner had envisioned it. So when you watch the Donner cut it looks a little odd but it proves what a different movie this could have been had the Salkinds not fired Donner shortly after the release of Superman: The Movie.

Before we get to our top two films, how about an honorable mention from the numerous straight to home market animated Superman films?

Superman: Doomsday (2007)

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It’s pretty tough to pick the best animated Superman movie, but once you set aside the Batman/Superman and Justice League films it comes down to two big contenders; Doomsday and Superman vs The Elite. I tend to prefer Doomsday so there you have it. Doomsday stars the voice talents of Adam Baldwin (Full Metal Jacket) as Superman, Anne Heche (Six Days, Seven Nights) as Lois and James Marsters (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer) as Lex Luthor and directed by Bruce Timm. The film told the story of Superman’s death at the hands of Doomsday and Resurrection and is pretty fun. It also allowed Timm to tell a more adult story (including some of Lex’s unresolved sexual tension towards Big Blue if you squint.) However, what probably puts it over the top for me was meeting Adam Baldwin and getting him to sign my copy.

Superman: The Movie (1978)

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That’s right! Number two, I could go on and on about how great this movie is and how many time I watched as a kid and that it still holds up pretty well until I’m blue in the face. This is a great movie; Gene Hackman (The French Connection) alone makes sure of it and Marlon Brando (Apocalypse Now!) and Glenn Ford (3:10 to Yuma) add to the pedigree. Christopher Reeve set the bar for a long time for beloved superhero performances but is it a perfect movie? Nope. The time travel ending is a bit of a cop-out, Margot Kidder’s (Black Christmas) is a bully to Clark and all these years later I’m still not quite sure why Lex Luthor immediately sets out to destroy Superman other than for fun. So, while great, it’s not the greatest.

Man of Steel (2013)

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Fanboys can cry and gnash their teeth all they like but let me tell you what I see in Man of Steel. I see Henry Cavill as a man trying to find out the very basic mystery of why his parents abandoned him. Along the way he does what comes naturally and that’s help people (See Man of Steel’s Answers video on YouTube about how many people Clark saves during the course of the film below for a detailed argument.)

I see a Lois Lane that’s driven and intelligent and brave and best of all likable!   I see the Kents portrayed in an incredibly realistic way. I see Zod with menace and presence. And I see a controversial, but powerful and yes well thought ending.

“Jason, Superman never kills!” I hear from somewhere off in the internet. Refer back to Superman II where Clark smirks while crushing Zod’s hand before dumping him down a pit in the artic! What do you think happened? To top it off he goes and beats up a trucker. Say what you will about Clark in Man of Steel, but he didn’t beat up any human beings. In fact, he sacrificed his people to save human beings and all on his literal first day on the job! You don’t get much more Superman than that!

And there you have it. The Superman films ranked from best to worst just in time for you to see Henry Cavill’s Superman face off with Ben Affleck as Batman in Batman -v- Superman! Also starring Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg and Amy Adams. Directed by Zack Snyder. In theaters March 25th.

In the meantime, keep coming back to Not Yet Rated for all you movie news and reviews!

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