Superman movies would benefit from moving on from Christopher Reeve’s iconic portrayal of the Man of Steel. Superman has been adapted to movies and television for decades, but it was really with Christopher Reeve’s iconic performance as the Last Son of Krypton in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie that he truly became a cinematic icon. Since Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman, the character has been adapted in numerous movies, with DC Studios co-CEO James Gunn writing and directing the upcoming Superman: Legacy, set for release in 2025.
In an interview with GQ, Gunn spoke of Superman: The Movie as being one of his five favorite comic book movies. Gunn’s comment about being “influenced” by Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve also seems to indicate that Reeve’s performance as Superman is at least partially guiding the writing and casting of Superman: Legacy. While the spirit of Reeve’s performance can be helpful in a measured sense for Superman movies, the constant comparisons to Reeve have become a major problem for the Superman movies and actors to succeed him. Here is why Superman movies need to finally grow further than the enduring influence of Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Kal-El.
Christopher Reeve’s Superman Performance Was Great (But Can’t Be Replicated)
Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman is rightly accorded great reverence both for doing the Man of Steel justice and for ushering in the ascendency of superhero movies. However, Reeve’s Superman was also lightning in a bottle for the time period in which he played Kal-El. With Reeve as a Julliard graduate and superheroes largely seen as children’s material in the late ’70s, Reeve’s Superman did a lot to help the character – and superheroes and general – appear more mainstream in film. This helped pave the way for Michael Keaton’s Batman in 1989, but times have also changed greatly since the Christopher Reeve Superman era.
Not only have there been multiple Superman actors to follow Reeve in both movies and television, but the superhero genre would become a more dominant force than ever by the 21st century. The idea of a character like Superman being treated with such seriousness is far from a novel concept in the modern age, and the continued perception by many of the Reeve Superman era as the character’s default fails to place his performance in the right context. Christopher Reeve’s Superman gave the Last Son of Krypton life, but keeping him forever in the same space would rob him of the ability to thrive.
Reeve’s Superman Movies Were Inconsistent
The paradox about the adulation of Reeve’s Superman is that the four Christopher Reeve Superman movies have a mixed track record. Superman: The Movie got the Superman movie franchise off to a grand start in 1978, and Superman II is often seen as a superior sequel and the best of Reeve’s Superman movies. Superman II itself also has a complex history with the 2006 release of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, which has considerable story and tonal differences from the Richard Lester version, though both versions are viewed as cinematic highlights for Superman.
1983’s Superman III took the franchise into considerably more campy territory, with Superman himself frequently on the sidelines for the comedy hijinks of Richard Pryor. Later, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace would kill the Superman movie series for nearly two decades with its poor visual effects and production troubles dooming the film’s story of nuclear disarmament. Reeve himself regretted making Superman III and IV, and the nostalgia held for Christopher Reeve’s Superman often overlooks that his Superman movies failed as often as they succeeded, Reeve’s own consistent perfection in the role notwithstanding. Moreover, his four Superman movies also point to a wiser path for the Man of Steel cinematically.
DC’s Multiverse Can Showcase Multiple Types Of Superman
With the release of the CW’s Crisis On Infinite Earths crossover and The Flash movie, DC has the advantage of having a much broader Superman spectrum to work with than simply relying on nostalgia for Christopher Reeve. Both Crisis On Infinite Earths and The Flash are built upon and establish the idea of all DC movie and TV properties as co-existing in a multiverse. That means that Christopher Reeve’s Superman co-exists alongside Tom Welling, Henry Cavill, and Tyler Hoechlin, with Brandon Routh’s Kal-El being the modern embodiment of Reeve’s Superman. With each version of Superman being distinct, DC Studios can play into that, with each showing different facets of Superman.
Moreover, DC could even create its own multiversal crossover with its own Superman-based version of Spider-Man: No Way Home. James Gunn’s Superman meeting Cavill’s, Welling’s, Hoechlin’s, and Routh’s could show not only the breadth of DC’s multiverse but cement the validity of each live-action portrayal of Superman alongside the rest. Each Superman actor, in his own way, brings a unique iconography to the Man of Steel. For DC’s multiverse and for Superman’s own legacy to mean something, Christopher Reeve’s Superman needs to be truly understood as one of many Last Sons of Krypton.