As arguably the most popular superhero of all time, Superman is, not surprisingly, an icon that has made the jump onto the big and small screens many times over the decades he's been around. Starting with the first live-action Superman, Kirk Alyn, in 1948 and continuing through the present, where we have both a movie Superman (Henry Cavill) and a TV version (Tyler Hoechlin) there have been as many iconic live-action Superman costumes as there have been actors to fill them out.
With the recent reveal of Hoechlin's Superman costume for The CW's Supergirl, we've dug back through the photo galleries to rank every live-action Superman Costume, from the worst to the best.
Before The CW's Flash/Arrow universe existed, the network was blazing a trail for superhero TV series in the 2000s with Smallville. Starring actor Tom Welling, the show explored Clark Kent's formative years growing up in Kansas, his early rivalry with Lex Luthor, and the circumstances that led him to one day become Superman.
The problem with Smallville is that the show wasn't licensed to use important elements of Superman's mythos - such as his costume. Welling was forced to play out the series running around in Superman-themed outfits (blue shirt, red jacket), and in later seasons he became a knock-off Superman known as "The Blur," donned in an all-black ensemble complete with black duster jacket. Welling may have many fans still championing his time in the role, but his blur outfit is a poor attempt at a Superman costume.
To be fair, Kirk Alyn had to be the first live-action actor to wear the Superman costume onscreen - way, way, back in 1948 - so it's understandable that his costume wasn't the best.
Aside from the fact that we only saw it in black and white, Alyn's costume looks (by today's standards) pretty amatuer and average, even by cosplay standards. Even Alyn's impressive dancer physique couldn't save the outfit from often looking bunched and cumbersome, but the actor forever gets respect for blazing the trail for Superman to become an onscreen icon.
Like Kirk Alyn, George Reeves was an early trailblazer for bringing Superman to the screen; the actor famously took up the mantle of Superman in the 1950s Adventures of Superman TV series.
Reeves filled out the costume better than his predecessor, and the padding work was much improved so as to shed the bunchy homemade look of Alyn's costume, and bring out that square-jawed, barrel-chested look that is now synonymous with Superman. But ultimately, like Alyn, Reeves' outfit makes Superman look as though his costume was pulled straight out of the laundry basket.
Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman)
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman kept the Superman brand alive during the '90s, when there was a gaping void following Christopher Reeve, but before the attempted resurgence of the 2000s.
Stars Dean Cain and Terri Hatcher brought the Clark/Lois romance to life in a real and often humorous way, but the actual Superman scenes were kind of weak, and even a hunk like Cain looked awkward in an ill-fitted Superman costume (those red underwear...). Considering the span of time between the Alyn/Reeves eras and Cain's time onscreen, you think more improvements would've been made.
Brandon Routh (Superman Returns)
Director Bryan Singer claimed that he wanted to honor the legacy of Richard Donner's Superman movies of the '80s era, and so he cast an actor (Brandon Routh) who looked like the late Christopher Reeve, and tried to make a costume that both honored Donner's films, but also appealed to audiences of the 2000s.
Well, Routh certainly looked the part, but his costume design quickly earned him mockery as a "Calvin Klein Superman." A lot of that criticism is aimed at the crotch area: the shorter briefs and designer belt are an odd high-fashion tweak, and the smaller chest insignia looks like designer branding rather than an iconic superhero logo. Not surprising this was a one-and-done attempt.
Tyler Hoechlin (Supergirl)
We've only seen a first official photo of actor Tyler Hoechlin as the new TV Superman, but with his debut on season 2 of Supergirl coming soon, we must judge!
Hoechlin's Superman costume borrows heavily from the 2011 "New 52" comic book reboot, with a more armored, spacesuit look to the costume. As far as faithfulness, it indeed looks like the New 52 costume come to life off of the comic book page (on a TV budget) - only problem is, many fans weren't all that happy with the New 52 redesign. So how much love Hoechlin's costume will get is anyone's guess at this point....
John Haymes Newton (Superboy)
A lot of fans may not remember the late '80s iteration of Superman on TV, but the Superboy TV series indeed existed. Actor John Haymes Newton led the series in its first season; he definitely looked like Christopher Reeve, and his costume was a more budgeted (but no less faithful) version of what Reeve wore.
...Unfortunately, Newton only lasted one season on the show (which followed Superman's adventures while in college). So it's hard to really rank him that high, since he never made a lasting impression.
Henry Cavill (Man of Steel / Batman v Superman)
Superman has gotten several reboots for the 21st century, on the comic book page, the movie screen, and soon on TV as well. In all of that reinvention we've gotten some sleek new Superman costumes, and none is sleeker than actor Henry Cavill's costume for Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Cavill's suit re-imagines the entire premise behind Superman's costume, focusing on the alien origins of the character. The suit is constructed to look like a second skin (though padded), with extraterrestrial material that looks as durable as it does lightweight. His cape is often an entirely CGI creation, giving it a life (and arguably a majesty) all its own. Of course, since director Zack Snyder's vision for Superman has been so divisive, many fans would argue that Cavill's costume is too far off the mark. His Superman physique, however, is not up for debate: he's the buffest Man of Steel we've had.
Gerard Christopher (Adventures of Superboy)
Gerard Christopher picked up the mantle of a college-aged Superman after actor John Haymes Newton left the Superboy TV series. Christopher would finish out the last three seasons of The Adventures of Superboy's run, and would become a fan-favorite, even if younger fans don't remember him all that well.
In addition to looking the part, Christopher a costume that was faithful to the Dan Jurgens era of the character - not to mention looking pretty good on a TV budget. More fans would be smart to dip back into The Adventures of Superboy and experience Gerard Christopher's run for themselves.
What's there to say? In the minds of millions of fans, Christopher Reeve was, is, and always will be THE onscreen Superman.
Looking like he stepped right out of the comic book page, Reeve had the chiseled features and physique to be a strapping Man of Steel, and his costume is still a cosplay favorite, with good reason. Simple yet faithful, Reeve's Superman costume will likely always remain the No. 1 fan favorite. And that's okay with us.