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(Pocket-lint) - It’s been over 80 years since Superman first made his debut on the pages of DC comics in 1938.

Just 10 years after that, the Man of Steel hit the big screen via Superman serials that aired in theatres. In the time since then, we’ve had eight different actors try on the red and blue tights, and we’re adding more to that list all of the time. Recently, Tyler Hoechin played Clark Kent in the CW’s new show Superman and Lois. We’re also set to get our final look at Henry Cavill’s version of the character when the Snyder cut of Justice League releases on HBO Max on 18 March 2021.

Also: DC movies in order: DC Extended Universe timeline

We’ve also learned that a new Superman reboot is in the early stage of development, with Ta-Nehesi Coates penning the script for a Black Superman. This will reportedly be an entirely new character, not just a black-version of Clark Kent’s superman. So, with all of this fresh Man of Steel content, we thought now would be a good time to round up every appearance of Superman in order.

We’ll start with the old post-WWII serials and continue up to Crisis on Infinite Earths. Unfortunately, because Superman has been rebooted and re-cast several times over, there isn't a singular chronological order to follow. So, we've gone the classic route: The release date order, with the exception of a few titles. We’ve also included a list with many of his animated appearances at the bottom.

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Every Superman movie and show in order

NOTE: There may be spoilers below. Skip to the bottom of this guide if you wish to see a bulleted version you can skim instead.

Here is every live-action Superman movie, serial, and TV show in order...

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The Superman Serials (1948 and 1950)

The first live-action appearance of the Man of Steel can be traced back to serials that premiered in theatres in 1948 and 1950. The two serials each have 15 chapters and stars Kirk Alyn as Superman and Noel Nielle as Lois Lane. Spencer Gordon Bennett served as the director for both series, though he shared co-directing duties with Thomas Carrin the first Superman Serial. 

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Superman and the Mole Men (1951) and The Adventures of Superman (1952 to 1958 - TV show) 

The first official superhero movie featuring DC characters sees George Reeves star as the Man of Steel. Superman, as his alter ego Clark Kent, along with Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates), go investigate the world’s deepest oil well only to discover a race of humanoid creatures have emerged from the underground. The film, directed by Lee Sholem, was intended to drum up interest for The Adventures of Superman, a TV show that premiered the following year and ran for six seasons. It also starred George Reeves. 

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Superman (1978)

Superman started the superhero movie genre.

In this classic film, we see Superman’s origin story: His father Jor-El (Marlon Brando) sends him from the dying world of Krypton to Earth, where his unique molecular structure gives him superpowers. He’s raised by the Kents until he learns the truth about where he comes from and has to face off against Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), who plans to sink the US west coast with a nuclear weapon.

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Superman II (1980)

A hydrogen bomb is sent into space by Superman and inadvertently releases three Kryptonian war criminals led by General Zod (Terence Stamp). Granted the same powers as Superman, the three Kryptonians set out to conquer Earth. Meanwhile, Superman rids himself of his powers so he may live a normal life with Lois Lane (Margot Kidder).

Richard Donner directed Superman I and this sequel, Superman II.

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Superman III (1983)

Superman III marks a precipitous fall in quality from the first two Superman films, perhaps because a new director, Richard Lester, was brought on board. His rendition sees Christopher Reeves return as Clark Kent and head back to his hometown of Smallville, Kansas. Meanwhile, the CEO of Webscoe, Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn), hires a talented-but-klutzy computer programmer (Richard Pryor) to help him destroy his competitors and hopefully kill Superman.

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Supergirl (1984)

Supergirl is the forgotten spinoff from the Christopher Reeves’ Superman films. It was a box office and critical disappointment, but it does give a glimpse at the future of interconnected universes in superhero films. Supergirl follows Kara Zor-El, a Kryptonian refugee. She lives in Argo City and accidentally loses a device that powers the entire city. She follows it all the way to Earth to get it back.

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Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

The final Christopher Reeves’ Superman film sees the Man of Steel take on a nuclear arms race. When Superman announces that he intends to destroy every nuclear weapon, the nations of Earth agree too and begin to shoot the weapons into space.

Superman intends to collect the weapons in space and throw them into the Sun. However, Superman’s nemesis, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), attaches a strand of Superman’s hair to one of the nukes, and when it’s thrown into the sun, it creates another super-powered being, Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow), who equals Superman’s power. Sydney J Furie directed The Quest for Peace.

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Superboy (1988 to 1992 - TV show)

Superboy is a TV show that ran for four seasons beginning in 1988.

It was produced by Ilya and Alexander Salkind, who produced the first three Christopher Reeves Superman films as well as Supergirl. The show stars John Haymes Newton as a young version of Clark Kent/Superman attending college. The series also features Stacy Haiduk as Superman’s love interest Lana Lang and Scott James Wells as Superman’s nemesis Lex Luthor.

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Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993 to 1997 - TV show)

Lois and Clark was a surprise hit TV show in the mid-90s, with Dean Cain starring as Clark Kent and Terri Hatcher starring as Lois Lane. The series opens with Kent taking a new job at the Daily Bugle in the city of Metropolis, where he meets Lois and falls in love. While the show is more focused on the love interest between its two main characters, it still has plenty of action as well as new and classic Superman villains taking on Lois and Clark throughout the show's four-season run. 

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Smallville (2001 to 2011 - TV show)

Smallville sets out to answer the question of what high school was like for Superman.

It stars Tom Welling as the high school-aged version of Clark Kent living in Smallville. It’s the longest=running Superman live-action series with 10 seasons. Of course, the Superman origin story was retconned a little for the show, with Lex Luthor, played by Michael Rosenbaum, attending Smallville High with Clark. It features other Superman villains, too, like Darkseid, General Zod, and Brainiac. 

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Superman Returns (2006)

A false start at resetting The Superman Universe, this film is a sequel to the first two Christopher Reeves’ Superman films. But it ignores the events of the third and fourth films. It’s the toughest film to place in our timeline because it’s supposed to be set five years after Superman II, which took place in 1982, but it ignores all that and somehow takes place in “modern-day” 2006.

Brandon Routh stars as Clark Kent/Superman, who returns to Earth after a five-year absence to find his archnemesis Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) plotting to kill him and destroy the US to create his own continent that he can rule. Superman also has to deal with problems in his love life, as Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has moved on from him during his absence from Earth.

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Man of Steel (2013)

The film that kicked off the official DC Extended Universe sees Henry Cavill take on the mantle of Superman. The star-studded origin story casts Russel Crowe as Superman’s birth father, Jor-el, and Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as the Kents who adopt him.

Clark, who blames himself following his adopted father’s death, travels the world to hide his true identity and powers. Eventually, Clark must accept his identity as Superman in order to save the planet from evil Kryptonians led by General Zod (Michael Shannon).

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Supergirl (2015 to Present - TV show)

Supergirl is part of the CW channel’s Arrowverse, which includes other DC Universe-inspired shows like Arrow, Batwoman, and the new Lois and Superman series. Supergirl stars Melissa Benoist as Kara Zor-El, who was sent to Earth from Krypton as a 13-year-old with her infant cousin. Her spacecraft gets knocked off course and takes a detour through the phantom zone on its way to Earth.

That detour ends up seeing Kara jump 24 years into the future, where she finds that her infant cousin is now Superman. 

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Batman v Superman shows how two of the most recognizable superheroes end up hating each other.

Ben Affleck’s Batman views Cavill’s Superman as an unstoppable alien force that’s too great a risk to leave unattended. Meanwhile, Superman views Batman’s brand of vigilante justice as just another example of crime running rampant. While they each work to outmaneuver the other, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenburg) is behind the scenes making a weapon powerful enough to beat them both.

Zack Snyder directed Dawn of Justice.

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Justice League (2017)

Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are outgunned and still reeling from the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) in Batman v Superman, so Justice League sees the classic superhero team unite to take on Steppenwolf, a villain who is out to terraform Earth into an uninhabitable planet like his own home.

There’s a new four-hour “Snyder Cut” version of Justice League heading to HBO Max in September 2021. It’s being put together by original director Zac Snyder, who was forced to leave production due to a family tragedy.

Joss Whedon finished the original theatrical version of the film.

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Crisis on Infinite Earths (2020 - TV event)

Crisis on Infinite Earths is a crossover event - that takes place over five episodes in the Arrowverse TV series - where DC heroes like Superman and Supergirl unite to stop the destruction of Earth’s that exist across different dimensions.

Part one of the series is actually an episode of the CW show Supergirl, but that’s not the only connection to the Man of Steel. We get three versions of Superman during the crossover event, two of which you might remember from earlier on our list.

Brandon Routh returns as his version of Clark Kent from the 2006 film Superman Returns, and Tom Welling appears as his version of the character from Smallville. The series also debuts the version of Clark Kent for the latest version of Superman.

Here’s a list of the episodes for Crisis on Infinite Earths:

  • Supergirl -Season 5 Episode 9
  • Batwoman - Season 1 episode 9
  • The Flash - Season 6 Episode 9
  • Arrow - Season 8 Episode 8
  • Legends of Tomorrow - Special episode
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Superman and Lois (2021 - TV show)

Superman and Lois premiered on CW in February 2021 as the latest expansion of the Arrowverse. It sees Tyler Hoechlin star as Superman and Elizabeth Tulloch star as Lois Lane. In the show, a married Clark and Lois return to Smallville to raise their two sons, Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) and Jordan Kent (Alex Garfin). The series was recently renewed for a second season.


Spoiler-free: The complete Superman timeline at a glance

Superman movies and shows in order

The list below includes all the movies, serials, and TV shows mentioned above but free of spoilers.

  • The Superman Serials (1948 and 1950)
  • Superman and the Mole Men (1951)
  • The Adventures of Superman (1952 to 1958 -TV Show)
  • Superman (1978)
  • Superman II (1980)
  • Superman III ( 1983)
  • Supergirl (1984)
  • Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
  • Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993 to 1997 - TV show)
  • Smallville (2001 to 2011 - TV show)
  • Superman Returns (2006)
  • Man of Steel (2013)
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
  • Supergirl (2015 to Present - TV show)
  • Justice League (2017)
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths (2020 - TV event)
  • Superman and Lois (2021 - TV show)

Superman animated order

We’ve also compiled a list that includes Superman’s most notable appearances in animations - it's for those of you who want every last bit of Superman content you can find. If you’re going to pick and choose which animated projects to check out, we recommend the latest animated films produced by DC, like 2018’s Death of Superman or 2020’s Superman: Red Son.

  • The Superman Serials (1948 and 1950)
  • The Adventures of Superman and Superman and the Mole Men (1951)
  • Animated: The New Adventures of Superman (1966 to 1969 - TV show)
  • Animated: Super Friends (1973 to 1985 - TV show)
  • Superman (1978)
  • Superman II (1980)
  • Superman III ( 1983)
  • Supergirl (1984)
  • Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
  • Superman (1988)
  • Superboy (1988 to 1992 - TV show)
  • Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993 to 1997 - TV show)
  • Superman: The Animated Series (1996 - Animated TV show)
  • Justice League (2001 to 2004 - Animated TV show)
  • Smallville (2001 to 2011) TV Show
  • Justice League Unlimited (2004 to 2006 - Animated TV show)
  • Superman: Doomsday (2007 - Animated movie)
  • Superman Returns (2006)
  • Young Justice (2010 to 2013 - Animated movie)
  • All-Star Superman (2011 - Animated movie)
  • Man of Steel (2013)
  • Teen Titans Go (2013 to present - Animated TV show)
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
  • Supergirl (2015 to Present)
  • Justice League (2017)
  • The Death of Superman (2018 - Animated movie)
  • The Reign of Superman (2019 - Animated movie)
  • Superman: Man of Tomorrow (2020 - Animated movie)
  • Superman: Red Son (2020 - Animated movie)
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths (2020 - TV show)
  • Superman and Lois (2021 - TV show)

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Writing by Maggie Tillman. Originally published on 4 March 2021.
Sections TV