Warning: spoilers for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, read ahead at your own risk
Legends never die, and few characters have become more legendary than the Man of Steel himself. Superman is one of the most iconic characters to ever grace the silver screen, and despite his apparent demise during Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice's climax, it's abundantly clear that the character will indeed make a return during Zack Snyder's Justice League in 2017. In fact, Superman actor Henry Cavill all but guaranteed it by recently teasing us with a mysterious image of the last son of Krypton's new suit for the upcoming blockbuster.
However, the new latest look for Superman in Justice League will merely represent the latest in a long line of live-action depictions. Few characters have an on-screen legacy quite as rich as Clark Kent a.k.a Kal-El a.k.a Superman, and we want to take this opportunity to honor that tradition. With that in mind, we've compiled a list of the Man of Steel's various on-screen looks over the years; take a look at let us know which one you think is the best! Now let's get started with the original, which dates all the way back to 1948.
Talk about humble beginnings. Superman made his first ever live-action appearance in 1948 during the Superman serials, portrayed by actor Kirk Alyn. While the suit used during these serials doesn't deviate too much from the character's source material, it's abundantly clear that nobody involved had any intention of breaking the bank on a wardrobe budget. Technology simply wasn't what it is today. The original live-action Superman suit was generally loose-fitting, made from a very basic cotton-esque cloth, and featured a House of El symbol that the filmmakers more or less glued to the front of the outfit. Although it's far from impressive when we consider where the suit would go in the future, Alyn's suit still maintains a very distinct low-quality charm that we definitely cannot deny. It's not much, but it's a start.
Superman And The Mole Men
Although most people have probably never heard of Kirk Alyn, just about anyone with a passion for the Man of Steel will recognize George Reeves. The legendary actor first premiered as the last son of Krypton in 1951 during the film Superman and the Mole Men, and officially brought the character to the mainstream. Much like Alyn, Reeves' Superman suit has a very low-budget quality, but it was an improvement over the original take on the character primarily because the studio chose a square-jawed actor who actually resembled the strongman design from the comics. Slowly but surely, the live-action look of Superman became more and more realized and solidified over time.
The Adventures of Superman
From Superman and the Mole Men, George Reeves' take on the character was spun off to the small screen for The Adventures of Superman. Once again we see an insanely low-budget version of the hero that has not really changed much since his previous silver screen incarnation. However, The Adventures of Superman holds the distinction of being the first time that Superman's iconic red, blue, and yellow color scheme ever officially appeared in a live-action format -- which marked a big step forward for the character.
Much like Richard Donner's Superman movie, the Christopher Reeve Superman suit has in many ways become the gold standard for several generations of fans. Although it's not nearly as high tech looking as Henry Cavill's, the suit maintains all of the iconography of the Man of Steel, and it has the added bonus of being filled by a man whom many consider to be the quintessential Superman. The suit has a grounded, yet still somewhat cartoonish design that maintains a nostalgic quality while still feeling effortlessly timeless. It also didn't hurt that Reeve represented the first live-action Superman to truly look more powerful than a locomotive, or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It's the man who makes the suit, after all.
Lois & Clark: The New Superman Adventures
The 1990s represented an undeniably weird time for the superhero genre; the overall quality of the Superman costume design had come a long way since the days of George Reeves, but by today's standard Dean Cain's suit still looks incredibly dated. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman featured a decidedly lighter tone than the modern incarnation of the character -- focusing heavily on the romance between Cain's Superman and Teri Hatcher's Lois Lane -- and the suit reflected that lightness. Superman's outfit had a shiny, bright sheen to the fabric, and the House of El's symbol had an almost cartoonish roundness to it. This is far from the worst Superman suit to date, but it's also not even close to being the best.
Smallville Pt. 1
Unlike many on-screen incarnations of Superman, Smallville never felt any major rush to get Tom Welling's version of Clark Kent into a recognizable suit. For the majority of the series, Smallville took the "Power Rangers" approach to the character by keeping him in plain clothes that maintained the traditional red and blue color scheme. This sometimes involved a red leather biker jacket featuring the House of El symbol, but fans of Smallville will always remember that the series stuck to its "no tights, no flights" policy for an entire decade before really delving into the aesthetic of the source material. It was a welcome departure that actually suited the 2000s quite well.
Although it might look somewhat hokey to a modern audience, Brandon Routh's suit from Superman Returns in many ways represents a perfect evolution of Christopher Reeve's costume -- which is exactly what director Bryan Singer was going for. The suit is a walking homage to Superman's long history as a comic book hero, and it clearly has no qualms with honoring even the most ridiculous elements, such as the bright colors and the underwear on the outside. However, the suit also features far more hard plastic and leather elements to make it a more physically intimidating. In a post-Batman Begins, but pre-Man of Steel world, this was the most technical silver screen Superman suit to date, and it's far better than it ever gets credit for being.
Smallville Pt. 2
Even though the series maintained a strict policy towards avoiding traditional Superman imagery for a full decade, Smallville did eventually allow Tom Welling's proto Superman to don the legendary suit and truly become the Man of Steel in earnest. It didn't feature very prominently on the show, but Smallville's version of the Superman suit is still one of the most faithful depictions of the comic book outfit that we have ever seen. The outfit featured a smaller, more angular and stylish logo, a bright color scheme, and a tight, overall formfitting appearance. Until we get a better look at Tyler Hoechlin's Superman suit from Supergirl, this will remain the gold standard for television.
Man of Steel
Zack Snyder's (wholly underrated) 2013 effort, Man of Steel, more or less took the titular hero back to the drawing board and gave audiences a dramatic redesign of the iconic Superman suit. Henry Cavill's version of Superman wears a totally different Superman costume compared to previous silver screen iterations, with a far darker color palette (bordering on black in certain scenes) and a more textured, alien appearance to the suits fabric. The creative choices proved divisive among fans, but it's hard to deny that Man of Steel gave us the first costume to actually look like it came from Krypton. Superman IS from another world, after all. Also... muscles!
Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice
The most recent effort, and it's also one of the best. Unlike the Batsuit, Superman's costume did not receive a major overhaul for its second outing in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. It did however receive a few alterations in response to fan backlash in Man of Steel. Compared to its predecessor, Superman's costume in Dawn of Justice features a far brighter color scheme that emphasizes the red, blue, and yellow that we have come to know and love while maintaining the textured appearance from the previous film. It's never really explained how he found himself another Kryptonian outfit following the Battle of Metropolis, but we definitely appreciated the more faithful approach to Kal-El's iconic colors.
Details surrounding the Man of Steel's overall aesthetic in next year's Justice League remains scarce to say the least, but Henry Cavill recently took to Instagram to provide some very important hints regarding the nature of the suit in Zack Snyder's upcoming blockbuster. Although he might simply have used a ton of filters, it looks as though Justice League will see Superman don his iconic capeless, black and white suit for the very first time on the silver screen. The suit originally debuted when Superman returned from the dead after being killed by Doomsday in The Death of Superman story arc, and as such, those of you who have seen Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice should have a pretty solid understanding of why Snyder may have opted to use this design. All that being said, we will just have to wait and see.