Superman's Live-Action Costumes In Movies And Television, Ranked

Henry Cavill in Man of Steel
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

We all have one essential idea of what Superman should look like, according to artist Joseph Shuster’s original design that first appeared in the premiere issue of Action Comics in 1938. The blue tights, red boots and cape, and “S” emblem (later retconned as the House of El crest) have been a constant in the pages of DC Comics since the very beginning.

However, we have seen a few alterations, big and small, in the Superman costumes worn by the likes of Henry Cavill in the DCEU movies or by Tom Welling on one of the best DC TV shows, Smallville. We sifted through all the best live-action Superman movies and TV shows and ranked all of Clark Kent’s uniforms in ascending order,  based on comic book accuracy, practicality, believability and overall badass appearance. These are our favorite Supersuits in live-action media.

Tom Welling on Smallville

(Image credit: DC / The CW)

11. Tom Welling - Red Leather Jacket (Smallville)

To me, this clearly well-meaning design has a bit of an awkward “flashy biker” vibe. Still, at least it's more unique than digitally projecting the Superman Returns costume onto Tom Welling, which is the “official reveal” we got at the very end of the Smallville series finale. 

The red leather jacket bearing the classic “S” emblem debuted in Season 10 of the popular prequel series and was actually Clark Kent’s second attempt at a pre-Superman costume. We will get to the first (and much cooler, I believe) design soon enough.

George Reeves in Superman and the Mole Men

(Image credit: Warner Bros. / DC)

10. George Reeves (Superman And The Mole Men)

While I described the last entry as giving “flashy biker” vibes, I think of homemade pajamas when I see the costume donned by George Reeves. The actor wore this suit when he made his debut in the role in the 1951 feature-length film Superman and the Mole Men before becoming a staple of the Adventures of Superman series the following year. 

Now before you denounce me for what may have sounded like ridicule of this iconic design, I do notice and admire its comic book accuracy, even if it does pale in comparison to more modern costumes. Furthermore, I have no doubt these red and blues (or, more accurately, black and whites at the time) sparked a moment of unforgettable excitement for any young fan of the Man of Steel.

Dean Cain on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

(Image credit: Warner Bros. / DC)

9. Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman)

Speaking of “homemade,” this costume was literally homemade by Clark Kent’s mother (K Callan) in the pilot of this Emmy-nominated 1990s series. Dean Cain played the lead, alongside Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane, of ABC’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which reimagined the Man of Steel’s story as a cheesy romantic dramedy of sorts with a costume to match the tone perfectly. 

Fortunately, the suit saw some improvements as the series continued, such as swapping out the velcro-attached cape for one tucked under the blue tights. I also would regret not giving Cain extra points for having one of the largest chest emblems of any live-action design.

Tom Welling as Clark Kent on Smallville

(Image credit: Warner Bros. / DC)

8. Tom Welling - Black (Smallville)

I understand the irony of where I rank this costume despite my recent praises of comic book accuracy and how the previously mentioned outfit worn by Tom Welling’s Clark Kent is clearly more faithful. However, I prefer the black trench coat approach of this costume, which showed up in Season 9 of Smallville.

I like that it invokes a unique, noirish detective quality and, practically speaking, blends in during nightly adventures far more effectively than a red leather jacket. Furthermore, and once again, it is better than a CGI Superman Returns suit.

Brandon Routh in Superman Returns

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

7. Brandon Routh (Superman Returns)

Speaking of, if there is one thing Bryan Singer’s polarizing continuation of 1980’s Superman II did right, it would have to be the suit worn by Brandon Routh. It does bear darker shades of blue and red, and a smaller, but more raised, chest emblem than Christopher Reeve’s costume (which, despite a breach in continuity, I almost find more cinematically appealing).

Plus, take a closer look at that emblem and you will see a collage of tiny House of El crests. That small, but very intriguing detail (along with the “S” on his belt buckle, too) is enough to convince me that Routh deserved his Superman reprisal… which we will get to soon.

Clark and Kara on Supergirl

(Image credit: The CW)

6. Tyler Hoechlin (Supergirl)

One thing that I do not particularly admire about Brandon Routh’s suit is the red undies worn over the blue tights. I realize that Joseph Shuster’s illustration pretty much made that a tradition that has applied to many other superhero costume designs, but I have always found it unnecessary and believe it does not translate as well to live-action. 

That is a genuinely essential reason why I put it below Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman outfit, which he first appeared in on Supergirl in Season 2. I cannot say I care much for the way his cape is attached or the four golden etchings that surround the chest emblem for whatever reason, but everything else about this is A+ in my book.

Tyler Hoechlin's Superman floating in the air

(Image credit: The CW)

5. Tyler Hoechlin (Superman & Lois)

I would give an A++, however, to Hoechlin’s more recent and more “badass” Supersuit. The current (technically) Arrowverse-canon outfit made its debut when the actor and his Lois, Elizabeth Tulloch, became the stars of their own solo TV show, Superman & Lois.

It probably goes without saying that I admire the removal of the emblem’s gold etchings and the previous cape attachments in lieu of tucking it under his collar, which also fits admirably tighter around his neck. Not to mention, his belt is much sleeker and I like the addition of a second House of El crest as the buckle, like on Routh’s Superman Returns costume. For these reasons, I think the new suit makes Hoechlin look better as the Man of Steel than ever and makes me thankful for the redesign. 

Brandon Routh as Superman on Crisis on Infinite Earths

(Image credit: Warner Bros. / DC)

4. Brandon Routh - Kingdom Come (Crisis On Infinite Earths)

While it is prone to put comic book fans up in arms, sometimes breaking tradition can be good. And no, I am not talking about the outside undies again since this suit actually does incorporate that. I am specifically referring to how Alex Ross reimagined the Superman costume for one of the best DC Elseworlds stories, Kingdom Come

With a less defined “S” on a black background in the chest emblem and darker belt, too, this was such a simple, yet astonishing change of pace that demanded a live-action translation. It finally did in the Arrowverse’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, as worn by Legends of Tomorrow star Brandon Routh, who has never looked better in the role.

Christopher Reeve as Superman flying

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

3. Christopher Reeve (Superman: The Movie)

Despite my personal reservations over the red underwear and brighter color schemes, those elements were used to perfection in 1978 when the late Christopher Reeve brought the Man of Steel to life in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie. Appearing in four solo movies total (more than any so far), the outfit authentically captured that era’s comic book design, with some credit due to Reeve’s mirror image resemblance to the character.

As a result, decades later, this Superman costume remains the definitive style in the eyes of many die-hard fans of the character. I would proudly justify that claim, even if my preferences lean toward what more recent years have seen.

Henry Cavill as Superman in 2013's Man of Steel

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

2. Henry Cavill (DC Extended Universe)

Ranking the most recent cinematic iteration this high sounds like the obvious choice, but I truly believe the DCEU’s original Supersuit deserves it for much more than recency. Just look at the way the color shades match the character’s darker interpretation, the subtle and rightfully more otherworldly look of the crest, the thankful lack of red underwear, and the way it all fits on Henry Cavill’s angelic frame. 

These elements are key to why this Superman is the most imposing and cinematically rich iteration yet, which is also how I felt about Batfleck’s costume design in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There has always been something cheesy or cartoonish to note about the previous live-action suits, but not at all on this one. However, if there was ever a reason it would look cheesy, it might be because it was pictured next to Cavill’s succeeding outfit.

Henry Cavill as Superman in Zack Snyder's Justice League

(Image credit: Warner Bros. / DC)

1. Henry Cavill - Black (DC Extended Universe)

I suppose I have always had a bias toward superhero outfits that trade in their traditionally bright, colorful design for something darkly monochromatic. That is why my ranking of live-action Spider-Man movie outfits places Tobey Maguire’s black tights from Spider-Man 3 so high and why Henry Cavill’s suit, which he dons in Zach Snyder’s Justice League following his resurrection, is my all-time favorite Superman costume.

After the actor teased the iconic design’s live-action debut in 2017’s Justice League on Instagram, fans were disappointed to see him back in the old red-and-blues instead, which is why its long-awaited emergence in the Max-exclusive Snyder Cut was so appreciated and admired. For the same reasons most photos tend to look better in grayscale, redesigning the DCEU’s costume in solid black with a shining silver House of El crest makes Cavill’s Superman (and the character in general) look better than ever.

While the black-suited Superman in Zach Snyder’s Justice League would, unfortunately, turn out to be one of the last appearances of Cavill in the role, we are still looking forward to seeing how writer and director James Gunn reinterprets the character for the upcoming DC movie in his new continuity. We are especially curious how Superman: Legacy cast lead David Corenswet will look in his Supersuit and how it will compare to the other costumes on this list. Only time will tell.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.