There Are Only 2 Kinds of Superman Movies

Since Superman: The Movie, there have really only been two kinds of Superman movies. Superman and Superman II provide the framework for every film featuring the Man of Steel that has come after. Here they are:

  • Origin Story, Followed by Planetary Upheaval
  • Superman Disappears, Followed by a Big Fight

Think about it. Let’s go through every Superman film and see how they all fall into one category or the other, and sometimes both.

Origin Story

Superman: The Movie

Superman: The Movie is still the best telling of the Superman origin story.After surviving the destruction of Krypton, Kal-El lands on Earth and is raised by the Kents until he becomes Superman. He then saves California from being destroyed by Lex Luthor.

This film set the standard for every other origin story that has followed.

Superman Returns

Superman Returns is an admirable montage of Superman: The Movie.After taking a trip to the remains of Krypton, Clark Kent lands on Earth and is nursed to health by Martha Kent until he resumes his role as Superman. He then saves Metropolis and the entire East Coast of the United States from being destroyed by Lex Luthor.

Superman Returns is an homage to Superman: The Movie, putting its own twist on everything from the original film. But it couldn’t improve upon perfection.

Man of Steel

Man of Steel gives its own spin on the Superman origin story.After surviving the destruction of Krypton, Kal-El lands on Earth and is raised by the Kents until he becomes Superman. Whoa, déjà vu. Anyway, he saves the world from being destroyed by General Zod and then kills Zod in hand-to-hand combat.

This movie is a bit of a hybrid. It has roughly the same setup as Superman: The Movie as Clark Kent slowly figures out where he came from and what he’s meant to do on Earth. And he does face a bad guy who threatens to remake the map at the cost of millions of innocent lives. But then the film ends in a fight with Zod, just like Superman II. So it’s mostly Superman: The Movie with a little Superman II sprinkled in.

Superman Disappears

Superman II

Superman gives up his powers to be with Lois Lane while three evil Kryptonians take over the world. He gets his powers back and then defeats the Kryptonians.

Superman finally meets his match as he faces equally powered bad guys in the first and best sequel in the series.

Superman III

Clark Kent chokes the evil Superman.Superman turns evil after being exposed to a new form of Kryptonite while a businessman builds a supercomputer. Superman defeats his evil alter ego and then destroys the supercomputer.

Superman doesn’t lose his powers, but he does lose his moral uprightness, which has the same effect of putting him out of commission. Plus, Superman III has a unique take on the super-powered villain by having Clark Kent face off against Superman in a memorable fistfight.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

Superman fights Nuclear Man on the Moon in Superman IV.Superman loses his powers after getting scratched by Nuclear Man while Lex Luthor makes money off the nuclear-arms race. He gets his powers back and then defeats Nuclear Man.

This movie comes across as a highlight reel of memorable scenes from the first two Superman films with Lex Luthor plotting to get rich through a hare-brained scheme involving the Cold War. It adds nothing new and it is a prime example of the lack of originality in most Superman sequels.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Superman faces off with Batman in Batman v Superman.Superman goes into exile in the mountains after he fails to prevent an explosion at the U.S. Capitol while Lex Luthor plots to create a monster called Doomsday. He returns in time to fight Batman and defeat Doomsday.

It’s not exactly explained why Superman comes back. I guess he’s sad he can’t save everyone, but he decides to try again anyway. Anyway, he doesn’t lose his powers, but he does give up out of despair, which is at least different than all of the other previous Superman films. But that aspect of the film and the final battle are still not as well executed as Superman II.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

My point is this: no sequel or reboot has managed to do the origin story better than Superman: The Movie, nor has any done the disappearing and big fight story better than Superman II.

Once the origin story is out of the way, most Superman sequels don’t seem to know what to do with the character. He’s so powerful that he can do anything. He’s fast enough to always save the day and he’s strong enough to withstand almost any attack. How are the villains ever going to put their sinister plans into motion without him thwarting their every move? The solution to this dilemma is to remove Superman from the equation for just long enough to set up the final conflict.

The upcoming Justice League movies are most likely going to follow this same pattern. The only difference is the extreme measure they’re taking it to. At the end of Batman v Superman, Superman actually dies. So the Man of Steel will sit out much of the story, not because he’s been stripped of his powers, turned evil, or isolated himself, but because he is no longer in the land of the living. That’s bold, but it is still pretty predictable.

Again, it just buys time for the villains to put their plans into motion and for the other superheroes to do their best to face the threat against overwhelming odds. When it comes down to it, Superman will return and simply swoop in to save the day once more. The filmmakers didn’t know how to make a team-up movie about a bunch of superheroes who are completely overshadowed by Superman, so they decided to remove him entirely in order to let everyone else shine for a little while.

Superman and the Mole Men is a different kind of Superman movie.It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of constantly trying to recreate what already worked perfectly before, Hollywood is free to try different things with the character. For an example of a Superman film that completely bucks the two categories every other one falls into, I recommend 1951’s Superman and the Mole Men. It’s not perfect, but it actually uses Superman in an interesting way that no other film has done.

This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.

All images are the copyright of their respective owners.

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About Robert Lockard, the Deja Reviewer

Robert Lockard has been a lover of writing since he was very young. He studied public relations in college, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in 2006. His skills and knowledge have helped him to become a sought-after copywriter in the business world. He has written blogs, articles, and Web content on subjects such as real estate, online marketing and inventory management. His talent for making even boring topics interesting to read about has come in handy. But what he really loves to write about is movies. His favorite movies include: Fiddler on the Roof, Superman: The Movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Back to the Future, Beauty and the Beast, The Fugitive, The Incredibles, and The Dark Knight. Check out his website: Deja Reviewer. Robert lives in Utah with his wife and three children. He loves running, biking, reading, and watching movies with his family.
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