Since 1948, less than ten years after his comic book debut, there have been several iterations of Superman on the screen, both big and small. Some have been all-time greats. Others, considerably less so. With the debut of David Corenswet as the new Man of Steel in James Gunn’s Superman, we’ve decided to rank all the live-action Superman costumes thus far. (There are 15 of them, believe it or not… and that’s not counting the guy dressed as Superman from the 1939 World’s Fair, or the one from the ’60s Broadway musical.) We’re sticking to film and TV here.

15. Tom Welling (Smallville, 2001-2011)

Tom Welling reveals his Superman costume in the final episode of Smallville (2011)
Warner Bros. Television

At the very bottom is someone who played Clark Kent longer than anyone, but sadly, never really got to play Superman. Despite the supposed “no tights, no flights” rule on Smallville, for ten long seasons, we waited for Tom Welling’s Clark Kent to finally suit up as the Man of Steel. And when he finally did in the series finale, it was utterly disappointing. It’s all just Clark ripping his shirt open? That’s what fans waited for? The final episode should have delivered a full suit, even if only for mere moments. We supposed the ‘S’ shield looks good, if we have to say something nice. It is technically a Superman costume, so it ranks on this list. But it ranks at the bottom… barely.

14. Nicolas Cage (The Flash, 2023)

Warner Bros.

Nicolas Cage was slated to play Kal-El in Tim Burton’s Superman Lives back in 1998, but for various reasons, that film never happened. 25 years later however, Nic Cage got to suit up as Superman for a brief cameo in The Flash where, as he was meant to do in the Tim Burton film, he gets to fight a giant spider. While it was fun to see Cage as Superman, the suit was all wrong then, and it’s all wrong now. An obvious rubber muscle suit for Batman makes sense, but on Superman? Totally ridiculous. The ‘S’ shield is disproportionately big as well, but that’s not too bad. It’s the horrible rubber suit look of it all that kills it.

13. Kirk Alyn (Superman serials, 1948-1950)

Warner Bros.

Actor Kirk Alyn was the prototype for what a live-action Superman would look like after starring in two Saturday afternoon serials in the late ‘40s. The suit in Superman and Atom Man vs. Superman were basically true to the comics, but sadly, also extremely cheap-looking. The designers couldn’t even get the ‘S’ shield to look fully sewn on in many shots. And sometimes close up, you can tell the top part of the costume is just a sweater. Plus, the boots just look like athletic socks. It’s not like Superman wasn’t already a national icon by this point, known throughout the world. He deserved better.

12. Tyler Hoechlin (Supergirl, Crisis on Infinite Earths, 2016-2019)

Warner Bros. Television

The first time actor Tyler Hoechlin appeared as Superman was on the second season of Supergirl on the CW, and that suit was …a choice. It’s not bad per se, but the designers made some decisions that made it feel very un-Superman in places. The gold clasps on the shoulders are weird for Supes, the belt has no real design to it, and there’s too much unnecessary detail in the torso area. We get the show wanted to differentiate from Henry Cavill’s Superman, who was still in films at the time. But this wasn’t it. Luckily, they improved on it for his own series Superman & Lois.

11. Henry Cavill (Zack Snyder’s Justice League, 2021)

Warner Bros.

From a pure design standpoint, Superman wearing black and silver is fashion-forward and fetching… for another character, however. Maybe a Superman analogous character like Omni-Man in Invincible or something like that would be perfect for it. But, Superman is definitely defined by his colors, and removing them makes him feel less like the global icon he is. Sorry, but these are Batman’s tones, not Kal-El’s. So is this a bad costume? Not really. But it’s not what we want from a Superman costume, much less the “main” costume, so it ranks here.

10. Henry Cavill (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2013-2016)

Warner Bros.

The costume for Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (later reused in Batman v Superman) has a lot of things going for it. The cape is vibrant red, long, and regal. The ‘S’ shield is a tad more stylized, but recognizable and cool. And the texture of the suit itself adds details that are missed. But no red trunks, and not even a red belt to break up all that blue? It looks kind of like a big onesie. And we’re not even sure what those patterns on the hips are. Speaking of all that blue, it’s just too dull a blue, almost blue/gray. It’s not the worst, but it’s far from the best.

9. Tyler Hoechlin (Superman and Lois, 2021-2024)

Warner Bros. Television

The second Superman suit for Tyler Hoechlin is from his one headlining series, Superman & Lois. It’s a much bigger improvement on the Superman costume he wore in the Arrowverse shows, with a much better neckline, no clasps for the cape, and a much improved red belt to break up the blue. Still, the blue is way too muted, almost dirty looking, in typical modern superhero costume fashion. Why are costume designers so afraid of Kal-El’s traditional bright blue?! Still, the rest of it all works well enough that it ranks this highly, but not as highly as Hoechlin’s next suit.

8. Tyler Hoechlin (Superman & Lois Flashback costume, 2021)

Warner Bros. Television.

In the first episodes of Superman & Lois, we get flashbacks to the Man of Steel’s early days as a hero in Metropolis. He’s wearing a very low-key, homemade version of his comic book costume, complete with red trucks, bright blue and red colors, and an ‘S’ shield that looks just like the ones from the classic 1940s Fleischer Studios cartoons. As Clark tells a kid in the episode “My mom made it.” Sadly, this was too old-fashioned for modern audiences outside of brief flashbacks, but this suit absolutely nailed the assignment.

7. Henry Cavill (Justice League, 2017)

Warner Bros.

Henry Cavill’s Superman costume has gone through a few iterations in 3 ½ films. In the original cut of Justice League, when he returns from the dead, he’s a much more upbeat version of himself, with a new suit to match. The new costume is much the same basic design as the Man of Steel one, only the colors are much brighter. On the downside, there are white highlights for every muscle, which is just overkill. (We get it Henry, you’re way ripped). Still, this is a decent Superman look that should have lasted longer than just a brief ending of a lame movie and a post-credits scene in Black Adam.

6. Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, 1993-1997)

Warner Bros. Television

Dean Cain was Superman/Clark Kent for four seasons on ABC’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which ran from 1993-1997. The show was working from a much bigger budget than the syndicated Adventures of Superboy, but far less than the Christopher Reeve movies previously. The suit basically looks great, but the spandex fabric is a bit too shiny, and the fit is kind of off at times. So it gives it a Halloween costume feel. Also, the ‘S’ shield is just too big as well. Overall though, it’s pretty decent. It evokes classic Superman enough. It just evokes it in a strip mall Halloween store kind of way.

5. Brandon Routh (Superman Returns, 2006)

Warner Bros.

This one is almost there. It’s so close to nailing it completely. Only worn once by actor Brandon Routh in 2006’s Superman Returns, this costume is meant to be an outfit worn by an older version of Christopher Reeve’s Superman. We love certain things about it—the shade of blue, the boots, and the fit of the trunks. But the maroon over the bright red and the too-small ‘S’ shield emblem on the chest are both big demerit points. Although, we do like that it was the first raised ‘S’ shield, and not just one made of fabric. It’s still a great Superman suit, but misses the mark on a few key points.

4. Brandon Routh (Crisis on Infinite Earths, 2019)

Warner Bros. Television

Brandon Routh got a do-over for his Superman well over a decade after Superman Returns on the CW Arrowverse crossover Crisis on Infinite Earths. He played an older Kal-El in that event, one heavily inspired by the Superman of the comic series Kingdom Come, one beset by personal tragedy. He essentially wore that costume, lifted straight from the comics, and it looks amazing. Yes, the black instead of yellow feels very off-brand for Superman, despite its comic book origins. Luckily, by the end of the crossover, the black becomes bright yellow, and makes this version of the costume a true all-timer. Too bad it was only used in this TV event.

3. George Reeves (The Adventures of Superman, 1952-1958)

Warner Bros. Television

He wasn’t the first live-action Last Son of Krypton. But George Reeves’ version is what most people think of when they say “the original Superman.” Although mostly seen in black and white for ‘50s television sets, the creative team actually shot the series in color. And the color version of the costume is pretty great, even by today’s standards. The ‘S’ shield is perfectly sized, and the red and blue are just the right hue. Maybe the cape is too short (it was in the comics then, too), and the trunks do look a bit like adult diapers. But that’s really our only complaint. This costume is pure Superman, even seventy years later.

2. John Haymes Newton, Gerard Christoper (Superboy, 1988-1992)

Warner Bros. Television

Chances are, you’ve never even heard of this syndicated series from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, which was extremely low-budget. It often looked like a random sitcom of the era in fact. Running four seasons (and with two different lead actors), Superboy was produced by the Salkind family, who produced the original four Superman films. Because of this, the costume folks made sure the outfits for both John Haymes Newton and Gerard Christopher looked nearly identical to that of Christopher Reeve’s suit. It wouldn’t be shocking if it were a spare costume from one of the films. The show was pretty bad, but the costume? We can’t lie, it was pretty spot on.

1. Christopher Reeve (Superman I-IV, 1978-1987)

Warner Bros.

To this day, no matter how many people play Superman on screen, when you say the name “Superman,” they’ll think of Christopher Reeve. That’s not just because he filled the suit so perfectly in 1978’s Superman: The Movie and its three sequels (he did), it’s also that the suit itself is practically perfect. The colors, the cape length, the ‘S’ shield emblem placement—all of it is spot on. The suit looks straight from the pages of the comic books, and made everyone believe a man can fly. And even though it was the ‘70s and the material wasn’t as sophisticated as a movie from today, it still looked miles better than later costumes made from space-age fabrics. It remains the standard, and probably always will.