Superman is an icon. He’s the symbol of truth, justice, and the American way. As a result, any actor who takes on the role of the Man of Steel, in whichever medium, will be under an immense ton of pressure and scrutiny. This isn’t just any other superhero; it’s Superman, for heaven’s sake! Heck, even Henry Cavill received a rollicking from the fanbase for not smiling enough in his appearances as the character – that’s how passionate people are about Krypton’s favorite son and his mannerisms. Another example is Brandon Routh, whose career went from hero to zero after his portrayal of the character in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns didn’t go down well with the audience – even if he looked like the second coming of Christopher Reeve.
Superman is a once-in-a-lifetime role, but it could easily halt your career in a heartbeat if the fans don’t buy in. Still, that hasn’t stopped a bunch of actors from chasing their Big Blue dreams. Some of them stepped into live-action productions, while others voiced the character in animations and video games. Too often, we forget the names of all the people who brought Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation to life – and that’s why we’re here. It’s time to take a look back at some of the recognized names who’ve portrayed the Man of Steel in various media. Look, we’re not here to debate if they should or shouldn’t have been cast (as that’ll be up to you in the comments section), as this is just to showcase who, why, and when.
15. MATT BOMER
Matt Bomer has long been a favorite of many fans to portray the Man of Steel. Finally, he received the opportunity to voice the superhero in 2013’s Superman: Unbound. Things could’ve been different had J. J. Abrams’ Superman: Flyby script gone into production, though, especially since Bomer had been cast in the role.
Bomer told Josh Horowitz on the Happy, Sad, Confused podcast about his brief time as Big Blue. “I had screen tested with Amy Adams in the tights. I think at that session it was Paul Walker, myself and… I can’t remember who the other person was. Some other big star. Thankfully [Brett Ratner] chose me for the project.”
14. BEN AFFLECK
You can’t say there are many actors who’ve portrayed both Superman and Batman – especially in live-action movies. Well, Ben Affleck is arguably the luckiest guy on Earth, as he got the chance to play both these icons. We’re not going to repeat his history as the Dark Knight because that’s still fresh in all our minds, so let’s focus on Kal-El here.
His turn as Supes came in 2006’s Hollywoodland, where he played the role of George Reeves, which included more than a few scenes of him dressed up like Krypton’s favorite son. Funny thing is, with his chiseled jaw and dark features, Affleck would’ve made a tremendous Superman in his earlier career as well.
13. BOBBY CANNAVALE
Comic book fans will recognize Bobby Cannavale for his role as Jim Paxton in the Ant-Man films, but he’s no stranger to superhero movies. In fact, he played the biggest hero in the world in possibly the worst film of all time. Oh, yes, Movie 43 is even worse than what you’ve heard.
Try as he might, Cannavale couldn’t save the film from its terrible, well, everything. On the bright side, he didn’t look too bad in the threads and had he been a decade or so younger, he could’ve been a solid choice to replace Henry Cavill (if he does end up hanging up the red cape).
12. ADAM BALDWIN
Adam Baldwin – no relation to the other Baldwins – is best known for appearing as Animal Mother in Full Metal Jacket and Jayne Cobb in Firefly and Serenity. He’s had a long and storied career, with numerous live-action and voice acting gigs, but the cherry on the cake is that he voiced Superman on two separate occasions.
First, he lent his pipes to the character in 2007’s Superman: Doomsday, which was based on the infamous Death of Superman storyline. Then, in 2011, he returned to the recording booth for the DC Universe Online game – which was a major addiction for most DC fans with an affinity for video gaming.
11. KYLE MACLACHLAN
Kyle MacLachlan is unlikely to be anyone’s first pick for Kal-El. Judging by some of his previous roles, though, he’d make a better Riddler or even Mad Hatter if he really wanted to portray a comic book character. Still, none of us can ever take away the fact that he voiced Superman in an animated film.
In 2008’s Justice League: The New Frontier, which is based on Darwyn Cooke’s seminal work of art, MacLachlan took center stage as the voice of the Man of Steel. Surprisingly, he pulled it off with aplomb and no one would’ve complained or raged had he returned for a future film.
10. MARK HARMON
If we were casting Superman in the ’80s, Mark Harmon would’ve topped many lists of the right actor for the role. There’s something wholesome about his demeanor and acting style that would sit well with fans of DC’s most famous Kryptonian.
Alongside William Baldwin who voiced Batman and Gina Torres’ Superwoman, Harmon joined an all-star cast as he provided the voice for Supes in 2010’s Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. Funny enough, this animated production received glowing praise for its outstanding voice acting and art, yet it’s often forgotten by fans when they discuss which is their favorite DC animated film of all time. Terrible!
9. JAMES DENTON
James Denton might’ve been Susan Meyer’s Superman as Mike Delfino on Desperate Housewives, but he’s a bit of a peculiar choice to portray Clark Kent. He strikes you more as a Frank Castle than the good doer from Smallville, right?
Yet, someone with amazing foresight saw it fit to cast him as the voice of Kal-El in 2011’s All-Star Superman. It shouldn’t have worked – and there were probably a hundred other options – but it did. Denton managed to bring Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s lauded Superman to life. The film proved to be a hit among fans and critics, while Denton received special praise for his performance, too.
8. MARK VALLEY
In 2010 Mark Valley got the chance to star in his own DC-inspired vehicle, as he portrayed Christopher Chance in Human Target. Unfortunately, the series struggled to take off and the network canceled it after only two seasons. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though, as Valley received a golden ticket three years later.
Valley voiced Clark in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: Part 2, the critically acclaimed adaptation of Frank Miller’s industry-changing Batman story. The animation is widely regarded as the best in DC’s history and Valley’s turn as Superman was just the icing on the cake. He deserves all the praise and recognition for this performance.
7. SAM DALY
Sam Daly’s father, Tim, might be to Superman what Kevin Conroy is to Batman, but Sam proves to be a chip off the old block. He followed in his father’s footsteps and voiced the Man of Steel in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox.
Obviously, this version of Superman is different to the one that Tim portrayed, but it was intriguing to see what his son brought to the role. You’d think he’d try to imitate what his father did – considering how successful it was for so many years – but he put his own spin on the character and it ended up being warmly received by the fans.
6. CHANNING TATUM
We all know how desperately Channing Tatum wants a Gambit film. The movie has been in development hell for way too long now, and with Disney acquiring Fox, it looks like we’ll never see this Ragin’ Cajun affair. Maybe Tatum should’ve focused his attention on another character he voiced.
In The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, Tatum voiced Clark. While his role was never massive in any of those films (and he was outshone by Will Arnett’s Batman), he gave the big ol’ lug a lovable quality. It’s difficult to imagine Tatum as Superman in real life, but he does bring a certain fun element to the character.
5. NICOLAS CAGE
As we all know, Nicolas Cage was Tim Burton’s choice for his unproduced Superman Lives project. While it sounded like a train-wreck on the scale of Batman & Robin, there’s this morbid curiosity that makes us wonder what a Cage-inspired Big Blue film could’ve been.
Well, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies gave us a taste as Cage was given the honor of voicing Supes in the animated spectacle. Truth be told, he produced a stellar effort, with enough smug and pomposity that only he could instill in the character. Heck, there are even a bunch of fans calling for him to step into Cavill’s boots in the live-action arena.
4. ALAN TUDYK
Alan Tudyk is one of those names that appears everywhere. He’s extremely underrated and duly capable of performing diverse characters and roles. (There’s obviously a reason he was cast as Mr. Nobody in Doom Patrol, you know.) Additionally, his history with superhero projects also dates back many years.
One of his bigger roles came as the voice of Superman in Justice League: War. Interestingly, this animated film (and the New 52 run that it’s based on) served as inspiration for 2017’s Justice League film. Looking back, it’s safe to say that the animated feature gave us a better version of the League than the live-action film did.
3. DYLAN SPRAYBERRY
Most people will recognize Dylan Sprayberry for his time on Teen Wolf as Liam Dubar. The 20-year-old actor is picking up momentum and was recently cast in the anticipated Light as a Feather series, which is due to air on Hulu.
His claim to fame, though, was in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, where he portrayed a younger Clark. One of the best things that Snyder did was utilize Tom Welling’s look from Smallville as the prototype for Sprayberry’s Clark. While Sprayberry didn’t get to suit up in the blue and red suit, he did get to show off some of Supes’ magnificent powers as a teenager.
2. CHRISTOPHER MCDONALD
When you think of Christopher McDonald, you tend to think of unmissable movies, such as Happy Gilmore and Grumpy Old Men. He’s made a career out of playing the supporting role, and is equally at ease in a drama, comedy, or thriller. But as Superman?
As it turns out, it was a stroke of genius for Batman Beyond to secure the services of McDonald as the voice of the older Kal-El. While the character didn’t play a major part in the series, his few appearances convinced us that McDonald was the absolute right man for the role. Even when we read the comic books and see the elder Clark, we still hear his unmistakable voice in our heads.
1. CRISPIN FREEMAN
Young Justice fans will instantly recognize Crispin Freeman as the voice of Roy Harper. He brought such an anger and hurt to the character, solidifying his arc as one of the most engaging (and heartbreaking) on the show. Since then, he’s turned out in various anime shows, as well as in the addictive and time-consuming Overwatch video game.
Freeman also got the chance to provide his take on the Man of Steel, as he voiced the character in the 2006 video game Justice League Heroes. While the title didn’t exactly light the world on fire like the Arkham series would a few years later, it’s still a favorite of many Xbox and PlayStation 2 gamers.
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