Ever since his historic debut in 1938, Superman has been one of pop culture's most beloved personalities, and has captured the imagination of millions of people around the world. Unsurprisingly, the Man of Steel's immense popularity helped him transcend the comic book pages and become the basis for an incredibly successful franchise spanning multiple films, TV series and cartoons that continue thriving today. Of course, that level of success didn't come without its fair share of work. There have been numerous projects -- both live-action and animated -- based around the Big Blue Boy Scout throughout the years, and each one has served as a stepping stone that's gradually made the franchise grow into the unstoppable juggernaut we know today.
Fortunately, the people in charge of the franchise haven't been shy about paying homage to the actors that worked on each of those projects, and inherently helped shape the Superman mythology into the beloved brand it currently is. The effort to honor what's come before has allowed a number of actors with experience in the Superman franchise to return to Clark Kent's world as different characters. To give you an idea of how many times that's happened, here are 16 performers who've played multiple roles in the Superman franchise:
16 DEAN CAIN
Dean Cain made a name for himself playing the Man of Steel in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman for four seasons. His charm and likability won over audiences, and he became the Superman of a generation. Ten years after completing his duties as the Man of Steel, the actor decided to expand his already-impressive Superman résumé by joining Smallville as Dr. Curtis Knox, a man who hunted down Kryptonite-irradiated people to harvest their organs for his dying wife.
Cain then returned to his more heroic roots in Supergirl, where he played Jeremiah Danvers, Kara's adoptive father and close friend of Superman. Shortly after his debut in the show, the actor voiced Jonathan Kent in the animated film, DC Super Hero Girls: Hero of the Year. Who would have thought that Clark Kent would end up voicing his own Pa years down the line?
15 ERICA DURANCE
Erica Durance played Lois Lane in Smallville for the better part of a decade. Her version of the character was incredibly well-received by audiences, and she became one of the most popular takes on the star Daily Planet reporter. Her tenure as Lane eventually came to an end, but Durance rejoined the Superman family through Supergirl in 2017, when she was cast as Alura Zor-El, Kara's birth mother.
Interestingly, Durance wasn't the first actress to portray Alura in the show. The role was initially played by Laura Benanti. However, the actress left the series in 2016 due to other work commitments, and Durance came onboard to replace her. Durance's role is considerably small when compared to what she did in Smallville, but she's still a strong addition to the show. Plus, seeing the actress continue to work on the Superman franchise is quite a treat.
14 AMY ADAMS
Amy Adams' Lois Lane has become an integral part of the DC Extended Universe (official title pending) thanks to her prominent roles in Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Justice League. However, years before the actress got a job at the Daily Planet and helped out superheroes during their world-ending conflict, she played a one-off villain in Smallville.
In the season one episode "Craving," Adams played Jodi Melville, an overweight girl obsessed with slimming down. In an effort to lose her weight as fast as possible, Melville drank a smoothie made from kryptonite-irradiated vegetables. Her recipe quickly slimmed her down, but it also gave her an uncontrollable craving for human flesh. Seeing the actress who'd become Lois Lane fight against a young Clark Kent is quite an experience, so you should definitely check out the episode.
13 CHRISTOPHER REEVE
It's difficult to think of an actor that's embodied Superman as perfectly as Christopher Reeve did. His take on the Big Blue Boy Scout gave general audiences a new perspective on comic books, and it deeply impacted superhero media as a whole. Given that impressive legacy, the people behind Smallville decided to bring the actor into the show's second season.
Reeve was cast as Dr. Virgil Swann, a brilliant scientist who befriends Clark Kent, and teaches him about his Kryptonian origin. Despite the fact that he was playing a different character, there was a clear earnestness that Reeve carried over from his Superman days, and watching him guide a young Clark Kent to help him become the hero we all know and love was quite special.
12 SARAH DOUGLAS
Superman II introduced three powerful Kryptonian villains for the Big Blue Boy Scout to fight. One of those baddies was the merciless Ursa, played by Sarah Douglas. Unlike Zod, Ursa was a completely original character, and Douglas got the chance to make the villain her own. Audiences loved the actress as the blood-thirsty Kryptonian warrior, and Ursa went on to become an important part of the Superman mythos.
Fortunately, the actress got a chance to flex her villainous muscles once again in Superman: The Animated Series. In the season three episode "Absolute Power," Douglas voiced Mala, a Kryptonian dictator who tried to destroy Superman and take over Earth. The role only lasted one episode, but it was a solid tip of the hat to Douglas' days as Ursa. She also appeared on Supergirl as Jindah Kol Rozz during the CW show's third season.
11 KIRK ALYN
Numerous actors have embodied Superman throughout the years, but the first person to do so in live-action was Kirk Alyn. Alyn played the Man of Steel in a successful 15-part serial from the '40s. Because of his immense contribution to the Superman mythology, Richard Donner decided to pay tribute to the actor in 1978's Superman.
Alyn appeared as Lois Lane's father near the beginning of the film, when Clark Kent tested out his powers by running past a speeding train. You'd be forgiven to have missed the actor on your first watch, since it's hard to spot him in the theatrical cut of the movie. His presence is much more evident in the extended version, though, as he tells Lois Lane to stop fantasizing and get back to her reading material.
10 HELEN SLATER
Helen Slater played Kara Zor-El in 1984's Supergirl, a film from Alexander and Ilya Salkind that was expected to expand Christopher Reeve's Superman's franchise. Sadly, Kara's first standalone adventure became a critical and financial disaster, and it went down as one of the worst comic book movies ever made.
Thankfully, Supergirl's failure wasn't the end of Slater's tenure in the Superman franchise. Twenty years after the film came out, the actress joined Smallville as Clark Kent's birth mother, Lara-El. Almost a decade later, Slater was cast as Kara Zor-El's adoptive mother, Eliza Danvers, in the Supergirl TV series. As if that wasn't impressive enough, Slater also voiced Martha Kent in DC Super Hero Girls: Hero of the Year. While the roles are admittedly small, her constant contributions to the DC universe are great nods to her past efforts as the Girl of Steel.
9 LAURA VANDERVOORT
Melissa Benoist has wowed audiences around the world with her portrayal of Supergirl, but she wasn't the first actress to bring the Girl of Steel to life on TV. That title goes to Laura Vandervoort, who played Kara Zor-El in Smallville for three seasons. The long-running Superman prequel came to an end in 2011, but Vandervoort got the chance to jump back into the Superman universe through Supergirl.
In the show, the actress played Indigo (previously known as Brainiac 8), a ruthless alien who teams up with Kara's uncle, Non, to destroy National City. Vandervoort owned the part, and delivered one of Supergirl's most intimidating adversaries yet. Indigo is currently dead in the series, but hopefully the actress will return to the character at some point in the near future.
8 PHYLLIS COATES
Phyllis Coates played Lois Lane in the 1950's Adventures of Superman TV series. The actress proved to have a great handle on the character, and she instantly became one of the show's most popular assets. Sadly, her brilliant portrayal of Lois Lane wasn't meant to last. Adventures of Superman went on a break after its first season. By the time producers were able to get things back on, Coates was already attached to another project, and she had to be replaced.
Years after her departure from the series, Coates made a guest appearance on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, as Lois Lane's mother, Ella Lane. It was a small role but it was nonetheless a nice touch for fans of the show who held Coates' take on the star Daily Planet reporter close to their hearts.
7 TERENCE STAMP
Superman II pitted the Man of Steel against the powerful General Zod, played by Terence Stamp. The actor fully embraced Zod's despicable nature, and went on to become one of the most veneered villains in the comic book movie genre. The general was eventually defeated by Superman, but that didn't stop Stamp from making a return to Clark Kent's world.
Two decades after Superman II hit theaters, Stamp was cast as the voice of Jor-El in Smallville. Despite being a voice-over role, Stamp made Jor-El feel like a real person, one that audiences could easily buy as an earnest scientist looking out for his son's best interests. His take on the character proved to be quite popular, because he continued voicing Jor-El for eight years. That's quite an accomplishment for someone who played a guy hellbent on destroying the Big Blue Boy Scout in such a convincing manner.
6 MARGOT KIDDER
Margot Kidder brought Lois Lane to life in 1978's Superman The Movie. The actress delivered a unique version of the star reporter, and to this day, her performance is considered one of the most memorable Lois Lanes we've ever had. With that success, it was only natural that Kidder would get the chance to return to the Big Blue Boy Scout's franchise later down the line.
That actually happened in 2004, when Kidder joined Smallville as Bridgette Crosby, a trusted associate of Christopher Reeve's Dr. Virgil Swann. Unfortunately, Kidder's role in the show didn't last long. Following Reeve's death, the actress was expected to play a villain in Season four but Kidder felt that the show was capitalizing on Reeve's passing and thus, decided to quit the series.
5 ANNETTE O'TOOLE
Annette O'Toole is well-known around the comic book fan community thanks to her role as Martha Kent in Smallville, but not many fans are aware of the fact that she had a pivotal role in the Superman franchise years before she joined the show. During Superman III's development process, Alexander and Ilya Salkind decided to explore a new love interest for Superman. They settled on Lana Lang, and Annette O'Toole was cast in the role.
Superman III ultimately failed to live up to expectations, but O'Toole became one of the standouts thanks to her likability and innate chemistry with Christopher Reeve. Incidentally, the film also helped O'Toole land her now famous role in Smallville. According to the actress, the people behind the show became excited after learning she had played Lana, and decided to cast her as Martha Kent because of that.
4 NOEL NEILL
Noel Neill has a fascinating history with the Superman franchise. The actress became the first live-action Lois Lane in the serial from the '40s, opposite Kirk Alyn. Years after the serial ended, Neill was brought in to replace Phyllis Coates in the Adventures of Superman TV series, starring George Reeves. Neill portrayed the character for five seasons before the show came to an end following Reeves' death.
Despite the series' abrupt cancellation, Neill remained a beloved piece of Superman's mythology, and she continued to shine in other Superman-related projects. The actress -- alongside former co-star Kirk Alyn -- made an appearance in Richard Donner's Superman as Ella Lane, Lois Lane's mother. That was followed by a small cameo in an episode of the Superboy TV series. Some time after that, she appeared in 2006's Superman Returns as Gertrude Vanderworth, Lex Luthor's wife.
3 JACK LARSON
Over the years, Jimmy Olsen has become one of the most recognized characters in the Superman mythology, and his popularity can be largely attributed to Jack Larson. The actor played the lovable photographer in the Adventures of Superman TV series for six years, and he became a fan-favorite thanks to his goofy personality and unforgettable quips.
Following his stellar run in the show, Larson returned to the Superman franchise on three occasions. The first time was in a 1991 episode of the Superboy TV series titled "Paranoia," where he played a minor character named Lou Lamont. The second was during a season four episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, where he appeared as an older version of Jimmy Olsen. Lastly, almost a decade later, Larson made a cameo in Superman Returns as Bo, a bartender who briefly interacts with Clark Kent and (ironically) Jimmy Olsen.
2 ALESSANDRO JULIANI
Throughout its 10-year run, Smallville introduced a variety of pivotal players from Superman's extensive mythology. One of those characters was Dr. Emil Hamilton, played by Alessandro Juliani. The character was introduced in season eight, when Oliver Queen hired him to discreetly look after injured superheroes. While the actor had a short tenure in the series (14 episodes), he became a pivotal and trusted member of Superman's team.
Two years after Smallville came to an end, Alessandro returned to the DC universe in 2013's Man of Steel, where he portrayed a character known as Officer Sekowsky His role was small, but it was nonetheless fun to see Juliani back in the Superman universe, working alongside the new version of Emil Hamilton (played in the film by Richard Schiff).
1 TERI HATCHER
Years before stirring trouble around Wisteria Lane in ABC's Desperate Housewives, Hatcher brought Lois Lane to life in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. As the show's title implies, Hatcher played a pivotal part in the story. Similar to Margot Kidder, the actress offered a unique take on Lois Lane. Her performance was remarkably well-received by audiences, and she quickly became a fan-favorite.
After Lois & Clark came to an end, Hatcher returned to the Superman universe in Smallville, where she made a cameo appearance as Ella Lane, Lois Lane's mom. The part was short, but she got a meatier role a few years later in Supergirl. In the show, Hatcher played Queen Rhea of Daxam, the big baddie of season two. Going from a good-natured reporter to a cruel intergalactic conqueror is quite a leap. Fortunately, Hatcher had no problem in balancing the two performances.