Following on from this past weekend’s Superman-themed posts (The 40th anniversary screening of Superman: The Movie and 365 days of Superman) I thought it might be useful to provide a guide to the live-action Superman movies. Oh, the series might seem easy to navigate but it’s actually a little more confusing than you might expect.

If you grew up with the films then you’ll have a rough idea of the order to watch them in, but if you didn’t then it can be a minefield. It also doesn’t help that there are multiple cuts of some of the films, including a radically different cut of Superman II (1980)!

Anyway, for those who want to follow the different timelines, here is an exhaustive guide. You may wish to grab a coffee before you begin – this could take a while.

Viewing Order One – The George Reeves movie

Image: ©Warner Bros.

This initial viewing order is very, very simple as it only includes one movie – 1951’s Superman and the Mole Men. This movie – the first theatrical film to feature a DC Comics character – was designed as a trial run for a proposed Superman TV series.

George Reeves plays the role of Clark Kent/Superman, opposite Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane.

The film proved successful enough to green light a TV series which in turn aired for six seasons.

The viewing order is as follows:

  • Superman and the Mole Men + (If you wish) Seasons One to Six of The Adventures of Superman

If you want to remain in the era of George Reeves, you may also wish to watch the movie, Hollywoodland (2006). The film is set during the 1950s, with Ben Affleck taking on the role of Reeves.

Viewing Order Two – The Christopher Reeve movies 1

Image: ©Warner Bros.

This viewing order includes four movies, all featuring Christopher Reeve as Superman, opposite Margot Kidder as Lois Lane. The first film in the series tells the origin of Superman, while the sequels see the Man of Steel cross paths with various villains.

The viewing order is as follows:

  • Superman: The Movie (1978)*
  • Superman II (1980)
  • Superman III (1983)
  • Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

*Multiple cuts of Superman: The Movie exist – each vary in length. The cuts include: The Theatrical Cut; The Special Edition; and the Extended Cut. None of these cuts alter the timeline or the context of the movies, they simply add more footage to the original film. The Extended Cut is the longest cut, clocking in at an exhaustive 188 minutes.

Viewing Order Three – The Christopher Reeve movies 2

Image: ©Warner Bros.

In addition to three different cuts of Superman: The Movie, there are also two different cuts of Superman II – with both cuts differing quite considerably. And there’s a reason for that.

The original plan for Christopher Reeve-led Superman movie series was to shoot two Superman movies back-to-back, with director Richard Donner behind the camera. Donner shot the majority of both films, however he was fired from the project before he could complete work on Superman II.

With Donner out of the director’s chair, the theatrical cut of Superman II was completed by director, Richard Lester. However, another cut of Superman II exists.

In 2006, The Richard Donner Cut was released on DVD. Superman II – The Richard Donner Cut includes new scenes, new footage and a different ending.

The viewing order is as follows:

  • Superman: The Movie (1978)*
  • Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)
  • Superman III (1983)
  • Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

For this viewing order, the theatrical cut of Superman II is switched out for the Donner Cut. The rest of the viewing order remains the same.

Viewing Order Four – The Christopher Reeve Universe 1

Image: ©Warner Bros.

While Viewing Orders Two and Three focus purely on the Superman movies featuring Christopher Reeve, it must also be noted that another movie exists within the same universe – 1984’s Supergirl! The movie stars Helen Slater as Kara Zor-El (Superman’s cousin), alongside Maureen Teefy as Lucy Lane (Lois’s sister).

Marc McClure – Jimmy Olsen from the Christopher Reeve movies – is the only actor to appear in all five Superman movies set within this universe.

The viewing order is as follows:

  • Superman: The Movie (1978)
  • Superman II (1980)
  • Superman III (1983)
  • Supergirl (1984)**
  • Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

**Multiple cuts of Supergirl exist, including a Director’s Cut. None of the cuts alter the timeline, they simply flesh out the story with additional scenes.

Viewing Order Five – The Christopher Reeve Universe 2

Image: ©Warner Bros.

This viewing order is the same as the one above, only this timeline replaces the theatrical cut of Superman II with The Richard Donner Cut.

  • Superman: The Movie (1978)
  • Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)
  • Superman III (1983)
  • Supergirl (1984)
  • Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Viewing Order Six – The Christopher Reeve legacy movies 1

Image: ©Warner Bros.

In 2006, Warner Bros. Pictures released a Superman movie as a sort-of sequel to the Christopher Reeve series. The movie – Superman Returns – picked up the series years after the events of Superman II, but ignored the events of Superman III, Supergirl and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

Brandon Routh took on the role of Superman/Clark Kent, opposite Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane.

The viewing order is as follows:

  • Superman: The Movie (1978)
  • Superman II (1980)
  • Superman Returns (2006)

Viewing Order Seven – The Christopher Reeve legacy movies 2

Image: ©Warner Bros.

This viewing order is the same as the one above, but replaces the theatrical cut of Superman II with The Richard Donner Cut.

The viewing order is as follows:

  • Superman: The Movie (1978)
  • Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)
  • Superman Returns (2006)

Viewing Order Eight – The Henry Cavill movies

Image: ©Warner Bros.

Still with me?

Good.

This viewing order ignores everything that has come before and starts afresh, kicking off with 2013’s Man of Steel. There’s a new Superman in the shape of actor, Henry Cavill and a new Lois Lane in Amy Adams.

The viewing order is as follows:

  • Man of Steel (2013)
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)***
  • Justice League (2017)

All of these films are part of a shared universe which includes Suicide Squad (2016), Wonder Woman (2017) and Aquaman (2018). Superman does not feature in any of these films, so may wish to ignore them.

***Two cuts of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice exist. The Ultimate Edition (aka The Extended Cut) includes 31 additional minutes of footage not included in the theatrical cut.

Viewing Order Nine – The production order

Image: ©Warner Bros.

And finally, if the previous eight viewing orders don’t work for you, then try this one! This viewing order puts all of the live-action Superman movies in order of release (even if this causes continuity confusion).

The viewing order is as follows:

  • Superman and the Mole Men
  • Superman: The Movie (1978)
  • Superman II (1980)
  • Superman III (1983)
  • Supergirl (1984)**
  • Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
  • Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)*****
  • Superman Returns (2006)
  • Man of Steel (2013)
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
  • Justice League (2017)

*****To simplify things, this viewing order does not take into account the various ‘cuts’ and suggests you watch Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut in the order it was released.

So, does that clear things up?