With the release of Man of Steel—it hit theaters on June 14—viewers are wondering if director Zack Snyder can give Clark Kent the kind of revival that Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark have gotten via the silver screen in past years. And while Henry Cavill’s Superman promises to be as memorable as other movie versions of the superhero, it’s important to remember that the big screen doesn’t hold a monopoly on the last son of Krypton. Check out some of the best and the worst versions of Superman to hit the small screen through the years.
Adventures of Superman
What it lacks in special effects, it makes up in heart—the first time Superman was seen on TV was after the release of the movie Superman and the Mole Men back in 1952. This Man of Steel was played by George Reeves, and the show was shot in black and white at first, transitioning into color after a few seasons. Unfortunately, comic purists were disappointed that the plot lines didn’t follow much of the original story line, and the show went off the air in 1958.
Any child of the ’70s or ’80s will remember tuning into Super Friends every Saturday morning. The second show to turn Superman into an animated figure—The New Adventures of Superman featured an animated Superman back in the ’60s—Super Friends was audiences’ first taste of the Justice League. While many superheroes made appearances during the show’s nearly 13 year run, Superman remained a constant presence and the gold standard for little boys everywhere.
During the heyday of the “Brat Pack” in the ’80s, producers wanted to capitalize on the country’s fascination with the all-American teen. This version of Superman was as a college guy living in Florida. Strangely enough, Superboy’s titular TV show came after the character was effectively removed from the Superman comics by DC. The show lasted four years, enough to carry it into the ’90s.
Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
The ’90s version of Superman was surprisingly popular, starring Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. While the storylines were cheesy—Lois accidentally marries a Clark Kent doppelganger who eats frogs—the show was benign enough that entire families could sit down and watch together. It was able to perfect the art of the cliffhanger, which is unfortunate because ABC canceled the show after a particularly stressful ending which was never resolved.
Leave it to the WB—now the CW—to Dawson’s Creek-ify Clark Kent. Smallville starred Tom Wells and revolved around Superman discovering his powers as a teen. Not yet a superhero, he is confronted by a number of villains from the comic series, including a long-term friendship with a teenage Lex Luthor. Surprisingly enough, Smallville was the longest-running live-action incarnation of the Man of Steel—the show went on for 10 seasons.
While movie versions of Superman get the big budgets, the special effects, and the name-brand celebs, you have to respect the Supermen of the small screen. After all, they’re the ones who saved Metropolis week after week—not just on opening night.