It’s safe to say that Dean Cain’s take on the Man of Steel hasn’t aged spectacularly.
Here let rank the actors who have played Super Man:
1. Christopher Reeve (Superman-Superman IV)
As much as we love many of the other names on this list, there’s no mistaking the fact that Christopher Reeve is Superman. It’s hard to imagine, given the superhero movie landscape of today. But Reeve flying around as Superman, sometimes with Lois Lane in tow. Sometimes facing off against Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor. And sometimes even with Richard Pryor in the mix, was the cinematic moment. Superman was to the late ‘70s and ‘80s what the MCU and Dark Knight movies have been for the 2010s. Reeve, who was paralyzed after a horseback accident in 1995 and died of a heart attack in 2004, is the first image that comes to mind when many people hear the name ‘Superman.’
2. Henry Cavill (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League)
Cavill’s three appearances as Superman may have received largely mixed reactions from audiences and critics, but his performance in the role has rarely come into question. With a strong jaw and a totally ripped physique, Cavill’s All-American take on the character has always worked well (even with him actually being British). Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he’s gotten by far the best effects team to work with of any Superman to date—it’s easy to believe in Superman more when everything around him looks totally realistic.
3. Tom Welling (Smallville)
Sure, he never properly put on the Superman suit (though he will in an upcoming CW Arrowverse appearance) but for 10 years Welling was a sensation as the young version of Clark Kent on Smallville, fleshing out exactly why this farmboy became the Superman that comic and movie fans have long known.
4. George Reeves (Adventures of Superman)
Reeves was the Superman of the ‘50s, appearing in 102 episodes of Adventures of Superman between 1952 and 1958. Unfortunately, his time as Clark Kent was eventually overshadowed by his untimely death in 1959 at age 45. While officially ruled a suicide, some believe that his death could have been a murder or accidental gunshot invoked from a more complicated situation. This is actually the subject of a 2006 film called Hollywoodland, which features Ben Affleck as Reeves.
5. Brandon Routh (Superman Returns)
After a 19-year hiatus from the big screen, Superman came back in the form of Routh, in 2006’s Superman Returns. Though he looked the part, Routh was a super green actor, and the movie compensated by having him barely speak. It doesn’t help that the movie itself has aged incredibly poorly—both its director and its main villain have had their reputations tarnished by major scandals in recent years. Obviously, that’s no fault of Routh’s, and he’ll have a chance to distance himself—he’s returning to the role as an older Superman in a CW crossover event next year.
6. Tyler Hoechlin (Supergirl, The CW’s Arrowverse)
This former star of MTV’s Teen Wolf and Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some! has only made a handful of appearances as Superman on the CW’s various superhero shows (which are all connected). But he’s got a way about him that makes the fit for the role feel natural. The network has its own version of a Superman and Lois series in production for next year, with Elizabeth Tulloch playing Lois Lane.
7. Dean Cain (Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman)
Between 1993 and 1997, Dean Cain played The Man of Steel on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, a series that looked at Superman’s origin story, his relationship with Lois Lane (played here by future Desperate Housewife Teri Hatcher), and his evil-fighting career. Granted that this was, well, early ’90s TV, it hasn’t aged super well. The storytelling is trying its best, but everything just feels a little too earnest and corny now. The effects, obviously, do not look good; this whole thing plays like a less funny version of the Adam West Batman! Series.