08 August 2011

The Many Suits of Superman - A Live Action Pictorial History

Arguably the most recognizable superhero in the world, Superman has donned the primary red, yellow, and blue colors with an 'S' emblazoned on his chest for over 70 years. Last week,  Warner Brothers revealed the first look at the next Man of Steel, set to hit theaters in 2013. While we wait, how about a trip down memory lane remembering all of the previous Supermen to wear the cape. 

Superman's first live action appearance occurred in the 1948 Superman movie serials in with Kirk Alyn playing the title role.

Designed for maximum film-ability in black and white, Alyn's Superman suit was actually brown and gray, though audiences were none the wiser.

Alyn returned as Superman in the 1950 Atom Man vs. Superman serials.

In 1951, George Reeves landed the role of the Man of Steel starring in Superman and the Mole Men. The Reeves trunks did not ride quite as high, and his S appeared slightly less homemade.

Reeves would continue in the role from 1952 to 1958 on the Adventures of Superman TV series.

Reeves also appeared in the 1954 short film, Stamp Day for Superman as a measure to promote the sale of Treasury bonds.

In later seasons, Reeves was able to upgrade to a color costume, marking the first time the primary colors of the Superman suit were beheld in live-action.

Although Superman had made the transition to color by 1957, he appeared again in black and white on the I Love Lucy episode, Superman.Lucy's suit was a lot less heroic.

Although pretty much everything about the 1958 pilot for a failed series, The Adventures of Superpup, is laughable, the suit actually didn't look half bad. Bark Bent, Ha!

Deciding to give a humanoid another chance to play Superman in 1961, a pilot was filmed for The Adventures of Superboy with Johnny Rockwell as the Boy of Steel. This pilot, like the Superpup one, did not get pickup up for a series.

In 1975, David Wilson played Superman in It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Superman, a televised musical. I don't know if Wilson had trouble getting in and out of the costume, but the neck was stretched out to ridiculous proportions.

In 1978, Superman: The Movie offered audiences the first full length theatrical interpretation of Superman with Christopher Reeve as the blue  boy scout.

Reeve revisited the role in three sequels including fan favorite Superman II.

Although Supes grunged up a lot in Superman 3, for the most part his suit remained unchanged throughout the four film series.

In 1988, Superboy finally landed a live action television series and for the next four years. During the first season of The Adventures of Superboy, the young Kryptonian was played by John Haymes Newton.

For the second and subsequent seasons, the role of Superboy was recast for Gerard Christopher, though the costume looked the same for both actors and was pretty consistent with the look of the Christopher Reeve costume.

Supes stuck with the spandex but opted for a darker shade of blue for his run on Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman from 1993 through 1997 played by Dean Cain.

From 1948 up through the 90's Superman's suit, at least in live action, had remained relatively unchanged save for slight variations in shades of color or neck hole size.
Tim Burton threatened to change all of that when plans for a Superman Reboot were considered in 1998. 

Having successfully launched the Batman franchise, Burton was given freedom to reimagine the man of steel, even casting offbeat Nicolas Cage in the lead role. Incorporating story points from the Death of Return of Superman storylines, the movie would have had Superman wearing more than one suit, which were radically different from anything previously seen onscreen.

A prototype, light up suit was developed, but as history unfolded, the film never came to be. 

In 2002, another attempt at a Superman movie, Superman: Flyby began production. Artwork for that film, though inspired by Superman's traditional look, was still unlike previously seen costumes - though Superman: Flyby never got off the ground.

In 2006, rather than breaking new ground, Superman Returns played up the nostalgia angle opting for a pseudo sequel to Superman II with Brandon Routh as Superman. Although similar to the Reeve costume, Routh's look had a smaller S shield, smaller trunks, and darker color tones.

For 10 seasons, Smallville managed to keep its Clark Kent, Tom Welling out of the Superman suit until a final reveal in the series' last episode in 2011. 

The series' "no flights, no tights" pledge still allowed for Clark Kent to wear costumes including a goth style black trench coat when he served as "The Blur" in season 9.

In the beginning of season 10, Clark, once again calling himself "The Red / Blue Blur," wore a simple capeless red leather jacket with an embossed S as well as blue pants - functional and fashionable.

Also in 2011, the Kon-El Superboy played by Lucas Grabeel made an appearance with a look heavily inspired by his comic book counterpart.

In 2013, Henry Cavill will take on the mantle of Superman in Man of Steel. How does this most recent look compare? Which of these designs is the best?


  1. Great photo essay on these costumes! It's especially a surprise to see a surviving [part of a] Kirk Alyn outfit. Thanks for posting!

  2. Is it me or is Cavill wearing a 40's version of the S sheild?

  3. The Welling suit looks the best, but Reeve is Superman.

  4. With respect to the old styles, I think the newest version of the Superman uniform is the best :D

  5. I hope the new Superman movie will be a serious treatment of the super hero, just like the early (black & white) George Reeves "Adventures Of Superman". Reeves the original, the best. Tom Welling as Superman would be comparable if he kept the serious tone he did in Smallville.

  6. Its funny we all know supes, each person that portreyed him did a great job playing superman. But when it came to his alter ego clark kent, that rolee was best played by Reeves by far, the clumsy goofy mild mannered reporter. I gotta say second to reeves clark kent, i actually appreciated the way Brandon Routh played him. But i know this is about the suit itself. All the suits give each character a distinct look for each. Finally i have to say dean cain may have been the worst out of all the people that acted as supes. Go for krypton

  7. Totally agree that Reeve is Superman, he set the standards and no one has lived up to them, and I think its wrong that any other actor is sled to live up to it, Brandon Routh was a prime example, shouldn’t have really been asked to ‘copy ‘ Reeves approach, I think he could have pulled it off in other ways.
    I remember watching Dean Cains Superman and enjoying it but looking back I do cringe in some respects, it had a good first season but then when the characters where finding out who Superman was it got abit out of hand etc….

    Looking forward to the new film, nice to have a brit cast as the man of steel, suit looks ok aswel, lost the pants which I suppose in this day and age is acceptable. As long as the suit represense Superman as a symbol like it always has that will do for me.

  8. Great photos!!! I hope the new Superman movie will be a serious treatment of the super hero!
    Superman Leather Jackets