Christopher Reeve Vs. Henry Cavill: Here’s Who Played The Best Superman
Action Comics #1 from June of 1938 hosted the inaugural appearance of arguably the most recognizable superhero of all time: Superman. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the character arrived as World War II raged across the globe, and public morale couldn’t have been lower. Through his serialized adventures in print, Superman gave readers a symbol of hope and strength to hang onto during this bleak era. Simultaneously, he developed into so much more than a propaganda piece and soon found himself standing tall as the face of DC Comics, where he remains to this day.
In his near-century at the forefront of the comic book world, Superman has done it all. From teaming up with his Justice League teammates to becoming a family man and even using his Kryptonian abilities for evil, there are few narrative avenues the Man of Steel hasn’t explored. Naturally, this wealth of stories has made it easy for Hollywood to adapt him in live-action at the movies, affording talented actors the chance to put their own spin on the fan-favorite hero. To date, however, two names stand out as the most popular and influential to ever don the iconic red cape: Christopher Reeve and Henry Cavill.
Reeve served as the first cinematic Superman from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, and Cavill is the latest — attaching himself to the role in 2013. They both offer very different versions of the Man of Tomorrow, but the question remains: who played the best Superman?
Reeve kept things earnest and fun
When Christopher Reeve signed on to become Superman, superhero movies and comics were in an odd place compared to today. Live-action comic book films were far from the norm, making “Superman: The Movie” one of the first forays into the now-oversaturated genre. As for comics themselves, children were the main audience, so the stories stayed predominantly within the campy, fun territory as opposed to the dark and true-to-life. Within that cultural framework, there’s no denying that Christopher Reeve absolutely nailed his portrayal of Superman.
Whether he was flying across the Metropolis skyline as Superman or scrambling to his desk job at the Daily Planet as Clark Kent, Reeve consistently knew how to approach his role. For scenes as the Man of Steel, he recognized kindness and compassion as the status quo, but when trouble was afoot, Reeve’s attitude became more serious and driven. As for Clark sequences, Reeve pulled off a mild-mannered, shy demeanor to perfection — appropriately acting as if it were a separate character. Either way, the life lessons that Jonathan (Glenn Ford) and Martha (Phyllis Thaxter) Kent instilled in him were ever-present, and his love for Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) was impossible to ignore.
Cavill took a contemplative, somber approach
On the other hand, Henry Cavill found himself in an interesting cultural moment when he became Superman eight years ago. At this point, superhero movies were all the rage, but thanks to the success of the “Dark Knight” trilogy, gritty realism and moral quandaries overtook bright colors and cheesy performances. The same goes for DC Comics, which had shifted into darker, more adult-oriented territory with several of its flagship titles for decades previous. Thus, Cavill’s take on the Man of Tomorrow would lean in a stoic, thoughtful direction.
Even more so than Christopher Reeve’s rendition, much of the story behind Henry Cavill’s Superman stems from one key theme: identity. Throughout his handful of appearances in the DCEU, he’s at a constant struggle with himself over his own place in the world, and Cavill depicts that incredibly well. As both Clark Kent and Kal-El, he’s neither jovial nor outgoing, instead choosing to mind his own business and keep his thoughts to himself. Be that as it may, he displays an insatiable desire to make the world a better place, even if it doesn’t always want him to do so.
In the end, the determining factor in the debate over which Superman — Christopher Reeve or Henry Cavill — is superior is one’s personal opinion. They’re both products of their time and took inspiration from different source material, so making a direct comparison between them is quite difficult. Therefore, there’s no right or wrong choice. There’s simply the one that speaks to you as being the one true Superman.