Superman (1978) - The classic movie starring Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. Richard Donner set out to make audiences believe that they made a man fly, and succeeded in more ways than one. It’s corny, yeah, but it gets to the heart of what makes Superman great: He saves the world because he can, and because he wants to. John Williams’ score is legendary for a reason, and it’s hard not to associate any version of Superman with that classic theme and portrayal. And it all still holds up today because it’s ultimately really that good.
All-Star Superman - Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely tell a tale of Superman’s last year after having been poisoned by direct exposition to the sun’s radiation at close range. This is the 12 works of Hercules, if Hercules was an alien analogue of Moses, and a love letter to Superman’s history, as well as a show of the superhero as the modern myth. It’s strange, heroic, and inspiring. Basically everything Superman should be.
The Last Son of Tomorrow - Not directly a Superman story, but all of the classic beats are there: dying world, last hope, kind parents. This story tells spans many thousands of years, and deals with the notion of a demi-god living among people, while never losing hs own sense of being.
Superman: Secret Identity - A non-canonical tale that sees expansion of Earth Prime’s Superboy, in which Clark Kent, a small kid from Picketsville, Kansas, who is teased for sharing the name and likeness of the fictional character who bears his namesake. Until one day, he wakes up levitating, and realizes he has the same powers as the comic-book Superman.
Superman: Kryptonite - Darwyn Cooke teams up with Tim Sale to re-tell Superman’s first encounter with Kryptonite, his alien origins, his value as Clark Kent, and his own mortality.
Superman: Birthright - A re-telling of Superman’s origin story, updated for the early 2000’s. Released at around the time Smallville was being aired, Birthright set to update Superman’s story for a new kind of audience. It updated his relationships, his path to becoming Superman, and his reasons for doing so. It’s listed as one of the main inspirations for Man of Stell, but whatever ideas MoS took from Birthright, it managed to completely miss the point. Note: it has a few…problematic depictions of certain background characters. Notably a taxi driver, who speaks in orientalism. It might have been intended as the taxi driver being super sarcastic and cynical, but it mainly comes off as surprisingly tone deaf.
Supergirl (TV series) - There are a few good reasons to watch Supergirl, but for now I just want to focus on Tyler Hoechlin’s portrayal, which is simply the best live-action Superman in years. His humility, caring, and willingness to help are all on display within the first few minutes of appearing on the show. Something other recent live-action attempts have failed at capturing.
Superman: Red Son - Simple premise (what if Superman landed in the Ukraine rather than Kansas?) which does an overall good job of examining Superman’s nature and nurture, set within the context of Stalin’s Russia. Skip the animated feature.
Brightburn - Sure, it’s a horror story built around the tired idea of “What if Superman was evil”, and the kid is pretty creepy and has little to no redemptive qualities by the end, but it ends up being quite a bit more interesting when you look at it from a perspective of “If Superman is a refugee, Brightburn is a colonizer”. Needless to say, it made me more appreciative of the story of Superman.
Irredeemable - A Superman analogue gone rogue should be on the top of my eyerolling list, but lifelong Superman appreciator and historian Mark Waid ends up using what could have been another tired tale to weave both a great narrative on why the world’s first and greatest hero would become its worst villain, and ultimately penned a love letter to Superman and what makes him Superman.