Clark Joseph Kent, also known by his birth name Kal-El or superhero persona Superman, is a fictional character and a superhero in the DC Extended Universe series of films, based on the character of the same name created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. In the films, he is a refugee from the planet Krypton who lands on Earth, developing superhuman abilities and becoming one of Earth’s greatest protectors. Though humanity is at first divided in its response to his deeds, he ultimately inspires other metahumans and vigilantes to fight crime and defend the world.
First appearing in the film Man of Steel, the character is portrayed by Henry Cavill, who is the first non-American actor to portray Superman in film. This version of Superman has also appeared in other films such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, serving as one of the central characters in the DC Extended Universe. Director Zack Snyder‘s films in the DCEU have aimed to portray Superman in a more flawed and human light as compared to the previous film series by Warner Bros., which has received polarized reviews from critics. However, Cavill’s performance in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, a director’s cut of Justice League, received positive reviews.
As one of the most prominent superhero characters for DC Comics, Superman had previously been portrayed in film several times in film serials and most prominently in the 1978–1987 Superman film series, with Christopher Reeve taking on the role of Superman. While Reeve’s performance was widely regarded as one of the greatest in film history, the series was placed in jeopardy following the critical and commercial failure of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Following Superman Returns, a 2006 homage sequel to the film series’ first two films which saw Brandon Routh replace Reeve, talks commenced regarding using that film to create a shared universe for other DC characters, but they stalled out. With Routh’s contract to portray Superman expiring in 2009, Warner Bros. decided to reboot the franchise, beginning to take pitches on ideas to restart the film series. One of the most prominent ideas that emerged was that of a Golden-Age inspired Superman “when he was a bit more of a regular person.”
He basically told me, ‘I have this thought about how you would approach Superman’, I immediately got it, loved it and thought: That is a way of approaching the story I’ve never seen before that makes it incredibly exciting. I wanted to get Emma Thomas and I involved in shepherding the project right away and getting it to the studio and getting it going in an exciting way.
—Christopher Nolan, recalling the moment when Goyer presented the idea of a modernized Superman.
During the production of the Dark Knight trilogy of Batman films, which later saw tremendous success, producer David S. Goyer told director Christopher Nolan his idea regarding how to present Superman in a modern context. Impressed with Goyer’s concept, Nolan pitched the idea to the studio, who hired Nolan to produce and Goyer to write based on the financial and critical success of The Dark Knight.
Nolan admired Bryan Singer‘s work on Superman Returns for its connection to Richard Donner‘s version, stating that “A lot of people have approached Superman in a lot of different ways. I only know the way that has worked for us that’s what I know how to do,” emphasizing the idea that Batman exists in a world where he is the only superhero and a similar approach to the Man of Steel would assure the integrity needed for the film. “Each serves to the internal logic of the story. They have nothing to do with each other.” Nolan, however, clarified that the new film would not have any relationship with the previous film series. Filming of Man of Steel began in 2011 with a lawsuit stipulating that Warner Bros. would be able to be sued by the family of Superman creator Jerry Siegel for lost revenue on an unproduced film after that year, thanks to the Siegel estate recapturing 50% of the rights to Superman’s origins and Siegel’s share of the copyright in Action Comics #1, despite the studio not owing the Siegel estate money for previous films.