Kirk Alyn as "Superman" in the 1948 serial, "Superman."
Created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, the superhero character - who escaped the destruction of his home planet Krypton, to wage battle against the forces of injustice - first appeared in the pages of Action Comics in 1938. Superman also became a popular figure in radio and cartoons, before leaping into live action movies and TV shows.
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan
Kirk Alyn played Superman (the "Mighty Man of Tomorrow") opposite Noel Neill as Lois Lane.
Alyn played the character in two serials, including 1950's "Atom Man vs. Superman," in which Lex Luthor is up to no good. Naturally, bullets have no effect on Superman, but then there's the matter of that synthetic Kryptonite!
Kirk Alyn as "Superman" (1948).
Alyn would later make a cameo appearance in the 1978 film "Superman," and also had a role in a parody film, playing "Pa Cant" in "Superbman."
In 1951 Lippert Pictures shot the first theatrical feature based on the character, "Superman and the Mole Men," starring George Reeves as Clark Kent/Superman and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane. The film served as a jumping-off point for the long-running TV series, "The Adventures of Superman" (1952-58), and in fact was re-cut into a two-part episode for the show.
Though George Reeves had appeared in numerous films since 1939, including "Gone With the Wind," "Blood and Sand," "Border Patrol" and "Samson and Delilah," the success of "The Adventures of Superman" meant he was inextricably tied to the character in the public imagination - and in the eyes of Hollywood. (He even appeared in character on an episode of "I Love Lucy.")
George Reeves in a scene from "Superman in Exile" (1954), a film compiled from three episodes of the TV series.
Quite a grip you've got there: George Reeves with a friend on the set of "The Adventures of Superman."
The Superman character appeared on TV cartoons and on the Broadway stage (in the 1966 musical "It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman!" which later aired on ABC).
But he was given true flesh and blood by then-unknown Christopher Reeve in the epic 1978 film, "Superman," which featured an all-star cast, including Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane.
"Superman," directed by Richard Donner, won an Academy Award for its special effects and sports an iconic score by John Williams. But the real star was Christopher Reeve, who deftly played the comic book hero as a gallant crusader for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.
Margot Kidder, as Lois Lane, gets a flying lesson from Christopher Reeve in "Superman" (1978).
Superman (Christopher Reeve) raises a car from an earthquake-induced crevasse in "Superman" (1978).
Much of the sequel, "Superman II" (1980), was filmed during production of "Superman," though the original director, Richard Donner, left the project in a dispute with the producers, and new footage was shot by Richard Lester.
Here, Superman (Christopher Reeve) rescues a boy who plunged over the edge of Niagra Falls, leading reporter Lois Lane to surmise, "Hey, Superman and Clark Kent are never in the same place at the same time! "
Those eyes sure can melt steel, in "Superman III."
Christopher Reeve suited up for a fourth go as the character in "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" (1987), in which he does battle on the Moon with Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow). And yeah, that's an American flag on the lunar surface, 'cause Nuclear Man don't have no respect. Reeve was credited as a co-writer of the film's story, about the Man of Steel's effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
John Newton & Gerard Christopher
Left: John Newton (who also starred in "Melrose Place") played Clark Kent, a mild-mannered journalism student, in the TV series, "Superboy," which debuted in 1988. Cast changes in the show meant the "boy of steel" was played in the second and third seasons by Gerard Christopher (right), who was already 30 when he took on the cape.
"Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" (193-97) was a "chick lit" version of Metropolis and its super characters, focusing on the romance of Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher) and Clark Kent/Superman (Dean Cain). It was inspired by DC Comics' revamping of the superhero character by comics writer John Byrne.
Dean Cain as Superman in "Lois & Clark." A former child actor, Cain also appeared in "Beverly Hills, 90210" before donning the cape.
The syndicated drama "Smallville" (2001-11) was an attempt to retrace the origins of Superman by focusing on the youth of Clark Kent and the events that would later shape his superhero character. Tom Welling played Kent, whose superhuman abilities are only added to the normal woes of adolescence.
Christopher Reeve also made guest appearances on the show.
Tom Welling as Clark Kent in "Smallville." Although the iconic Superman outfit did not come into play in the series, the color scheme did.
Nearly two decades after the last of the Christopher Reeve films, Warner Brothers rebooted the franchise with the 2006 film, "Superman Returns," starring Brandon Routh, and directed by Bryan Singer (who'd already directed two "X Men" films).
Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel in "Superman Returns" (2006). Prior to playing Superman, Routh was a regular on "One Life to Live" and appeared on "Gilmore Girls."
Although "Superman Returns" performed well at the box office, it did not excite the studio enough to launch a sequel.
Green-screen filming of flying scenes from "Superman Returns."
Helen Slater starred in the 1984 film featuring the superheroine "Supergirl." The character - another survivor of the destruction of Krypton - first appeared in comic books in 1959.
Helen Slater as Kara Zor-El, better known to Earthlings as "Supergirl" (1984).
Cooper Timberline as nine-year-old Clark Kent finds there are better uses for laundry, in 2013's "Man of Steel." The latest reboot of the comic book hero is an origin story, directed by Zack Snyder ("300") and co-produced by Christopher Nolan ("The Dark Knight" trilogy), that explores the search by Clark Kent for his purpose on Earth - which, he discovers, is to protect it from a fiendishly destructive alien.
Henry Cavill as Superman in "Man of Steel" (2013). The British actor's previous credits include "The Count of Monte Cristo," "Immortals," and the TV series "The Tudors."
Henry Cavill as Superman and Amy Adams as Lois Lane in "Man of Steel."
"The importance and weight of the role wasn't lost on me," Cavill told CBSNews.com's Ken Lombardi. "But I didn't dwell on that external pressure in stepping into the big red boots, Because if I did, it would probably negatively affect my performance more than anything else. So I decided to focus on the pressure I put upon myself for every role - that normally positively affects my performance."
Left: Henry Cavill as Superman in "Man of Steel."
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By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan