A Hero For All Time

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“Superman Returns” opens next week with the actor Brandon Routh in the starring role. He’s got much to live up to, given the strapping lads who have donned the full-body unitard and cape in the past. He’s also got a fabled curse to avoid.

Kirk Alyn This original silver screen Superman was the first actor to feel the heavy weight of the infamous “S”: He stated that the role ruined his acting career. His 1948 film was followed by a 15-part movie serial that was then followed by the “Adventures of Superman” television show, but Alyn refused to reprise the role for the small screen.

George Reeves A former boxer and movie actor, George Reeves, donned the cape for the 1950s television series “Adventures of Superman.” Ben Affleck will soon portray Mr. Reeves in “Hollywoodland” a film probing his death, an apparent suicide before his wedding.

Someone, somewhere thought that the world needed a singing Superman and brought it to the Broadway stage. This unsuccessful, goofy production was revived for Australian television in 1975 starring Mr. Wilson opposite Lesley Ann Warren as Lois Lane.

Christopher Reeve Starting in 1978, Christopher Reeve starred in four Superman movies, and his acting chops shone through the spandex like none other. After a paralyzing injury in 1995, Reeve devoted his time to charitable work before his death in 2004. Unlike his predecessor, Alyn, who felt burdened by the role, Reeve thrived on the association with the role in real life.

Puneet Issar In 1987, Puneet Issar starred in “Indian Superman,” a low-budget film that demonstrated that variety is not always the spice of life. The film used long sequences of special effects from the 1978 movie. Mr. Issar will also be in the highly-anticipated “Krrish,” Bollywood’s answer to the superhero genre.

Dean Cain His Japanese roots brought a multicultural edge to Superman in “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” There was chemistry between Lois Lane, played by Teri Hatcher, and Mr.Cain: This Superman was less about the self-denial and more about buying flowers for his lady, but it was a romance to root for.

Tom Welling A former model before co-opting the Superman story for teenage drama, Mr. Welling earned popularity that continues to grow every year. His show “Smallville” found a prime slot in the CW network’s fall schedule. Mr. Welling himself was at one time considered for a new Superman movie that would have been a continuation of “Smallville.”

Brandon Routh After years stuck in development hell, “Superman Returns” is finally hitting theaters – and it is notably without Nicholas Cage, who had a pay-or-play contract for years. The 2006 Superman Brandon Routh follows a tradition of entering the role as an unknown actor, just as Christopher Reeve did.

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