More Super Than Superman1 of 7
January 30 marks actor Gene Hackman's 89th birthday - an occasion that naturally put us in mind of one of his most iconic roles - Superman: The Movie's Lex Luthor.
But Hackman's not the only actor who helped define Luthor on the big and small screens.
Though the five actors on this list aren't the only ones to have portrayed Luthor, they're the ones whose takes on Superman's arch-foe have evolved and informed the character with their performances.
Without further ado, here are the five most iconic Lex Luthor actors ever, ranked.
5. Jesse Eisenberg2 of 7
Jesse Eisenbrg’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Lex Luthor isn’t exactly a fan favorite (though he’s got his admirers to be sure), but it’s hard to argue Eisenberg found a niche for Luthor as a demented wunderkind bent on manipulating the world’s heroes into fighting each other.
It’s unclear what future if any Eisenberg’s Luthor has on film, but he was last scene in a post-credits scene for Justice League in which he seemingly recruited Deathstroke to a big screen version of the Legion of Doom that may or may not ever come to fruition.
4. John Shea3 of 7
John Shea’s charismatic Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman version of Lex Luthor was somewhat ahead of its time, posing Luthor as an Elon Musk style tech entrepreneur with his fingers on the pulse of cutting edge technology. But unlike the modern real world archetype he foreshadowed, Shea’s Luthor had those same fingers spread into the criminal underworld as well.
Shea’s Luthor oozed confidence and friendly favor to the public, but behind the scenes his ruthless machinations and hatred of Superman colored his every action. Lois and Clark’s Luthor followed an arc far different from most versions of the character, but at the same time presented one of the most complete pictures of Luthor’s dual nature yet on screen.
3. Michael Rosenbaum4 of 7
Michael Rosenbaum played perhaps the scariest version live action version of Lex Luthor – because we saw him evolve from Clark Kent’s friend to the nascent Superman’s arch-enemy almost in real time. Rosenbaum’s likable but increasingly cold Luthor was a major departure from previous well-known versions of the character like Gene Hackman’s Superman: The Movie version.
Oddly enough, Rosenbaum also portrayed the Flash in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series – and he also got a chance to portray a very different version of Luthor on that show as well in an episode where Wally West and Lex Luthor switch brains (a la Freaky Friday). The result is Rosenbaum doing his best version of Luthor impersonating the Flash, while JLU’s Luthor Clancy Brown (remember that name) turns in a performance as Rosenbaum’s Wally impersonating him – a classic bit of switcheroo.
2. Clancy Brown5 of 7
Unlike his Gotham City arch-criminal equivalent the Joker, Lex Luthor doesn’t have a rich history of iconic voice portrayals that immediately spring to mind. But Clancy Brown’s Luthor, whom he voiced from Superman: The Animated Series through Justice League Unlimited, breaks that mold.
Brown’s Luthor carried a snide edge that was clearly informed by Gene Hackman’s Superman: The Movie performance (more on that later), but which went an extra mile in its vicious sarcasm. Brown’s Luthor moved from the LexCorp boardroom into the Hall of Doom and eventually to deep space, seamlessly exuding Lex’s confidence and arrogance in every context he was placed.
Gene Hackman6 of 7
Much like his heroic counterpart Christopher Reeve’s good natured take on Superman, Gene Hackman’s affable but diabolical robber baron/real estate developer version of Lex Luthor defined the character for a whole generation of fans in Superman: The Movie and its sequels.
Hackman’s portrayal is worlds apart from some versions of the character – he’s not exactly the mad scientist supervillain type – but his Lex still informs aspects of Luthor in both comic books and subsequent film portrayals, where his grandiosity and borderline madness often come through – along with his off-beat humor.
Now Hackman's Luthor has another, more direct legacy in Superman media. John Cryer, who played Lex Luthor's nephew Lenny Luthor alongside Hackman in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, will now portray Lex Luthor on CW's Supergirl.
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