Lex Luthor Onscreen
One of the greatest and most popular supervillains ever created synonymous with the idea of a evil super genius. Even those who have never even looked at a Superman comic know the name, Lex Luthor. Just like his evil colleagues; the Joker, Green Goblin, and Thanos he has evolved from a funny book baddie into being a pop culture staple recognized by the masses. Naturally Lex Luthor has been adapted into other forms of media, though rarely well, he has made an impact on film and television.
Gene Hackman (Superman, Superman Il, Superman IV: Quest for Peace): For an entire generation, this was the definitive Lex Luthor. The legendary actor seemed to be having a great time, acting smug and cartoonish while insulting his perceived inferiors; Otis, Miss Tesmacher, and Lenny. That being said, the French Connection star had no fear of hamming it up as Superman’s arch-foe donning a series of wigs and making grandiose speeches at the drop of a hat. While he opted to be on the cartoony side with his performance, there was no denying that Hackman’s Luthor
John Shea (Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman): An actor who is the most oft-overlooked when it comes to playing Superman’s archnemesis. Lois & Clark set Superman squarely in the 1990’s and needed a Lex Luthor who reflected this. First and foremost the villain now had a full head of hair, with the actor reasoning that a modern Luthor would absolutely not suffer the embarrassment of hair loss. Given the nature of the series, the billionaire industrialist was more of a romantic rival to Lois Lane’s affection than any other incarnation had been.
Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville): Recognized by most fans to be the best live action Lex Luthor to-date for good reason. Portrayed as the son of billionaire industrialist Lionel Luthor, Lex resides in Smallville where he forges a friendship with the future Man of Steel. While we watch Clark Kent’s ascent into superherodom, we also watched Luthor’s descent into villainy. Early on this Lex Luthor wanted to be good but his inherent ruthlessness, greed, ego, and hunger for power was bound to get the better of him.
Clancy Brown (Superman the Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited): This beloved character actor may never have given us a live action Lex Luthor but he has given us one of the definitive portrayals of the character. With his smooth baritone vocals he gives us a Luthor who is just as comfortable in the Lexcorp board room as he is in the Legion of Doom HQ. Clancy Brown’s performance emits perfectly the arrogance, intellect and confidence one would expect from arguably the most powerful villain in the famed DC Animated Universe.
Kevin Spacey (Superman Returns): We now know that Kevin Spacey, the man, is capable of far greater evil than the fictional character he played. Like many other elements of Superman Returns, Spacey’s portrayal of Luthor drew heavily from Richard Donner’s work, but with a meaner streak. Bitter after years in prison the fact that his greatest enemy returns to earth on the eve of his latest land scheme presents a chance for him to get payback.
Jesse Eisenberg (Batman vs Superman, Justice League): It would be fair to assume that the powers behind Batman vs Superman had no familiarity with the character of Lex Luthor when they put together this portrayal. Opting for inspiration from the Zukerberg-ilk of modern billionaires instead of the source material. Instead of a powerful criminal mastermind Luthor is an irritant with needless ticks who needles people into his will rather than intimidating or charming them.
Jon Cryer (Supergirl): A casting move which caught everyone by surprise, the actor who once played Lex Luthor’s nephew was now the one set to don the chrome dome. Famed for his comedic performances in works like Hot Shots and Two and a Half Men as well as his iconic turn as Ducky in Pretty in Pink, Cryer stunned everyone with his cold and calculating take on Luthor. Debuting in the hit series Supergirl, his ambition and desire to seize power has ensured the supervillain’s impact has been felt across TV’s Arrowverse.