The character is a power-mad American billionaire, business magnate, inventor, scientist, philanthropist to the city of Metropolis, and one of the most intelligent people in the world. A charismatic and well-known public figure, he is intent on ridding the world of alien superhero Superman, who Lex Luthor views as an obstacle to his megalomaniacal plans and as a threat to the very existence of humanity. Given Lex's high status as a supervillain, he also comes into conflict with Batman and other superheroes in the DC Universe.
Lex Luthor has traditionally lacked superpowers or a dual identity and typically appears with a bald head. He periodically wears his Warsuit, a high-tech battle suit giving him enhanced strength, flight, and advanced weaponry, among other capabilities. Lex Luthor is the owner of a corporation called LexCorp, with Mercy Graves as his personal assistant and bodyguard. Luthor has carefully crafted his public persona in order to avoid suspicion and arrest. He is well known for his philanthropy, donating vast sums of money to Metropolis over the years, funding parks, foundations, and charities.
The character was ranked 4th on IGN's list of the Top 100 Comic Book Villains of All Time and as the 8th Greatest Villain by Wizard on its 100 Greatest Villains of All Time list. Luthor is one of a few genre-crossing villains whose adventures take place "in a world in which the ordinary laws of nature are slightly suspended". John Shea and Michael Rosenbaum portrayed the character as the main antagonist character in Superman-themed television series, while Lyle Talbot, Gene Hackman, Kevin Spacey, and Jesse Eisenberg have portrayed the character in major motion pictures.
Lex Luthor is an slender man with fair skin, brown hair (until it was shaved off when he is arrested), blue eyes. He dons a business suit.
Lex Luthor lives in a palatial underground hideout in Metropolis at the point where he first meets Superman. He watches one of his assistants, a man named Otis, make his way through the subway tunnels toward a wall that opened to a passage leading to the hideout. One of the police detectives following Otis, though, was brutally pushed by Lex via the same panel into an oncoming subway train. His other assistant, Eve Teschmacher, looks at Lex, thinking he's sick, but Lex only smiles. Otis approaches Lex with a copy of the Daily Planet in his hand. Lex takes it and sees the headlined story that the United States will be doing some nuclear missile launch tests soon. He says this could be instrumental for pulling off one of the biggest heists in history as he will soon own what may become valuable real estate. When Eve asks Lex why many people would have to die for such a scheme, Lex answers with what his father had told him (presumably before his father kicked him out): "Son, stocks may rise and fall, utilities and transportation systems may collapse. People are no damn good, but they will always need land and they'll pay through the nose to get it!"
After Clark Kent makes his appearance in his costumed superhero identity (not yet named Superman), Lex Luthor discusses with his assistants whether this man is truly genuine or not. Lex says if such a thing were a hoax, he would have been the one who pulled it off. He believes that this hero's appearance in Metropolis has some form of cruel justice to it, as if for Lex to commit the crime of the century, he has to face the challenge of the century. Otis simply dismisses it as him simply passing through town, but Lex highly doubts it.
After Lois Lane's article about the hero now called Superman is published in the Daily Planet, Lex Luthor and his assistants go to work finding out about any possible weaknesses he can exploit. He finds an article about a man in Addis Ababa discovering a green meteorite that came to Earth from the destruction of Krypton about thirty years ago. He surmises that this meteorite generates a specific type of radiation that is capable of killing Kryptonians, and so plans to steal this meteorite which he now calls Kryptonite to get rid of Superman.
After Lex and his assistants break into a museum, kill two people and make off with the rock, they go to work reprogramming the nuclear missiles, he then sends a message to Superman that can only be picked up at a frequency he and dogs can hear, threatening to release a Propane-Lithium compound through thousands of airducts in the city. Superman follows the voice to the underground lair of Lex Luthor, where he is subjected to a gauntlet of dangers that he survives through without a scratch before entering. Now having Superman's attention, Luthor shows him the plan of detonating two nuclear devices that have been reprogrammed to detonate at specific locations: the first toward the San Andreas Fault where it will cause a massive earthquake that will level much of California into the sea; the other botchedly heading toward Hackensack, New Jersey.
Luthor also tricks Superman into opening a lead-lined box that had a chunk of Kryptonite attached to a chain, which Luthor wraps around the Kryptonian's neck as its radiation weakens him before being dumped into Luthor's pool to drown. He then goes to watch the launch of the nuclear missiles, while Eve Teschmacher, fearing for the life of her mother in Hackensack, bravely rescues Superman for the promise that he would stop the missile heading for the East Coast first, throwing the chain with the Kryptonite away into a sewer grating.
After stopping one of the missiles from detonating and dealing with an earthquake caused by the detonation of the other missile, Superman takes Lex and Otis to prison, where he bravely states that its walls cannot hold him.
While being imprisoned after the events of the first film, Lex Luthor has developed a "black box" that allows him to track specific alpha waves, particularly that of Superman's, and notices that he usually ends up going north for some unrevealed purpose. By using a holographic projector, Lex escapes his prison cell with Otis while waiting for Eve Teschmacher to show up in a hot-air balloon. Soon she arrives, and Otis helps steady the ladder for Lex to climb up into the balloon. Otis afterward tries to climb up, but with each rung he ends up pulling the balloon down toward the ground. Lex kicks the ladder loose and salutes Otis as he leaves him behind in the prison while sailing off with Eve.
Following his "black box", Lex and Eve travel north on snowmobile until they reach Superman's Fortress of Solitude, its architecture being seen as remarkable until Eve points out that it lacks a bathroom. Lex finds a series of crystals that project holographic images of various Kryptonian teachers, looking through a few until he comes across the one with Superman's mother Lara telling "her son" about three dangerous criminals of Krypton who were placed in the Phantom Zone. Lex realizes that these criminals would have the same kind of powers as Superman and that, if they happen to be on Earth, they would need a contact. He immediately heads south.
Lex finds the three rogue Kryptonians in the White House after they have taken over all governmental control of the world, offering a partnership with them. General Zod, their leader, tells Lex he cannot bargain with what he doesn't have. Lex says he can bargain with what they don't have: the son of Jor-El their jailer, whom the world calls Superman. He says he alone can lead them to where they will find Superman so that they can have their revenge. In exchange, Lex tells them that he wants to be ruler of Australia.
In Metropolis, Lois Lane waits nervously in Perry White's office at the Daily Planet for Superman to show up when the rogue Kryptonians show up first, wrecking everything in their path toward the office where Luthor tells them to take Lois hostage. Soon Superman shows up outside the building, daring for Zod to step outside. Lex watches three Kryptonians engage Superman in battle, flying and fighting all around the city in the hopes of destroying the son of Jor-El. They notice Superman protecting the humans during their battle and decide to endanger them in order to weaken him enough to destroy him. Eventually Superman realizes the danger that the fight is causing the citizens and flies off, much to the disappointment of those hoping to see Superman defeat the villains.
Luthor looks at the rogue Kryptonians rather disappointingly, seeing that they only manage to scare Superman off rather than destroy him. He then directs the Phantom Zone criminals to the Fortress of Solitude, where they also take Luthor and Lois in their attempt to destroy Superman. After another fight where Superman is unable to prevail against the three Kryptonians, Zod now has no further use for Luthor and orders for him to be killed. Superman gets Luthor to trick the Kryptonians into having him be put into the molecule chamber to strip away his powers once again, as Lois sadly watches. However, as Zod made the now seemingly-weakened Superman bow before him, take his hand, and swear eternal allegiance to him, Superman crushed Zod's hand, revealing that he altered the chamber so that he would be safe while the other three Kryptonians lost their powers. Zod, Ursa, and Non all fall into the abyss, and Superman turns Luthor over to the authorities once more while he takes Lois back home to her apartment.
Lex Luthor is busy working on a chain gang breaking rocks when his nephew Lenny comes driving along in a convertible, loudspeakers blasting out Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On". He tells the police guards that he got lost driving down the road, and then invites them to check out the car's sound system. After they enter, Lenny uses a remote control to trap the guards in the car and to drive it off a cliff, giving him time to free his uncle from his bands. Lex compliments Lenny for his work on helping him escape despite considering him to be the Dutch elm disease of the Luthor family tree.
Lex and Lenny visit a museum in Metropolis where they steal a single strand of Superman's hair being used to hold up a very heavy metallic ball to show how strong it is. While Lenny jokingly says that his uncle wants to make a toupee that flies, Lex says that the strand of hair contains enough of Superman's DNA for him to create a superpowered being he can control for the purpose of destroying Superman.
After Superman's United Nations-sanctioned mission to rid the world of all nuclear weapons goes into effect, Luthor gets help from a few hired black market arms dealers to attach a device that contains what he calls a "genetic stew" onto one of the nuclear missiles which Superman will throw into the sun as he did all others. As the missile with the device reaches the sun and is destroyed, it instantly transforms the "stew" into a superhuman being with incredible power. He flies back to Earth and meets Luthor at his penthouse hideout, referring to him as Nuclear Man, the only being with the power to pierce Superman's skin and make him weak enough to die. Of course, Luthor shows his nephew that Nuclear Man needs direct sunlight to function or else he will be powerless.
Luthor contacts Kal-El through a secret video message to meet at his penthouse. Superman interrupts the double date he has with Lois Lane and Lacy Warfield (as Clark Kent) to deal with Luthor, only to find himself face-to-face with his creation Nuclear Man. The two end up in a struggle that takes them all across the world, with Nuclear Man causing various disasters and Superman trying to fix them. Eventually they end up in New York City where Nuclear Man threatens to dump the Statue of Liberty in the heart of the city. Superman stops that from happening and flies the statue back to Ellis Island, but Nuclear Man takes advantage of this and pierces Superman's skin with his fingernails. Weakened from contact, Superman drops to the ground after putting the statue back in place, and then Nuclear Man kicks him high into the sky, causing his cape to drop onto the torch.
Luthor rejoices at all the money his arms dealers were making from the demise of Superman and the rearming of the world, though he chooses to end their partnership and take all the profits for himself, using Nuclear Man's powers to get the point across. Luthor now feels secure in that he has a superpowered being at his disposal. However, Nuclear Man starts having desires for Lacy Warfield when he sees her picture in the papers and goes after her, involving Superman in another struggle with him that results in Nuclear Man being dumped into a nuclear reactor to provide a powerful energy source.
As Luthor and his nephew use this struggle trying to make their getaway, Superman captures them and flies off with their vehicle. He first takes Lenny to Boys Town, where the presiding pastor will watch after the young man and teach him well. He then takes Luthor back to the prison that he escaped, letting Luthor know that he knew about Nuclear Man's weaknesses and that he will see him in twenty years.
During the years that Superman disappeared into space, Lex Luthor escaped prison with the help of an unsuspecting elderly beneficiary, whom he conned into marrying so he could get at her wealth after she died. With the money, Lex hired out a new set of goons and then traveled again to Superman's Fortress of Solitude, where this time he talked with the hologram of Superman's father Jor-El, wanting to know everything about Kryptonian crystals.
Returning to the widow's mansion, Lex Luthor has one of his men chip away a portion of a Kryptonian crystal from the Fortress of Solitude, planting it in the water of her immense train set layout. After a minute or so of waiting to see its effect, all the lights suddenly go out. They soon go back on, and as Lex and his gang continue to watch, a crystalline structure emerges from the water, ripping through the floor of the mansion.
As Lex Luthor looks out over the harbor from the balcony of the widow's mansion, he sees the Daily Planet newspaper headlining THE MAN OF STEEL IS BACK. This means he's got the challenge of the century on his hands again to deal with. He greets part of his gang out in front as they unload a metal containment box from a van, indicating that it was stolen property. Luthor tells them to modify it and attach it to the ship.
While Superman deals with a woman in a runaway car tearing through the streets at night, Luthor and his gang go into the Metropolis Museum near closing hours, looking for a valuable rock. Some of his goons find the main power switches and shut down all power in the museum, allowing Luthor to use his special stethoscope to find that particular rock with a certain radiation frequency. He soon spots it as the rock emits green sparkles. The power soon goes back on, and the rock now turns up missing. The woman whom Superman rescues turns out to be Luthor's henchlady Kitty, who slaps her boss for cutting the brakes on the car without her knowing about it, though her distraction has still achieved its end.
With the stolen rock being Kryptonite, the only substance that can weaken and kill Superman, now in Luthor's possession again, he has the sample shaped into a cylindrical casing for one of the memory crystals taken from the Fortress of Solitude and placed inside a torpedo with its explosive components removed. After kidnapping Lois Lane along with her son Jason, whom he had found snooping around the mansion, he took them on his ship to the coordinates where he would launch the missile, revealing to Lane and his associate Kitty that the grown land mass would end up displacing parts of other continental land masses, effectively killing billions of people in the process. He leaves Lois and Jason in the care of his thug Brutus while he oversees the launching of the torpedo containing the Kryptonite-encased crystal. After the launch, however, he discovers that Brutus was mysteriously killed by a grand piano hurled at him with great strength, and has Lois and Jason locked up in the pantry while he, Kitty, and his men take off on helicopter toward their newly-emerging land mass.
After Superman deals with the earth tremors in Metropolis caused by the emerging land mass and rescues Lois, Jason, and Richard White from the pantry of the now sinking ship, Superman arrives in the heart of Luthor's new land mass and confronts Luthor, unaware that the land mass is laden with Kryptonite, and demands for Luthor to give him back what was taken from his Fortress. Luthor, seeing sweat dripping from Superman's temples, responds by hitting the Man of Steel, causing him to fall to the ground and seeing the Kryptonite through its cracks. Luthor takes pleasure in repaying Superman for five years of his life lost in prison by using the weakened superhero as his punching bag, and then letting his thugs have a go at hurting the Man of Steel, humiliating him until Luthor finally shoves a jagged piece of Kryptonite into his back and watches him plummet into the depths of the sea.
Sometime later, though, the ground begins to crumble underneath Lex's feet and that of his henchmen when Superman, rescued by Richard White and with part of the Kryptonite piece removed from his back, uses his heat vision to separate the grown land mass from the continental shelf and to fly it far into space. Luthor and his assistant Kitty manage to escape the island before Superman flies it away from Earth. However, in their escape, Kitty secretly dumps the remaining memory crystals in Luthor's possession out of the helicopter and makes it look like an accident.
Lex and Kitty land on a small desert island with no gas left in the helicopter and no source of food available to them, until Luthor eyes the surviving dog from the elderly widow's mansion.