Between the years 1941 and 1943, Paramount Pictures released a series of animated Superman short films. They were released in Technicolor and done in an art deco style by Max and Dave Fleischer. Superman was voiced by Bud Collyer, the same actor who did the voice of Superman on the 'Adventures of Superman' radio program and later the Filmation New Adventures of Superman TV cartoon (making him the only actor to have portrayed Superman in all three mediums of radio, TV and film).
These cartoons had a lot to do with Superman becoming a hero who could fly. Originally the Fleischers planned to follow Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's conception of Superman as a hero who could "leap tall buildings in a single bound", and several of the early episodes feature a leaping Superman, but the Fleischers thought this looked silly and decided to just have Superman be able to fly outright.
After the first 8 episodes, a different team took over and produced 9 more episodes. There are a number of differences between the first 8 episodes and the following 9 episodes - so much so that many consider them two distinctly different productions.
To this day they are considered some of the finest animated shorts ever produced; many of the early Japanese anime creators have
cited this series as a huge influence on the development of that country's unique style of action-oriented animation and motifs such as giant robots, etc. This despite the fact that the Paramount Superman cartoons were frequently accused of racist stereotypes of the Japanese.
The series was also one of the primary influences on the development of the modern DC Animated Universe.
The series has also influenced comic creators. For one thing, Superman could fly in the cartoons, so he could then fly in the comics. Another example of the cartoons influencing the comics came in the early 1940s when, after only a few of the Paramount shorts had been released, a sequel to the first film was made in the comics as an 'imaginary' story where the cartoons actually exist in Superman's world and Clark and Lois attend the screening of one.
Other comic creators who have taken inspiration from these films include Frank Miller, who has cited them as an influence on The Dark Knight Returns, and Alex Ross who drew inspiration from them when creating his version of Superman.
Film 1: 'Superman' (AKA 'The Mad Scientist') - In the first short,
Superman battles a mad scientist who has built a powerful destructive ray beam that he uses to blackmail Metropolis. This episode was nominated for an Academy Award.
Film 2: 'The Mechanical Monsters' - In this entry an evil genius has created a group of robots to commit robberies. Superman must battle his army of robots to capture him. This episode has been recreated a number of times including in, Lupin III, Castle in the Sky, The Tick, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
Film 3: 'Billion Dollar Limited' - A billion dollars worth of gold is
being transported by train to the U.S. mint. When gangsters attempt to rob the train, Superman must stop them. But that's not all, Lois Lane happens to be traveling on the same train!
Film 4: 'The Arctic Giant' - A Tyrannosaurus Rex is found preserved in arctic ice and brought to Metropolis to be put on display. But, when an accident causes the refrigerated display to thaw, the monster revives, and it's up to Superman to save the city!
Film 5: 'The Bulleteers' - three men with an armored 'Bullet Car'
threaten to destroy key buildings in Metropolis unless the mayor turns over the city treasury to them. He refuses and Superman has to intervene.
Film 6: 'The Magnetic Telescope' deals with a professor of astronomy who uses a giant magnet to draw a comet toward the earth for closer observation, against the wishes of law enforcement, who attempt to stop him with disastrous results. Of course, Superman arrives just in time.
Film 7: 'Electric Earthquake' is about a Native American
scientist who demands the Daily Planet print the truth that Manhattan belongs to the American Indians. When the editor refuses, Lois tails the man to his underwater lab where he has rigged electrical charges into the ground under Manhattan in order to destroy it by man-made earthquake.
Film 8: 'Volcano'. Mt. Monokoa, a volcano which has been dormant for about 300 years is showing signs of activity, which threatens the island's city. Clark and Lois are sent to cover the story. Meanwhile, engineers have planned to demolish one side of the volcano's rim to divert the lava flow away from the city. Things go awry, however, when the volcano erupts much sooner than anyone expected. Luckily, Superman also happens to be on the island!
With Volcano, the opening changes 'able to leap tall buildings in a single bound' to 'able to soar higher than any plane', presumably to reflect Superman's new ability to fly - but in the next episode, Terror on the Midway, the original opening is back. Since these two episodes were released so close together in time (July and August of 1942), it could be that production on 'Terror' was already underway - or it could reflect some feedback from D.C. or the radio producers at the time.
Film 9: 'Terror on the Midway' - When a giant gorilla escapes at
the local circus (where Lois just happens to be on assignment), Superman must deal with escaped animals, a fire, and the giant beast itself.
Film 10: 'Japoteurs' has secret Japanese sleeper agents within the U.S. attempting to steal America's newest and biggest bomber. But Clark and Lois are sent to cover the plane's maiden voyage and when Lois stows away aboard the craft, Superman must save the day.
Film 11: 'Showdown' is about a robber who wears a Superman costume during his robberies. He crosses paths with the real Superman when he steals Lois Lane's diamond necklace while she's on a date at the opera with Clark Kent.
Film 12: 'Eleventh Hour' has Clark and Lois in Yokohama (presumably covering the war). By night Superman commits acts of sabotage against the Japanese military. The Japanese retaliate by kidnapping Lois and threatening to execute her unless Superman ceases his activities. Superman does not comply and so must rescue Lois before the Japanese can make good on their threat.
Film 13: 'Destruction Inc.' is sort of the flipside to 'Eleventh Hour'; it takes place on U.S. soil in a munitions plant where Clark and Lois have gone undercover to investigate the murder of a night watchman.
Film 14: 'The Mummy Strikes' starts out with a woman assistant to Egyptologist Dr. Hogan accused of murdering her boss. When Kent gets wind of it, he goes to meet with the head of the Egyptian Museum, but is followed by Lois. After a cursory investigation, Kent discovers a booby trap in a sarcophagus that doomed Hogan, but in doing so he accidentally unleashes terrors from beyond the grave!
Film 15: 'Jungle Drums' has a plane carrying Lois Lane and a pilot bearing secret documents shot down in the jungle. The pilot dies, but Lois takes the documents. When she's captured by natives, Lois stashes the papers in the jungle. It turns out the natives are ruled by a Nazi soldier in disguise. When Lois refuses to divulge the location of the documents, he orders her to be burned at the stake. But soon after the ceremony has begun, a second plane, carrying Clark Kent, flies overhead. When he sees the downed plane, Kent parachutes down to investigate.
Film 16: 'The Underground World' begins with an explorer telling Perry White that if the Daily Planet will fund an expedition to an unexplored cavern, he'll take Clark and Lois and give exclusive rights to the story to the Planet. White agrees, and soon the three are on their way. Lois and the explorer become separated from Clark when their raft drifts away, and soon they are taken prisoner by cave dwellers - saving them becomes a job for Superman!
Film 17: 'Secret Agent' starts with Clark Kent witnessing a car chase. A young woman is being pursued by armed assailants, but thanks to the intervention of Kent, and the police, she manages to escape. At police headquarters the woman reveals that she has a list of names of foreign agents in the U.S. that she must get to Washington D.C., but that the enemies will stop at nothing to get ahold of the document. She is provided with a police escort, but when that's not enough, Superman swoops in!