Superman (1978)

18 March 2023
The Superman film was 40 odd years in the making before director Richard Donner dropped the one of the great superhero films of all time.

You'd believe a man could fly they said, and indeed mild mannered Clark Kent transformed into a man with a red cape who could soar across the oceans with a thought.

The film stars Christopher Reeve as Superman, Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, and Marlon Brando. 

It tells the origin story of Superman, from his birth on the planet Krypton to his arrival on Earth and adoption by the Kents, to his emergence as a hero in Metropolis. 

The film is notable for its epic scope, its memorable performances, and its groundbreaking special effects.

One of the things that makes the Richard Donner Superman film stand out is its emphasis on character. The film takes the time to establish the personalities and motivations of its main characters, from Clark Kent's earnestness to Lois Lane's tenacity to Lex Luthor's arrogance. 

This attention to character makes the film more emotionally engaging and gives the action sequences more weight.

superman movie poster

The film's special effects were also groundbreaking for their time. The flying sequences, in particular, were achieved through a combination of blue-screen technology and wirework, and they remain impressive even by modern standards. 

The film's score, composed by John Williams, is also iconic and has become synonymous with the character of Superman.

In addition to its technical achievements, the Richard Donner Superman film is notable for its impact on popular culture. 

The film helped to establish the modern superhero movie genre, paving the way for later films like Batman, Spider-Man, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also inspired a generation of comic book fans and introduced the character of Superman to a new generation of audiences.

The Plot

The first Superman film, released in 1978, follows the origins of the superhero, from his birth on the doomed planet of Krypton to his life as a mild-mannered reporter named Clark Kent working at the Daily Planet in Metropolis. The film was directed by Richard Donner and starred Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent, Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, and Gene Hackman as the villainous Lex Luthor.

The plot of the film begins on the planet Krypton, which is on the brink of destruction due to its unstable core. Jor-El, a scientist played by Marlon Brando, and his wife Lara send their infant son, Kal-El, to Earth in a spacecraft before Krypton explodes. The spacecraft lands in Smallville, Kansas, where Kal-El is found and adopted by a kindly couple, the Kents.

As Kal-El grows up, he discovers his superhuman abilities and learns of his true origins from a holographic message left by his father. He decides to use his powers for good and assumes the secret identity of Clark Kent, a bumbling and mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet. Meanwhile, in Metropolis, Lois Lane is investigating a series of mysterious events, including the appearance of a flying man in a red cape.

As Superman, Kal-El sets out to protect Metropolis and its citizens from various threats, including a helicopter crash on top of the Daily Planet and a missile attack on the San Andreas Fault. However, he is also confronted by the diabolical schemes of Lex Luthor, a criminal mastermind who plans to use a stolen nuclear missile to trigger an earthquake that will destroy much of California, leaving him with valuable real estate.

With the help of Lois Lane and other allies, Superman races against time to stop Lex Luthor's plan and save the day. In the end, he successfully stops the missile and rescues Lois from a falling helicopter, solidifying his place as the world's greatest superhero.

The first Superman film was a critical and commercial success, earning over $300 million at the box office and receiving numerous accolades, including an Academy Award for its special effects. It is still considered a classic superhero film and an important piece of pop culture history.

Superman Archetype: Christopher Reeve

The Richard Donner Superman film explores a number of themes, including:

  1. The struggle between good and evil - The film presents Superman as the ultimate symbol of good, standing in contrast to the villainous Lex Luthor. This theme is reinforced throughout the film, as Superman battles Luthor's schemes and works to save the people of Metropolis.
  2. The power of self-discovery - Superman's journey in the film is one of self-discovery, as he learns about his past and comes to terms with his powers. This theme is particularly evident in the scenes of Superman's training with Jor-El on Krypton and his conversation with his mother on the Kent farm.
  3. The importance of heroism - The film emphasizes the importance of heroism and self-sacrifice, as Superman puts himself in harm's way to save others. This theme is particularly evident in the climax of the film, as Superman races to stop Luthor's plan to detonate a nuclear missile.
  4. The impact of the media - The film also explores the role of the media in shaping public opinion and perception. Lois Lane's reporting on Superman helps to shape the public's perception of the hero, and Luthor's manipulation of the media is a key part of his scheme.
  5. The nature of humanity - The film also explores the nature of humanity, particularly in the character of Clark Kent/Superman. Superman is an alien, but he chooses to use his powers for good and to protect humanity, highlighting the best aspects of human nature.
Overall, the Richard Donner Superman film explores a range of themes that continue to resonate with audiences today. Its emphasis on heroism, self-discovery, and the struggle between good and evil make it a timeless classic of the superhero genre.

Christopher Reeve is the archetype of Superman

Christopher Reeve's performance as both Clark Kent and Superman in the 1978 film and its sequels is considered by many to be one of the defining portrayals of the character. Here are some key aspects of his performance:

  1. He brought a sense of humor and charm to both characters. Reeve's portrayal of Clark Kent was bumbling and awkward, but also endearing and likable. As Superman, he exuded confidence and charisma, making the character an aspirational figure for audiences.
  2. Reeve added emotional depth to both characters. His performance as Superman was not just about physicality and heroism. He also brought a sense of vulnerability and humanity to the character, allowing audiences to connect with him on a deeper level. As Clark Kent, Reeve portrayed the character's inner conflict between his human and alien identities.
  3. He embodied the physicality of the characters. Reeve's physique was instrumental in his casting as Superman, and he spent months training to build the necessary muscles for the role. He also worked closely with the filmmakers to create a believable flying effect, adding to the character's sense of power and wonder.
  4. He established a template for future actors playing the character. Reeve's portrayal of Superman has influenced subsequent actors who have taken on the role, from Brandon Routh to Henry Cavill. His approach to the character continues to be celebrated by fans as the definitive interpretation of the character. Overall, Christopher Reeve's portrayal of Clark Kent and Superman is widely considered to be one of the greatest superhero performances in film history. He brought a sense of humor, emotional depth, and physicality to the characters, establishing a template that continues to influence future adaptations of the character.

Mario Puzo's original script was 500 pages

Mario Puzo, the famous author best known for his work on "The Godfather," played a significant role in the development of the screenplay for the 1978 film "Superman." Puzo was hired by producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind to write the script for the film, and his contribution helped to shape the iconic superhero movie that would go on to become a cultural phenomenon.

Puzo's involvement with the film began in the mid-1970s, after he had finished work on "The Godfather Part II." At the time, the Salkinds had acquired the rights to the Superman character and were looking for a writer to help bring the story to the big screen. Puzo was approached by the Salkinds and was immediately intrigued by the idea of writing a superhero movie.

Puzo's approach to the screenplay was to treat Superman as a modern-day mythological figure, a character with godlike powers who could inspire hope and optimism in a world that was becoming increasingly cynical and bleak. He drew on his own experiences as a Catholic and his fascination with the concept of original sin to create a story that explored themes of redemption, sacrifice, and the struggle between good and evil.

Puzo's original screenplay was nearly 500 pages long and contained numerous subplots and characters that were eventually cut from the final film. Nevertheless, his contribution to the film was significant, and many of the most iconic scenes and lines of dialogue in the movie were taken directly from his script.

One of the most famous examples of Puzo's influence on the film is the scene in which Superman flies Lois Lane over the city, with the classic John Williams score swelling in the background. This scene, which has become one of the most iconic moments in superhero movie history, was inspired by Puzo's desire to create a sense of wonder and awe in the audience.

Puzo's work on "Superman" was also notable for his ability to balance the film's action and spectacle with its more dramatic and character-driven moments. His screenplay gave the film a sense of depth and emotional resonance that elevated it beyond mere superhero fare.

Although Puzo did not have a direct involvement with the sequel, "Superman II," his contributions to the first film helped to establish the tone and style of the franchise, which would go on to become one of the most successful and beloved superhero series of all time.

Enter Tom Mankiewicz

Tom Mankiewicz was a screenwriter and producer who had a significant creative input on the 1978 Superman film, directed by Richard Donner. Mankiewicz was brought on to the project by producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind, who were looking for a writer who could add a sense of humor and wit to the film's script.

Mankiewicz was tasked with rewriting an earlier draft of the script, which had been written by Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather. Mankiewicz worked closely with Donner and the producers to craft a script that blended action, adventure, and humor, while also staying true to the iconic comic book character.

One of Mankiewicz's key contributions to the film was the creation of the character of Lex Luthor's bumbling henchman, Otis, played by Ned Beatty. Mankiewicz's script also emphasized the romantic chemistry between Superman and Lois Lane, played by Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, respectively, and added numerous comedic moments throughout the film.

Mankiewicz went on to co-write the script for the sequel, Superman II, and he was also involved in the production of several other films in the Superman franchise. His contributions helped to shape the tone and style of the original Superman film, which is still widely regarded as one of the most iconic and beloved superhero movies of all time.

The Legacy of the Superman films

The Superman films, particularly the first two directed by Richard Donner, have had a lasting impact on popular culture and the superhero genre in film. 

Here are some key aspects of their legacy:

  • They established the template for modern superhero films. The first Superman film, released in 1978, was a groundbreaking achievement in visual effects, storytelling, and casting. It set the standard for future superhero movies and showed that comic book characters could be taken seriously as cinematic heroes.
  • A new level of realism was introduced to superhero movies. The Superman films depicted the Man of Steel as a relatable and human character, despite his extraordinary powers. Christopher Reeve's portrayal of Superman and Clark Kent gave the character a sense of vulnerability and humanity that had not been seen in previous adaptations.
  • They created iconic moments and characters. The Superman films introduced memorable villains like General Zod and Lex Luthor, and gave us unforgettable scenes like Superman catching Lois Lane as she falls from a helicopter. These moments have become ingrained in popular culture and are still referenced and celebrated today.
  • They inspired future filmmakers and actors. Many directors and actors have cited the Superman films as a major influence on their work. The movies' combination of spectacle, emotion, and heroism has inspired countless filmmakers to take on the challenge of adapting comic book characters to the big screen.
  • Superman's place as a cultural icon was cemented. The Superman films helped to establish the character as one of the most beloved and enduring figures in popular culture. Superman has become an enduring symbol of hope, justice, and heroism, and his influence can be seen in everything from comic books and movies to fashion and music.

Overall, the Superman films have had a lasting impact on popular culture and have helped to define the modern superhero genre in film. They remain beloved by fans of all ages and continue to inspire new generations of filmmakers and audiences alike.

Here are some interesting trivia about the first Superman film

  • Marlon Brando's salary - Marlon Brando was paid $3.7 million for just 12 days of work on the film, making him one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood history at the time.
  • The opening credits - The film's opening credits, which feature the Superman logo soaring through space, were created by Richard Greenberg, who went on to design the opening credits for many other iconic films.
  • The use of miniatures - Many of the film's special effects were created using miniatures, including the miniature city of Krypton that appears in the film's opening sequence.
  • The flying scenes - The flying scenes were achieved using a variety of techniques, including a specially-designed "flying rig" that allowed the actors to be suspended in mid-air.
  • The costume - The Superman costume worn by Christopher Reeve was made from a specially-designed fabric that was so tight-fitting that Reeve couldn't wear underwear beneath it.
  • John Williams' score - The film's iconic score was composed by John Williams, who also composed the music for other classic films such as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • Superman's alter ego - The character of Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent, was based on the character of Harold Lloyd, a silent film actor known for his "glasses" character.
  • Margot Kidder's audition - Margot Kidder was cast as Lois Lane after a contentious audition process that involved her standing up to a producer who made an inappropriate comment.
  • Lex Luthor's hairstyle - Gene Hackman's hairstyle in the film was inspired by the hairstyle of iconic gangster Bugsy Siegel.
  • The tagline - The film's tagline, "You'll believe a man can fly," has become one of the most iconic taglines in movie history.
  • Special effects innovations - The film was groundbreaking in terms of its use of special effects, particularly the use of blue screen technology and motion control cameras to create the illusion of flight and superhuman strength.
  • Brando's cue cards - Marlon Brando famously refused to memorize his lines for the film and instead had his lines written on cue cards that were hidden around the set.
  • The production budget - The film was one of the most expensive films ever made at the time, with a production budget of over $50 million.
  • Superman's abilities - The film was the first to showcase many of Superman's iconic abilities, such as his x-ray vision, heat vision, and super breath.
  • Spin-off films - The success of the first Superman film led to the production of three sequels: Superman II, III, and IV, as well as the spin-off film Supergirl.
  • The film was shot on location in New York City, as well as in Canada, Italy, and England.
  • Extended cut - In 2000, a special extended edition of the film was released on DVD, featuring an additional 8 minutes of footage that had been cut from the original theatrical release.
  • Critical and commercial success - The film was a critical and commercial success, earning over $300 million at the box office and winning an Academy Award for its visual effects.
  • Christopher Reeve's legacy - The film is widely regarded as a defining moment in the career of Christopher Reeve, who went on to become a beloved actor and advocate for spinal cord injury research after a horse-riding accident left him paralyzed.


Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.

About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
Back to Top