Superman (film): Wikis


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Directed by Richard Donner
Produced by Alexander Salkind
Ilya Salkind
Pierre Spengler
Written by Mario Puzo
David Newman
Leslie Newman
Robert Benton
Tom Mankiewicz
Jerry Siegel
Joe Shuster
Starring Marlon Brando
Gene Hackman
Christopher Reeve
Margot Kidder
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Geoffrey Unsworth
Editing by Stuart Baird
Michael Ellis
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) December 15, 1978 (1978-12-15)
Running time 143 minutes
151 minutes
(Expanded Edition)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $55 million
Gross revenue $300.22 million
Followed by Superman II

Superman, also known as Superman: The Movie, is a 1978 American superhero film based on the DC Comics character of the same name. Richard Donner directed the film, which stars Christopher Reeve as Superman, as well as Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Glenn Ford, Phyllis Thaxter, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, Valerie Perrine and Ned Beatty. The film depicts the origin of Superman, from infancy as Kal-El of Krypton and growing up in Smallville. Disguised as reporter Clark Kent, he adopts a mild-mannered attitude in Metropolis and develops a romance with Lois Lane, while battling against the villainous Lex Luthor.

The film was conceived in 1973 by Ilya Salkind. Several directors, most notably Guy Hamilton, and screenwriters (Mario Puzo, David and Leslie Newman and Robert Benton) were associated with the project before Donner was hired to direct. Donner brought Tom Mankiewicz to rewrite the script, feeling it was too campy. Mankiewicz was credited as creative consultant. It was decided to film both Superman and Superman II simultaneously.

Principal photography started in March 1977 and ended in October 1978. Tensions rose between Donner and the producers, and a decision was made to stop filming Superman II and finish the first film. Donner had already shot 75%[1] of the planned sequel, eventually giving birth to Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. Superman was released with critical acclaim and financial success. Reviewers noted parallels between the film's depiction of Superman and Jesus.[2] The film's legacy helped create a reemergence of science fiction films and the establishment of the superhero film genre.



On the planet Krypton, foremost scientist Jor-El believes that the red Kryptonian sun will shortly explode and destroy their planet. Unable to convince the Ruling Council of Elders that he is correct, Jor-El prepares an experimental, one-man spacecraft to transport his infant son Kal-El to a small planet in another galaxy called Earth, where the inhabitants bear a close resemblance to the Kryptonians. The child would have a decided advantage on Earth since the planet's yellow sun and lighter gravity would give him extraordinary powers, making him completely invulnerable. After an emotional farewell, Jor-El launches the spacecraft which safely leaves Krypton's galaxy. Shortly thereafter, Krypton is destroyed.

After traveling hundreds of light years, the ship crashes near an American farming town, Smallville, Kansas, where the now toddler Kal-El is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent. The couple decide to take the child home with them after witnessing the boy easily lift the rear of Jonathan's pick-up truck, after it nearly fell on him as he was repairing it, saving Jonathan's life. Giving Kal-El Martha's maiden name Clark, the couple lovingly raise the child as their own son.

Fourteen years later, the now-teenaged Clark exhibits other extraordinary powers, outrunning speeding trains, and punting a football into the stratosphere. However, even with these abilities, Clark is viewed as an "oddball" by his peers and is frustrated that he cannot show them what he can do. Sensing this, Jonathan reveals that he belives Clark was sent to Earth "for a reason." Shortly thereafter, Jonathan suffers a massive heart attack and dies. Clark, who is helpless despite the powers he possesses, is devastated.

Later, Clark discovers a glowing green crystal — the last surviving remnant from the ship from Krypton — which had been safely stored in the Kents' barn. Clark is compelled by the crystal to travel to the Arctic Circle. After bidding Martha an emotional farewell, Clark begins his long journey. After arriving at his destination, he hurls the crystal at an extreme distance, causing the Fortress of Solitude, which resembles the architecture of Krypton, to appear. He enters the Fortress and finds the crystal, using it to trigger a holographic image of Jor-El, who reveals that he is Clark's true father and that Clark's real name is Kal-El. Jor-El gives Clark background into his origins, showing him how his birth planet appeared before its destruction and educating him in his powers and responsibilities - emphasizing that he must not interfere in the history of humankind. After 12 years Clark leaves the Fortress, his powers fully developed, and now wearing the familiar blue and red caped costume made with his infant swaddling cloths and emblazoned with his Kryptonian family crest.

Arriving in Metropolis, Kent dons eyeglasses and a business suit and he finds a job as a reporter at The Daily Planet. He meets and develops a romantic attraction to reporter Lois Lane, but the feelings are not returned as she regards him as merely a friend. When Lois becomes involved in a helicopter accident atop the Daily Planet building, Clark publicly uses his powers for the first time to save her. Not recognizing Clark, Lois asks him who he is, to which he simply replies "A friend."

In costume, he then patrols all over the city, thwarting robberies, capturing criminals in spectacular fashion, aiding children of getting their beloved pets from trees, and even preventing Air Force One from crashing in a severe storm. As the next morning dawns, his heroic exploits have made him a media sensation, fascinating everyone, especially Lois. Later that evening, in costume, Clark allows Lois to interview him at her apartment,for a newspaper article that would reveal to the people of Metropolis who he is and why he is there. He then takes Lois on a nighttime flight above Metropolis. As the romantic flight ends, a bedazzled Lois mutters to herself: "What a super man," and thus is inspired to dub him "Superman."

Meanwhile, criminal genius Lex Luthor plans to make a fortune in real estate by cheaply buying large amounts of desert land and then diverting a nuclear rocket from a missile testing site to the San Andreas Fault. This will destroy California killing millions of people and leave Luthor's desert as the new West Coast of the United States. After reading with interest Lois Lane's article titled, "I Spent The Night With Superman", Luthor realizes that Superman is a potential threat to his plans. Reasoning that fragments of Krypton may have traveled to Earth and may be potentially lethal to Superman, he locates one in the form of a meteorite in Ethiopia.

Luthor then lures Superman to his underground lair. He reveals his true plans involving the missiles, then exposes him to the glowing green meteorite which he has dubbed Kryptonite. As Superman weakens, Luthor taunts him by revealing that one of the missiles is headed to Hackensack, New Jersey ,in the direct opposite direction of the other, knowing that even with his great speed, Superman could not stop both impacts. Luthor's girlfriend, Eve Teschmacher is horrified because her mother lives in Hackensack, but Luthor does not care and leaves Superman to a slow death.

Teschmacher rescues Superman on the condition that he will deal with the New Jersey missile first which he does by pushing it into open space. Consequently, he is too late to stop the second impact, which causes a massive earthquake as predicted. Superman struggles to save those caught in the earthquake, while, Lois, who is in the Mojave Desert on assignment investigating the purchases of worthless desert land by an anonymous buyer, is trapped in her car as a result of an aftershock. As the car quickly begins to fill with dirt and debris, Lois suffocates and is near death. Sensing this, Superman races to save her only to find that he is too late.

Distraught at being unable to save Lois, Superman zooms into the stratosphere. He decides to ignore Jor-El's warning not to interfere with human history, and instead remembers Jonathan Kent's advice that he must be here for "a reason." Flying at incredible speed, Superman circles the Earth, creating a force that makes time run backwards, reversing all the events that led to Lois' death. Satisfied that all has been restored, Superman returns Earth to its normal spin. After making sure that Lois is alive and well, Superman captures and delivers Luthor and Otis to prison and then soars into the night sky to his next adventure.

Cast (in credited order)

  • Marlon Brando as Jor-El: Foremost scientist and Superman's biological father on Krypton. After finding evidence of Krypton's inevitable destruction, Jor-El, unable to save himself or his wife, sends his infant son to Earth in an effort to save him from certain death. It is Jor-El who instills his son with the drive to serve others.
  • Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor: An evil scientific genius armed with vast resources who would prove to be Superman's arch-nemesis. It is he who discovers Superman's weakness and hatches an evil plan that puts millions of people in danger.
  • Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El: Born on Krypton and raised on Earth, Superman is a being of immense power, strength and invulnerability who after realizing his destiny to serve mankind uses his powers to protect and save others. As a means to protect his identity, he works as mild mannered reporter Clark Kent at The Daily Planet.
  • Ned Beatty as Otis: Lex Luthor's bumbling henchman.
  • Jackie Cooper as Perry White: Clark Kent's hot-tempered boss at The Daily Planet. He assigns Lois to uncover the news of an unknown businessman (later revealed as Luthor) purchasing a large amount of property in California.
  • Jeff East as the teenage Clark Kent: As a teenager, Clark is forced to hide his superhuman abilities, making him unpopular among his classmates and frustating his efforts to gain the attention of Lana Lang.
  • Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent: Clark Kent's adoptive father in Smallville during his youth. Jonathan is a farmer who teaches Clark ideal skills that will help him in the future. He later suffers a fatal heart attack that changes Clark's outlook on his duty to others.
  • Trevor Howard as the First Elder: Head of the Kryptonian Council, who does not believe Jor-El's claim that Krypton is doomed to its own destruction. He threatens Jor-El, "Any attempt by you to create a climate of fear and panic amongst the populace must be deemed by us an act of insurrection."
  • Margot Kidder as Lois Lane: Ace reporter at The Daily Planet who becomes a romantic interest for Clark Kent. She is madly in love with Superman and often ignores Clark. Driven in her career, Lois does whatever it takes to scoop rival reporters, sometimes while ignoring the consequences.
  • Jack O'Halloran as Non: The third of the Kryptonian villains whom are sentenced to be isolated in the Phantom Zone.
  • Valerie Perrine as Eve Teschmacher: Lex Luthor's girlfriend and accomplice. She saves Superman's life against Luthor's wishes after learning that Luthor has launched a nuclear missile toward her mother's hometown of Hackensack, New Jersey.
  • Maria Schell as Vond-Ah: Like Jor-El, a top Kryptonian scientist; but she too is not swayed by Jor-El's theories.
  • Terence Stamp as General Zod: Evil leader of the three Kryptonian villains who swears vengeance against Jor-El when he is sentenced to the Phantom Zone.
  • Phyllis Thaxter as Martha Kent: Clark's faithful adoptive mother. A kindly woman who dotes on her adoptive son and is fiercely devoted to her husband Jonathan. She is her son's emotional supports after Clark is devastated by Jonathan's death.
  • Susannah York as Lara Lor-Van: Superman's biological mother on Krypton. Lara, after learning of Krypton's fate, has apprehensions about sending her infant son to a strange planet alone.
  • Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen: A teenage photographer at The Daily Planet who befriends Clark Kent.
  • Sarah Douglas as Ursa: General Zod's second in command and consort.
  • Harry Andrews as the Second Elder: Council member, who compels Jor-El to be reasonable about his, Jor-El's, plans to save his planet.
  • Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill have cameo appearances as Lois Lane's father and mother. Alyn and Neill portrayed Superman and Lois Lane in the 1948 serial and Atom Man vs. Superman. Neill has been in other Superman media as well.
  • Larry Hagman and Rex Reed also cameo roles.




Ilya Salkind had first conceived the idea for a Superman film in late 1973.[3] In November 1974, after a long difficult process with DC Comics, the Superman film rights were purchased by Ilya, his father Alexander Salkind, and their partner Pierre Spengler. DC wanted a list of actors that were to be considered for Superman. They approved the producer's choices of Muhammad Ali, Al Pacino, James Caan, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood and Dustin Hoffman.[4] The filmmakers felt it was best to film Superman and Superman II back-to-back, simultaneously, and to make a negative pickup deal with Warner Brothers.[5] William Goldman was approached to write the screenplay, while Leigh Brackett was considered. Ilya hired Alfred Bester, who began writing a film treatment. Alexander felt, however, that Bester was not famous enough, and so hired Mario Puzo (The Godfather) to write the screenplay at a $600,000 salary.[6][7] Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, Richard Lester, Peter Yates, John Guillermin, Ronald Neame and Sam Peckinpah were in negotiations to direct. Peckinpah dropped out when he produced a gun during a meeting with Ilya. George Lucas turned down the offer because of his commitment to Star Wars.[8][3]

During the filming of Jaws, Steven Spielberg expressed interest in directing Superman. Ilya was enthusiastic to hire Spielberg, but Alexander was skeptical, feeling it was best to wait for the release "of that fish movie of his". Jaws was released with box office success, prompting the producers to offer Spielberg the position, but by then Spielberg had already committed to Close Encounters of the Third Kind.[3] Guy Hamilton was hired as director, while Puzo delivered his 500-page script for Superman and Superman II in July 1975.[5] Jax-Ur appeared as one of General Zod's henchman, with Clark Kent written as a television reporter. Dustin Hoffman, who was previously considered for Superman, turned down Lex Luthor.[4][6] It was decided to first sign an A-list actor for Superman. Robert Redford was offered a lot of money, but felt he was too famous. Burt Reynolds also turned down the role, while Sylvester Stallone was interested, but nothing ever came of it. Paul Newman was offered his choosing as Superman, Lex Luthor or Jor-El for $4 million, turning down all three roles.[8]

In early 1975, Brando signed on as Jor-El with a salary of $3.7 million and 11.75% of the box office gross profits, totaling $19 million. Brando hoped to use some of his salary for a proposed 13-part Roots-style miniseries on Native Americans in the United States.[9] Brando had it in his contract to complete all of his scenes in 12 days. He also refused to memorize his dialog, so cue cards were compiled across the set. Hackman was cast as Lex Luthor days later. The filmmakers made it a priority to shoot all of Brando and Hackman's footage "because they would be committed to other films immediately".[5][3] Puzo's scripts were too epic, bringing Robert Benton and David Newman for rewrite work. Benton became too busy directing The Late Show and David's wife Leslie was brought to write dialog for Lois Lane.[8]

Their script was submitted in July 1976,[5] and carried a camp tone, including a cameo appearance by Telly Savalas as his Kojak character. The scripts for Superman and Superman II were now at over 400-pages combined.[10][11] Pre-production started in Rome, with sets starting construction and flying tests being unsuccessfully experimented. "In Italy," producer Ilya Salkind remembered, "we lost about $2 million [on flying tests]."[3] Over 200 unknowns were tested. Bruce Jenner then auditioned for Superman,[8] while Patrick Wayne was cast, but dropped out when his father was diagnosed with stomach cancer.[12] Both Neil Diamond and Arnold Schwarzenegger lobbied hard for the role, but were ignored. James Caan, James Brolin, Lyle Waggoner, Christopher Walken, Nick Nolte, Kurt Russell, Jeff Bridges, David Soul, and Perry King were approached.[8][3] Brando found out he couldn't film in Italy because of a warrant out for his arrest, a sexual obscenity charge from Last Tango in Paris. Production moved to England in late-1976, but Hamilton could not join because he was a tax exile.[10]

Mark Robson was strongly considered in talks to direct, but after seeing The Omen, the producers hired Richard Donner. Donner had previously been planning Damien: Omen II when he was hired in January 1977 for $1 million to direct Superman and Superman II.[12] Donner felt it was best to start from scratch. "They had prepared the picture for a year and not one bit was useful to me."[12] Donner was dissatisfied with the campy script and brought Tom Mankiewicz to perform a rewrite. According to Mankiewicz "not a word from the Puzo script was used".[10] "It was a well-written, but still a ridiculous script. It was 550 pages. I said, 'You can't shoot this screenplay because you'll be shooting for five years'," Donner continued. "That was literally a shooting script and they planned to shoot all 550 pages. You know, 110 pages is plenty for a script, so even for two features, that was way too much."[13] Mankiewicz conceived having each Kryptonian family wear a crest resembling a different letter, justifying the 'S' on Superman's costume.[12] The Writers Guild of America refused to credit Mankiewicz for his rewrites, so Donner gave him a creative consultant credit, much to the annoyance from the Guild.[12]

Tom Mankiewicz claims that there were many great strong brutes who couldn't act, and many great actors who weren't physically right for the role. A shortlist was eventually made, giving the production choices of Christopher Reeve, John Travolta, and Mel Gibson, with Reeve becoming the actor to land the role. Casting director Lynn Stalmaster introduced Salkind and Donner to Christopher Reeve. Salkind and Donner met Reeve in New York five months before filming. Salkind claims that Reeve was terrific, but was extremely skinny, so they went back and looked for more people. Casting became so desperate that a full screen test was arranged for Salkind's wife's dentist Don Voyne; and portions of the dentist's test can be seen on the DVD.

For the role of Lois Lane, Stalmaster said that just about every single available actress between the ages of 25 and 35, with most of them coming from casting agencies located in Los Angeles, New York, and southeastern Canada, read for the role. Among them were Stockard Channing, Lesley Ann Warren, Susan Blakely, Deborah Raffin, and Anne Archer. Holly Palance was used for Christopher Reeve's screen test. Margot Kidder eventually tested for the role and won over the filmmakers. Warren had coincidentally portrayed Lois Lane in the TV special of It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman. Channing was Donner's second choice for Lois Lane.

Keenan Wynn was originally cast as Perry White. When he arrived at the airport in England to start filming, he had a heart attack, so the role was recast with Jackie Cooper at the very last second. Both Goldie Hawn and Ann-Margret turned down the role of Miss Eve Teschmacher because they were asking for higher salary, so Valerie Perrine was cast.


Principal photography began on March 24, 1977 at Pinewood Studios for Krypton scenes, budgeted as the most expensive film ever made at that point. Since Superman was being shot simultaneously with Superman II, filming lasted for 19 months, until October 1978. Filming was originally scheduled to last between 7 and 8 months, but problems rose during production. John Barry served as production designer, while Stuart Craig and Norman Reynolds worked as art directors. Derek Meddings and Les Bowie were credited as visual effects supervisors. Stuart Freeborn was the make-up artist, while Barry, David Lane, Peter MacDonald and John Glen directed second unit scenes. Vic Armstrong was hired as the stunt coordinator and Reeve's stunt double, his wife Wendy Leech was Kidder's double. Superman was also the final complete film by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who died during post-production while working on Tess for director Roman Polanski. The Fortress of Solitude was constructed at Shepperton Studios and at Pinewood's 007 Stage.[14][15] Upon viewing the footage of Krypton, Warner Bros. decided to distribute in not only North America, but also in foreign countries. Due to complications and problems during filming, Warners also supplied $20 million and acquired television rights.[7][14]

New York City doubled for Metropolis, while the New York Daily News Building served as the location for the offices of the Daily Planet. Brooklyn Heights was also used.[16] Filming in New York lasted 5 weeks, during the time of the New York City blackout of 1977. Production moved to Alberta, Canada for scenes set in Smallville, with the cemetery scene filmed in the canyon of Beynon, Alberta, the high school football scenes at Barons, Alberta, and the Kent farm constructed at Blackie, Alberta.[17] Brief filming also took place in Gallup, New Mexico, Lake Mead and Grand Central Terminal.[2] Director Donner had tensions with the Salkinds and Spengler concerning the escalating production budget and the shooting schedule. Creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz reflected, "Donner never got a budget or a schedule. He was constantly told he was way over schedule and budget. At one point he said, 'Why don't you just schedule the film for the next 2 days, and then I'll be 9 months over?'."[14] Richard Lester, who worked with the Salkinds on The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, was then brought in as a temporary associate producer to mediate the relationship between Donner and the Salkinds,[3] who by now were refusing to talk to each other.[14] With his relationship with Spengler, Donner remarked, "At one time if I'd seen him, I would have killed him."[7] Superman would go on to make $300.22 million making it the second highest grossing movie of 1978 behind Grease.

Lester was offered producing credit but refused, going uncredited for his work.[14] Salkind felt that bringing a second director onto the set meant there would be someone ready in the event that Donner couldn't fulfill his directing duties. "Being there all the time meant he [Lester] could take over," Salkind admitted. "[Donner] couldn't make up his mind on stuff."[3] On Lester, Donner reflected, "He'd been suing the Salkinds for his money on Three and Four Musketeers, which he'd never gotten. He won a lot of his lawsuits, but each time he sued the Salkinds in one country, they'd move to another, from Costa Rica to Panama to Switzerland. When I was hired, Lester told me, 'Don't do it. Don't work for them. I was told not to, but I did it. Now I'm telling you not to, but you'll probably do it and end up telling the next guy.' Lester came in as a 'go-between'. I didn't trust Lester, and I told him. He said, 'Believe me, I'm only doing it because they're paying me the money that they owe me from the lawsuit. I'll never come onto your set unless you ask me; I'll never go to your dailies. If I can help you in any way, call me."[13]

It was decided to stop shooting Superman II and focus on finishing Superman. Donner had already completed 75% of the sequel.[18] The filmmakers took a risk: if Superman was a box office bomb, they would not finish Superman II. The original climax for Superman II had General Zod, Ursa and Non destroying the planet, with Superman time traveling to fix the damage.[8] On the original ending for Superman, Lex Luthor and Otis were put in prison, with the nuclear missile that Superman did not counter against flying in outer space. The missile would strike the Phantom Zone, freeing the three Kryptonian villains. Donner commented, "I decided if Superman is a success, they're going to do a sequel. If it ain't a success, a cliffhanger ain't gonna bring them to see Superman II."[12]


Publicity still emulating screen shot.
Actual screen shot for comparison. Suit has greenish hue, for use with blue-screen effects.

Superman is well-known for its large-scale visual effects sequences, all of which were created before the digital age. The Golden Gate Bridge scale model stood 70 feet long and 20 feet wide. Other miniatures included the Krypton Council Dome and the Hoover Dam. Slow motion was used to simulate the vast amount of water for the Hoover Dam destruction. The Fortress of Solitude was a combination of a full-scale set and matte paintings. Young Clark Kent's long-distance football punt was executed with a wooden football loaded into an air blaster placed in the ground. The Superman costume was to be a much darker blue, but the use of blue screen made it transparent.[19]

The first test for the flying sequences involved simply catapulting a crash test dummy out of a cannon. Another technique had a remote control cast of Superman flying around. Both were discarded due to lack of movement. High quality, realistic-looking animation was tried, with speed trails added to make the effect more convincing.

As detailed in the Superman: The Movie DVD special effects documentary 'The Magic Behind The Cape', presented by optical effects supervisor Roy Field, in the end, three techniques were used to achieve the flying effects.

For landings and take-offs, wire flying riggings were devised and used. On location, these were suspended from tower cranes, whereas in the studio elaborate rigs were suspended from the studio ceilings. Some of the wire-flying work was quite audacious considering computer controlled rigs were not then available — the penultimate shot where Superman flies out of the prison yard for example. Although stuntmen were used, Reeve did much of the work himself, and was suspended as high as 50ft in the air. Counterweights and pulleys were typically used to achieve flying movement rather than electronic or motorized devices.

For shots where the camera is stationary and Superman is seen flying towards or away from the camera in the frame, blue screen matte shots were used. Reeve would be photographed against a blue screen. While a special device made his cape flap to give the illusion of movement, the actor himself would remain stationary. Instead, the camera would use a mixture of long zoom-ins and zoom-outs to cause him to become larger or smaller in the frame. The blue background would then be photochemically removed and Reeve's isolated image would then be 'inserted' in to a matted area of a background plate shot. The zoom-ins or zoom-outs would give the appearance of flying away or towards the contents of the background plate. The disparity in lighting and colour between the matted image and the background plate, the occasional presence of black matte lines (where the matte area and the matted image — in the case Superman — don't exactly match-up) and the slightly unconvincing impression of movement achieved through the use of long zoom lenses is characteristic of these shots.

For shots where the camera is tracking with Superman as he flies (such as in the Superman and Lois Metropolis flying sequence) front projection was used. This involved photographing the actors suspended in front of a background image dimly projected from the front on to a special screen made by 3M that would reflect light back at many times the original intensity directly in to a combined camera/projector. The result was a very clear and intense photographic reproduction of both the actors and the background plate with far less of the image deterioration or lighting problems than occur with rear projection.

A technique was developed that combined the front projection effect with specially designed zoom lenses.[19] The illusion of movement was created by zooming in on Reeve while making the front projected image appear to recede. For scenes where Superman interacts with other people or objects while in flight, Reeve and actors were put in a variety of rigging equipment with careful lighting and photography.[19] This also led to the creation of the Zoptic system.[20]

The highly reflective costumes worn by the Kryptonians were the result of an accident during Superman flying tests. "We noticed the material lit up on its own," Donner explained. "We tore the material into tiny pieces and glued it on the costumes, designing a front projection effect for each camera. There was a little light on each camera, and it would project into a mirror, bounce out in front of the lens, hit the costume, [and] millions of little glass heads would light up and bring the image back into the camera."[12]


Jerry Goldsmith, who scored Donner's The Omen, was originally set to compose Superman. Portions of Goldsmith's work from Planet of the Apes were used in Superman's teaser trailer. He dropped out over scheduling conflicts and John Williams was hired.[8] Kidder was supposed to sing "Can You Read My Mind", the lyrics to which were written by Leslie Bricusse, but Donner disliked it and changed it to a composition accompanied by a voiceover.[2]


"You will travel far, my little Kal-El. But we will never leave you, even in the face of our deaths. The richness of our lives shall be yours. All that I have, all that I've learned, everything I feel .... all this and more I bequeath you, my son. You will carry me inside you all the days of your life .... You will make my strength your own, and see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father the son. This is all I can send you, Kal-El."
— Jor-El

Superman is divided into three basic sections, each with three distinct themes and visual styles. The first segment, set on Krypton, is meant to be typical of science fiction films, but also lays the groundwork for the Jesus Christ analogy that emerges in the relationship between Jor-El and Kal-El. The second segment, set in Smallville, is reminiscent of 1950s films, and its small-town atmosphere is meant to evoke a Norman Rockwell painting. The third (and largest) segment was an attempt to present the superhero story with as much realism as possible (what Donner called "verisimilitude"), relying on traditional cinematic drama and using only subtle humor instead of a campy approach.[2]

Donner, Tom Mankiewicz and Ilya Salkind have commented on the use of Christian references to discuss the themes of Superman.[2][8] Mankiewicz deliberately fostered analogies with Jor-El (God) and Kal-El (Jesus).[10] Donner is somewhat skeptical of Mankiewicz' actions, joking "I got enough death threats because of that."[2]

Several concepts and items of imagery have been used in Biblical comparisons. Jor-El casts out General Zod from Krypton, a parallel to the casting out of Satan from Heaven.[2] The spacecraft that brings Kal-El to Earth is in the form of a star (Star of Bethlehem). Kal-El comes to Jonathan and Martha Kent, who are unable to have children. Martha Kent states, "All these years how we've prayed and prayed that the good Lord would see fit to give us a child," which was compared to the Virgin Mary.[2]

Just as little is known about Jesus during his middle years, Clark travels into the wilderness to find out who he is and what he has to do. Jor-El says, "Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and power are needed. But always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack a light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you..... my only son."[2] The theme resembles the Biblical account of God sending his only son Jesus to Earth in hope for the good of mankind. More were seen when Donner was able to complete Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, featuring the fall, resurrection and his battle with evil. Another vision was that of The Creation of Adam.[2]

The Christian imagery in the Reeve films has provoked comment on the Jewish origins of Superman. Rabbi Simcha Weinstein's book Up, Up and Oy Vey: How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero, says that Superman is both a pillar of society and one whose cape conceals a "nebbish", saying "He's a bumbling, nebbish Jewish stereotype. He's Woody Allen."[21][22] Ironically, it is also in the Reeve films that Clark Kent's persona has the greatest resemblance to Woody Allen, though his conscious model was Cary Grant's character in Bringing up Baby. This same theme is pursued about '40s superheroes generally in Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero by Danny Fingeroth.[21][22]

In the scene where Lois Lane interviews Superman on the balcony, Superman replies, "I never lie." Salkind felt this was an important point in the film, since Superman, living under his secret identity as Clark Kent, is "telling the biggest lie of all time." His romance with Lois also leads him to contradict Jor-El's orders to avoid altering human history, time traveling to save her from dying. Superman instead takes the advice of Jonathan Kent, his father on Earth.[8]


Superman was originally scheduled to be released in June 1978, but the problems during filming pushed the film back by 6 months. Due to the rushed post-production, no premiere took place. Editor Stuart Baird reflected, "Filming was finished in October 1978 and it is a miracle we had the film released 3 months later. Big-budgeted films today tend to take 6 to 8 months."[14] Donner, for his part, wished that he'd "had another 6 months; I would have perfected a lot of things. But at some point, you've gotta turn the picture over."[13] Warner Bros. spent $7 million to market and promote the film.[7]

Superman opened on December 15, 1978 in America, grossing $134.22 million in North America and $166 million in foreign countries, totaling $300.22 million worldwide. The film was declared a financial success since it beat its $55 million budget.[23] Superman was the sixth-highest grossing film at the time of its release, as well as Warner Brothers' most successful (which has since been beaten).[14] Based on 46 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 93% of reviewers enjoyed Superman, with the consensus "Superman deftly blends humor and gravitas, taking advantage of the perfectly cast Reeve to craft a loving, nostalgic tribute to an American pop culture icon."[24] By comparison Metacritic collected an average score of 88, based on 12 reviews.[25] The film was widely regarded as one of top 10 movies of 1978.[26][27][28][29] Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster gave a positive reaction.[4] Shuster was "delighted to see Superman on the screen. I got chills. Chris Reeve has just the right touch of humor. He really is Superman."[11] It was the second highest grossing movie of 1978 only to be kept off by Grease.

Roger Ebert gave a largely positive review. "Superman is a pure delight, a wondrous combination of all the old-fashioned things we never really get tired of: adventure and romance, heroes and villains, earthshaking special effects and wit. Reeve is perfectly cast in the role. Any poor choice would have ruined the film."[30] Ebert placed the film on his 10 best list of 1978.[31] James Berardinelli believed "there's no doubt that it's a flawed movie, but it's one of the most wonderfully entertaining flawed movies made during the 1970s. It's exactly what comic book fans hoped it would be. Perhaps most heartening of all, however, is the message at the end of the credits announcing the impending arrival of Superman II."[32] Harry Knowles is a longtime fan of the film, but was critical of elements that didn't represent the Superman stories as seen in the comics.[33] Dave Kehr felt "the tone, style, and point of view change almost from shot to shot. This is the definitive corporate film. It is best when it takes itself seriously, worst when it takes the easy way out in giggly camp, When Lex Luthor enters the action, Hackman plays the arch-villain like a hairdresser left over from a TV skit."[34]


Superman was nominated for three Academy Awards (Editing, Music (Original Score) and Sound), and received a Special Achievement Award for its visual effects. Donner publicly expressed disgust that production designer John Barry and cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth had not been recognized.[12]

Superman was successful at the 32nd British Academy Film Awards. Reeve won Best Newcomer, while Hackman, Unsworth, Barry and the sound designers earned nominations.[35] The film won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.[36] At The Saturn Awards Kidder, Barry, John Williams and the visual effects department received awards, and the film won Best Science Fiction Film. Reeve, Hackman, Donner, Valerie Perrine and costume designer Yvonne Blake were nominated for their work as well.[37] In addition, Williams was given a nomination at the 36th Golden Globe Awards and won a Grammy Award.[38][39] In 2007, the Visual Effects Society listed Superman as the 44th most influential use of visual effects of all time.[40] In 2008, Empire named it the #174 greatest movie all-time on its list of 500.[41] The film also received recognition from the American Film Institute. Superman was selected as the 26th greatest movie hero of all time.[42]

With the success of the film, it was immediately decided to finish Superman II. Ilya and Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler did not ask Donner to return because Donner had criticized them during the movie's publicity phase.[8] Donner commented in January 1979, "I'd work with Spengler again, but only on my terms. As long as he has nothing to say as the producer, and is just liaison between Alexander Salkind and his money, that's fine. If they don't want it on those terms, then they need to go out and find another director, it sure as shit ain't gonna be me."[13] Kidder, who portrayed Lois Lane, was dissatisfied by the producers' decision,[14] and also criticized the Salkinds during publicity. As a result, Kidder was only given a cameo appearance for Superman III, and not a main supporting role.[43] Jack O'Halloran, who portrayed Non, stated, "It was great to work with Donner. Richard Lester was as big an asshole as the Salkinds."[44] Two more films, Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), were produced. Superman Returns was released in 2006. Director Bryan Singer credited Superman: The Movie as an influence for Superman Returns, and even used restored footage of Brando as Jor-El. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut also was released in 2006.[15]

The film's final sequence, which features Superman flying high above the Earth at sunrise, and breaking the fourth wall to smile briefly at the camera, featured at the end of every Superman film starring Reeve, and was re-shot with Brandon Routh for Superman Returns.

Alongside Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman created a reemergence of science fiction films. Superman also established the superhero film genre as viable outside the world of Saturday matinee serials, although it was a decade before the comparable success of the Batman series and two decades before that of X-Men and Spider-Man.[8]

Beyond theatrical release

The American Broadcasting Company aired the television debut of Superman in 1981, adding over 30 minutes of footage not seen in theaters. A syndicated version of the film aired in local television stations in Los Angeles, California and Washington, D.C. in the 1990s included most of this added footage and two additional scenes never seen before.[45] When Michael Thau and Warner Home Video started working on a film restoration in 2000, some of the extra footage was not added because of poor visual effects. Thau felt "the pace of the film's storyline would be adversely affected. This included timing problems with John William's musical score. The cut of the movie shown on TV was put together to make the movie longer when shown on TV because ABC paid per minute to air the movie. The special edition cut is designed for the best viewing experience in the true spirit of movie making."[46] There was a special test screening of the Special Edition in 2001 in Austin, Texas, on March 23 with plans for a possible wider theatrical release later that year, which did not occur.[47] In May 2001, Warner Home Video released the special edition on DVD.[48] Director Donner also assisted, working slightly over a year on the project. The release included making-of documentaries directed by Thau and eight minutes of restored footage.[49]

Thau explained, "I worked on Ladyhawke and that's how I met Donner and Tom Mankiewicz. I used to hear those wonderful stories in the cutting room that Tom, Donner and Stuart would tell about Superman and that's how I kind of got the ideas for the plots of Taking Flight and Making Superman.[49] Donner commented, "There were a few shots where the Superman costume looked green. We went in and cleaned that up, bringing the color back to where it should be."[50] Thau wanted to make the film shorter, "I wanted to take out the damn flying sequence where Lois is reciting a poem ["Can You Read My Mind"] when they're flying around. I also wanted to take out where it was just generic action. It was like a two minute car chase. Donner protested and the stuff stayed in."[49] It was followed by a box set release in the same month, containing "bare bones" editions of Superman II, Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.[51] In November 2006, a four-disc special edition was released,[52] followed by a HD DVD release[53] and Blu-ray.[54] Also available (with other films) is the eight disc "Christopher Reeve Superman Collection"[55] and the 14 disc "Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition".[56]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Richard Donner, Tom Mankiewicz, DVD audio commentary, 2001, Warner Home Video
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Barry Freiman (February 2006). "One-on-One Interview with Producer Ilya Salkind". Superman Homepage. Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  4. ^ a b c Richard Donner, Tom Mankiewicz, Ilya Salkind, Pierre Spengler, David Prowse, You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman, 2006, Warner Home Video
  5. ^ a b c d Richard Donner, Tom Mankiewicz, Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Lynn Stalmaster, Marc McClure, Taking Flight: The Development of Superman, 2001, Warner Home Video
  6. ^ a b Julius Schwartz; Brian M. Thomsen (2000). "B.O.". Man of Two Worlds: My Life In Science Fiction and Comics. New York City: HarperCollins. pp. 135–142. ISBN 0-380-81051-4. 
  7. ^ a b c d Ivor Davis (December 1978). "Marketing The Man of Steel". Maclean's: pp. 22—26. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Ilya Salkind, Pierre Spengler, DVD audio commentary, 2006, Warner Home Video
  9. ^ Peter Manso (November 1995). "The Way It's Never Been Done Before". Brando the Biography. Hyperion. ISBN 0786881283. 
  10. ^ a b c d Daniel Dickholtz (1998-12-16). "Steel Dreams: Interview with Tom Mankiewicz". Starlog: pp. 67—71. 
  11. ^ a b Jack Kroll (1979-01-01). "Superman to the Rescue". Newsweek: pp. 34—41. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h David Hughes (2003). "Superman: The Movie". Comic Book Movies. Virgin Books. pp. 5–23. ISBN 0753507676. 
  13. ^ a b c d Don Shay (Summer 1979). "Richard Donner on Superman". Cinefantastique: pp. 26—36. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h Making Superman: Filming The Legend, 2001, Warner Home Video
  15. ^ a b Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman, 2006, Warner Home Video
  16. ^ Peter Coutros (June 1977). "Clark Kent Uses Our Lobby for a Phone Booth". Daily News. 
  17. ^ The Making of Superman the Movie, David Michael Petrou, New York:Warner Books, 1978.
  18. ^ Richard Fyrbourne (January 1979). "The Man Behind Superman: Richard Donner". Starlog: pp. 40—44. 
  19. ^ a b c The Magic Behind The Cape, 2001, Warner Home Video
  20. ^ Nicholas Leahy (April 1982). "How Superman flies". Starburst: pp. 16—19. 
  21. ^ a b Michael Elkin (2006-07-06). "Super ... Mensch?". The Jewish Exponent. Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  22. ^ a b "Clark Kent - Superman is 'Jewish'". Contact Music. 2006-06-20. Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  23. ^ "Superman (1978)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  24. ^ "Superman: The Movie (1978)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  25. ^ "Superman: The Movie (1978): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
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  30. ^ "Superman". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
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  32. ^ "Superman". James Berardinelli. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  33. ^ Harry Knowles (2002-09-28). "Harry talks with JJ Abrams for a Couple of Hours about Superman". Ain't It Cool News. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  34. ^ Dave Kehr. "Superman". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  35. ^ "32nd British Academy Film Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  36. ^ "The 1979 Hugo Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  37. ^ "The 1979 Saturn Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  38. ^ "The 1979 Golden Globe Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  39. ^ "The 1980 Grammy Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-01-06. 
  40. ^ "The Visual Effects Society Unveils 50 Most Influential Visual Effects Films of All Time" (PDF). Visual Effects Society. 2007-05-10. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  41. ^ "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire magazine. Retrieved 2008-09-29. 
  42. ^
  43. ^ Barry Freiman (2005-02-08). "One-on-One with Margot Kidder". Superman Homepage. Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  44. ^ Steve Younis (2001-10-25). "Exclusive Jack O'Halloran Interview". Superman Homepage. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  45. ^ Barry Freiman (January 2006). "Special Edition Superman DVDs on the Way". Superman Homepage. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  46. ^ "Superman "Special Edition" Interview". Superman Homepage. Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  47. ^ Jim Bowers (2001-03-29). "Superman San Antonio Report". Superman Homepage. Retrieved 2009-04-20. 
  48. ^ "Superman: The Movie (1978)". Amazon. Retrieved 2008-09-07. 
  49. ^ a b c Barry Freiman (December 2006). "Interview with Michael Thau". Superman Homepage. Retrieved 2008-09-07. 
  50. ^ Steve Younis (2001-03-27). "Exclusive Richard Donner Interview". Superman Homepage. Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  51. ^ "The Complete Superman Collection". Amazon. Retrieved 2008-09-07. 
  52. ^ "Superman: The Movie (4-disc special edition)". Amazon. Retrieved 2008-09-07. 
  53. ^ "Superman: The Movie (4-disc special edition HD DVD)". Amazon. Retrieved 2008-09-07. 
  54. ^ "Superman: The Movie (Blu-ray)". Amazon. Retrieved 2008-09-07. 
  55. ^ "The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection". Amazon. Retrieved 2008-09-07. 
  56. ^ "Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition". Amazon. Retrieved 2008-09-07. 

External links

Film analysis
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film
Succeeded by


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