Superman: The Movie (1978)

superman poster 1978 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 8/10

Strong vision of a classic story

Some dated FX, lame turn-back-time fix

Movie Info

Movie Name: Superman:  The Movie

Studio: Dovemead Films/Film Export A.G./International Film Production

Genre(s): Superhero/Action/Adventure/Family

Release Date(s): December 10, 1978 (Premiere)/December 14, 1978 (US)

MPAA Rating: PG

superman the movie jor el lara marlon brando susannah york

“I think he’s Moses, Jor-el”
“Clearly he’s Jesus, Lara”

Jor-el (Marlon Brando) sends his only son to Earth to escape the destruction of Krypton.  There in Smallville, Kansas, he is found by John and Martha Kent (Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter) who raise him as their own.  Clark Kent (Jeff East) grows up always hiding his secret powers and questioning the reasons behind him.  Heading north to find his destiny, Clark (Christopher Reeve) returns to forge a new path forward which will mean becoming the hero he was always meant to be.  Clark takes a job at the Daily Planetwhere he meets Perry White (Jackie Cooper), reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), and Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), but a threat is growing under Metropolis in the form of Lex Luthor and his assistants Otis (Ned Beatty) and Ms. Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine).  Lex has lucrative plan that could cost millions of lives.

superman the movie clark baby lifts truck kents

Maybe, Jonathan needs some lessons on setting up the jack is what we really take away

Directed by Richard Donner, Superman: The Movie (often just called Superman) is a DC Comics superhero comic book movie.  The film went through a lot of changes before making it to the screen but was well received by critics.  The film received an honorary Academy Award for Special effects with nominations for Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Score.  Superman was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry in 2017.

I think I saw Superman soon after seeing Superman II in the theater.  I vividly remember watching it on our new TV (a huge twenty-inch screen probably) and being upset when the movie was interrupted by my sister using her hairdryer.  Watching the film now, it still has the magic and is a great example of how to make a superhero film by tapping into what makes superheroes great.

superman the movie field shot canada wyeth painting

Clark, you don’t belong in this perfect farm field straight out of a painting…you have to go to crappy Metropolis

Originally Steven Spielberg was considered for the film, but the studio was wary of him due to the fact his first big picture Jaws was running late and over budget.  When Spielberg got tied up in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Donner was picked after the success of The Omen but directors like George Lucas, Sam Peckinpah, William Friedkin, Peter Yates, and Francis Ford Coppola were all in negotiation.  Originally Superman and Superman II were suppose to be shot back-to-back, but disputes with Donner led Superman II have a different director.  Many of Donner’s ideas were carried over and much of Donner’s footage was shot so there has been a Donner version of Superman II released.

The story for Superman really plays up the Jesus aspect of the character (or Moses depending on the take), but it also taps into Americana and childhood dreams of being a superhero.  The film doesn’t spend hours establishing characters like Lois, Jimmy, Lex, and Perry White…it just assumes you know them and it works.  It is a great balance of an origin story with action.

superman the movie lois flying margot kidder christopher reeve

Lois, can you read my mind? You can’t really fly…

The casting of Superman was all over the place.  Originally Superman was going to be cast with a big named star and there were talks (and many were just talks).  Robert Redford, Sylvester Stallone, James Caan, James Brolin, Charles Bronson, Jon Voight, Lyle Waggoner, Paul Newman, Nick Nolte, Christopher Walken, Dustin Hoffman, Steve McQueen, Bruce Jenner, and even Muhammed Ali (I don’t know how that one would have worked) were all mentioned in the development.  Allegedly John Wayne’s son Patrick Wayne was cast but dropped out when his father was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  The role of Lois likewise had a lot of candidates, and Stockard Channing almost was cast before Margot Kidder was brought in as her replacement.  Marlon Brando famously demanded top billing, refused to learn his lines, and demanded his role be shot in a limited amount of days, and Gene Hackman also had to work quick due to his schedule (plus he refused to shave his head).

superman the movie lex luthor gene hackman christopher reeve

Archenemies meet

The movie for the time was leaps and bounds above earlier superhero films, but many of the effects have not aged as well as you would hope.  What is strong is the powerful cinematography and the John Williams score which flows through the whole movie.  The whole opening sequence with Clark’s arrival on Earth and childhood in Smallville looks like it could have fallen out of an Andrew Wyeth painting or a slice of Norman Rockwell.  They are combined with some special effects that were both creative and innovative.

Superman:  The Movie has held up well, but perhaps it is because the character doesn’t change as much as Batman.  The film is a blueprint for the modern superhero movies, and you can see where some have tried to emulate it (like the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films) and others have failed to capture it (as you could argue with Superman Returns).  Superman endures and so does his first major big screen outing…seek it out!  Superman:  The Movie was followed by Superman II in 1980.

Related Links:

Superman II (1980)

Superman III (1983)

Superman Returns (2006)

Man of Steel (2013)

Supergirl (1984)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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