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: Warner Bros.

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

Release Date(s): December 10, 1978

MPAA Rating: PG


…and cue the Barbra Streisand music

Jor-el (Marlon Brando) sends his only son to Earth to escape the destruction of Krypton.  There he is found by John and Martha Kent (Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter) in Smallville, Kansas.  There a young Clark Kent (Jeff East) grows up always hiding his secret powers.  After the death of Jonathan, Clark heads north to find his destiny.  Now taking the guise of Superman (Christopher Reeve), Clark Kent sets off to Metropolis and work at the Daily Planet where he meets Perry White (Jackie Cooper), reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), and Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure).  When Superman hits it big, a career criminal named Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and his assistants Otis (Ned Beatty) and Ms. Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine) realize Superman could stand between them and their plans of a lucrative plan that could cost millions of lives.


The House of El in happier times

Directed by Richard Donner, Superman went through a lot of changes before making it to the screen.  The film was well received by critics and spawned three official sequels and a remake/sequel in Superman Returns.

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.


Yeah, this whole West Coast sinking thing is really going work Lex.

The casting of Superman was all over the place.  Originally Superman was perceived as a 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).  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).


Hey Lois, I just want to restate that you are the worst investigative reporter ever.

Despite the ups & downs of the casting and directing, the movie for the most part works.  Donner does a good job capturing a sense of wonder and “American” feel of Superman.  The early stuff (though it is supposed to take place in the late ’50s/early ’60s) feels nostalgic and could even be earlier and closer to Superman’s creation.  The Daily Planet feels real and the characters give performances that allow you to know them immediately and feel like you’ve known them for years.  There was a lot of debate on how camp the script would go and it does find a nice blend of camp and action.  Some of the effects are a bit dated and some of the green-screen shots look awful despite being revolutionary at the time.  I still also object to the lame “turn back time” conclusion to the story.

Superman:  The Movie has held up well, but perhaps it is because the character doesn’t change as much as Batman.  Superman Returns however proved that the format just doesn’t seem to carry over as easily as producers thought it would, while ten years of Smallville show that the character still has mass popular appeal.  Superman:  The Motion Picture was followed by Superman II in 1980.

Related Links:

Superman II (1980)

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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