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Superman (also known as Superman: The Movie) is a 1978 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 Richard Donner was hired to direct. Donner brought Tom Mankiewicz to rewrite the script, feeling it was too camp. 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% of the 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. The film's legacy helped create a reemergence of science fiction films and the establishment of the superhero film genre.


On the planet Krypton, using evidence provided by scientist Jor-El, the Ruling Council sentences three insurrectionists, General Zod, Ursa and Non, to "eternal living death" in the Phantom Zone for attempting a totalitarian rebellion. Although the Council widely respects him, Jor-El is unable to convince them of his belief that the Kryptonian sun will shortly explode and destroy their planet. As a result, Jor-El launches a spacecraft containing his infant son, Kal-El, towards Earth, a distant planet with a suitable atmosphere, lifeforms that look identical to Kryptonians, and where Kal-El's dense molecular structure will give him superhuman powers (since all Kryptonian life-forms gain superpowers from exposure to a yellow sun, such as Earth's sun). Shortly after the ship launches, Krypton is destroyed.

The ship crashes near an American farming town, Smallville, Kansasmarker, where Kal-El is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent and raised as their own son, Clark. Immediately after his discovery by the Kents, the toddler Kal-El hoists the bumper of a pickup truck about to fall on Jonathan Kent. As a teenager, Clark exhibits other extraordinary powers, outrunning speeding trains, and punting a football into the stratosphere. Shortly thereafter, Jonathan Kent dies of a heart attack, and Clark can do nothing. Following the funeral, Clark hears a psychic "call", discovering a glowing green crystal in the ship stored in the barn.

Compelled to travel north, Clark heads to the Arctic Circle, where the crystal builds the Fortress of Solitude, resembling the architecture of Krypton. Activating a control panel inside the fortress, a vision of Jor-El appears, stating that he has been dead for "thousands of your years," (meaning a year in earth time translating to a thousand or more years in Kryptonian time) and explains Clark's origins, educating him in his powers and responsibilities. After twelve years, with his powers fully developed, Clark leaves the Fortress and finds a job at The Daily Planet in Metropolis. He meets and develops a romantic attraction to reporter Lois Lane, but the feelings are not returned: she regards him as merely a friend. Lois becomes involved in a helicopter accident where conventional means of rescue are impossible, requiring Clark to use his powers in public for the first time in order to save her.

Later, he visits her at home, takes her for a flight over the city, and allows her to interview him for a newspaper article in which she dubs him "Superman." Meanwhile, criminal genius Lex Luthor has developed a cunning plan to make a fortune in real estate by buying large amounts of "worthless" desert land and then diverting a nuclear rocket from a missile testing site to the San Andreas Faultmarker. This will destroy Californiamarker and leave Luthor's desert as the new West Coast of the United States, greatly increasing its real estate value. After his incompetent henchman Otis accidentally redirects the first rocket to the wrong place, Luthor's girlfriend, Eve Teschmacher, successfully changes the course of the second missile. Knowing Superman could stop his plan, Luthor lures him to his underground lair via a supersonic greeting and exposes him to Kryptonite. As Superman weakens, Luthor taunts him by revealing the first missile is headed to Hackensack, New Jerseymarker, in the opposite direction, knowing Superman could not stop both impacts.

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. He is consequently too late to stop the second impact, causing a massive earthquake which he battles to correct. While he is busy saving others, Lois' car falls into the ground as a result of an aftershock, and quickly begins to fill with dirt and debris, which suffocates her to death. Distraught at being unable to save Lois, Superman ignores Jor-El's warning not to interfere with human history, preferring to remember Jonathan Kent's advice that he must be here for "a reason", and travels back in time in order to save Lois, altering the historical timeline so that her car is never caught in the aftershock. Superman then delivers Luthor and Otis to prison, where he knows they will be secure until they receive a fair trial.

Cast (in credited order)

  • Marlon Brando as Jor-El: Kal-El's father on Krypton. He has a theory about the planet exploding, though the Council refuses to listen. Jor-El dies as the planet explodes but successfully sends his infant son to Earth as a means to help the innocent. Brando sued the Salkinds and Warner Bros. for $50 million because he felt cheated out of his share of the box office profits. This stopped Brando's footage from being used in Richard Lester's version of Superman II.

  • Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor: A villain armed with an excessive amount of money and various knowledge of science. His main accomplices are bumbling henchman Otis and gorgeous girlfriend Eve Teschmacher.

  • Christopher Reeve as Kal-El / Clark Kent / Superman: After discovering his roots and origins from the planet Krypton, he sets himself to fulfill his destiny and help those on Earth. In his wake, he finds the villainous Lex Luthor which sets dire consequences. As a means to protect his identity, he works as mild mannered reporter Clark Kent at The Daily Planet. The producers previously failed to sign an A-list actor for the role before Richard Donner's hiring. It was decided to cast an unknown actor, and casting director Lynn Stalmaster first suggested Christopher Reeve, but Donner and the producers felt he was too young and skinny. Over 200 then-unknown actors auditioned for Superman, among them Christopher Walken and Nick Nolte. "We found guys with fabulous physique who couldn't act or wonderful actors who did not look remotely like Superman," creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz remembered. "Jon Voight had signed a deal to play Superman for a lot of money if we couldn't find anyone else." Neil Diamond and Arnold Schwarzenegger were interested but ignored. The search became so desperate that producer Ilya Salkind's wife's dentist was screen tested. Stalmaster convinced Donner and Ilya to have Reeve screen test in February 1977. Reeve stunned the director and producers, but he was told to wear a "muscle suit" to produce the desired muscular physique. Reeve refused, undertaking a strict physical exercise regime headed by David Prowse. Prowse had wanted to portray Superman, but was denied an audition by the filmmakers because he was not American. Prowse also auditioned for Non. Reeve went from 170 to 212 pounds during pre-production and filming. Many have felt Reeve was typecast in the role during his career. However, Reeve felt, "'Superman' brought me many opportunities, rather than closing a door in my face."

  • 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 purchasing a large amount of property in California. Keenan Wynn was originally cast, but dropped out shortly before filming because of heart disease. Cooper, who originally auditioned for Otis, was subsequently cast.

  • Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent: Clark Kent's father in Smallville during his teenage years. 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 philosophy on life.

  • Trevor Howard as First Elder: Head of the Kryptonian council who does not believe Jor-El's claim that Krypton is doomed to its own destruction.

  • Valerie Perrine as Eve Teschmacher: Lex Luthor's girlfriend. She falls in love with Superman's charms when Luthor nearly kills him with Kryptonite and walks away. She saves and kisses him. Goldie Hawn and Ann-Margret turned down the role because of financial disputes.

  • Jeff East portrays Young Clark Kent. East had his voice overdubbed by Reeve. "I was not happy about it because the producers never told me what they had in mind," East commented. "It was done without my permission but it turned out to be okay. Chris did a good job but it caused tension between us. We resolved our issues with each other years later." East also tore several thigh muscles when performing the stunt of racing alongside the train. He applied 3 to 4 hours of prosthetic makeup daily to facially resemble Reeve.

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. Neil continued her role in the 1950s TV series, and also appeared in the opening scene of Superman Returns. Larry Hagman and Rex Reed also cameo.



Producer Ilya Salkind conceived the idea for a Superman film in late 1973. In November 1974, after a long difficult process with DC Comics, the Superman film rights were purchased by Ilya and father Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler. DC wanted a list of actors that were to be considered for Superman. They approved over the producer's choices of Muhammad Ali, Al Pacino, James Caan, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood and Dustin Hoffman. The filmmakers felt it was best to film Superman and Superman II simultaneously, and make a negative pickup deal with Warner Brothers. 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 Bester was not famous enough, thus Mario Puzo (The Godfather) was hired for a $600,000 salary. 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.

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 he was already committed to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Guy Hamilton was hired as director, while Puzo delivered his 500-page script for Superman and Superman II in July 1975. 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. 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.

In early 1975, Marlon 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 thirteen-part Roots-style miniseries on Native Americans in the United States. 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. Gene 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". 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.

Their script was submitted in July 1976, 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. Pre-production started in Romemarker, with sets starting construction and flying tests being unsuccessfully experimented. "In Italy," producer Ilya Salkind remembered, "we lost about $2 million [on flying tests]." Bruce Jenner then auditioned for Superman, while Patrick Wayne was cast, but dropped out when his father was diagnosed with stomach cancer. James Caan, James Brolin, Lyle Waggoner and Perry King were approached. 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.

Mark Robson became 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. 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." 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". "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." Mankiewicz conceived having each Kryptonian family wear a crest resembling a different letter, justifying the 'S' on Superman's costume. 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.


Principal photography began on March 24, 1977 at Pinewood Studiosmarker 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 to last for 7—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 Margot Kidder's double. Superman was also the final film by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who died during post-production. The Fortress of Solitude was constructed at Shepperton Studiosmarker and the 007 Stagemarker. 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.

New York Citymarker doubled for Metropolis, while the New York Daily News served as the location for the Daily Planet. Brooklyn Heightsmarker was also used. Filming in New York lasted five weeks, during the time of the New York City blackout of 1977. Production moved to Canadamarker for scenes set in Smallville, with the cemetery scene filmed in the canyon of Beynon, Albertamarker, the high school football scenes at Barons, Albertamarker, and the Kent farm constructed at Blackie, Albertamarker. Brief filming also took place in Gallup, New Mexicomarker, Lake Meadmarker and Grand Central Terminalmarker. Director Richard Donner had tensions with producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind and Pierre 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 two days and I'll be nine months over'." Richard Lester, who worked with the Salkinds on The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, was brought as a producer to mediate the relationship between Donner and the producers. Donner and the Salkinds refused to talk to each other. With his relationship with Spengler, Donner remarked, "At one time if I'd seen him, I would have killed him." 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 and went uncredited for his work. Salkind felt that bringing a second director on-set meant there was someone ready in the event 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." On Lester, Donner reflected, "He had been suing the Salkinds for his money on Three and Four Musketeers, which he had 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."

It was decided to stop shooting Superman II and focus on finishing Superman. Donner had already completed 75% of the sequel. 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. 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 going to bring them to see Superman II."


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 Bridgemarker scale model stood 70 feet long and 20 feet wide. Other miniatures included the Krypton Council Dome and the Hoover Dammarker. 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.

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, Christopher 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 motorised 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 occassional 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. The illusion of movement was created by zooming in on Christopher 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. This also led to the creation of the Zoptic system.

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."


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. 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.


"You will travel far, my little Kal-El. But we will never leave you, even in the face of our death. The richness of our lives shall be yours. 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."

Superman is divided into three 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 film, 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.

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

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. 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, "how we prayed and prayed the good Lord see fit to give us a child", which was compared to the Virgin Mary.

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, "You must live as one of them, 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 the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son." 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.

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." 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.

In the scene where Lois Lane is interviewing 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.


Superman was originally to be released in June 1978, but the problems during filming pushed the film back by six 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 three months later. Big-budgeted films today tend to take six to eight months." Donner wished he "had another six months; I would have perfected a lot of things. But at some point you've got to turn the picture over." Warner Bros. spent $7 million to market and promote the film.

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. 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). 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 Christopher Reeve to craft a loving, nostalgic tribute to an American pop culture icon." By comparison Metacritic collected an average score of 88, based on 12 reviews. Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster gave a positive reaction. 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."

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. Christopher Reeve is perfectly cast in the role. Any poor choice would have ruined the film." 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." 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. 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, Gene Hackman plays the arch-villain like a hairdresser left over from a TV skit."


Superman was nominated for three Academy Award (Editing, Music 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 were not recognized.

Superman was successful at the 32nd British Academy Film Awards. Reeve won Best Newcomer, while Gene Hackman, Unsworth, Barry and the sound designers earned nominations. The film won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. At The Saturn Awards Margot Kidder, Barry, John Williams and the visual effects department received awards, and the film won Best Science Fiction Film. Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Richard Donner, Valerie Perrine and the costume designers were nominated for their work as well. In addition, Williams was given a nomination at the 36th Golden Globe Awards and won a Grammy Award. In 2007, the Visual Effects Society listed Superman as the 44th most influential use of visual effects of all time. In 2008, Empire named it the #174 greatest movie all-time on its list of 500.

With the success of the film it was instantly decided to finish Superman II. Ilya and Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler did not ask Richard Donner to return because Donner criticized them during publicity. 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've got to go out and find another director, it sure as shit ain't going to be me." Margot Kidder, who portrayed Lois Lane, was dissatisfied by the producers' decision, 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. Jack O'Halloran, who portrayed Non, stated, "It was great to work with Donner. Richard Lester was as big an asshole as the Salkinds." 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 Marlon Brando as Jor-El. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut also was released in 2006.

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 Christopher Reeve, and was reshot 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.

Beyond theatrical release

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, Californiamarker and Washington, D.C.marker in the 1990s included most of this added footage and two additional scenes never seen before. 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." 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. In May 2001, Warner Home Video released the special edition on DVD. Director Richard 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.

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. 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." 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." 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. In November 2006, a four-disc special edition was released, followed by a HD DVD release and blu-ray. Also available (with other films) is the eight disc "Christopher Reeve Superman Collection" and the 14 disc "Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition".


  1. The Making of Superman: The Movie (television Special), 1980, Film Export, A.G.
  2. Lynn Stalmaster, Superman: Screen Tests, 2001, Warner Home Video
  3. Richard Donner, Tom Mankiewicz, Ilya Salkind, Pierre Spengler, David Prowse, You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman, 2006, Warner Home Video
  4. Richard Donner, Tom Mankiewicz, Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Lynn Stalmaster, Marc McClure, Taking Flight: The Development of Superman, 2001, Warner Home Video
  5. Making Superman: Filming The Legend, 2001, Warner Home Video
  6. Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman, 2006, Warner Home Video
  7. The Making of Superman the Movie, David Michael Petrou, New York:Warner Books, 1978.
  8. The Magic Behind The Cape, 2001, Warner Home Video
  9. Ilya Salkind, Pierre Spengler, DVD audio commentary, 2006, Warner Home Video
  10. Richard Donner, Tom Mankiewicz, DVD audio commentary, 2001, Warner Home Video

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