|Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman)|
Gene Hackman's portrayal of Lex Luthor is seen by some to be more lighthearted and comical; he often behaves more like a conman hustler than a true mastermind. Rather than an obsessive vendetta against Superman or a desire for world domination, this version of Luthor apparently is mainly motivated by a desire to make a fortune in real estate. Also, while bald, this version of Lex Luthor is apparently insecure about his hairlessness, and tends to wear a variety of obvious wigs to conceal his baldness (he does not appear bald at all in Superman IV). Despite his bombastic exterior, Luthor is not without menace and proves fully capable of killing Superman and leveling California. When not in complete control of a given situation, Luthor has a habit of trying to cowardly talk his way out of trouble. Hackman's performances in the movies are noted for being consistently strong, even when the screenplay is not.
Superman: The Movie
Lex Luthor lived in a palatial underground hideout in Metropolis at the point where he enters the story in the movie. He watches one of his assistants, a man named Otis, make his way through the subway tunnels toward a wall that opened to a passage leading to the hideout. One of the police detectives following Otis, though, was brutally pushed by Lex via the same panel into an oncoming subway train. His other assistant, Eve Teschmacher, looks at Lex, thinking he's sick, but Lex only smiles.
Otis approaches Lex with a copy of the Daily Planet in his hand. Lex takes it and sees the headlined story that the United States will be doing some nuclear missile launch tests soon. He says this could be instrumental for pulling off one of the biggest heists in history as he will soon own what may become valuable real estate. When Eve asks Lex why many people would have to die for such a scheme, Lex answers with what his father had told him (presumably before his father kicked him out): "Son, stocks may rise and fall, utilities and transportation systems may collapse. People are no damn good, but they will always need land and they'll pay through the nose to get it!" The Man Of Steel's Debut
After Clark Kent makes his appearance in his costumed superhero identity (not yet named Superman), Lex Luthor discusses with his assistants whether this man is truly genuine or not. Lex says if such a thing were a hoax, he would have been the one who pulled it off. He believes that this hero's appearance in Metropolis has some form of cruel justice to it, as if for Lex to to commit the crime of the century, he has to face the challenge of the century. Otis simply dismisses it as him simply passing through town, but Lex highly doubts it. Studying Superman
After Lois Lane's article about the hero now called Superman is published in the Daily Planet, Lex Luthor and his assistants go to work finding out about any possible weaknesses he can exploit. He finds an article about a man in Addis Ababa discovering a green meteorite that came to Earth from the destruction of Krypton about thirty years ago. He surmises that this meteorite generates a specific type of radiation that is capable of killing Kryptonians, and so plans to steal this meteorite which he now calls Kryptonite to get rid of Superman.
After Lex and his assistants break into a museum, kill two people and make off with the rock, they go to work reprogramming the nuclear missiles, he then sends a message to Superman that can only be picked up at a frequency he and dogs can hear, threatening to release a Propane-Lithium compound through thousands of airducts in the city. Superman follows the voice to the underground lair of Lex Luthor, where he is subjected to a gauntlet of dangers that he survives through without a scratch before entering.
Now having Superman's attention, Luthor shows him the plan of detonating two nuclear devices that have been reprogrammed to detonate at specific locations: the first toward the San Andreas Fault where it will cause a massive earthquake that will level much of California into the sea; the other botchedly heading toward Hackensack, New Jersey.
Luthor also tricks Superman into opening a lead-lined box that had a chunk of Kryptonite attached to a chain, which Luthor wraps around the Kryptonian's neck as its radiation weakens him before being dumped into Luthor's pool to drown. He then goes to watch the launch of the nuclear missiles, while Eve Teschmacher, fearing for the life of her mother in Hackensack, bravely rescues Superman for the promise that he would stop the missile heading for the East Coast first, throwing the chain with the Kryptonite away into a sewer grating.
After stopping one of the missiles from detonating and dealing with an earthquake caused by the detonation of the other missile, Superman takes Lex and Otis to prison, where he bravely states that its walls cannot hold him.