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Superman: The Movie
Titlecard-superman1978
Released December 15, 1978
Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton (screenplay), Tom Mankiewicz (uncredited)
Music by John Williams
Duration 143 min; 151 min (2000 restoration)
Studio Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated PG
Budget $55 million (estimated)
Revenue $300,218,018
Superman i

Superman (marketed as Superman: The Movie), is the 1978 theatrical adaption of Superman.

The movie was filmed and produced at the same time as its sequel, Superman II, although this arrangement was beset by production difficulties, and the sequel was not released until 1980. There were two further installments in the series: Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987), as well as several canceled sequel attempts after 1987. Superman and Superman II are treated as a loose back story for the 2006 film Superman Returns.

Plot

The film consists of three major segments, each with its own style and tone. The first part deals with the last days of Krypton, the child Kal-El's journey from Krypton to Earth, and his discovery by the Kents. The second part concerns the teenage Clark Kent's life in Smallville and the beginnings of discovering who he is. The third part follows the adult Clark Kent and his emergence as Superman in Metropolis.

The story begins when the planet Krypton is in danger of imminent destruction. Unable to convince Kryptonian elders, scientist Jor-El promises that neither he nor his wife, Lara, will leave the planet. However, he sends his infant son, Kal-El, to Earth to ensure his survival, just as Krypton begins its death throes. Kal-El's spaceship crash lands three years later in Smallville, Kansas, where the boy is found and adopted by a childless couple, Jonathan and Martha Kent, who name him Clark after Martha's maiden name.

Clark is no ordinary boy; he is incredibly agile and strong. But at the urging of his parents, he keeps his abilities hidden, frustratingly accepting the ridicule and scorn of his peers as he assumes a mild mannered temperament, fading into the background rather than becoming the star of the football team. But as Jonathan Kent reminds him, Clark was put on Earth "for a reason... (and) it's not to score touchdowns." Soon after, Jonathan has a fatal heart attack and dies, after which a grieving Clark conveys helplessness about having "all [these] powers and I couldn't even save him".

After a few months pass, Clark hears the call of a mysterious green crystal hidden in his parents' barn. He realizes that it is time to discover his purpose and bids an emotional farewell to his Earth mother. He soon departs on a journey to the Arctic and uses the crystal to build the Fortress of Solitude, a majestic crystal palace in the architectural style of his home planet, Krypton. Inside, Kal-El learns the reason he was transported to Earth and his future role on the planet from holographic recordings of his father. After 12 years of education and training within the Fortress of Solitude, he emerges garbed in a red cape and blue body suit with the El family symbol on the chest and flies off.

Clark returns to civilization, arriving in the city of Metropolis. He's hired as a reporter for The Daily Planet newspaper by its editor-in-chief, Perry White. While there, he meets teenage photographer Jimmy Olsen and the paper's star journalist, Lois Lane. Clark becomes immediately infatuated with Lois, but is unable to properly gain her affection while in the bumbling guise of Clark Kent. It isn't long before Clark's true nature is unveiled when, in his blue suit and red cape, he publicly rescues Lois from a helicopter accident atop the Daily Planet building.

Following a series of incidents in which Clark in his yet-unnamed guise comes to the rescue and saves the day, Perry White issues to all his reporters to find out as much information as possible about this mysterious hero. Lois receives an invitation to meet someone at her place, signed only "a friend." Following a perfunctory interview with the Man of Steel, Lois joins him on a flight over Metropolis, ostensibly to see how fast he can go. After their romantic flight, the costumed hero flies off and Lois says to herself, "What a super man", then pauses, and says "Superman!," thus giving the mysterious man his name.

Meanwhile, super criminal Lex Luthor is intent on committing "the greatest real-estate swindle of all time", with the unwitting aid of the U.S. government and the test launching of two ICBMs. To accomplish this, Luthor hopes to cause a major earthquake in California by using the missiles, one of which he has programmed to hit the San Andreas Fault (the other has been programmed to head east to detonate in Hackensack, New Jersey, providing a diversion for the westbound rocket). The quake will cause most of California to slide into the ocean, killing millions of people while simultaneously making the vast tracts of worthless desert land that he had quietly purchased skyrocket in value when it becomes the new West Coast of the United States.

With Superman's fame rapidly spreading, Luthor perceives him to be a serious problem, luring to his lair with a phony threat to gas the population of Metropolis. Having succeeded in attracting his attention, he traps the superhero with a nodule of Kryptonite — the only thing to which he is vulnerable. However, Superman effects an escape with the help of Luthor's assistant, Eve Teschmacher, who is both attracted to Superman and frightened for the fate of her mother, who happens to live in Hackensack.

Superman keeps his promise and diverts the path of the Hackensack missile first, forcing it into space. In the meantime, the California missile hits the San Andreas Fault, triggering the massive earthquake Luthor had intended. The length of the fault is devastated by the initial quake, but Superman prevents the catastrophic landslide Luthor intended by plunging deep into the earth to shore up the fault line. However, the quake's violent aftershocks still cause massive damage that creates multiple disasters. As he builds a natural dam from rocks and boulders to stop the flooding caused by the breaching of the Hoover Dam, Superman realizes that he has forgotten about Lois. He discovers her car, fallen into a crevasse that opened up behind it and closed again, trapping her inside and crushing her to death.

Overcome with grief and fury, Superman flies into the upper atmosphere of Earth, where he hears Jor-El's voice forbidding him to interfere in human history. Disobeying his father, Superman flies around the Earth until he is moving faster than the speed of light, thus traveling back in time. This is visually represented by the Earth appearing to spin backwards.

By reversing time, he prevents the Hoover Dam burst and fixes the fault line in such a way that the crevasse doesn’t reach Lois’ car. The reversal stops at the point where the earthquake began. He then flies back to Lois, who is alive and well. Superman bids farewell and flies off, with a task to finish. Jimmy Olsen then mentions that it is unfortunate Clark is never here to see Superman, and it is this moment only that Lois suspects that Superman and Clark may be the same person, only to dismiss it as "the silliest idea".

Superman captures Luthor and Otis and delivers them to prison. The prison warden thanks Superman for his efforts, while Superman modestly demurs, insisting that "we're all part of the same team" before flying off.

Cast

Actor Role
Marlon Brando Jor-El
Gene Hackman Lex Luthor
Christopher Reeve Clark Kent / Superman
Margot Kidder Lois Lane
Ned Beatty Otis
Jackie Cooper Perry White
Marc McClure Jimmy Olsen
Glenn Ford Jonathan Kent
Phyllis Thaxter Martha Kent
Valerie Perrine Eve Teschmacher
Maria Schell Vond-Ah
Susannah York Lara
Terence Stamp General Zod
Sarah Douglas Ursa
Jack O'Halloran Non
Jeff East Young Clark Kent
Diane Sherry Lana Lang

Production history

Although Warner Bros. had acquired DC Comics in the 1960s through a series of corporate mergers, there was little interest from the studio to exploit DC's most famous heroic character. The father-and-son producing team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind had enjoyed some success with European-based productions, and along with their long-time partner, producer Pierre Spengler, signed a negative pickup deal with Warners, under which they themselves would assume responsibility for fronting the production costs. This deal was consummated primarily on the basis that the film would potentially star Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, two of the biggest marquee names of the mid-seventies — but in the early days of the project's development, no one was actually sure as to what part either actor would play. A relatively unknown Nick Nolte was signed for the part of Superman and Oscar-winning Godfather author Mario Puzo was commissioned to write a screenplay, after William Goldman turned down the job. Puzo's name recognition in Hollywood helped give the movie some legitimacy, and after doing research at DC Comics, Puzo submitted his first draft in June 1975. The Salkinds found his screenplay to have a strong story, but they also decided that it was too long and detailed (enough for two movies), and requested a second draft, which Puzo delivered in October 1975. Puzo tired of the project and left after his second draft, and the Salkinds assigned the task of rewriting the material to Robert Benton and David Newman. David Newman and Robert Benton wrote the script for the failed 1966 Superman musical, It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman (which was made into a TV special in 1975). The deal agreed upon was that Newman and Benton would write a first draft and then a revised draft, and if subsequent revisions were deemed necessary, David's wife Leslie Newman would assist her husband with further rewrites. The Newmans and Benton brought a modern sensibility to the screenplay, but imbued the story with much camp humour (elements in their draft include a Woody Allen-esquire Lex Luthor, and a cameo appearance by Telly Savalas as himself). In addition to this, their drafts were still deemed too long.

It was decided early in the process to shoot two films simultaneously. During the production of The Three Musketeers (1973), the Salkinds had realized that there was enough footage for two films and split the film in two, releasing The Four Musketeers a year later. The joint production of Superman and Superman II would mark the first time this process was used intentionally. All actors' contracts have what is now known as the "Salkind clause", which stipulates how many films are being made. All performers on Superman were contractually obligated to Superman II as well. However, in this case, most of the simultaneously-shot footage was reportedly scrapped when Richard Lester was brought in to finish Superman II.

The Salkinds' original choice for director, veteran British helmer Guy Hamilton, had to amicably leave the project, as the film, originally intended to have been shot at Cinecittà studios in Rome, Italy, would now be shot at Pinewood Studios in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, England. However, due to director Hamilton's status as a tax exile, he could not be involved in the filming. In the end, Alexander Salkind made a personal phone call to Richard Donner and offered him the film, promising to pay him a fee of $1 million. Although the filming dates for both Brando and Hackman had already been set, Donner was unhappy with the existing screenplay, feeling that it was too campy. One of his first acts as director was to hire Tom Mankiewicz to substantially rewrite the script. In the opening titles Mankiewicz is listed as a 'Creative Consultant' because the WGA did not want more than four people to receive screenplay credit (final screenplay credit is given to Puzo, the Newmans and Benton, with story credit for Puzo; the end credits also list "additional script material by Norman Enfield"). With the delay in production, Nolte also left the project.

A talent search was made for an actress to play Lois Lane, with most of the leading young names of the time being considered. Screen tests included with subsequent DVD releases of the film included Lesley Ann Warren, Deborah Raffin, and Stockard Channing. An unknown stage actor named Christopher Reeve was hired to provide feedlines during auditions, and it was Donner's wife who first pointed out that he was the ideal actor for the role of Superman. The director and producers had originally thought a bodybuilder or athlete would be the first choice. In fact, people such as James Caan, Burt Reynolds, Charles Bronson, Kris Kristofferson, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Neil Diamond, and even Ilya Salkind's then-wife's dentist, were among those tested for the role. Sylvester Stallone, coming off the success of his Rocky Balboa character, was a contender for the role, only to be turned down as believable for Superman but unrealistic to play Clark Kent. In the end, Donner kept coming back to Reeve, who had only one other cinematic role (a supporting role in the 1978 disaster film Gray Lady Down) and a television appearance in the soap opera Love of Life to his credit. Reeve was then hired to play the superhero. One problem cropped up immediately: Reeve's lack of musculature. Reeve steadfastly refused to wear a padded suit and undertook a strenuous exercise regimen under British bodybuilder David Prowse, who would soon become famous for playing the physical form of Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. By the time filming began in March, 1977, Reeve had bulked up his 6'4" frame considerably and looked the part of Superman.

Close to $1 million of the budget had already been spent before Donner joined, attempting to design a way for Superman to fly — including animation and a remote control plane. As a tax break, shooting would, as noted, be headquartered at Pinewood Studios, with a second unit housed at nearby Shepperton Studios in Middlesex, England. With Mankiewicz working on the script Donner realized that there was virtually nothing from Hamilton's tenure as director that he could use, and he set about putting together a new production team. Before long, the film had the good fortune of securing John Barry as a production designer. It was he who designed the crystalline world of Krypton. New York-based optical effects house R/Greenberg Associates, who until then had done mostly advertising, was responsible for the opening credits sequence. Model effects were designed, directed and supervised by Thunderbirds stalwart Derek Meddings.

As production dragged on through 1977 the studio became concerned — by that time, Star Wars had proven to be a big hit and Warners were not convinced the Salkinds' film would be as big of a draw. Donner soon commissioned an early teaser trailer, also developed by R/Greenberg Associates, in which clouds raced by the viewer with the names of the all-star cast 'blasting' on to the screen, ending with the Superman shield exploding into view (a visual effect re-used in the actual film's opening credits). This teaser trailer was released in the second half of 1977 on the back of Star Wars and garnered an enthusiastic audience reaction that did much to keep the production going. It is available as a bonus feature on the DVD.

Reaction

The reaction was largely enthusiastic, with Christopher Reeve singled out for particular praise for his sincere performance as both Superman and the bumbling Clark Kent. The visual effects were also praised for their believability in contrast to those of previous low-budget productions of a similar genre. Meanwhile, John Williams added to his string of kudos for his score, which critics noted helped give an essential mythic grandeur to the story and character. (As with "Superman" scores past, the main theme centers on a musical triad that suggests the three syllables of the character's name). While the critics were divided over their preference for the reverent origin sequence in the first part, or the more lively later sequence of Superman beginning his career, it has been considered one of the best superhero movies ever made. Its financial side was also very successful, grossing $134,218,018 in the U.S., while grossing $166,000,000 in foreign tolls. Altogether it grossed U.S.$300,218,018.

The movie's legacy includes numerous television series, notably Superboy (produced, like the movie, by Alexander Salkind), Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and the current prequel series, Smallville, which have all been influenced by the movie to some extent. A particular example of this influence is John Williams' main title composition, which is often played and parodied in movies and other popular media referring to superheroes or superstar athletes.

In addition, the success of the film, which cost an enormous $55 million — at the time, big-budget movies usually cost about $20–$30 million — set a new standard for superhero movies which demanded similar production values and respect for their source material. That respect became especially influential after the failure of the farcical Batman & Robin by Joel Schumacher suggested to many that the Donner film's spirit was the proper tone to use for the genre.

Due to its high regard, the film's continuity is maintained in the 2006 film Superman Returns, whose production design is heavily influenced by its forerunner. This is especially evident with the opening credits, Fortress of Solitude, musical references and even the use of Marlon Brando as Jor-El.

Tom Mankiewicz has described Superman as a three-act play, referring to Krypton as being "Shakespearean", comparing Smallville to the works of Andrew Wyeth, and likening Metropolis to the pages of a comic book.

Superman received a "Special Achievement" Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, in one of the years when there was no such competition for the award. It was nominated for Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Score and Best Sound.

Different versions

Superman was originally released to theatres in December 1978 with a running time of 143 minutes, edited from Richard Donner's original three-hour director's rough cut. In 1981, the rights to the movie reverted from Warner Bros. to Alexander Salkind, which allowed him to re-edit the film for international television distribution, including over 45 minutes of previously deleted footage and even some of John Williams' original score that had been left out of the theatrical cut, both elements restored to the film. This so-called "Salkind International Edit" runs 188 minutes. Due to a clause in the director's contract, Donner was excluded from the re-editing process. It was expanded in an attempt by the Salkinds to charge by the minute for television rights. ABC, which had U.S. broadcast rights to the Salkinds' library, first aired Superman domestically in February, 1982 as a two-night event. ABC's 182-minute edit, which deleted a few short scenes deemed inappropriate for television, aired again in November of 1982. The ABC version was derived from the Salkind edit. Subsequently, both the theatrical and television versions were distributed in syndication by Warner Bros., which regained control of the film in 1985, but only the theatrical version was issued on home video until 2001, when the special edition DVD featured a 151-minute cut.

In 1979, WCI Home Video (now Warner Home Video) issued Superman on VHS, Betamax and Laserdisc. However, only for the VHS and Betamax releases, the film was truncated to a length of 127 minutes by way of time compression, as most scenes without dialogue were sped up, and a majority of the film's closing credits were deleted, instead replacing them with a truncated version consisting of the copyright notice, and a chyron of the credits taken from an 8mm release of selected scenes from the film. This time compression was necessary because of the technological limitations of videocassettes at the time and the unavailability of long-playing cassettes. The film would not be available in an uncompressed form until 1983, when Warner Bros. finally issued such a version on home video. This version was re-released to video in 1986. Another Laserdisc set of the film was released in 1990, which was color-corrected and in widescreen format, and in its original theatrical version.

In 1994, Los Angeles television station KCOP (at the time an independent station) aired the first U.S. broadcast of the complete Salkind edit (it has been believed to have been broadcast outside of the U.S. prior to 1994, since this cut was originally prepared in 1981 before ABC's original telecast). The full expanded cut has unofficially been circulated on video among fans throughout the bootleg community, at conventions and, most recently, via Internet forums.

The restoration

In 2000, director Richard Donner and film restoration producer Michael Thau prepared a new 151-minute "Special Edition" originally for theatrical re-release. Working from original film elements (which were beginning to deteriorate), the film went through a six-month restoration, with both color and sound rejuvenated (and with many new audio effects added, such as a different-sounding "whoosh" used for the opening credit items), and cleaning off dirt that had been building up on the film over twenty years. Also, Donner selected eight of the 45-plus minutes that had been used for the television release to be incorporated into this new cut. This version was slated for worldwide theatrical re-issue, but was instead released to video and, for the first time ever, on DVD, in the summer of 2001. This version has been seen on cable television and in revival film houses.

The audio for this presentation of the movie is not a simple restoration. When inspecting materials for the restoration the original multi-channel soundtrack was deemed unusable for either theatrical or DVD release. The sound crew took on the job of re-recording the sound effects and mixing them in with the original dialogue and music tracks. Consequently, the soundtrack used for the DVD is an entirely new soundtrack. This caused a minor controversy in the DVD community as none of the original soundtrack mixes were made available until the 2006 4-disc DVD release (which utilized a 2.0 stereo mix from an older laserdisc release). However, the initial pressing of the 2006 DVD accidentally omitted the original audio track (and had a downmixed version of the 5.1 audio from the 2000 version in its place), but Warner Home Video offered replacement discs featuring the original audio track shortly after the DVD's release.

On November 28, 2006, Warner Home Video released The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection, an 8-disc box set featuring the DVD debut of the original 1978 theatrical version of this film, the 2000 restored edition, the original theatrical Superman II, and deluxe versions of Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was not included in this set. In the UK this was released as a 9-disc box set additionally containing Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut.

A remastered version of the 143-minute theatrical cut was also prepared, and although this version had not been released on DVD, it had been seen on cable television. However, WB issued the theatrical cut for the first time on DVD as part of the studio's 14-disc box set, The Ultimate Superman Collection, on November 28 2006. There was also a "stand-alone" four-DVD set of the first film, which included all the material carried over from the 2001 disc (see below) in addition to the theatrical cut and new supplements.

Trivia

  • The designation of the stylized 'S' as Jor-El's family crest on the planet Krypton solved an apparent logical dilemma for the creators of the Superman films. The 'S' is indestructible, as is the rest of Superman's uniform, but Kal-El was not called "Superman" on Krypton. The creators decided to adorn every Kryptonian leader's robes with a family crest (as noted in publicity magazines at the time) and the one for Jor-El's family happened to look like a stylized 'S'.
  • Some reports say it was Marlon Brando's own idea for Jor-El to wear the recognizable 'S' symbol in the scenes on Krypton. The establishment of the 'S' emblem as the El family crest was a departure from the first three eras (Golden, Silver, Modern) of official DC Comics continuity, in which the 'S' emblem and costume were both created by Martha Kent (Mary Kent in the Golden Age) after Clark chose his heroic name. However, in the 2003 series Superman: Birthright, the 'S' symbol has been changed to represent a universal symbol of the planet Krypton, adorning their flags and military uniforms in holographic projections Clark finds contained in a device that came with him from Krypton. He chooses to wear the symbol to honor his Kryptonian heritage, and the name "Superman" is given to him by the newspapers.
  • Christopher Reeve reported the following anecdote in his autobiography. The idealistic young actor Reeve asked the seasoned veteran Hackman what his 'motivation' was in playing the role of Luthor. Hackman responded, "You mean, besides the million dollars?"
  • As had become his habit, Brando did not memorize his lines; he read them from cue cards spread around the set.
  • According to a documentary found on the DVD, Director Richard Donner had to be somewhat deceptive in order to get Gene Hackman to cooperate with regard to certain aspects of Lex Luthor's appearance. According to Donner, when he first met with Hackman to discuss the part, he told Hackman that he would have to shave his head and his mustache. Hackman refused both requests. Admitting (temporary) defeat, Donner allowed Hackman to keep both. However, he pulled a prank in order to get Hackman to cooperate. Several months later, when Hackman arrived on set, Donner asked a crew member if Hackman had shaved either his head or his mustache. Disappointed to learn that he still hadn't shaved either, Donner called a makeup artist in and asked the makeup artist to give him the most convincing-looking mustache that modern makeup could create. With his fake mustache on, Donner went in to meet Hackman and told him, "You have to at least shave your mustache. If you shave yours, I'll shave mine." So, promptly after Hackman shaved his mustache, Donner simply peeled off his own (fake) mustache right in front of Hackman. On the DVD, Hackman laughed cheerfully as he remembered the incident, and said that from that point on, he loved Donner. Donner had won his respect for being so creative.
  • Since Hackman still wouldn't shave his head (with the exception of one scene at the end where he wore a skull cap), screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz devised the notion of Luthor wearing several different wigs throughout the film.
  • During the Smallville segment, the original recording of "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets is heard on a car radio. This is significant as this is played at the beginning of Glenn Ford's final scene in the movie; Ford had starred in Blackboard Jungle, the film that introduced "Rock Around the Clock" (and helped launch the rock and roll era). The expanded ABC edit of the film, however, replaces the song with another piece of music.
  • Superman was the first film to feature a split-channel surround soundtrack — originally a 6-channel presentation. Dolby Digital sound made its debut in Batman Returns. Both were produced by Warner Bros. and feature characters appearing in titles from DC Comics.
  • DC Comics held The Great Superman Movie Contest, where two people won bit parts in the movie. Two teenage boys, Edward Finneran from Massachusetts and Tim Hussey from California, won the contest by cutting special letters out of comics and mailing them in. They appear in the movie as 'special football players' in the scene where Clark is the equipment manager for the high school football team. As the team runs into the school (actually a local football team from rural Canada where the scene was shot), the two winners are identifiable as they go by together, wearing gray uniforms without numbers; Ed says "See you later, Clark!".
  • As Richard Donner confirmed in the DVD audio commentary, he has a bit cameo in the shots of Clark getting caught in the Daily Planet doors: he is reflected in the glass.
  • At no point in the movie does Superman use his heat vision, one of his most famous powers.
  • Originally, there was a fourth Kryptonian villain imprisoned in the Phantom Zone with General Zod, an "evil prankster" named "Jak-El" (apparently a pun on the word jackal). Lex Luthor also had a second henchman in addition to Otis in this incarnation of the story, a German man named "Albert." Both of these characters appeared in the July, 1976 draft of the script by Mario Puzo (which can be found here: http://www.scifiscripts.com/scripts/superman_original.txt), but were dropped in subsequent drafts.

See also

Superman: The Movie (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)


Superman Films
Film Serials SupermanAtom Man vs. Superman
Theatrical Films Superman and the Mole MenSuperman: The MovieSuperman IISuperman IIISuperman IV: The Quest for PeaceSuperman ReturnsMan of SteelBatman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Upcoming)
Spin-off films SupergirlSteel
Made-for-TV/dvd films Superman: 50th Anniversary SpecialSuperman II: The Richard Donner Cut
Animated Films Superman: Brainiac AttacksSuperman: DoomsdaySuperman/Batman: Public EnemiesSuperman/Batman: ApocalypseSuperman/Shazam!: The Return of Black AdamAll-Star SupermanSuperman Versus the EliteBatman: The Dark Knight ReturnsSuperman: Unbound
Animated Justice League Films Justice League: The New FrontierJustice League: Crisis on Two EarthsJustice League: DoomThe Lego MovieThe Flashpoint ParadoxJustice League: War
Animated Shorts The Joker's PlayhouseSuperman 75th Anniversary

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