[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B000RF9YXC][/pullquote] Released in 1978, Superman: The Movie represents the first, major Hollywood comic book film adaptation. Based on DC Comics most successful character, Superman: The Movie was directed by Richard Donner, the plan was to film two films back-to-back, however after tensions arose between Donner and the films producers, he was removed from Superman II. Superman: The Movie took $300m at the box office from a budget of $50m. This huge financial success began the trend of films based on comic books that would be continued with Tim Burton’s Batman, before Blade confirmed the financial viability of the genre, taking good returns off of a small budget, using a low-level comic book character.
Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is one of the top scientists on the planet of Krypton. Unable to convince his peers that there planet will soon explode, he places his son in a spaceship and sends him on his way to Earth. Kal-El, now Clark Kent (Chrsitopher Reeve) grows up in the small American town of Smallville, but develops super-abilities due to the Earth’s yellow sun. He hears a psychic call and travels to the Arctic to build the Fortress of Solitude, and when he emerges, he has adopted the title of Superman. Keeping his superhero life and regular life as separate as possible, Superman goes to work at The Daily Planet newspaper, where he develops feelings for brash reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), however trouble is brewing in the form of Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) who plans to make millions off of real estate in the desert by diverting a nuclear missle, leaving Superman as the only person to stop him.
Superman: The Movie tells the origin story that has now so ingrained in popular culture. It ticks all the boxes: The explosion of Planet Krypton, landing in Smallville, Superman’s abilities, romance with Lois Lane, battling arch-nemisis Lex Luthor and there’s even time for him to fly around the world so fast that he travels back in time. Everything clichÃ© and convention to do with superhero films all started with Donner’s vision of Metropolis and its inhabitants.
Donner assembled a great cast for a film that could so easily have become just another kids film. Reeve and Kidder form the true heart of the film, and their performances and chemistry are excellent and really bring to life such a well-known romance, with wit and panache. Hackman is entertaining in an oddly chosen comedic Lex Luthor role and it should be noted that Brando is supreme in his small role of Jor-El, but then he should be. He became the highest-paid actor per minute on screen for this role, taking $3.7m plus 11.75% of domestic gross, a further $19m for only a few minutes on screen.
The plot is simple, but effective, although the use of comedy throughout may put off some fans of modern comic book films. There is a distinct lack of edge as Donner chooses to play it safe with Superman, presumably hoping to get more serious with the sequel that he was eventually removed from. But Superman: The Movie is pure Americana, highlighting all the stereotypical views of America, tied together with an great Reeve’s performance, an incredible supporting cast and some truly memorable and innovative scenes.