Superman (1978)

This review includes full spoilers. Proceed accordingly. For other movie reviews from me, click HERE:

Dusty: I’m here to write movie reviews for truth, and justice, and the American way.
Comment: [laughs] You’re gonna end up fighting every elected official in this country!

Rating: PG
Director: Richard Donner
Writers: Jerry Siegel (character created by), Joel Shuster (character created by), Mario Puzo (story), Mario Puzo (screenplay), David Newman (screenplay), Leslie Newman (screenplay), Robert Benton (screenplay), Tom Mankiewicz (screenplay)
Stars: Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty
Release Date: December 15, 1978 (United States)
Run time: 2 hours, 23 minutes

This review contains spoilers. Proceed accordingly.


via Wiki:

On the planet KryptonJor-El of the Kryptonian high council, after sentencing criminals General ZodNon, and Ursa to exile in the phantom zone, discovers that the planet will soon be destroyed when its red supergiant sun explodes. The other council members dismiss his claims. To save Kal-El, his infant son, Jor-El sends him in a spaceship to Earth, where his dense molecular structure will give him superhuman strength and other powers. Krypton, thereafter, is destroyed.

The ship lands near Smallville, Kansas. Kal-El, now about three Earth years old, is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who are astonished when he lifts their truck. They decide to raise him as their own, naming him Clark after Martha’s maiden name. Jonathan tells the boy he must have been sent to Earth for “a reason”.

After Jonathan’s death from a heart attack, 18-year-old Clark hears a psychic “call” and discovers a glowing green crystal in the remains of his spacecraft. It compels him to travel to the Arctic where he uses the crystal to construct the Fortress of Solitude, which resembles Kryptonian architecture. Inside, a hologram of Jor-El explains Clark’s true origins, and after twelve years of education on his reason for being on Earth and his powers, he leaves the Fortress wearing a blue-and-red suit, a red cape, and the House of El family crest emblazoned on his chest.

Becoming a reporter at the Daily Planet in Metropolis, Clark meets and is romantically attracted to coworker Lois Lane. When Lois is involved in a helicopter accident, Clark publicly uses his powers for the first time to save her, astonishing the crowd gathered below. He then thwarts a jewel thief attempting to scale the Solow Building, captures robbers fleeing police and deposits their getaway cabin cruiser on Wall Street, rescues a girl’s cat from a tree, and saves Air Force One after a lightning strike destroys an engine. The “caped wonder” is an instant celebrity. Daily Planet boss Perry White wants the newspaper to find more about him. Clark visits Lois at her penthouse apartment the next night for an interview and takes her for a flight; Lois subsequently writes an article naming him “Superman“.

Meanwhile, criminal genius Lex Luthor learns of a joint U.S. Army/U.S. Navy nuclear missile test. He buys hundreds of acres of empty desert land and reprograms two missiles to detonate in the San Andreas Fault, with his assistant Otis accidentally programming the second missile’s coordinates incorrectly. Knowing Superman could stop him, Lex deduces that a recently discovered meteorite is from Krypton and is radioactive to Superman. After he, his girlfriend Eve Teschmacher, and Otis retrieve a piece of it, Luthor lures Superman to his underground lair and reveals his plan to cause everything west of the San Andreas Fault to sink into the Pacific Ocean, leaving Luthor’s desert land as the new West Coast of the United States, thereby increasing its real estate value. Luthor then exposes him to the meteor piece’s mineral, Kryptonite, which weakens Superman greatly as Luthor taunts him about the second missile which will detonate in Hackensack, New Jersey.

Teschmacher is horrified that Luthor does not care that her mother lives in Hackensack. Luthor leaves Superman to die. Knowing he always keeps his word, Teschmacher helps Superman escape on the condition that he stops the eastbound missile first. Superman diverts that missile into outer space, preventing him from reaching the westbound missile before it explodes in the Fault. Massive earthquakes erupt across California, damaging the Golden Gate Bridge and breaching the Hoover Dam. Superman mitigates the effects of the explosion by sealing the fault line.

While Superman saves others, Lois’s car falls into a crevice from an aftershock, trapping her as it fills with dirt and debris. She suffocates before Superman can reach her. Angered over failing to save her, Superman defies Jor-El’s earlier warning not to manipulate human history, and instead heeds Jonathan’s advice that he must be there for “a reason”. He accelerates around Earth, reversing time to a point before Lois’s death, and also undoing the damage caused by the missile and earthquake. After saving the West Coast, Superman delivers Luthor and Otis to prison before flying into the sunrise.


Superman is now well over four decades old and remains a terrific superhero film. Age has caught up with this movie, in many areas, but on the whole it is still good and enjoyable.

The film was released in 1978, and was given a PG rating. I think today it would likely get a PG-13 label due to its occasional violence and some swear words. The scene wherein Luthor murders a police officer by shoving him into an oncoming train is particularly brutal, but the Lois death and resurrection scene was also probably too much for younger viewers.

John Williams’s score for this movie is not only iconic, the main title is still the standard Superman theme to this day. The music is so good that it carries the first several minutes of the movie before anything happens and before any dialogue is spoken. The “Love Theme” that plays over the Superman and Lois flying sequence is also excellent. If you enjoy a well-played oboe, as I do, that is the tune for you.

The special effects in the movie are dated, but not as dated as I expected them to be. The flying green screen shots still work relatively well, and the practical effects with car crashes, helicopter crashes, dam bursts, etc., all looked very good.

There are a few areas of the film that I did not like. First, the main story does not start until about a third of the way into the movie. I understand that an introduction to the character is required, but a lot of that introduction did not factor into the rest of the plot. The introduction of Zod in the first act is strange, given that we do not see him again for the rest of the movie.

The other primary flaw of the film was Lex Luthor and his idiot henchmen. The movie leans really heavily on camp during the bad guy scenes, but it does not work because Lex’s actions are anything but campy. He tries to kill tens of millions of people. There’s nothing funny about that. Lois’s death does not have the emotional impact that it should because the setting and people leading up to it aren’t serious enough. Worse, Lex’s plan does not even make sense. Was it likely that the U.S. government would 1) never figure out who committed the crime, or 2) never suspect that the man who benefited most from the crime was the culprit? Even if he gets away from suspicion or investigation, the societal and economic fallout of killing tens of millions of people would have kept the people he needed to invest in his scheme from being able to do so.

The worst aspect of Lex’s character is that he surrounds himself with idiots. Why? Lex even asks that question aloud without giving an answer. It’s as if the screenwriters knew about the audience objection in advance. Yet, despite their lack of intelligence, Otis and Miss Tessmacher succeed in helping Lex’s plan to work. It just doesn’t make much sense and is very unsatisfying.

The good in the movie outweighs the bad, though. Christopher Reeve’s “Clark” is incredible. With only some minor posture and vocal changes, he plausibly disguises himself as a human.

Clark does a lot throughout the movie to maintain the disguise, too, including a brilliant bit of stuttering and stumbling when he and Lois are robbed early in the film. I know that people will still object that his disguise amounts to glasses and a bit of hair styling. “That couldn’t possibly fool people who know Clark” you might say. I disagree. No bangs, no glasses Zooey Deschanel could knock on my front door and I would not recognize her – especially if she was altering her voice (as Clark does.)

The other part of what makes the Clark disguise work is that “Superman” is so wildly self confident. The caped version of the man casually talks about the color of Lois’s underwear without any nerves or hesitation. Reeve manages to deliver these lines without also betraying the “ultimate boy scout” persona of his caped character. It’s just incredible acting all around.

Christopher Reeve’s interpretation of Superman and Clark brings to mind a famous quote from Kill Bill Vol. 2.

“Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”

After watching the movie, I do not find this to be true. Clark stands out from the pack in an opposite way than the one Superman does. It’s not that Kal-El is making a statement about how he views the human race, by making his Clark costume stuttering and fumbling. Most humans Kal-El meets are better spoken, less clumsy, braver, and more confident than Clark. Their disdain for Clark’s differences, in the negative, are what keeps them from making the obvious connections between him and Superman. Well, I mean, it’s mostly the glasses and bangs, but the rest adds in, too.


  • The helicopter rescue is fantastic and the special effects still look great five decades later. The magic of this scene, and the film as a whole, is how it captures the elation of the crowd in seeing someone good do something miraculous. A large percentage of human beings innately desire (desperately and sometimes hopelessly) for an unstoppable good guy to show up and make things right. The character of Superman delivers that.
  • Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder have great on-camera chemistry in this film. The love story is pretty thin, at least on Clark/Superman’s end, but they sell it wonderfully.
  • While I generally did not like the “comedy” surrounding Lex and his henchmen, I laughed a lot about the “Otisburg” scene. Ned Beatty plays that brilliantly, as does Gene Hackman with his incredulous response.
  • Perry White’s line, “the single most important interview since God talked to Moses” was just brilliant – both the dialogue and the delivery.
  • I liked that Lex’s evil was his own undoing. It feels like a true morality tale to have the bad guy lose, just because he took things too far. If Lex doesn’t target his own henchwoman’s mother, then she does not rescue Superman from the Kryptonite, and ultimately Lex wins.


  • Lex figures out Kryptonite way too easily. He went from “fragments of the planet Krypton must have drifted to earth when Superman arrived” to “these meteorites are lethal to him” without any explanation at all
  • Lois’s “Can you read my mind” narration is just exceptionally cringey for me. I think the moment was perfect without her saying anything. She was delivering those lines with her face. We did not need them out loud.
  • Jor-El warning Clark that “it is forbidden” rings out during his time travel effort, but the scene ends without any consequences.

General Thoughts;

  • The time-travel scene shows Superman flying backward around the earth, to reverse the spin of the earth. I think this was just a visual illustration of traveling in time. I did not take it completely literally. I’m not clear on how the time travel works, though. Did he create a paradox? Two versions of himself? Ultimately, we never find out.
  • If I were writing the screenplay, I would have let Superman save Lois, without the time travel. The movie would have worked just as well and it would have saved the “Nooo!” moment for a sequel, when their relationship has been better earned on screen and when he might have needed another superpower trick to pull out of the hat.

Overall, I enjoyed Superman a lot, flaws, aging bits, and the rest. Christopher Reeve is a tremendous actor and just for a moment, he made me believe a man could fly.

8 thoughts on “Superman (1978)

  1. Great review with some interesting points, I did find the time travel scene a little odd. There are certainly plot holes, but this and Superman 2 remain the definitive superman films for me. Christopher Reeve is the ultimate Superman and Margot Kidder was Lois Lane, classic movie.

    1. Yeah. I can’t argue with that take at all. I think Christopher Reeve is still the best portrayal of the character. He absolutely nails both Clark and Superman. I like Margot Kidder a lot as Lois, but I think she gets to shine more in the sequel. She’s primarily a damsel in distress in this one – though we at least get a glimpse into the potential for character with the way she banters with Superman during the rooftop interview. She’s got a quick mind and she keeps him off balance.

  2. Superman The Movie is such a classic, it’s aged quite well really, and still stand as on the best superhero movies. The scope and scale e of it it is amazing, especially opening scenes on Krypton. Superman 2 is my favourite though, that was a great filM!

    1. I was happy with how well it holds up for me (with the exceptions I note in the review.) I’m looking forward to checking out Superman 2, since I think these two belong together. Obviously the screenplay for Superman had the sequel in mind b/c it brought up Zod in the first act.

      I didn’t mention in the review but I liked cinematography choices (esp. the lighting) in the way Krypton was filmed. It looked alien in the best way possible.

    1. Yeah. I remember my mind being blown by it the first time I saw it. I don’t think a minor change like that has such an impact on everyone’s appearance, but for some people it really does.

  3. One of my all-time favorite movies; that’s why it’s in my DVD collection. I love the majestic music, among many other things. I agree, though, that they should have had Superman save Lois without time traveling. Zod was in the movie primarily to set up the sequel.

    1. Yeah. It’s a great movie and really well made. I was a little annoyed at Zod being set up in the first movie (since there was no payoff in that movie at all), although I did appreciate that they were thinking ahead. I think they could have inserted those scenes in the second film. That’s really just a nitpick, though. On the whole I really liked it.