Superman (1978) Review – The First Great Superhero Movie

When thinking of iconic superhero films in the modern day the 1978 Superman movie is one that probably won’t, but should, come to mind.

It’s influence can be felt across my favourite superhero movies today like Sam Rami’s Spiderman, or the formula followed by a lot of MCU and DC films. And for good reason; this film is witty, funny and entertaining. It has decent effects for the time, a good cast all around and knows when to take itself seriously and when to let its goofier side show.

Of course, Christopher Reeve is the star here. Out of all the people to play Superman, I think he is the only actor to portray the character in a way that makes it believable that one knows Clark Kent is Superman. I mean sure, the glasses disguise is and will continue to be pure cheese, but the performance he gives in terms of mannerisms, speech patterns, tone of voice and body language really do make him as Clark and him as Superman feel like entirely separate characters. So despite Brandon Routh and Henry Cavil’s outings supposedly taking place in a more serious, grounded worlds, I actually find this cheesier film so much more believable just because of Reeve’s performance alone.

But as I said, the whole cast deserves praise here. Margot Kidder as Lois Lane being a highlight – as well as being a love interest she is also the type of person we compare Superman to when he is doing his Clark Kent act, and she does a good job being a reflection of what he would like to be in terms of normality. Then there’s Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor (“Mista Loothor” to his underlings), who somehow pulls off a performance that requires him to be a self-interested businessman, merciless killer and tongue-in-cheek, secret-base-having Bond villain all at the same time.

The only thing I don’t like about this film is the ending, because it is one of the biggest cop-out endings to ever grace the silver screen. Basically, Lex Luthor fires two missiles in two directions and Superman is only fast enough to catch one before the other explodes. Superman then spends the finale saving people from the aftermath of the missile (flooding, earthquakes and the like), but cannot save Lois. She dies. Superman discovering her dead might have been the most profound and effective scene of the whole movie, were it not for it being undercut by him flying so fast he reverses time and revives her. Like, if he could fly that fast then why not do that in the first place to stop the missiles from hitting both locations? Or reversing time to before Lex Luthor fired them and stopping him quicker? It just feels like a cheap end to an otherwise brilliant Superhero film. Sure it’s in line with the cheesy tone, but it undercuts too much of the actual drama to be worth it.

The film also takes a while to get going. I personally don’t mind the stuff on Krypton with Marlon Brando, who plays Superman’s alien dad. I’m a bit of a geek and find that alien politicking, as well as the sets and music that plays during these early scenes, to be great and worthy of inclusion. It’s clear a lot of effort went into making Krypton be more than a throw-away set up, and the uniqueness of it all does sit with you. But when Superman lands on Earth it skips through his childhood and backstory so fast that it’s jarring. At that stage it does begin to feel like a slide show so the film can skip to the story it wants to tell.

So, would I recommend Superman (1978)? Absolutely. It’s a great movie that still shows signs of its influence on modern superhero films, which is just a testament to what it did. Not perfect by any means, but always a good time and will always make you smile.

2 thoughts on “Superman (1978) Review – The First Great Superhero Movie

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  1. The time reversal thing was hilarious. I was buying it a bit when I saw this in the cinema as a kid. I think the general feeling was that this came in a bit bloated, like Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Both series really hit it out of the park though with their second instalments.

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