Superman Wiki
General Information
Directed by: Richard Donner
Produced by: Alexander Salkind
Ilya Salkind
Pierre Spengler
Written by: Characters:
Jerry Siegel
Joe Shuster
Mario Puzo
Mario Puzo
David Newman
Leslie Newman
Robert Benton
Music by: John Williams
Duration: 143 mins
Budget: $55,000,000
Gross Revenue: $300,220,000
Previous Film: TBA
Next Film: Superman II

Superman (aka Superman: The Movie) is a 1978 film based on the DC comics character of the same name. It is the first entry in the original four-part Superman film series, which was then followed with a sequel of sorts in 2006. It stars Christopher Reeve as Superman and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor as well as featuring other iconic characters of the Superman mythos.


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 travelling 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 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.


  • Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El
  • Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor
  • Margot Kidder as Lois Lane
  • Marlon Brando as Jor-El
  • Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent
  • Phyllis Thaxter as Martha Kent
  • Jackie Cooper as Perry White
  • Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen
  • Valerie Perrine as Eve Teschmacher
  • Ned Beatty as Otis
  • Susannah York as Lara Lor-Van
  • Terence Stamp as General Zod
  • Sarah Douglas as Ursa
  • Jack O'Halloran as Non
  • Kirk Alyn as Sam Lane
  • Noel Neill as Ellen Lane


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.


Main article: Superman: The Movie (Soundtrack)

Jerry Goldsmith, who scored Donner's The Omen, was originally set to compose Superman. Portions of Goldsmith's work from Capricorn One were used in Superman's teaser trailer. He dropped out over scheduling conflicts and John Williams was hired. Kidder was supposed to sing "Can You Read My Mind", the lyrics to which were written by Leslie Bricusse, but Donner disliked it and changed it to a composition accompanied by a voiceover.

1978-1987 Film Series
Superman Films:   Superman  • Superman II  • Superman III  • Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Supergirl Films:   Supergirl