Action Movie Fanatix Review: Superman (1978)

Action Movie Fanatix review banner for Superman

You’ll Believe A Man Can Fly.

Starring: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Margot Kidder, Jack O’Halloran, Terence Stamp

Director: Richard Donner

1978  |  143 Minutes  |  PG

“Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.” – Lex Luthor

It’s up to Superman (Christopher Reeve) to stop Lex Luthor’s plot to sink a portion of California into the ocean, turning his real estate into expensive oceanfront property.

The movie starts with John Williams iconic theme song.  I had forgotten just how incredible this song was.  It’s right up there with the Star Wars theme, which was also written by John Williams.  Both themes get the viewer into the right mood for this movie from the very first seconds they’re played.

We’re then taken to Krypton and Richard Donner and company didn’t shy away from the comic booky nature of their source material.  We’re immediately introduced to the bright shining white costumes of the Kryptonians, the crystalline structures of Krypton and the Phantom Zone.

Of course the next part sees baby Supes landing on Earth, growing up, flirting with girls…  zzzzzzzzz…  45 minutes in and we FINALLY see an adult Clark Kent / Superman.

Seeing Christopher Reeve as Superman after having seen Henry Cavill’s version makes you wonder a bit what’s so super about this Superman.  But what Christopher Reeve’s Superman lacks in muscle, Cavill’s Superman lacks in hope.  It’s not that Reeve was in bad shape but the average Crossfit junkie is more ripped than he was for this role.  And Christopher Reeve really embodied the Superman role in every other facet.  This version of Superman symbolizes everything that can be good with human kind.  And I’m a straight dude but when he takes off those glasses he is just dreamy!

Superman DVD cover

When the glasses get put back on though, Clark Kent is a bumbling buffoon.  It’s a little too over the top to be taken seriously.  And Daily Planet reporter/writer Lois Lane apparently can’t spell as she’s constantly asking those around her how to spell words that a 3rd grader could handle.  But at least Jimmy Olsen isn’t a CIA operative.

Unlike Man of Steel, Richard Donner’s Superman has its fair share of humor.  Not all of it lands… in fact a lot of it doesn’t but at least the entire world doesn’t feel so grim and defeated.

The effects are definitely showing their age a bit but when you consider that this movie is pushing 30 years old, that is 100% acceptable.  There are a number of parts where it still looks pretty darn good too!


Superman ’78 is a bit long-winded.  Scenes are often 3-4 times (by my very rough estimate) as long as they would be if this were made today.  Sometimes that is a good thing and sometimes it feels like Superman and Lois Lane have been flying around gazing into each other’s eyes FOREVER.

The differences between the Christopher Reeve and Henry Cavill Supermen are as much a sign of the times as they are about good and bad filmmaking.  There are plenty of moments throughout Richard Donner’s Superman that are headshakingly bad but there are also enough truly timeless elements that will make it a classic for another 30+ years to come.


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