The success of Superman opened the door for other masked marvels in colorful costumes — and 1978's Superman: The Movie did the same for superhero films. (As with the comics, Zorro asserts his influence here as well: the producers of the Christopher Reeve films, Alexander and Ilya Salkind, admitted they decided to make a Superman film after seeing a billboard of Alain Delon as Zorro in a French film.)Produced (concurrently with its first sequel) in the late 1970s and released in 1978, Superman almost wasn't even made, since the studio feared it would be two hours of campiness in the vein of the 1960s BatmanTV series. Once a screenplay written by Mario Puzo (The Godfather) was approved, Richard Donner was hired to direct and history was made. Part of what Donner did to make it so good was his commitment to verisimilitude, an artistic ambience to the story that makes the whole Super Hero concept feel real on a gut level. The fact that it employed innovative visual effects to make Superman's flying look convincing helped further that goal as well.Superman had a star-studded cast — except for the two main characters. Casting the titular hero was a real hunt, but the studio hit the jackpot with Christopher Reeve, who is likely the best actor ever to play the role. (Watch the scene where he transitions between the character's identities on camera in Lois' apartment if you need convincing.) Finally, composer John Williams supplied a grand score that gave the story a powerfully majestic heroic tone to the story, even while it didn't take itself too seriously.Superman established a standard superhero film format: Origin of Hero, then Introduction of Arch-Enemy (and other important characters), then First Conflict. The film starts on Krypton, with brilliant scientist Jor-El (Marlon Brando) sentencing a trio of treasonous villains to spend eternity in The Phantom Zone. Following this scene, the film follows Superman's origins — Krypton's explosion, baby Kal-El's trip through space, getting his adoptive name of Clark Kent, and the first appearance of Superman — before he becomes a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet as Clark, rescues Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and others as Superman, and finally has to stop a plot by the self-proclaimed "greatest criminal mind of our time", Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), to destroy the West Coast.The film was followed by 1980's Superman II, 1983's Superman III, and 1987's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, as well as the related (and unsuccessful) 1984 spinoff Supergirl. The last two films did poorly with critics and the box office, which caused a planned fifth film to sit in Development Hell for nearly two decades. Writers and directors such as Tim Burton and Kevin Smith attempted to reboot the franchise with their own unique takes, but had no success in convincing Warner Bros. to greenlight the project. In 2006, the fabled fifth film was finally released: Superman Returns, both a sequel and a Spiritual Successor to the first two films, was released, directed by Bryan Singer of the X-Men film series fame. Unfortunately, the film proved too slavish a retread of the Donner film's plotting and Brandon Routh just could not emerge out of Reeve's shadow; it became a disappointment that finally killed the series.A Darker and Edgier reboot of the film franchise, Man of Steel, was released in 2013, to generally decent box office success and reviews. A second planned film, a Cross Over co-starring the Batman, was announced at Comic-Con in July 2013.
The first film in this series contains examples of:
Abusive Parents: Strongly implied with the girl whose mother slaps her for "telling lies" about a flying man.
Not to mention Lex's dad, who apparently told him to "get out" when he was only 6.
Played With. Although it is in response to a direct challenge from Lois to identify the color of her underwear in the first movie, to prove he has X-ray vision, he was visibly embarrassed by Lois's challenge. Lois clearly believes All Men Are Perverts, and Superman's genuinely pure-as-the-driven-snow character isn't something she remotely knows how to deal with.
Played straight when the army believes Luthor's henchmistress is an accident victim. The officer insists he has to do chest compressions and "mouth-to-mouth" and even makes his unit about-face.
All There in the Manual: Although it is never made entirely clear in the film, the reason Zod rebelled was established in the DC continuity as being because of Jor-El's prediction that Krypton was doomed. Jor-El could not tolerate Zod's methods, and so foiled his plans. The reason the Counsel did not listen to Jor-El is because his arguments were exactly the same as Zod's motive for trying to overthrow them.
And I Must Scream: Zod and company did, in the Phantom Zone, described in-universe as "an eternal living death".
Artistic License - Physics: To this day, you can send scientifically knowledgeable folks into a boiling rage by mentioning the "spin the Earth backwards to reverse time" ending of the first film.
Or the earth is spinning backwards because time was being turned backwards by Superman flying faster than the speed of light. It's still ridiculous, but just not that ridiculous.
Or the Earth was spinning backwards from Superman's perspective as he traveled faster than the speed of light in order to travel back in time. Thus he can stop both rockets in time because there are now two of him present until the one who didn't go to save Lois goes back in time to complete the loop and save her life again (off-screen of course).
Ascended Extra: This adaptation gave Jor-El unprecedented importance in Superman's origin story beyond just blasting him off to Earth. Superman's superhero career becomes a messianic mission bestowed by Jor-El as God-figure. Jor-El sends Kal-El forth to use his powers as The Paragon for humans, "the light to show them the way to greatness". His Virtual Ghost charges Clark to become Superman and trains him for 12 years. In the comics and most other adaptations since, Jor-El had nothing at all to do with Clark becoming Superman. Jor-El sent his son to Earth simply to save his life with no ulterior motives for humanity. Earth was chosen simply because it was habitable and Kal-El would fit right alongside humans. The awesome powers were a bonus, and Clark becoming Superman was all due to him being a morally upright, responsible man as raised by the Kents.
As You Know: Lois Lane to a Native American chief she's interviewing.
Audible Gleam: Jor-El's crystal during General Zod's sentencing hearing. Also, the crystal Clark found in his old spaceship at the Kent farm and took to the North Pole to build the Fortress of Solitude.
Bald of Evil: Played for laughs by Gene Hackman, who wears a series of unconvincing wigs until whipping off the last one to reveal his baldness during his final rant after Superman dumps him in prison.
Bat Deduction: Lex Luthor not only correctly deduces that pieces of Krypton came to Earth, but that they would be harmful to Superman, with no explanation given.
Billing Displacement: While Brando and Hackman were much bigger names (and thus received top billing), it's Christopher Reeve that everyone rightly remembers in this. In fairness, though, Brando did steal the scenes he was in. So much so that comic-continuity Jor-El was eventually retconned to be closer to Brando's version of the character.
California Collapse: Caused by Luthor's plan to hit the fault line with a nuke. Luckily Supes can lift up the whole state.
Can Not Tell A Lie: Miss Tessmacher's sole reason for freeing Superman is that if he promises he'll save Hackensack, NJ first (saving her mother in the process), she knows he'll keep it. Of course, the fact that the other missile is more likely going to hit a less populated area in California means that Supes would made the Hackensack bound missile the top priority anyway.
Clark Kenting: Christopher Reeve made Superman's switch between identities incredibly convincing and less dependent on MST3K Mantra than in the comics. It's especially apparent during the scene where he nearly reveals himself to Lois in her apartment, and shows the audience what Superman would look like in Clark Kent's suit.
Pa Kent, too: "Been showing off a bit, haven't you, son?" He follows it with a lecture that Clark is "here for a reason." And then suffers a fatal heart attack. Which was portrayed beautifully by Glenn Ford. Yes, that Glenn Ford.
Data Crystal: Jor-El made some capable of building the Fortress of Solitude and deliver exposition.
Dawson Casting: A minor case. In the extended edition, Lois Lane is the young girl the teenage Clark waves to as he's running past her train, implying that Lois Lane is a number of years younger than Clark Kent. Margot Kidder, however, is four years older than her co-star Christopher Reeve.
Dead Artists Are Better: Christopher Reeve's paralysis from a riding accident later in life has certainly helped raise popular opinion of this version of Superman to near-god-like levels. Not that he wasn't popular before but suffering tragedy and becoming a living martyr sealed his place in pop culture heaven.
Doing It for the Art: Richard Donner made "verisimilitude" his mission for the movies. He wanted it to feel real, which was no easy feat. There's a reason why "you'll believe a man can fly" is the tagline, though.
Drowning Pit: How Lex Luthor tries to get rid of a kryptonite-weakened Superman.
Everything's Better with Spinning: Superman spins like a top while drilling into Lex Luthor's underground lair and flies around the Earth to make it spin backwards and turn back time. That and the revolving door costume change bit.
Exact Words: "Neither I nor my wife will leave Krypton." Jor-El instead sends his son Kal-El to Earth, thus technically keeping his promise to the Council.
Extranormal Prison: General Zod and his cronies are banished to the Phantom Zone, which is portrayed as an interdimensional wasteland with no hope of escape. Unless, of course, someone therein is needed by the plot, in which case, the Phantom Zone is a horrible vacation spot.
Facepalm: After Lex describes what Kryptonite can do and how to find it, Eve and Otis go off on a tangent about what to wear to Addis Abbaba. Lex's expression says it all.
Fainting: Lois Lane does the Emotional Faint version after Superman saves her from falling to her death.
Hoist by His Own Petard: Averted in Jor-El's case, as he would have been sent to the Phantom Zone had Krypton not been destroyed. Played with in Superman's case with the lead box in Luthor's lair.
Inverted in the case of General Zod. He seems to forget that had he not been sent into the Phantom Zone, he would have been killed with the rest of the population
Holding Out for a Hero: According to Jor-El, Superman needs a Secret Identity to both protect his loved ones and to prevent humans from becoming overly dependent on him, expecting him to solve all their problems.
Honor Before Reason: Superman deflected the first missile because he promised he would, but couldn't reach the second one in time. It goes off, triggering a massive earthquake.
Humans Are Special: "They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you... my only son."
And, technically, Superman/Clark Kent. Technically because we don't ever see Clark doing his job, the way we did in the George Reeves series. However, we know Perry only hires good reporters who can get stories and make them great. Besides Clark has two irresistible qualities — fast (and accurate) typing and a snappy, punchy prose style.
Ironic Echo: Luthor throws the phrase "diseased maniac" back in Superman's face as he's suffering from exposure to Kryptonite.
Richard Donner, the director, used the word "verisimilitude" as the production motto in scripting and crafting the film. They devoted a lot of their effort to figuring out how to have things make sense within the ludicrous framework of the premise and plot. Why doesn't Superman solve all the world's problems? Jor-El's dialogue explains (piecemeal) that there is an intergalactic rule that Superman is bound to not to interfere in the course of another planet's history, this rule having been put into place as the result of the early history of "the 28 known galaxies" being rife with warfare due to interference (presumably resulting in stringent vigilance for that sort of thing now, creating the potential for the intergalactic equivalent of an international incident). He is already bending the rules just being Superman in the first place.
If the name "Superman" was invented by the media, why is there an S-logo on the outfit? The fancy traditional attire of Kryptonians included family crests in a chest insignia, and the symbol on the seal of Jor-El's clan coincidentally happens to look somewhat like an S. And so on. That last issue, that the S logo was the seal of the House of El, was apparently Marlon Brando's idea. Donner liked the idea and went with it. It went over so well that it was re-used in other adaptations (Lois and Clark and the late-80s Superboy series), in Smallville, and later as a retcon in the comics, it was established to be a modification of a letter of the Kryptonian alphabet.
The Man With No Name: It seems Supes was going to go nameless ("A friend"), til Lois names him "Superman", which he bemusedly endorses.
A perfect example of this is when the police detectives are following a goofy, bumbling Otis. The mood swiftly changes when Lex uses Otis' entry point to his underground lair to push the cop into the path of an oncoming express train, with a Gory Discretion Shot. Miss Tessmacher growls, "Sick!" at Lex.
Of course, there's Reality Subtext to the Mood Whiplash. Richard Donner dealt with Executive Meddling in the form of Richard Lester, so the film veers wildly between comedy and drama.
Monumental Damage: Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. (And in a deleted scene, the Hollywood sign.)
Moses in the Bullrushes: The iconic scene of Jor-El sending his son to Earth from the dying planet, faithfully carried over from the comics.
Lois, get gas before you drive into the middle of nowhere. Seriously, she hits the earthquake, burning (broken) train track, oncoming train, and the nuclear warhead from that trope's description all in one turn of the key.
Well, it's not for want of trying. She stops at a gas station, but it's deserted, and a few seconds later it blows up right next to her.
Mythology Gag: Clark glances briefly at a pay phone (a half-height, exposed phone kiosk, not a full-fledged Phone Booth) in the first movie before changing costume in a revolving door.
Neck Lift: Superman does this to Lex Luthor while they're in Lex's underground lair.
Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer shows as if only Krypton exploded, like in the comics. Also it's not revealed to be a Superman movie until we see Superman himself.
No Sell: The unfortunate bank robber who hit Supes in the head with a crowbar got to vibrate along with it. Later, Supes just shrugged off the trial by fire, bullets, and ice at Luthor's lair. In a deleted scene, Superman is about to stop the Hackensack-bound missile in mid-air, but not it before flies right past himnote That scene is followed by the scene in the theatrical cut, where he sends the rocket into space..
A Nuclear Error: When missiles are test launched, for some unknown reason the authorities put armed nuclear warheads aboard them.
Officer O'Hara: The first two cops to encounter Superman on his first night in Metropolis.
Oh Crap: Watch Superman's face as the missile hit San Andreas and later when he realized Lois needed saving after he'd contained the flooding.
The Executioner's Eye Take before his death in a deleted scene.
On Patrol Montage: Superman has a busy night after rescuing Lois from the helicopter crash with crimes to stop and more rescues to do.
Paid Harem: Luthor's perpetual moll, Eve Teschmacher.
The Paragon: "They only lack the light to show the way."
Parent Service: Kids enjoyed seeing Superman fly around. Their dads enjoyed seeing Valerie Perrine in a series of revealing outfits.
Planetville: There seems to be only a single city on Krypton.
Reflective Eyes: The Executioner addresses two Council of Elder members, who are reflected in his helmet's lenses. Later (in a deleted scene), he gets caught up in the destruction of Krypton, first reflected in the same lenses, then in his bare eyes.
Remake Cameo: Kirk Alyn (the first actor to portray Superman on the silver screen in a 1948 serial) and Noel Neill (Alyn's co-star from the serials and the second actress to portray Lois Lane in The Adventures of Superman) were Lois Lane's parents on the train.
The first movie established Smallville as being in Kansas and that the Superman crest was a Kryptonian family symbol, both of which were eventually adopted into the comics.
Also Lex being a businessman.
Clark meets Jor-El's Virtual Ghost in two differentcomic versions of his origin written years after the movie, but the encounters are not as fundamental to his becoming Superman as in the movie. The later version was particularly influenced by the visuals of the movie so its Jor-El is middle-aged and silver-haired like Brando's, whereas he's most often depicted as physically identical to Superman.
Ripped from the Phone Book: Lex Luthor is looking through a book in his library to find some information. When he finds it, instead of just showing it to his henchmen he rips it out and hands it to them.
Superman: I don't know what to say, Father. I'm afraid I just got carried away.
Jor-El: I anticipated this, my son. Now...
Superman: You couldn't have...You couldn't have imagined...
Jor-El: How good it felt?
Technology Marches On: The movie really doesn't say it's the late 1970's outside of a few minor lines, but the ubiquitous typewriters in the Daily Planet with nary a computer monitor to be seen drags you back into the time period.
This Is Reality: Invoked with Jor-El's first words in the movie. He is actually speaking about the clues that prove Zod and his henchmen guilty of sedition, but the phrase can be easily interpreted as talking to the audience:
This is no fantasy - no careless product of wild imagination. No, my friends.
Throw It In: Gene Hackman's "Come in, it's open!" in the first film after Superman breaks the door down is said to be an ad-lib.
Time Travel: Near the end of the film, Superman flies around the world backwards so fast — presumably, faster than light — that time runs backwards, allowing him to save Lois Lane.
Took a Shortcut: It is made clear by Jor-El's narration that Superman's journey to Earth took thousands of years but he only aged a few years due to the effects of relativity. Oddly enough, Lex Luthor pinpoints 1948 as the year of Krypton's destruction.
Perhaps Lex Luthor meant that the light from far away Krypton exploding reached Earth in 1948.
When Kal-El went back to the Fortress of Solitude after his first night out, Jor-El lets it slip that a Kryptonian day has 28 hours, not 24.
Un-Confession: Clark Kent starts to tell Lois Lane that he's Superman, but loses his nerve at the last minute.
Unintentional Period Piece: The films are usually good about avoiding it, but the first guy who sees Superman in costume is unquestionably from the '70s.
Vehicle Vanish: Otis does this while the cop is following him in the subway tunnel.
Video Will: In his Fortress of Solitude Kal-El/Clark Kent receives a recorded message from the Huge Holographic Head of his father Jor-El, recorded thousands of years ago before the destruction of the planet Krypton.
Virtual Ghost: Through the use of crystal technology, Jor-El and several other Kryptonians can communicate with Superman despite having been dead for thousands of years.