Film: Superman: The Movie
"His name is Kal-El; he will call himself Clark Kent, but the world will know him as Superman."
The success of Superman
in the comics 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 Batman TV series
. This was averted when the producers secured the commitment of Oscar-winners Marlon Brando
and Gene Hackman to appear in it and a screenplay written by Mario Puzo (The Godfather
) was approved, after which 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 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
, which starred Henry Cavill
as the title character, was released in 2013, to generally decent box office success, but mixed reviews. A second planned film, a Cross Over
titled Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
, was announced at Comic-Con in July 2013. The film will be released in 2016.
The first film in this series contains examples of:
- Absolute Cleavage: Miss Tessmacher in the red dress.
- Abusive Parents;
- Strongly implied with the girl whose mother spanks 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 six, although this may have been Lex's idea of a joke.
- Acceptable Breaks from Reality: Invoked in the Tag Line: "You'll believe a man can fly."
- Adaptation Distillation: The main plot is not based on any particular story from the comics.
- Aliens of London: Kryptonian characters have a refined English accent with a veneer of antiquity, which seems to be the equivalent of the Kryptonian tongue for the viewer's convenience.
- All Men Are Perverts
- 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.
- Almost Kiss: Between Superman and Lois Lane after he turns back time and saves her life. Spoiled by Jimmy Olson's ill-timed appearance.
- Ambiguously Jewish: Miss Tessmacher.
- And I Must Scream: Zod and company did, in the Phantom Zone, described in-universe as "an eternal living death".
- Appeal To Audacity: Invoked by Lex Luthor when watching news broadcasts about Superman after he's revealed to the world:
Miss Tessmacher: Lex, what's the story on this guy? Do you think it's the genuine article?
Lex Luthor: If he is, he's not from this world.
Miss Tessmacher: Why?
Lex Luthor: Because, if any human being were going to perpetrate such a fantastic hoax, it would have been me!
- 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.
- Then again, many fans of the franchise tend to agree that the Earth spinning backwards was simply a visual metaphor for going back in time, and that Superman wasn't literally spinning the Earth backwards.
- In the second episode of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon argues that it would have been more humane to let Lois fall to her death from the top of the Daily Planet building instead of breaking her body into three parts from the impact of hitting his arms of steel.
- 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.
- Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: Clark Kent's suit and hat are very fifties, yet he manages to look dashing in them.
- Badass Boast: "Lex Luthor! The greatest criminal mind of our time!"
- 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.
- Briar Patching:
Superman: You diseased maniac! You think you can hide it from me by encasing it in lead? [Throws Luthor across the room.] I'll mold this box into your prison bars.
[Superman opens the box to find a chunk of Kryptonite on a chain.]
Luthor: [chuckling] I told ya.
- Bumbling Sidekick: Otis, of course.
- Bus Full of Innocents
- California Collapse: Caused by Luthor's plan to hit the fault line with a nuke. Luckily Supes can lift up the whole state.
- The Cameo: Apparently film critic Rex Reed works at the Daily Planet.
- Cannot Tell a Lie: Miss Tessmacher's sole reason for freeing Superman is that if he promises he'll save Hackensack, New Jersey, 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.
- Card-Carrying Villain: Luthor proudly declares himself to be "the greatest criminal mind of our time!"
- Carload of Cool Kids: Played straight: a car full of teenagers (who are entirely irrelevant to the plot after this point) drive up to call him a loser. Leads to a slight Who's Laughing Now? moment when Clark Kent uses his super speed to beat them home.
- Cat Up a Tree: During his first night in town as a superhero, Superman saves Lois from a helicopter crash, catches a burglar, then a boat full of robbers and finally saves a little girl's cat stuck on a tree.
- 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.
- Comes Great Responsibility:
- Jor-El teaches this trope to Superman.
- 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 greater than scoring touchdowns." And then suffers a fatal heart attack. Though Clark was already a noted athlete at the time...
- Comically Missing the Point: After Lex's discovery of Superman's weakness, some kryptonite that fell in Addis Ababa:
Miss Teschmacher: I wonder what they're wearing in Addis Ababa...
Looks like a burnoose... (Luthor shakes his head
! Are we going to Addis Ababa, Mr. Luthor!?
- Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: Both Lois and Jimmy do this at the end.
Lois: The trouble with men of steel is that there's never one around when you want one.
Jimmy: Thanks a lot Superman! You leave me in the middle of nowhere...
- Contrived Coincidence: A good chunk of the movie rests on a hugely implausible one. Thousands of meteorites fall to earth every year. What are the chances that a random space rock picked up in Addis Ababa by a native 30 years earlier and spotted in a random magazine would not only end up coming from a planet in another solar system (competing, during its three-year journey to Earth, with the billions of space rocks already circling our sun), but from Superman's planet? And not only that, that once said rock was located and obtained, that an unproven theory of Luthor's — that exposure to a piece of a person's home planet can be fatal (which doesn't make scientific sense even with regards to the comic-book kryptonite) — turns out to be correct?
- Conveniently Close Planet: A chunk of planet. There's a bit of Krypton right there on Earth, easily stolen.
- Cool Old Guy: Perry White, the editor of Daily Planet.
- The Chessmaster: Lex Luthor. In Superman II he morphs into more of a Magnificent Bastard.
- Crucified Hero Shot: A benign example. When little Kal-El comes out of the rocketship, he has his arms outstretched, waiting for a hug.
- Crystal Prison: The Phantom Zone.
- Crystal Spires and Togas: Planet Krypton is portrayed this way, as a homage to pulp science fiction.
- Dark Mistress: Miss Teschmacher.
- Data Crystal: Jor-El made some capable of building the Fortress of Solitude and deliver exposition.
- 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-godlike levels. Not that he wasn't popular before but suffering tragedy and becoming a living martyr sealed his place in pop culture heaven. Cranked Up to Eleven after Reeve (and Margot Kidder) reunited to appear in a couple episodes of Smallville years after his accident and shortly before his death.
- Deadpan Snarker
Lex: Miss Teschmacher, when I was six years old my father said to me—
Lex: (chuckling) Before that!...
Miss Teschmacher: (scoffing) Ha! Not like the shudder YOU'RE going to get when you try and lay that rock on him!...
- Supes has a few pretty good ones, too.
(standing sideways on a building as a burglar climbs up it with suctions cups) Hi there! Something wrong with the elevator?
- Death by Origin Story
- Jor-El and all of Krypton.
- Also, in this version, Pa Kent's death is a wake-up call for Clark, who was only a jock, to find a deeper purpose in life. However, it's Jor-El, not himself, who turns him into "Superman".
"All those things I could do... all those powers... and I couldn't even save him."
- Death Glare
- Ursa gives one to Jor-El, more intense after he calls her hatred of men "unreasonable".
- Otis got one when he tried to take "the gentleman's cape".
- Death Wail/Skyward Scream: Heartbreaking and chilling.
- Disproportionate Retribution: The Council of Elders wanted to send Jor-El to the Phantom Zone for building the rocket ship. Also, they send a soldier to apprehend him.
- The Ditz: Otis
- Ms Tessmacher as well, but to a much lesser degree.
- Drowning Pit: How Lex Luthor tries to get rid of a Kryptonite-weakened Superman.
- Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The destruction of Krypton.
- Earthquakes Cause Fissures: During the destruction of Krypton and the earthquake in California.
- Egopolis: Lex does this a lot. But he is not happy when his henchmen Otis scribbles "Otisburg" on a map.
- Elaborate Underground Base: Lex Luthor's hideout underneath Metropolis. Lex and Miss Teschmacher even Lampshade this fact:
Lex: ...It's a shame he didn't live to see from such humble beginnings this empire I've created.
Miss Teschmacher: An empire...this?
Lex: Miss Teschmacher, how many girls do you know who have a Park Avenue address like this one?
- Enemy Rising Behind: When Superman is standing on the deck of a ship.
- Epic Movie: The film distilled the source material into a sweeping Biopic of Superman.
- Even Mooks Have Loved Ones: Miss Teschmacher didn't like her boss's callous disregard for her mother's life.
- 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.
- Exposition Beam: Jor-El's essence subjects an 18-year-old Clark to 12 years of training by beaming the sum of his knowledge into his brain. At the end of which a Time Skip has occurred and Christopher Reeve debuts wearing the costume.
- 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. Clark claims to have fainted as a cover-up for his Bullet Catch in the alley.
- Fanfare: If you haven't heard it, go to YouTube. Now!
- Fate Worse Than Death: The Phantom Zone.
- Fight Off the Kryptonite
- Flight of Romance: Every single movie.
- Foreshadowing: Martha Kent warning Jonathan Kent to take it easy because of his heart condition and Jor-El forbidding his son Kal-El from interfering in human history.
- Freudian Slip: Perry White tells Jimmy Olsen to get him a coffee black with two sugars, and after Jimmy says, "Yes, Chief", Perry adds "And don't call me sugar" without even correcting himself.
- Heroic BSOD: After Superman realizes Lois' car is buried under debris.
- High Heel-Face Turn: Miss Teschmacher.
- 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. Then again, a giant nuke going off in a populated area is worse than one going off in the desert...even if that area is Joisey.
- Hot Reporter: Lois Lane.
- Huge Holographic Head
- Human Aliens
- Lampshaded by Jor-El when he talks about sending his son to Earth:
He will look like one of them.
- Lara subverts this in her response.
"But he won't be one of them."
Lois Lane: "Do you...eat?"
- Humans Are Flawed: They tend to abuse their resources. They're prone to feelings of vanity, just like Kryptonians.
- 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."
- Ignored Expert: Jor-El
- I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Superman and Lois Lane during the earthquake in California.
- Immune to Bullets: Well, that's a given, but here he actually catches one in his hand.
- In Memoriam: The film begins with a dedication to cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who died two months prior to its release.
- Instant Costume Change: Through a revolving door and in mid-air.
- Intrepid Reporter
- Lois Lane.
- 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.
- We do hear Perry compliment Clark — right after reminding Lois "there's only one 'p' in 'rapist' — when he says, "Nice job on that shooting scandal, Kent."
- Ironic Echo: Luthor throws the phrase "diseased maniac" back in Superman's face as he's suffering from exposure to Kryptonite.
- Jerk Jock: Brad.
- Just Train Wrong: Steam whistles are heard beneath Grand Central Terminal, despite steam locomotives being banned from the tunnels...and despite being some twenty years after the end of steam.
- Kick the Dog: Luthor shoving a detective in front of a train using the power-operated door to his hideout.
- Kryptonite Factor: Also the Trope Namer.
- Large Ham: Lex Luthor.
- Laughably Evil: Luthor, as portrayed by Gene Hackman.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Both the mugging scene and the end of the first two movies, you could swear he was looking at the audience.
- The "fly off into the sunset" moment that closes this film became so iconic that not only was it repeated in the three direct sequels that Chris Reeve starred in, but Brandon Routh would do his own version in Superman Returns, and it was featured in Bruce Timm's seventy-fifth anniversary clip.
- Line-of-Sight Name:
What a super man! (beat)
- Load-Bearing Hero: Superman bench-presses the entire San Andreas Fault Zone. And uses his body as temporary train tracks.
- Look Ma, No Plane!: Superman saves Air Force One by doing this to it.
- Loves My Alter Ego: The Lois Lane/Superman or Clark Kent dynamic is one of the best known examples of this.
- Magic A Is Magic A
- 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 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"), until Lois names him "Superman", which he bemusedly endorses.
- Master Actor: Clark Kent. On top of making audiences believe a man could fly, Christopher Reeve proved that a really good actor can make you believe that Clark Kenting could actually work.
- Meaningful Background Event: While Perry is talking about journalism and Superman, Clark is listening to Luthor's message and looking for a window to duck out of.
- Meaningful Echo: Even more compelling as they show up again at the same crucial time:
Jor-El: It is forbidden to interfere with human history.
Jonathan Kent: One thing I do know son, and that is you are here for a reason.
Clark: All those things I can do, all those powers, and I couldn't even save him.
- Messianic Archetype: Superman as space Jesus with Jor-El as space God.
- Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Miss Teschmacher saved Superman after Luthor let it slip that Hackensack was going to be hit by one of the missiles.
- Mobile Shrubbery: Otis does this briefly while re-aiming the missile.
- Moment Killer: Just as Superman and Lois Lane are about to kiss, Jimmy Olsen shows up to spoil it.
- Mondegreen: Some audience members thought Zod yelled, "And one day, your ass!", not "heirs".
- Instead of hearing "It is their habit to abuse their resources in such a way," some heard "Because they're happy to abuse their resources in such a way" (this one even made it into the closed captions of some TV broadcasts and videos).
- Mood Whiplash: 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.
- 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.
- My Car Hates Me
- 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.
- Also during the mugging scene. "Faster than a speeding bullet" indeed!
- 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 him.note
- 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.
- Phantom Zone: General Zod, Ursa and Non are imprisoned in the Phantom Zone by Jor-El.
- Planetville: There seems to be only a single city on Krypton.
- Product Placement: For Cheerios. The closing credits even include the line "Cheerios by General Mills".
- Racing the Train: A young Clark Kent does this.
- Real Men Wear Pink: Or at least like pink, very much.
- Reflective Eyes: The Executioner addresses two Elders, 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 young Lois Lane's parents on the train.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Given to Superman by Luthor right after the Kryptonite is revealed.
You were great in your day, Superman. But it just stands to reason. When it came time to cash in your chips, this "diseased maniac" would be your banker. Mind over muscle?
- Ret Canon
- 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 different comic 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.
- Rouge Angles of Satin: Despite being an accomplished reporter, Lois is terrible at spelling. This trait was made part of her comics characterization (if not always applied consistently).
- Rule of Symbolism: Lots of Christ symbolism:
- Same Language Dub
- Jeff East's scenes as young Clark Kent were dubbed over by Christopher Reeve.
- Reeve also dubbed the voice of the helicopter pilot (yes, that helicopter).
- David De Keyser (Marc Ange Draco in On Her Majesty's Secret Service) dubbed over the voice of the jail warden at the end.
- The Air Force One pilot was played by a British actor, and his lines were dubbed, even after he successfully used an American accent.
- Saved for the Sequel: At the beginning of the movie, General Zod is roaring to Jor-El, "You will bow down before me, Jor-El! Both you and, one day, your heirs!" However, he is then cast into the Phantom Zone and we have to wait for the next film to see him carry out that threat.
- Say My Name: "MISS TESCHMACHEERRR!!!!"
- Scare Chord: "The Planet Krypton", "Destruction of Krypton", and "The Fortress of Solitude" have a few; "Welcome to Metropolis" and "The Big Rescue" each begin with one.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: The film features the Phantom Zone, but makes it out to be a one-time prison for a specific set of three villains.
- Secret Identity Change Trick: Seeing Lois in deadly peril, Clark must find a way to change into Superman unseen. Find there no telephone booth to use, he uses a revolving door at super-speed to be become practically invisible as he suits up.
- Shrug Take: The man at the office did this when Superman caught the cat burglar.
- The Silver Age of Comic Books: Superman's Silver Age era had the most influence on the creation on the film. This is why most people who are familiar with Superman refer to Silver Age elements.
- Spandex, Latex, or Leather: Spandex.
- Spared by the Adaptation: The Superman comics at the time established that both Ma and Pa Kent had already passed away when Clark became Superman. Here, Martha lives.
- Surrounded by Idiots: Lex says this about Otis, and probably thinks the same about Miss Teschmacher.
- The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Well, the hologram. Justified in that it's not a "playback" so much as it is an interactive computer program, possibly even a low-level AI.
Jor-El: You...enjoyed it?
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 1970s 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.
- Terrible Trio: Lex (brains), Eve (beauty) and Otis (ummm...)
- The Movie: It's right there in the title. If not the Trope Namer, it's the Trope Codifier.
- 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.
- Time Travel: Near the end of the film, Superman flies around the world backwards so quickly — 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.
- Trapped in a Sinking Car: Lois Lane is off somewhere in the desert of the American Southwest when an earthquake fault opens up and swallows her car. She is then buried under an avalanche of dirt.
- Two of Your Earth Minutes: Jor-El uses this twice during the reading of his Video Will to Clark Kent (Kal-El).
By now you will have reached your eighteenth year, as it is measured on Earth. By that reckoning, I will have been dead many thousands of your years.
- 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.
- Villain Decay: Really, compare the Lex Luthor of the comic books to the sniveling, real estate-obsessed loser from the films. It's no contest.
- Just to make sure you all get it, the Luthor of the comics is a Mad Scientist, Corrupt Corporate Executive, former President Evil, has teamed up with the likes of Brainiac and The Joker a few times, created Bizarro, and last but in no way least, founded and led the Legion of Doom. Movie!Luthor has pulled a few real estate scams.
- It happened between movies as well; despite being comedic, Luthor was smart enough to figure out Superman's weakness, and ruthless enough to try and murder millions of people. The second movie, however, made him little more than a lackey to Zod.
- 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.
- Visual Pun: Look closely at Luthor's map for his "new" California. The area labelled "Teschmacher Peaks" consists of two large, identical mountains side by side.
- The Walls Are Closing In: In a variant, Luther kills the detective who's following Otis by making the wall of a subway tunnel move outward, shoving the man into the open where he's hit by a train.
- We Can Rule Together: General Zod invites Jor-El to join him in his rebellion. Doesn't work.
- Weaksauce Weakness: Of course people will argue the Kryptonite Factor, but at least it's supposed to be rare.
- Whooshing Credits: The Trope Maker. Reportedly the credits for the first movie alone cost $1 million, more than a lot of movies of the time.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Miss Teschmacher pretends to be an accident victim so that Otis can reprogram the missile coordinates.