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Film / Supergirl (1984)

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The 1984 film Supergirl followed Superman III; it was produced largely due to Christopher Reeve's lack of interest in portraying the Man of Steel a fourth time. Producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind wanted to milk more money out of the franchise, and since they owned the film rights to Supergirl, they appeared to have found a way to continue the franchise despite no longer having its star actor.

After considering many other actresses for the title role, Helen Slater was cast as Kara/Supergirl (marking her film debut), while Faye Dunaway played the movie's primary villain (the witch Selena) and Peter O'Toole portrayed Kara's Kryptonian mentor Zaltar. In an attempt to offer continuity with the Superman films, Marc McClure reprised his role as Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane's sister Lucy (Maureen Teefy) appears as the roommate of Linda Lee (Supergirl's Secret Identity).

Argo City is a part of Krypton that survived the planet's destruction and thrives in another dimension, but is dependent on the tiny-but-powerful device known as the Omegahedron. Zaltar has been secretly fooling with it and when he hides it with innocent Kara (cousin of a certain Kal-El), her own foolishness causes it to "escape" the city. Everyone will be doomed in a few days without it, so she heads out into our dimension to retrieve it. Following it to Earth, she gains her own superpowers from its yellow sun. Supergirl tracks the Omegahedron to the small town of Midvale and learns it has fallen into the clutches of Selena, who is using its powers in service of her witchcraft to Take Over the World.

The film's running time was slashed by its North American distributor, TriStar Picturesnote , for the American theatrical release — from 125 minutes to 114 minutes — and slashed further to 92 minutes for broadcast networks and syndication. The film was eventually released on DVD with both the 125-minute International Cut and a 138-minute Director's Cut present (the latter basically being the rough cut before any scenes were deleted, with the exception of a scene where Selena kills a protestor).

For tropes regarding the 2015 CBS/CW series starring Melissa Benoist in the title role, see this page.

A new film incarnation of Supergirl is set to appear in the DC Extended Universe, played by Sasha Calle. She will be introduced in 2023's The Flash.

Supergirl contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Actionized Adaptation: The comic book adaptation of the movie toned down many of the Midvale scenes in favor of more action, including a fight with a shadowy version of Selena in lieu of the film's gigantic demon.
  • Adaptation Deviation: The movie changed Argo City from surviving on a chunk of Krypton to surviving in another dimension.
  • All There in the Script: One of the earlier drafts of the script names Zaltarís orange artistic device the Matterwand.
  • Amusement Park of Doom: Selena lives in a closed-down amusement park, in the old Haunted House attraction to be precise. Her first face-to-face confrontation with Supergirl has her menace the heroine and Ethan by magically controlling the rides.
  • Animating Artifact: When Zaltar appropriates the Omegahedron, Kara uses it to create an artificial dragonfly. Much later, Selena gets hold of it and uses it to imbue life onto a fake dragonfly, and transform a mass of shadows into a golem to oppose Supergirl.
  • Anti-Hero: Zaltar took the Omegahedron in the first place, and accepts his banishment to the Phantom Zone as punishment while noting that Argo City's suffering will be quick and painless.
  • Anti-Villain: Bianca doesn't really do anything evil, but association with Selena doesn't do her any favors.
  • Artifact of Doom: Subverted. Selena thinks the Omegahedron is a conduit for the power of shadow, but it's amplifying her existing powers and is also used to power Argo City. Played straight with the Burundi Wand, an artifact of pure evil that amplifies the Omegahedron's powers.
  • Ascended Fridge Horror: The Phantom Zone is shown in all its infamy, complete with an endless void, a craggy surface, and all-encompassing darkness. Supergirl is trapped there briefly. Zaltar voluntarily went there. Both try to escape, but he never makes it out.
  • Attempted Rape: Kara beats up two truckers who try to rape her (given that she's super strong it doesn't go very well for them).
  • Black Magic: Selena's weapon of choice. According to canon, that and Kryptonite are surefire ways to sideline or kill a Kryptonian.
  • Bridal Carry: Spoofed when Ethan tries to do this to Linda, but can't even lift the petite girl, because Kryptonians are denser than humans.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Supergirl loses her superpowers when Selena banishes her to the Phantom Zone; she gets them back once she escapes.
  • The Bully: Myra, a tough jock who bullies anyone unafraid of her.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Supergirl runs into two truck drivers shortly after reaching Earth. She quickly identifies herself as Superman's cousin... and the pair of hicks decide to harass her. Then she proves she has Kryptonian powers... and the idiot duo attacks her.
  • But Now I Must Go: Supergirl retrieves the Omegahedron and returns home to Argo City at the end of the movie — saving the city, but leaving no obvious Sequel Hook.
  • But What About the Astronauts?: The citizens of the domed city of Argo survived the destruction of Krypton. Argo City is floating in a pocket dimension outside of real space. It is unclear whether the citizens colonized the dimension before Krypton was destroyed or transported the city there to survive being destroyed, but either way, they want to make it back to their home dimension but have a hard time doing so with Krypton gone.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Supergirl is ignored by Superman IV, and Superman Returns, (which also ignored Superman III and IV).
  • Canon Foreigner: Selena, Zaltar, and every other character besides Supergirl, her parents, Jimmy Olsen, Lucy Lane, and Mr. Danvers fall under this trope.
  • Canon Immigrant:
    • The headband Supergirl began wearing in Supergirl (1982) (and was wearing when she died in Crisis on Infinite Earths) was added at the request of the film's producers, who wanted DC's Supergirl to look like the movie version. DC agreed to the change — and then the producers changed their minds. Screen test footage of Helen Slater wearing the headband can be seen in the "Making of Supergirl" documentary that was produced at the time of filming and included on the DVD and Blu-ray releases.
    • The Omegahedron has since appeared on some other Superman media as well, including the Supergirl (2015) TV series.
    • Supergirl (Rebirth) book introduced its own version of Selena. Later she appered in the live-action show, too.
    • Zaltar was adapted into a Kryptonian artist named Zal-Tel in Supergirl (2005) #43.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Selena plans world domination, openly studies black magic, and hates light.
  • Changing Clothes Is a Free Action: In one scene, Kara walks behind a tree and emerges with a school uniform and different-coloured hair.
  • Clark Kenting: Kara disguises herself as "Linda Lee" on Earth. Her civilian identity involves giving herself a completely different hairstyle (brown, shorter and curlier), together with a few minor differences in Helen Slater's performance, which help make it believable that they are two different people. It probably also helps that nobody has any idea who Supergirl is for the first half of the movie.
  • Coconut Superpowers: The movie has Supergirl fight an invisible demon. We do get a few brief glimpses of the monster, though.
  • Cold Iron: Supergirl temporarily neutralizes the witch Selena at the amusement park by forming a cage around her out of iron posts.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Joey Cavalieri wrote a movie special.
  • Contrasting Sequel Antagonist: Selena to Lex Luthor; while he was a genius with Otis as an idiot henchman and Miss Tessmacher with wavering loyalties, Selena is short-sighted and ignorant of the Omegahedron's origins and Bianca acts as the Only Sane Man who's critical of her actions, while Nigel taught her magic and is loyal far longer than necessary out of love.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Everything having to do with the Omegahedron and Kara's arrival on Earth. Kara just happens to find the school where Lois Lane's sister is a student and even ends up becoming her dorm mate. On top of that, the Omegahedron just happens to land in the hands of Selena, who is dating a teacher at the same school.
  • Covers Always Lie: Despite the movie poster prominently showing the Statue of Liberty, the film is shot in Chicago and its landmarks are the ones shown standing in for Midvale.
  • Creative Closing Credits: The movie had most of their closing credits coming towards the camera in a staircase manner.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: Argo City's spires are giant crystals, the walls are made of crystal, and the clothes are made of some form of wearable, highly-reflective crystal.
  • Curse Escape Clause: Selena's love potion loses its potency when its ingredients are disturbed, or after one day.
  • Deuteragonist: Zaltar, with Kara as the main protagonist and Ethan as the tritagonist.
  • Deus Exit Machina: A radio news report mentions Superman's departure from Earth on an intergalactic peacekeeping mission, which explains why he isn't around to handle Selena.
  • Distaff Counterpart:
    • This is noticed In-Universe by Selena's sidekick, Bianca.
      Bianca: You know, I think I recognize the costume.
    • Bianca herself is this to Otis, Lex Luthor's sidekick in the first two films of the main series.
  • Distressed Dude: Selena frequently puts Ethan in danger, forcing Supergirl to save him.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Most people living in Argo City go around barefoot, including Kara.
  • Dynamic Akimbo: Supergirl pulls this pose off at least once.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: The Chicago skyline is in full view when Kara is flying midway through the film.
  • Everything's Sparkly with Jewelry: Selena and Bianca are bedecked in gems, spoils of their conquest of Midvale, as they plot their next moves.
  • Evil Counterpart: Nigel to Zaltar. Both are mentor figures, but to the villainess and heroine respectively.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Faye Dunaway is clearly having a blast as Big Bad Selena.
  • Evil Is Petty: Selena torments a girl Nigel is interested in just to hurt him, and to gain followers. She's furious when Linda accidentally makes Ethan fall in love with her and vows to make her as miserable as Supergirl.
  • Evil Redhead: Selena has curly red hair and is definitely evil.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Selena is a female example; her ambition is to become a Sorcerous Overlord.
  • Evil Teacher: Nigel's day job is to teach math at Midvale College.
  • Fanfare: "Supergirl's Theme" is a triumphant, adventurous and uplifting tune composed by Jerry Goldsmith.
  • Fatal Flaw: Selena's impatience and short-sightedness is commented on by several characters, and is the main reason she lacked the power to take over the world until finding the Omegahedron.
  • Fireballs: As the depowered Supergirl and Zaltar climb towards the portal that leads out of the Phantom Zone, Selena sends these through her Magic Mirror to stop them.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Zaltar goes mad during his time in the Phantom Zone, as to him it felt like forever had passed.
  • Hero of Another Story: Superman is mentioned to be on a heroic trip to space.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Once Supergirl escapes the clutches of the giant demon Selena summons, she takes Nigel's advice to turn the witch's powers against her. Supergirl creates a cyclone that traps Selena and the demon together, and since it now has nothing else to go after, it turns on Selena.
    • This scene works even better in the comic adaptation, where the demon is a shadow-copy of Selena, and the cyclone forces Selena to come face to face with her "reflection".
  • Homicide Machines: Selena controls a bulldozer to capture Ethan when he wanders off.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: While not inept, Selena is unsure of how to use her powers effectively at first. Nigel points out that she wouldn't know how to use magic at all without his help.
  • Idiot Ball: The decision to try and rape a woman dressed in the same clothes as Superman in a universe where Superman exists. And even if you want to argue that they assumed it was just a cosplay, they still do not get the hint even after she picks one up by the neck, proceeds to blow him through a fence, and then fires laser beams out of her eyes at the other. It takes the latter to also be knocked onto his back before they finally realise that maybe this isn't such a wise idea.
  • I Have Your Wife: Selena and Nigel work together to kidnap Ethan so Supergirl will come to them. Selena then kidnaps Lucy and Jimmy in case Supergirl interferes.
  • Impairment Shot: After waking up from the love potion's effects, the camera stumbles around as Ethan makes his way out of the haunted house and onto the streets.
  • Improvised Weapon: Supergirl uses a lamppost charged with lightning to gain an edge against the invisible demon.
  • In-Series Nickname: Before she realizes they're one and the same, Selena coins one nickname each for Linda Lee and Supergirl — "The Wimp" and "Bluebird".
  • Instant Costume Change: As walking through a forest, Kara's outfit and hair color swiftly change while she's momentarily obscured by some trees.
  • Instant Sedation: Selena's love potion causes Ethan to fall asleep instantly. When he wakes up, he's very drowsy.
  • Incest Subtext: Kara touches Superman's poster in a caressing manner. In the chest area.
  • Invisible Monsters: Selena sends an invisible demon to fight Supergirl, though it's briefly visible at the end of the fight.
  • It's All About Me: As Supergirl points out near the end of the film, Selena has no friends and considers everyone else beneath her and only sees them fit to fulfill her selfish desires.
  • The Joy of First Flight: Kara's first flight is treated like an aerial ballet. It's one of the prettiest scenes in the film.
  • Karma Houdini: Nigel is a warlock who participates in Ethan's capture, but he walks away scot-free at the end.
  • Large Ham: Faye Dunaway as Selena chews on all the scenery she can find.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Selena spends so much time being needlessly evil that she's down on all her house payments at the start of the film.
  • Life-Saving Encouragement: Kara and Zaltar are attempting to escape from the Phantom Zone, and find themselves climbing along a narrow ledge over a huge, swirling vortex. At one point, Kara starts to falter, and yells out, "I can't do it!" to which Zaltar responds with, "You can!" And they continue.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: Selena and Bianca live together and constantly bicker, but are on good terms.
  • Line-of-Sight Alias: Kara's secret identity, Linda Lee, comes from a glance at a picture on the wall of Robert E. Lee.
  • Love at First Sight: Selena's potion makes Ethan fall in love on sight with the first woman he sees.
  • Love Potion: Selena uses this on the handsome young Ethan, but her plan goes awry fast. She's supposed to be the first woman he sees after he drinks it, but he wanders off and she tries to get him back by enchanting some heavy machinery. Havoc ensues, and Supergirl saves the day — but this means that, as Linda, she's the person Ethan sees and falls for. After the potion wears off, he reveals he's fallen in love with Linda for real.
  • Loves My Alter Ego: Ethan falls in love with Linda Lee and is merely grateful and respectful to Supergirl after being rescued by her. He eventually learns they are one and the same.
  • Magic from Technology: The Omegahedron is Kryptonian technology that can produce seemingly magical results.
  • Magic Mirror: Selena has one. Not only is it useful for spying on others, but it can also serve as a portal to and from the Phantom Zone.
  • Me's a Crowd: During the amusement park fight, Selena creates magical shadows of herself to block Supergirl.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: During the party scene, Selena looks at her refection in Nigel's cigarette case and sees a Shadow Demon (which would appear physically later in the movie) alongside her own face. She asks Nigel what it is, to which he replies "Over-reaching ambition. Take heed."
  • Most Common Superpower: This was averted. Helen Slater, whose bra size is reportedly 32A, said the following in an interview about the film: "In the comics, Supergirl is quite, um, buxom... so I hope people won't come to the film expecting that."
  • Mugging the Monster: The two truckers who accost Supergirl soon after her arrival on Earth fall under this trope.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: In the novel of the film, Kara on Argo City laments her very common name, noting that her cousin moved to Earth and took on the exotic name of Clark Kent.
  • Mundane Utility: Selena's first acts of power with the Omegahedron are to start a car and roast a turkey.
  • Mythology Gag: The principal of Midvale Prep. is named Mr. Danvers, sharing the surname as Supergirl's adoptive parents in the comics.
  • Negated Moment of Awesome: Lucy Lane climbs onto the possessed construction vehicle and attempts to stop it, but is knocked out when it swerves.
  • Nerdy Bully: Muffy acts as a spy and adviser for the antagonistic jock Myra.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Given the extreme liberties taken with her cousin's powers, such as telekinesis and "Rebuild-the-Great-Wall-of-China Vision", Supergirl surprisingly averts this, as Kara has all of her powers from the comics with no "extras" pulled out of thin air specifically for the movie.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: If Zaltar hadn't "borrowed" the Omegahedron, there'd be no movie. Same for Kara toying with things she couldn't understand.
  • No Flow Portal: The Binary Chute that leads Supergirl to Earth opens up at the bottom of Lake Michigan. If it wasn't a No Flow Portal, Argo City would be flooded.
  • No Social Skills: Inconsistently applied with Kara; unlike her cousin, she arrives on Earth as a teenager instead of being raised amongst humans as a young child. She speaks fluent English, but doesn't understand certain customs such as handshakes. She doesn't realize the function of a brassiere, either, putting it on over her clothes.
  • Novelization: The film had an official novelization by Norma Fox Mazer which delved more deeply into some characters like the witch Selena.
  • Number Two: Myra has Muffy, who gives her advice and spies for her.
  • Only Sane Man: Bianca and Nigel are critical of Selena and her schemes, though she refuses to listen to them.
  • Our Wormholes Are Different: Argo City is in another dimension. To access Earth, Kara has to fly through the "Binary Chute" that connects to Lake Michigan.
  • Painful Rhyme: Lampshaded when Selena uses a rhyme to attack Supergirl that Bianca berates as terrible.
    Selena: Power of Shadow, take shape. Look like a vicious dark star. Seek out that wretched young creature and destroy her wherever she... are.
    Bianca: Oh, God, that's awful. That's never gonna work.
  • Phantom Zone: The title character is thrown into the Phantom Zone by her nemesis Selena using the power of the Omegahedron, which strips her of her powers in the process. Zaltar, who came to the Phantom Zone as a self-imposed exile for losing the Omegahedron in the first place, pulls a Heroic Sacrifice to allow her to escape and regain her powers.
  • Portal Pool: Inverted; a lake on Earth turns out to serve as this between Supergirl's dimension and ours.
  • Post-Kiss Catatonia: Linda walks around in a daze for a while after Ethan kisses her after being put under a love spell.
  • Product Placement: Even by 1984's standards, this movie's blatant about it. One of the biggest action scenes takes place in and around a Popeye's Fried Chicken franchise. Popeyes is even prominent in the background of some of the most memorable stills from the movie of Helen Slater as Supergirl.
  • Protagonist Title: This is Kara's story.
  • Purple Prose: When under the influence of the love potion, all of Ethan's dialogue towards Linda is insipidly purple prose declaring his love for her.
  • Rapid Aging: Selena betrays Nigel and makes him old to spite his affections.
  • Required Spinoff Crossover: Jimmy Olsen's appearance is just for the sake of reminding the audience that this film is (intended to be) in a Shared Universe with the Superman films.
  • Self-Duplication: Selena creates magical shadows of herself during the battle at the amusement park.
  • Shared Universe: The story is intended to take place in the same continuity as the Christopher Reeve films. (Many mentions are made of Superman and Jimmy Olsen appears in the film.)
  • Small Universe After All: A news report near the start says that Superman is on a peacekeeping mission in a galaxy hundreds of trillions of light years away.
  • The Social Expert: Bianca is good friends with the locals, inviting them to parties at Selena's house. Selena later exploits this to gain followers.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Supergirl saves the people of Argo City when she returns home at the end, while in most timelines they suffer a Death by Origin Story that prompts her to stay on Earth.
  • Split-Personality Makeover: Helen Slater gives Kara's secret identity Linda Lee a few subtle differences in behaviour and speaking, to distinguish her from Supergirl. The fact that she has dark brown hair while Supergirl has long blonde helps too.
  • The Starscream: Selena betrays Nigel, taking his Burundi Wand for herself and turning him old.
  • Supervillain Lair: After channeling the Omegahedron's powers through the Burundi Wand, a device of "pure evil", one of Selena's first acts is to create this — a mountain crowned with her new, Gothic castle materializes at the edge of Midvale. Soon she conquers the town, puts the authorities under her command, and has the heroine's friends caged up within as she and Bianca plot to extend her reach further and further. Her magic allows her to create traps on the fly to stymie the heroine.
  • Taken for Granite: An unreleased deleted scene supposedly has Selena turning a protestor into an ice statue... which melts.
  • Thrown Down a Well: Selena tries to get rid of Supergirl by banishing trapping her into the Phantom Zone.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: Kara messing with the Omegahedron and making a mechanical dragonfly come to life results in the dragonfly crashing through a window. The resulting vacuum causes the Omegahedron to fly out the window, putting Argo City in danger.
  • Undead Tax Exemption: Shortly after Supergirl arrives on Earth, she takes on a human identity of Linda Lee and enrolls in a school (after typing a fake letter of recommendation).
  • Unholy Matrimony: Nigel is in love with Selena, but she only uses his affections for her own gain.
  • Up, Up and Away!: Although Kara assumes this position in the movie poster, this was mostly averted; director Jeannot Szwarc deliberately tried to avoid making the flight scenes similar to those in the Superman film by opting instead for a more ballet-inspired take (Supergirl tends to fly with her arms out to the sides, rather than straight ahead).
  • Vain Sorceress: Selena is petty enough to use her magic to make herself seeming younger.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Selena goes drunk with power the more she uses the Omegahedron.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Bianca suggests Selena prepare for Supergirl and lay off on Linda since she's just a teenager, but Selena won't have any of it and attacks Kara with intent to kill.
  • Written-In Absence: The producers failed to secure a cameo from Christopher Reeve; during the movie, a radio news report mentions Superman's departure from Earth on an intergalactic peacekeeping mission. Reeve's Superman does appear once in the movie, but only on a poster in Lucy Lane's dorm room.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: The Phantom Zone is implied to work like this. Zaltar feels it's been forever inside when only a few days have passed, and when Supergirl is banished there, by the time she returns Selena has taken over Midvale for a couple of days at least.

Alternative Title(s): Supergirl