Follow TV Tropes


YMMV / Superman: The Movie

Go To

  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • Marlon Brando's Jor-El is Good Is Not Nice at best and a Manipulative Bastard at worst. From beyond the grave he programs his son as a baby until he's a toddler, then again when he's 18 until he's 30, towards a career he'd predestined him to take. This sowed the seeds for the Jerkass Jor-El artificial intelligence from Smallville.
    • In this universe, Clark never became Superboy, as in the comics of the time, and needed his father to die when he was 18 years old to figure out he could do more with his powers than to become a star athlete. Did no one teach him "With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility" before that happened? And even after that, he doesn't think of using his powers for good himself, Jor-El has to program him to do that for 12 whole years.
  • Advertisement:
  • Anvilicious: The Space Jesus/God the Son symbolism intoned by Space God the Father. Wasn't ever in the comics. At least it's limited to Jor-El's speeches, unlike Smallville, Superman Returns, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
  • Audience-Coloring Adaptation:
    • Variations of Jor-El being a Man in White with white or silver hair and/or an almost omniscient God-like Virtual Ghost mentor to Clark (especially in later versions) have since showed up in various other adaptations like The Adventures of Superboy (which had the same producers), Lois & Clark, Smallville and Man of Steel and eventually in the comics, in a storyline co-written by Geoff Johns, who used to be Donner's assistant, and Richard Donner himself. Originally, Jor-El wore green (which he has gone back to in the current status quo), he looked as old as Superman (with black hair), Clark only found out about Krypton long after becoming Superman, and he could only talk to his parents through time travel. The Virtual Ghost mentor aspect has even carried over to Supergirl with Jor-El's sister-in-law Alura serving as one for her daughter Kara/Supergirl, and to Krypton with Jor-El's great-grandfather Val-El serving as one for his grandson (Jor-El's father) Seg-El. The earliest variations in the Superboy series also included an older Superman himself as a Man in White, complete with the white hair.
    • Advertisement:
    • To a lesser extent, this also locked in the idea of Superman as an Ideal Hero, compared to the rough-and-tumble socialist Siegel-and-Schuster Superman, the tricksy and scientifically-oriented Weisinger Superman, or the self-conscious and worldly Maggin Superman.
  • Award Snub:
    • Richard Donner was disgusted that production designer John Barry and cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth received no recognition from the Academy for their work on this film. He was particularly aggrieved that one of the nominees for Best Art Direction was California Suite, which merely duplicated an existing hotel, while Barry created an entire fictional city and a fortress in the Arctic. It didn't much help that Unsworth suffered Author Existence Failure before the film's release, and Barry also did while working on The Empire Strikes Back six months later.
    • Advertisement:
    • Christopher Reeve not being nominated for Best Actor.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: The opening credits are rightly awesome with the reveal of John Williams' Superman theme and the cast and crew's names whooshing around in space, but the actual opening of the film shows... an old-fashioned movie theater, which plays a black and white film within the film(?) with the marquee "June 1938", where a kid reads Action Comics(!), and the Daily Planet building transitions from a comic panel to a cheap movie serial-style set - then it dissolves into space. Since it's set in the present, what was the point of all that? Presumably it was an attempt at a Storybook Opening that would pay homage all the previous media in which Superman has featured.
  • Crowning Music of Awesome: That opening fanfare.
    • You can almost hear the words — "Look, up in the sky, there he is! Look, up in the sky, Superman!"
    • No, no... it's "Look, up in the sky! Way up high! Who flies so high? SUPERMAN!"
    • You'll believe a man can fly...
  • Cant Un Hear It: Christopher Reeve is the definitive live-action Superman. Also, Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, Marlon Brando as Jor-El and Terrance Stamp as General Zod.
  • Creator Worship: Christopher Reeve, John Williams and to a slightly lesser degree Richard Donner have reigned uncontested for nearly four decades as the preferred actor, composer and director for Superman, especially after the extremely divisive 21st century versions of Superman and other DC characters.
  • First Installment Wins: In addition to being a landmark achievement in practically launching the genre of comic book movies, not to mention being an iconic film in its own right, this is considered to be the only Superman film with any sort of consistent direction and good characterization. Every subsequent film adaptation of the character both from this franchise and later ones (with the arguable exception of the theatrical cut of Superman II, and the definite exception of the Richard Donner cut of that film), have received mediocre to negative reception, leading to the belief that he's a near-impossible character to film and that this one simply got lucky.
  • Franchise Original Sin: This film was in a lot of ways both the best and worst thing that happened to Superman:
    • This film started the heavy-handed God/Jesus symbolism followed by later Superman films. What's worse is since Jor-El basically acts like God giving his son a divine mission, it downplays the role the Kents played in molding Superman and Clark's own agency, and more contentiously, turns a Jewish analogue of Moses into a Christian allegory (when both its creators were Jewish). Man of Steel took all this symbolism and subtext and just made it so blatant that it didn't allow for more middle takes, i.e. one that saw Superman simply as a character rather than some icon.
    • The film's take on Lex Luthor has endured all reboots. Whether played by Gene Hackman, Kevin Spacey, or Jesse Eisenberg, all cinematic versions of Luthor are insane cackling masterminds without comic Luthors' serious personality, his facility to invent new gadgets and robots, or any of his Evil Virtues. The overall take on Rogues Gallery, with Superman III being the only film to not have Luthor and Zod as the villain,note  has more or less kept the live-action Superman Lost in Imitation of the legacy of the Donner films, preventing more diverse takes (as for instance in the case of Batman who has had the richness of his comics world reflected in multiple movies, featuring three cinematic Jokers but also other rogues such as Catwoman, Penguin, Scarecrow, Ra's Al Ghul, Two-Face, Harley Quinn, and Bane).
    • The film's take on Superman while wonderfully played by Christopher Reeve has likewise, unintentionally, made Superman redolent of old-fashioned America, since as Bob Chipman noted the nature of the film's style, presentation, and setting was to make Superman appear as a Genre Throwback from a "simpler America" to a jaded '70s America (reflected by Lois Lane). His take on Superman as unambiguously purely good, with Clark Kent as a bumbling human front, and someone who cannot settle down with Lois because of his powers, has been so iconic that it more or less froze his character into extremes of decency (Good Superman), milquetoast timidity (Clark) and well Superdickery (the evil Superman in III), which coupled with Adaptation Decay and Lost in Imitation prevents Superman from being portrayed as a rounded character. Bryan Singer's Superman Returns which was intended to be a soft reboot, was a sequel to the first two films, and the film was more or less about how Superman is out of place in the 21st Century, and its mixed reception coupled with the success of The Dark Knight Trilogy led to Snyder's drastic Shocking Swerve in Man of Steel which emblazoned Beware the Superman and ran with it to such an extent, that eventually DC ended up backsliding back to "classic Superman" in Justice League (2017), complete with Elfman using John Williams' theme music.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: You know the pilot of the helicopter that almost killed Lois Lane? Listen to his voice on the radio before it lands on the Daily Planet heliport. It belongs to the man who rescued her. This also means he landed on the heliport twice: once at the helm, then with the helicopter and Lois in tow.
  • Genre Turning Point: While not the first superhero film, the original Superman opened a whole new era for this genre as big time Hollywood fare which carries on to this day. Christopher Nolan said that Richard Donner's work on this film inspired him to create The Dark Knight Trilogy.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
  • He Really Can Act: With Christopher Reeve, you'll not only believe that a man can fly, but Clark Kenting can work if you're as masterful an actor as he was.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • The relatively modern idea that Superman is something of an ersatz of Jesus is quite ironic when you know that not only were Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster Jewish, Superman himself was partially inspired by the concept of Judaism! Specifically, by the story of Moses.
    • Richard Donner brought in Tom Mankiewicz to get rid of most of the campy and unnecessary comedy elements of the script, to bring "verisimilitude". Considering what Mankiewicz's writing brought to some of the Bond movies he co-wrote, it's strange how serious the final film turned out.
    • Russell Crowe once had a song called "I want to be like Marlon Brando" and later took over Brando's role as Jor-El in Man of Steel.
    • Lois's line, "You're gonna end up fighting every elected official in this country," is this, after Margot Kidder helped blow the whistle on one presidential campaign funneling money to itself through state parties, in violation of campaign finance laws.
    • When Lex is laying out his Evil Plan to Superman and asks owns the land, Otis states "Lex Luthor Incorporated". A couple of years later, John Byrne began the reimagination of Luthor as a Corrupt Corporate Executive whose company's name (LexCorp) is not that different from the film's name.
    • This wouldn't be the last superhero movie to end with the hero turning back time to save their love interest from an untimely death.
  • Hype Backlash:
    • While this and Superman II are often touted as still the best superhero films ever with Reeve as the epitome of superhero casting, modern DC and Superman fans can come away less than impressed with the story, though the technical achievements for the time are undeniably great. There are plenty of elements that may not ring true with today's fans.
    • Today's Superman identifies as Clark Kent first and Superman second and he became Superman on his own initiative, while the films emphasises his alien identity to the point of having Jor-El mind-meld with him for many years to make him Superman (and give him the suit), after which "Clark Kent" is just a sham. For all the praise Reeve gets, because of plot contrivance he never played Clark as the "real guy" like Dean Cain or Tom Welling did. In the first movie's few scenes with the "real" Clark before he gets his brain overwritten by Jor-El, he's played by Jeff East, not Reeve.
    • The characterizations of Jor-El is a major departure from the comics even at the time. As noted elsewhere on the page, the Reeve movies invented the whole space god schtick for Jor-El and the huge extent he posthumously plays in Clark becoming Superman, to the point of being overbearing and creepy.
    • Lex Luthor also got a massive downgrade compared to his comics portrayal at the time - even his earliest Mad Scientist incarnation was more serious than Hackman's mostly clownish portrayal, to say nothing of his Powered Armor-wearing and Corrupt Corporate Executive incarnations. This may irk even more when you consider that Hackman has had plenty of roles more akin to a mainly serious Lex. His Lex also has an insultingly politically incorrect gun-moll more apt to the 1930s, but not for 1978. Really, Lex and his minions is the one element of the movie still firmly rooted in the Batman series.
    • Their characterizations aren't the only ones on trial for modern fans - Lois Lane wasn't exactly the smartest reporter on the block, and her shrill chain smoking voice, scatter brained illiteracy, and in general her "quirky", daffy 1940s screwball personality with just a hint of Stalker with a Crush - which Lois Lane sadly was throughout the Golden Age, Silver Age and even a little bit in the Bronze Age - would probably rub modern fans the wrong way and leave them wondering just what exactly Superman sees in her.
    • The theme of Superman as a sort of space Jesus (and Jor-El as a space God) just isn't true to the comics, now and then.
    • Pa Kent's death can seem unneccesary for people who are used to depictions with him still alive, though this wa only introduced after DC's 1986 reboot.
    • Then there's the issue of Superman being "overpowered" because of Silver Age power levels, as with turning back time. Comic fans at the time of the film's release were long used to Superman being able to time-travel; however, they might've noted that Clark couldn't change the past via time travel. Plus, time-travel to any point when he was alive, past or future, saw him become an invisible phantom, unable to interact with anyone.
    • A few fans at the time of the film's release likely noted the absence of Clark's then-canonical Superboy career. (Though the Earth-2 Superman in comics at the time did debut as an adult, per Action Comics #1.)
  • It Was His Sled: Superman reverses time at the climax, appearing to spin the Earth backwards. It's the Signature Scene.
  • My Real Daddy:
    • The whole concept of Superman and Clark Kent, and the latter's mannerisms and movement being so different and a testament, is entirely down to Christopher Reeve. This version and take has come into multiple comics and later versions as a result.
    • Marlon Brando's method innovations and alien portrayal of Jor-El also led to the introduction of the concept that Superman's logo is in fact the sigil of the House of El, which has also been made Ret-Canon into the comics and kept in place in the DC Extended Universe.
  • Narm: The entire flying sequence with Lois' spoken-word musical number in the first film. However, the music and the sheer sense of awe and wonder can make it a Crowning Moment Of Heartwarming for sufficiently sentimental viewers. It was spoken-word because the filmmakers discovered too late that Margot Kidder couldn't sing. Since the film was already over budget, dubbing a professional singer wasn't an option.
  • Never Live It Down: For some people, the ending with Superman spinning the Earth backwards to reverse time completely obliterates any other merits the film may have. In fairness, this wasn't the original plan — in earlier versions of the story, Superman managed to get to Lois in time and save her and all the other people, while the Army's XK-101 missile he flung up into space ends up shattering the Phantom Zone setting up Superman II where the spinning the Earth backwards to reverse time was originally supposed to be — but due to the production problems and friction between Donner and the Salkinds, it ended up being curtailed into the ending that we got. Plus, Warner Bros. apparently liked the effect and requested the script be rewritten so to incorporate an emotional and dramatic climax for the first movie. While the intention was that he's traveling through time and the Earth appears to spin backwards, the fact that he's never actually shown diverting the second missile ends up making it unclear exactly what's meant to be going on.
  • Nightmare Fuel:
    • Superman's bloodcurdling scream of pure rage and grief after finding Lois' body is either this or Narm depending on the viewer.
    • Lois' being buried alive is also jarringly serious in contrast with most of the film, and unnerving for how prolonged the landslide sequence is.
    • Superman nearly dying from the Kryptonite.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Marlon Brando as Jor-El is a legendary example. He's in the movie for about five minutes, for which he demanded an astronomical amount of money and that he have cue cards rather than memorizing the script, and ended up totally redefining the character.
  • Romantic Plot Tumor: Superman and Lois Lane long had an uneven dynamic in the comics and that uneven dynamic is on full display here.
  • Sacred Cow: Criticize any part of the first two films and you're an ingrate who's slighting the late Christopher Reeve. Even better, criticize their depiction of Jor-El and you're an ingrate who's slighting the late Marlon Brando.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: Although the first movie basically invented the modern superhero film, and manages to look impressive even after 40 years, it is sometimes dismissed as a museum piece with little appeal to modern audiences.
  • Tear Jerker:
    All those things I can do. All those powers. And I couldn't even save him.
    • Straight out of (former) canon, causing even more tears among old fans of the comic.
    • Of the Manly Tears variety, Jor-El's speech can evoke this.
      They can be a great people, Kal-El, and 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.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • Originally, baby Clark was found stark naked, with... Clark Jr. in plain view. Today, there is usually some editing to that scene.note 
    • After Superman gets a little girl's kitten down from a tree, she runs inside to tell her mother about the flying man who helped her, only to be audibly slapped for telling "lies." This scene would be considered comedic in the 1970s, but in modern times it would be seen as child abuse.
  • Visual Effects of Awesome: "You'll believe a man can fly." And even if not that...
    • One of the most striking visuals even today is the scene in the first film where Superman rebuilds the San Andreas Fault.
    • R/Greenberg, which previously specialized in TV advertising, created the opening credits. They later branched out into a visual effects firm, their other claim to fame being the invisibility effects in Predator.
  • What an Idiot!: After Superman first makes his presence known in Metropolis by stopping many crimes in a single night, Lois deliberately asks about and prints for all to read one of his non-Kryptonite Factor weaknesses —his inability to see through lead. Unfortunately, Lex reads the next morning's edition of the paper. (Superman manages to escape anyway... with a little help from Ms. Teschmacher.) Yet, his inability to see lead being public knowledge can be worked against criminals, since Superman would know they're hiding something. However, Lex was counting on that.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: