Re-Reviewed: Superman (1978) took comics seriously

Superman changed the game for comic book movies and it mostly holds up over four decades later.

Comic book movies have not always dominated the big screen the way they have been for the past decade or more. And in the days they weren’t as plentiful, the few comic book adaptations that made it to screens of any kind were not treated as serious concepts. But Superman (1978) absolutely changed the game for comic book fans and moviegoers alike.

Certain elements of the movie have become kitschy, campy or out of date over time. That being said, many aspects of Superman (1978) have held up well, including the amazing performance of the late Christopher Reeve in the titular role.

Superman’s long, long history

Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman debuted in the pages of Action Comics #1 in 1938. Since then, he has appeared in tens of thousands of comics, and is still being consistently published by DC Comics to this day.

But the Man of Steel’s history in other media forms goes back almost as far. His earliest film and radio appearances started in the early 1940s with his first TV appearances happening in the early 1950s. He and Batman laid the groundwork for comic book characters’ transition into all forms of multimedia.

The Kryptonian hero’s first live-action feature film was a1951 movie called Superman and the Mole Men. It starred George Reeves as the main character and, as the title would suggest, he had to deal with a subterranean race of people.

While the character was already popular by the point that Superman came out in1978, that movie launched the him into legendary status. If he wasn’t before, it made him a worldwide success and a household name.

The Man of Steel arrives

The story for Superman was created by Mario Puzo, who was best known for The Godfather films and novel. On top of that, it was directed by Richard Donner. He would go on to work on other blockbusters like The GooniesLethal Weapon and X-Men.

What most people remember is the cast, though. The film featured Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, Marlon Brando as Jor-El, and Christopher Reeve as Superman himself. It was, without question, Reeve’s career-defining role.

The simple reality of his portrayal of the Man of Steel is that it remains the standard others are judged by. He played the part to perfection, absolutely nailing what made Superman and Clark Kent different from each other. Reeve was perfectly believable as the greatest hero in the world.

That being said, some of the dialogue, certain character portrayals and other aspects have not held up as well. Superman flying around the world in reverse to turn back time seemed odd back in the day, and is outright silly, now. But that hasn’t changed the importance of the film.

The legacy of Superman (1978)

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LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 22: A Superman costume from the 1978 Superman film worn by Christopher Reeve and designed by Yvonne Blake is on display at the DC Comics Exhibition: Dawn Of Super Heroes at the O2 Arena on February 22, 2018 in London, England. The exhibition, which opens on February 23rd, features 45 original costumes, models and props used in DC Comics productions including the Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman films. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Not only was Superman the first blockbuster comic book hero film, it treated the source material seriously. A lot of that has to be attributed to the contributions of Mario Puzo who knew a thing or two about crafting an engaging and entertaining story with depth.

The sequels to the Reeve franchise had some bright spots, but did not hold a candle to the first film. The same can be said for the other attempts to make a Superman film. Nothing seems to hit all the same notes that the 1978 movie did, for better or worse.

Christopher Reeve remains a benchmark for the character, but it’s one that no one else has managed to reach. Henry Cavill, for instance, makes an incredible Man of Steel. Clark Kent, not so much. And a Superman film needs both to work.

Superman (1978) continues to be a comparison point for comic book movie fans, no matter what is being watched. Without its success, the road for all the superhero films to the big screen that came after it would have been that much harder.

Are you a fan of Superman? Have you ever seen the movie? Let us know in the comments below!