Why Superman Movies Matter More Than the Comic Books

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1978 - Warner Bros. All rights reserved.

Superman: The Movie (1978)

What it's about: Your basic bildungsroman of steel, divided into three tonally distinct acts: origin story (John Ford epic); first adventures (screwball comedy); climactic confrontation ('70s disaster film).

Best bit: The interview scene between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, which points up the power of Reeve's performance. His Superman is centered and calm, while Kidder's Lois is the '70s incarnate—a frayed nerve.

Worst bit: The words that greet the Man of Steel upon his first appearance are not the canonically appropriate "Look, up in the sky!" but rather, "Say, Jim! That's a bad out-FIT!" They are spoken by a pimp who makes Huggy Bear look like Jim Gaffigan.

Contribution to the zeitgeist: Christopher Reeve = Superman. Also the notion that an oft-dismissed piece of junk culture intended for children could be taken (semi-)seriously, dressed up, and turned into a blockbuster.

Super-power the filmmakers pull out of their asses: The whole spin-the-Earth backward thing. Understand, the Superman of the comics broke the time barrier on the regular. But the movie's screenwriters employed it as a cheap cop-out, engendering much dismay and debate among the type of people who care overmuch about such things. (See Superman: The Unauthorized Biography for much, much more.)

Your idea of Superman -- by which I mean the conception of him that floats in the cultural ether -- is simpler and cleaner than the internalized idea of Superman by comic book nerds. Your idea of Superman was shaped, overwhelmingly, by the movies. Read the full Superman story by Glen Weldon.

Read our full Man of Steel movie review.

Published on June 10, 2013