Superman (also known as Superman: The Movie) is a 1978 superhero film based on the DC Comics character of the same name. Richard Donner directed the film, which stars Christopher Reeve as Superman, as well as Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Glenn Ford, Phyllis Thaxter, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, Valerie Perrine and Ned Beatty. The film depicts the origin of Superman, from infancy as Kal-El of Krypton and growing up in Smallville. Disguised as reporter Clark Kent, he adopts a mild mannered attitude in Metropolis and develops a romance with Lois Lane, while battling against the villainous Lex Luthor.
The film was conceived in 1973 by Ilya Salkind. Several directors, most notably Guy Hamilton, and screenwriters (Mario Puzo, David and Leslie Newman and Robert Benton) were associated with the project before Richard Donner was hired to direct. Donner brought Tom Mankiewicz to rewrite the script, feeling it was too campy. Mankiewicz was credited as creative consultant. It was decided to film both Superman and Superman II simultaneously.
Principal photography started in March 1977 and ended in October 1978. Tensions rose between Donner and the producers, and a decision was made to stop filming Superman II and finish the first film. Donner had already shot 75% of the sequel, eventually giving birth to Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. Superman was released with critical acclaim and financial success. Reviewers noted parallels between the film’s depiction of Superman and Jesus. The film’s legacy helped create a reemergence of science fiction films and the establishment of the superhero film genre.
On the planet Krypton, using evidence provided by scientist Jor-El, the Ruling Council sentences three insurrectionists, General Zod, Ursa and Non, to “eternal living death” in the Phantom Zone for attempting a totalitarian rebellion. Although the Council widely respects him, Jor-El is unable to convince them of his belief that the Kryptonian sun will shortly explode and destroy their planet. As a result, Jor-El launches a spacecraft containing his infant son, Kal-El, towards Earth, a distant planet with a suitable atmosphere, lifeforms that look identical to Kryptonians, and where Kal-El’s dense molecular structure will give him superhuman powers (since all Kryptonian life-forms gain superpowers from exposure to a yellow sun, such as Earth’s sun). Shortly after the ship launches, Krypton is destroyed.
The ship crashes near an American farming town, Smallville, Kansas, where Kal-El is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent and raised as their own son, Clark. Immediately after his discovery by the Kents, the toddler Kal-El hoists the bumper of a pickup truck about to fall on Jonathan Kent. As a teenager, Clark exhibits other extraordinary powers, outrunning speeding trains, and punting a football into the stratosphere. Shortly thereafter, Jonathan Kent dies of a heart attack, and Clark can do nothing. Following the funeral, Clark hears a psychic “call”, discovering a glowing green crystal in the ship stored in the barn.
Compelled to travel north, Clark heads to the Arctic Circle, where the crystal builds the Fortress of Solitude, resembling the architecture of Krypton. Activating a control panel inside the fortress, a vision of Jor-El appears, stating that he has been dead for “thousands of your years,”(due to time dialation caused by baby Kal-El’s starship’s faster-than-light travel) and explains Clark’s origins, educating him in his powers and responsibilities. After twelve years, with his powers fully developed, Clark leaves the Fortress and finds a job at The Daily Planet in Metropolis. He meets and develops a romantic attraction to reporter Lois Lane, but the feelings are not returned: she regards him as merely a friend. Lois becomes involved in a helicopter accident where conventional means of rescue are impossible, requiring Clark to use his powers in public for the first time in order to save her.
Later, he visits her at home, takes her for a flight over the city, and allows her to interview him for a newspaper article in which she dubs him “Superman.” Meanwhile, criminal genius Lex Luthor has developed a cunning plan to make a fortune in real estate by buying large amounts of “worthless” desert land and then diverting a nuclear rocket from a missile testing site to the San Andreas Fault. This will destroy California and leave Luthor’s desert as the new West Coast of the United States, greatly increasing its real estate value. After his incompetent henchman Otis accidentally redirects the first rocket to the wrong place, Luthor’s girlfriend, Eve Teschmacher, successfully changes the course of the second missile. Knowing Superman could stop his plan, Luthor lures him to his underground lair via a supersonic greeting and exposes him to Kryptonite. As Superman weakens, Luthor taunts him by revealing the first missile is headed to Hackensack, New Jersey, in the opposite direction, knowing Superman could not stop both impacts.
Teschmacher is horrified because her mother lives in Hackensack, but Luthor does not care and leaves Superman to a slow death. Teschmacher rescues Superman on the condition that he will deal with the New Jersey missile first. He is consequently too late to stop the second impact, causing a massive earthquake which he battles to correct. While he is busy saving others, Lois’ car falls into the ground as a result of an aftershock, and quickly begins to fill with dirt and debris, which suffocates her to death. Distraught at being unable to save Lois, Superman ignores Jor-El’s warning not to interfere with human history, preferring to remember Jonathan Kent’s advice that he must be here for “a reason”, and travels back in time in order to save Lois, altering the historical timeline so that her car is never caught in the aftershock. Superman then delivers Luthor and Otis to prison, where he knows they will be secure until they receive a fair trial.