2. Superman II (1980)
Picking up where Superman left off, Superman II works as almost a perfect sequel. It is bigger in every sense of the word, the stakes are higher and the budget is too. Whereas Superman was a reasonably restrained superhero film, gently introducing the audience to the character, the things he could do, and his world, Superman II follows an experienced Superman battling his greatest foe yet… General Zod.
Alongside Zod are his two Kryptonian sidekicks Non and Ursa. The three villains of the film, on top of Gene Hackman’s iconic turn as Lex Luthor, leave Superman not just outnumbered, but outpowered too. All the while he must hide his identity from a now suspicious Lois Lane.
With so many plots and subplots running throughout the feature’s runtime, Superman II is never boring, balancing each storyline superbly and building to an excellent Kryptonian battle throughout Metropolis.
The film is derailed slightly come the final ten minutes or so – both the anticlimactic ending and the famous memory-erasing kiss that is not only silly but also erases much of what happened throughout the film are huge points of contention even for the biggest fans – but even this can’t ruin what is an otherwise great sequel.
1. Superman (1978)
Although Superman and the Mole Men is the first Superman feature film, Superman (1978) is the film that really started it all.
Performing excellently at the box office and with critics, Superman showed how successful a comic book movie could be. Without Superman, you could argue that there would be no DCEU, no MCU, and certainly no Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Released a few years after Jaws essentially invented the blockbuster, as well as at the tail end of the Hollywood Renaissance, this first Christopher Reeve outing as Superman is presented almost as an art picture. Written by Mario Puzo (yes, that Mario Puzo – The Godfather Trilogy) as well as David Newman and Robert Benton (the two writers of Bonnie & Clyde, the film often cited as kick-starting the Hollywood renaissance), and starring big name talents such as Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, Superman was produced with the idea of making it a must-see event.
The film itself is incredibly subdued for a superhero film. Taking roughly an hour to arrive at an adult Clark Kent working for the Daily Planet, Richard Donner takes the time to tell the origins of Superman. Whilst this proves fascinating in its own way, it’s in the introduction of Christopher Reeve where the film really picks up.
Christopher Reeve is the ultimate Superman. He is Clark Kent. Perfectly portraying Kent as a bumbling country boy with a heart of gold whilst simultaneously presenting Superman as a patriotic hero and protector of America’s values, Reeve remains the iconic version of the character to this day.
Although the disguise of Superman has long been poked fun at, Reeve adds a legitimacy to the disguise that makes it believable that no one would notice. His body literally transforms between Kent and Superman whilst there is also a shift in his voice and general demeanour. No matter how good a performance may be, no one has put so much thought or care into the dual portrayal of Kent and Superman before or since; and that is why he is so fondly remembered. It is this dedication to the character that really makes Superman as charming as it is, brilliantly elevating everyone and everything else on screen.
The Man of Steel has been presented on screen numerous times since Richard Donner’s Superman – through solo films, ensemble films, TV series etc. – but none have come close to this 1978 iteration, much of which is due to Christopher Reeve. His dedication to the character has allowed not just Superman but comic book movies as a whole to persevere and succeed over the past forty-plus years. His unforgettable performances as both Clark Kent and Superman over his four film stint as the character are the reason why people look back on Superman as fondly as they do. Thank you Christopher Reeve.
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Is the original Superman your favourite Superman movie? Would you have ranked these films in a different order? Let us know in the comments, and why not sound off about how great Christopher Reeve was. While you’re here, be sure to follow The Film Magazine on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with our latest releases.