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Superman The Movie



Superman (stylized as Superman: The Movie) is a 1978 superhero film based on the DC Comics character of the same name. An international co-production between the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Panama and the United States, it was supervised by Alexander and Ilya Salkind, produced by their partner Pierre Spengler and written by Mario Puzo from a story by Puzo, and is the first installment in the Superman Film Series. Directed by Richard Donner, the film features an ensemble cast including Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Jeff East, Margot Kidder, Glenn Ford, Phyllis Thaxter, Jackie Cooper, Trevor Howard, Marc McClure, Terence Stamp, Valerie Perrine, Ned Beatty, Jack O'Halloran, Maria Schell, and Sarah Douglas. It depicts the origin of Superman (Reeve), including his infancy as Kal-El of Krypton, son of Jor-El (Brando) and his youthful years in the rural town of Smallville. Disguised as reporter Clark Kent, he adopts a mild-mannered disposition in Metropolis and develops a romance with Lois Lane (Kidder) whilst battling the villainous Lex Luthor (Hackman).


Principal photography began on March 28, 1977 at Pinewood Studios for Krypton scenes, budgeted as the most expensive film ever made at that point. Since Superman was being shot simultaneously with Superman II, filming lasted nineteen months, until October 1978. Filming was originally scheduled to last between seven and eight months, but problems arose during production. John Barry served as production designer, while Stuart Craig and Norman Reynolds worked as art directors. Derek Meddings and Les Bowie were credited as visual effects supervisors. Stuart Freeborn was the make-up artist, while Barry, David Tomblin, John Glen, David Lane, Robert Lynn and an uncredited Peter Duffell and André de Toth directed second unit scenes. Vic Armstrong was hired as the stunt coordinator and Reeve's stunt double; his wife Wendy Leech was Kidder's double. Superman was also the final complete film by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who died during post-production while working on Tess for director Roman Polanski. The Fortress of Solitude was constructed at Shepperton Studios and at Pinewood's 007 Stage.[39][40] Upon viewing the footage of Krypton, Warner Bros. decided to distribute in not only North America, but also in foreign countries. Due to complications and problems during filming, Warner Bros. also supplied $20 million and acquired television rights.



Ilya had the idea of a Superman film in 1973 and after a difficult process with DC Comics, the Salkinds and Spengler bought the rights to the character the following year. 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. Tom Mankiewicz was drafted in to rewrite the script and was given a "creative consultant" credit. It was decided to film both Superman and its sequel Superman II (1980) simultaneously, with principal photography beginning in March 1977 and ending in October 1978. Tensions arose between Donner and the producers, and a decision was made to stop filming the sequel, of which 75 percent had already been completed, and finish the first film.


The most expensive film made up to that point, with a budget of $55 million, Superman was released in December 1978 to critical and financial success; its worldwide box office earnings of $300 million made it the second-highest-grossing release of the year. It received praise for Reeve's performance and John Williams' musical score, and was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Film Editing, Best Music (Original Score), and Best Sound, and received a Special Achievement Academy Award for Visual Effects. Groundbreaking in its use of special effects and science fiction/fantasy storytelling, the film's legacy presaged the mainstream popularity of Hollywood's superhero film franchises. In 2017, Superman was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress's National Film Registry.



Ilya Salkind had first conceived the idea for a Superman film in late 1973. In November 1974, after a long, difficult process with DC Comics, the Superman film rights were purchased by Ilya, his father Alexander Salkind, and their partner Pierre Spengler. DC wanted a list of actors that were to be considered for Superman, and approved the producer's choices of Muhammad Ali, Al Pacino, James Caan, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood and Dustin Hoffman. The filmmakers felt it was best to film Superman and Superman II back-to-back, and to make a negative pickup deal with Warner Bros. William Goldman was approached to write the screenplay, while Leigh Brackett was considered. Ilya hired Alfred Bester, who began writing a film treatment. Alexander felt, however, that Bester was not famous enough, so he hired Mario Puzo to write the screenplay at a $600,000 salary. Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, Richard Lester (who later directed Superman II and III), Peter Yates, John Guillermin, Ronald Neame and Sam Peckinpah were in negotiations to direct. Peckinpah dropped out when he produced a gun during a meeting with Ilya. George Lucas turned down the offer because of his commitment to Star Wars.


Ilya wanted to hire Steven Spielberg to direct, but Alexander was skeptical, feeling it was best to "wait until [Spielberg's] big fish opens." Jaws was very successful, prompting the producers to offer Spielberg the position, but by then Spielberg had already committed to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Guy Hamilton was hired as director, while Puzo delivered his 500-page script for Superman and Superman II in July 1975. Jax-Ur appeared as one of General Zod's henchmen, with Clark Kent written as a television reporter. Dustin Hoffman, who was previously considered for Superman, turned down Lex Luthor.



In early 1975, Brando signed on as Jor-El with a salary of $3.7 million and 11.75% of the box office gross profits, totaling $19 million. He horrified Salkind by proposing in their first meeting that Jor-El appear as a green suitcase or a bagel with Brando's voice, but Donner used flattery to persuade the actor to portray Jor-El himself. Brando hoped to use some of his salary for a proposed 13-part Roots-style miniseries on Native Americans in the United States.[25] Brando had it in his contract to complete all of his scenes in twelve days. He also refused to memorize his dialogue, so cue cards were compiled across the set. Fellow Oscar winner Hackman was cast as Lex Luthor days later. The filmmakers made it a priority to shoot all of Brando's and Hackman's footage "because they would be committed to other films immediately."


Though the Salkinds felt that Puzo had written a solid story for the two-part film, they deemed his scripts too long and so hired Robert Benton and David Newman for rewrite work. Benton became too busy directing The Late Show, so David's wife Leslie was brought in to help her husband finish writing duties. George MacDonald Fraser was later hired to do some work on the script, but he says he did little.


Their script was submitted in July 1976, and had a camp tone, including a cameo appearance by Telly Savalas as his Kojak character. The scripts for Superman and Superman II were now at over 400 pages combined. Pre-production started at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, with sets starting construction and flying tests being unsuccessfully experimented. "In Italy", producer Ilya Salkind remembered, "we lost about $2 million [on flying tests]." Marlon Brando found out he could not film in Italy because of a warrant out for his arrest: a sexual-obscenity charge from Last Tango in Paris. Production moved to England in late 1976, but Hamilton could not join because he was a tax exile.



Mark Robson was strongly considered and was in talks to direct, but after seeing The Omen, the producers hired Richard Donner. Donner had previously been planning Damien: Omen II when he was hired in January 1977 for $1 million to direct Superman and Superman II. Donner felt it was best to start from scratch. "They had prepared the picture for a year and not one bit was useful to me." Donner was dissatisfied with the campy script and brought in Tom Mankiewicz to perform a rewrite. According to Mankiewicz, "not a word from the Puzo script was used." "It was a well-written, but still a ridiculous script. It was 550 pages. I said, 'You can't shoot this screenplay because you'll be shooting for five years'", Donner continued. "That was literally a shooting script and they planned to shoot all 550 pages. You know, 110 pages is plenty for a script, so even for two features, that was way too much." Mankiewicz conceived having each Kryptonian family wear a crest resembling a different letter, justifying the 'S' on Superman's costume. The Writers Guild of America refused to credit Mankiewicz for his rewrites, so Donner gave him a creative consultant credit, much to the annoyance of the Guild.



It was initially decided to first sign an A-list actor for Superman before Richard Donner was hired as director. Robert Redford was offered a large sum, but felt he was too famous. Burt Reynolds also turned down the role, while Sylvester Stallone was interested, but nothing ever came of it. Paul Newman was offered his choice of roles as Superman, Lex Luthor or Jor-El for $4 million, turning down all three roles.


When it was next decided to cast an unknown actor, casting director Lynn Stalmaster first suggested Christopher Reeve, but Donner and the producers felt he was too young and skinny. Over 200 unknown actors auditioned for Superman.


Olympic champion Bruce Jenner auditioned for the title role. Patrick Wayne was cast, but dropped out when his father John Wayne was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

Both Neil Diamond and Arnold Schwarzenegger lobbied hard for the role, but were ignored. James Caan, James Brolin, Lyle Waggoner, Christopher Walken, Nick Nolte, Jon Voight, and Perry King were approached. Kris Kristofferson and Charles Bronson were also considered for the title role. Warren Beatty was offered the role but turned it down.


James Caan said he was offered the part but turned it down. "I just couldn't wear that suit."

"We found guys with fabulous physique who couldn't act or wonderful actors who did not look remotely like Superman", creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz remembered. The search became so desperate that producer Ilya Salkind's wife's dentist was screen tested.


Stalmaster convinced Donner and Ilya to have Reeve screen test in February 1977. Reeve stunned the director and producers, but he was told to wear a "muscle suit" to produce the desired muscular physique. Reeve refused, undertaking a strict physical exercise regime headed by David Prowse. Prowse had wanted to portray Superman, but was denied an audition by the filmmakers because he was not American. Prowse also auditioned for Non. Reeve went from 188 to 212 pounds during pre-production and filming. Reeve was paid a mere $250,000 for both Superman and Superman II, while his veteran co-stars received huge sums of money: $3.7 million for Brando and $2 million for Hackman for Superman I. However, Reeve felt, "'Superman' brought me many opportunities, rather than closing a door in my face." Jeff East portrays teenage Clark Kent. East's lines were overdubbed by Reeve during post-production. "I was not happy about it because the producers never told me what they had in mind", East commented. "It was done without my permission but it turned out to be okay. Chris did a good job but it caused tension between us. We resolved our issues with each other years later." East also tore several thigh muscles when performing the stunt of racing alongside the train. He applied 3 to 4 hours of prosthetic makeup daily to facially resemble Reeve.



New York City doubled for Metropolis, while the New York Daily News Building served as the location for the offices of the Daily Planet. Brooklyn Heights was also used. Filming in New York lasted five weeks, during the time of the New York City blackout of 1977. Production moved to Alberta for scenes set in Smallville, with the cemetery scene filmed in the canyon of Beynon, Alberta, the high school football scenes at Barons, Alberta, and the Kent farm constructed at Blackie, Alberta. Brief filming also took place in Gallup, New Mexico; Lake Mead; and Grand Central Terminal. Director Donner had tensions with the Salkinds and Spengler concerning the escalating production budget and the shooting schedule. Creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz reflected, "Donner never got a budget or a schedule. He was constantly told he was way over schedule and budget. At one point he said, 'Why don't you just schedule the film for the next two days, and then I'll be nine months over?'." Richard Lester, who worked with the Salkinds on The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, was then brought in as a temporary co-producer to mediate the relationship between Donner and the Salkinds, who by now were refusing to talk to each other. With his relationship with Spengler, Donner remarked, "At one time if I'd seen him, I would have killed him."


Superman was originally scheduled to be released in June 1978, the 40th anniversary of Action Comics 1, which first introduced Superman, but the problems during filming pushed the film back by six months. Editor Stuart Baird reflected, "Filming was finished in October 1978 and it is a miracle we had the film released two months later. Big-budgeted films today tend to take six to eight months." Donner, for his part, wished that he had "had another six months; I would have perfected a lot of things. But at some point, you've gotta turn the picture over."


Warner Bros. Pictures spent $6–7 million on marketing the film. Superman premiered at the Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C. on December 10, 1978, with director Richard Donner and several cast members in attendance. Three days later, on December 13, it had a European Royal Charity Premiere at the Empire, Leicester Square in London in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Andrew.



The film was widely regarded as one of top 10 films of 1978. Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster gave a positive reaction. Shuster was "delighted to see Superman on the screen. I got chills. Chris Reeve has just the right touch of humor. He really is Superman."


Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars. Although describing the Krypton scenes as "ponderous" ("Brando was allegedly paid $3 million for his role, or, judging by his dialogue, $500,000 a cliché"), Ebert wrote that "Superman is a pure delight, a wondrous combination of all the old-fashioned things we never really get tired of: adventure and romance, heroes and villains, earthshaking special effects, and -- you know what else? Wit". He praised Reeve, stating that he "sells the role; wrong casting here would have sunk everything", and concluded that the film "works so well because of its wit and its special effects". Ebert placed the film on his ten best list of 1978. He would later go on to place it on his "Great Movies" list. Gene Siskel gave the film three stars out of four, calling it "a delightful mess. Good performances. Sloppy editing. Cheap nonflying special effects. Funny dialog. In sum, 'Superman' is the kind of picture critics tear apart, but still say, 'You ought to see it.'"



The film set a new all-time U.S. industry record for business during a pre-Christmas week with $12 million, and set new records for Warner Bros. for their best opening day ($2.8 million) and three-day weekend ($7.5 million). In the week of December 22–28, it set an all-time U.S. weekly record of $18.5 million. It also set a record single day gross for Warner Bros. with a gross of $3.8 million. In its third weekend it grossed $13.1 million for the four day holiday weekend setting a record 18 day gross of $43.7 million.


It went on to gross $134.21 million in the United States and Canada, and $166 million internationally, totaling $300.21 million worldwide. Superman was the highest-grossing film of 1978 in North America, and became the sixth-highest-grossing film of all time after its theatrical run. It was also Warner Bros.'s most successful film at the time.


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