It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Christopher Reeve in spandex!
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s today’s Lockdown Rewatch: Superman! Superhero Day seems an apt time to revisit Richard Donner’s 1978 classic. Starring Christopher Reeve as the man of steel and Marlon Brando – who infamously phoned it in for his role, not even bothering to learn his lines – as his father, Jor-El. Released 30 years before Marvel hit it big with the MCU, Superman was the blueprint on how to successfully adapt a beloved comic book character for the big screen. It was nominated for three technical Academy Awards and earned $300 million at the worldwide box office. In 2017 Superman was inducted into Hollywood’s version of the Phantom Zone, the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. Give it a watch, and you’ll (maybe) believe a man can fly.
But did you know…
1) Brando had an odd idea for how to play Supes Snr, Donner recalls, “He said, ‘Why don’t I play this like a bagel?’ I was ready for him to say ‘a green suitcase’ and he said ‘Bagel. How do we know what the people on Krypton looked like?’” The green suitcase comment refers to an earlier discussion Donner had with studio exec Jay Kanter, who said, “It means he hates to work and he loves money, so if he can talk you into the fact that the people on Krypton look like green suitcases and you only photograph green suitcases, he’ll get paid just to do the voiceover.”
2) Reeves has 143 minutes of screen time and earned $250,000. Brando, who took in an unprecedented $3.7 million and an extraordinary 11.75% of the film’s profits, had less than 15 minutes screen time. He ended up pocketing approx $19 million dollars.
3) Donner had a tumultuous relationship with the film’s producers, clashing over everything from budget (or lack of) to production schedules. He was fired after completing Superman, and filming 75% of Superman II. Richard Lester had to reshoot the majority of the sequel to get sole director credit. In 2006’s Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, over half of the film was composed of Donner’s original and unused footage – including 15 more minutes of Marlon Brando phoning it in.
4) “You’ll believe a man can fly” may seem a bit of an overstatement in 2020, but in 1978 the visual effects team were rewarded for their efforts with a Special Achievement Academy Award for special effects.
This clip is a behind-the-scenes look from The Making of Superman The Movie.