On the last week before the release of the Man Of Steel movie which premiers on June 14th I thought a look back at the Christopher Reeve’s Superman, Richard Donner directed movie in 1978. Superman: The Movie was considered a success with over 300 million made globally and the cost of 58 million. On many levels it was a success because it introduced the best known superhero to thousands of people who have never read a comic about Superman. It gave DC Comics a boost in sales in the competition with Marvel who was beginning to clean the floor with DC Comics in the late 70’s in sales.
Of course the movie was not made to increase sales of comics but to make money on the big screen for Warner Bros. Pictures. It was successful in the making $300.4 million, 5 times the investment not withstanding advertising. How does that compare to other big budget movies of the seventies? Well Jaws in 1975 made $470.7 million and Star Wars in 1977 made $798.0 million world wide. In 1978 the same year as Superman, the movie Grease with John Travolta made $386.5 million, it topped Superman by 86 million. The movie did keep pace with ticket sales and has made a lot of money in DVD and merchandising sales also.
The seventies were troubled times with Watergate and the end of the Vietnam conflict. The 1973 oil crisis puts the nation of America in gridlock; Both the leaders of Israel and Egypt shake hands after the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1978. 1979 transformed Iran from an autocratic pro-western monarchy to a theocratic Islamist government under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini; inflation was on the rise in the late 70’s and many things were unsure in the job market. People were still spending money for entertainment to escape the problems of living. Many families went to movies to enjoy 120 minutes of entertainment. So how does the release of the 1978 movie Superman compare to the 2013 release of Man Of Steel?
The 1978 movie was in trouble creatively from the time it 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 in to rewrite the script, feeling it was too campy, which means overacted or exaggerated (sometimes purposely). It was decided to film both Superman and Superman II simultaneously. This became a big problem when Donner was released as director. Filming was started in March 1977 and ended in October 1978 because tensions rose between Donner and the producers, and a decision was made to stop filming Superman II and finish the first film even though the second film was 75% done. Things were changed and a new director took over to finish both films. Although they still credit Donner for directing the first film he had to leave the 2 film project. The acting was good but only as good as the source material. The movie was acclaimed by those in Hollywood as the definitive Superman, but not the legend of comics but their version.
Hollywood had created a version of Superman for the big screen with a flying crystal ship and self made Fortress of Solitude. Clark Kent was a clumsy reporter who could type really fast who followed Lois around like a love sick puppy. Superman was powerful and had all the powers we are familiar with plus the power to fly really fast and change the spinning of the earth to change events of the past to correct things he could not fix with his other powers. You may have guessed by what I wrote that I am not convinced that the rewrite of the script by Tom Mankiewicz removed the campy problem of the movie. Even in the 70’s movie makers were starting to make more down to earth movies. I really left the movie back in 1978 disappointed in what I saw even with the big name actors they really missed a chance to do Superman right. It is what Hollywood does change things. I am not sure that Donner even had the vision of who Superman was back then.
What worked for Marvel Entertainment will work for Warner Brothers. Bring people who understand the legend of the superhero and get out of their way and let them crate something special for the big screen that resembles what we read in the comic books. Change things if you must but stay true to the legend of the superhero. I think Producer Christopher Nolan, Director Zack Snyder and Screen writer David S. Goyer have the comic book knowledge and respect the legend of the superhero to make a memorable down to earth movie about Superman. Yes I think they can make a better movie for the 21st century that will make you say after you watch it, “that was good.” This is my hope and I will know for sure in a few days. People who have reviewed the movie have raved on the quality and called it the best movie of the year. Please be there and judge yourself if it is worth the price of admission, and let us know here at Comics Talk what you think. As they said back in the 50’s be there or be square. Stay tuned comic and movie faithful for more. 🙂 Walt