Superman, released in 1978, is widely credited to be the first modern superhero movie. Without this Richard Donner film, starring Christopher Reeve in the role of Clark Kent/Superman, superhero cinema as we know it probably would not exist. It was this film that gave film studios the confidence to invest in movies involving costumed crime-fighters and superhero films were not just for kids anymore.
Superman released when the United States was in a bit of a mess. The country was still reeling from the Watergate scandal. Also, American people had learned that the Vietnam war was a sham. There was resentment.
Then came Superman. Unlike today’s DC movies, which are too self-serious and grim, Donner’s Superman was a film that was like its hero – instantly likeable. And like the symbol on his chest, he represented hope.
Christopher Reeve’s Last Son of Krypton was shy, charming and not antipathetic to smiles, unlike Henry Cavill’s Superman, who is made to gnash his teeth and just look angry about everything by the likes of Zack Snyder.
Reeve’s portrayal of Superman, notably, did not have any conflict inside him, like you see in today’s movies. He was a force for good. Yes, it’s that simple. Nobody in the film contemplated that he could go to the dark side, which was pretty much the premise of Batman’s rift with Superman in Batman v Superman.
In that sense, he was not relatable. But then the Man of Steel was never, ever meant to be relatable. He is an all-powerful alien after all, whose only weakness is exposure to the rarest element in the universe.
At the end of the movie, our hero soars high up in the air. He is moving towards the camera. He looks at us suddenly and smiles. For many fans, including this scribe, this scene epitomised everything that was good about the film.
Superman turned the superhero into one of the most recognisable icons in American pop culture. I do believe a man can fly.