The Story Of ‘Superman,’ In Richard Donner’s Words

In the 21st Century, superhero movies are a really common occurrence, thanks to the Marvel and DC cinematic universes. Back in the 1970s, though, it was a different story. There had been no Spider-Man movies yet. The only Batman movie had been the kitschy ’60s one featuring Adam West. And it had been more than two decades since a Superman movie had been made. In fact, most people had become accustomed to seeing these characters on Saturday morning children’s cartoons. So when Richard Donner was hired to direct 1978’s Superman,¬†there was no guarantee it would be a big success. That’s why the movie’s casting was so important — if the movie was going to be successful, it needed someone who would meet (or even surpass) the expectations for the character based on the cartoons and comic books. Donner says that when he came across a newcomer named Christopher Reeve, he knew he’d found “the one.” (Click on the media bar below to hear Richard Donner)

Though Reeve was an untested newcomer, Donner did want to get some established star power into his movie, too. So he wound up casting Gene Hackman as Superman’s nemesis, Lex Luthor, and in a real casting coup, he was able to get Hollywood legend Marlon Brando to play Superman’s father. Donner talked about how he was able to bring both of those men on board. (Click on the media bar below to hear Richard Donner)

As with so many ’70s big-budget box office blockbusters, Superman’s music score was larger than life, too. Of course, what else would you expect from John Williams, who’d also scored Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind? The most surprising thing about the Superman score, though, is that Williams almost didn’t get to write it. (Click on the media bar below to hear Richard Donner)

All of the Christopher Reeves Superman movies are currently streaming on HBO MAX.

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