"You will believe a man can fly!"
1978 film directed by Richard Donner and starring Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent, Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane. The movie also featured Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, and Valerie Perrine.
Superman has appeared in many mediums including comic books, newspapers, radio, television, and the movies and each has had its indelible mark upon the mythos of this character. Richard Donner's take on the Man of Steel has shaped the mythos of this character in many ways from the nearly universally recognized John Williams theme to the way we look at Krypton, the birth place of our hero.
The following contains spoilers.
The movie opens on the planet Krypton, a planet of high technology. The opening scene involves a trial of three criminals, accused of heinous crimes. We are introduced to one of Krypton's leading citizens, Jor-El who is the accuser of the three, Non, Vond-ah, and the leader General Zod (played by Terrence Stamp). They are found guilty by a number of giant heads set to represent other leaders of Krypton and the deciding vote is left to Jor-El. He too votes guilty, earning him the ire of the three ("You will kneel before me, Jor-El! You, and someday your heirs!"). The three are then trapped within a crystalline prison which is sent into space and the plot for the sequel is already set.
Jor-El returns to his home where he is busy constructing a spaceship to carry his infant son away from the planet, for Jor-El believes that the planet is going to be destroyed. There is a touching scene as Jor-El and his wife Lara (Susannah York) place their infant son in the craft as the planet begins to shake and break apart. The child is sent away in a spaceship made of crystal and looking sort of like a crystalline anemone and the planet Krypton explodes.
The young child travels through space being taught by the crystals as he goes and aging from an infant to a toddler in the meantime. Eventually he arrives on Earth where his space craft crashes in a field outside Smallville, Kansas. The crash is witnessed by Jonathan Kent (Glenn Ford) and his wife Martha. They find the child in the wreckage and soon discover that baby safety devices are not going to mean squat to this kid, when he lifts their truck over his head.
The film fast forwards to Clark in high school, where he is restlessly dealing with his abilities. At Pa Kent's instruction, Clark is acting as the equipment manager of the high school football team. He is also pining for Lana Lang, one of the cheerleaders who is dating one of the football jocks. We get to witness Clark's youthful hijinks as he kicks a football into orbit, out races a train, and runs home, beating his classmates on foot when they are driving a car. He is dressed down by his adoptive father and given a lecture about the responsibility that comes with such great powers. As Clark goes off to do his chores, Pa Kent collapses from a heart attack and dies and Clark is brought face to face with the fact that despite his incredible abilities, there are some things that are beyond him.
After his father's funeral, Clark takes off to search for his destiny armed with a backpack and the one remaining intact crystal from the spaceship, a glowing green one. Hitchhiking and walking, Clark finds himself in the arctic and there, the crystal creates a building like those on Krypton made of crystals as well. Within this Fortress of Solitude, Clark spends then next few years getting instruction from his father Jor-El as to his origin and purpose and when we next see him, he is years older and dressed in his Superman costume and we get to believe a man can fly.
Clark goes to Metropolis where he gets a job at the Daily Planet where he is employed by Perry White (Jackie Cooper) and meets fellow reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). He plays the role of a bumbling milqtoast but later we see him fight crime, get a cat out of a tree, and save Lois Lane and a falling helicopter, producing my favorite line in the entire movie:
Superman: I've got you.
Lois: You've got me!? Who's got you!!?
About this time we are also introduced to Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), his bumbling assistant Otis (Ned Beatty), and the eye candy of the trio Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine). Luthor is working on a plan to make him rich by buying up all of the land east of the San Andreas fault and then dropping the coast of California into the Pacific (something that was much talked about in the 70's but which doesn't get much press these days). This would make Luthor rich on the real estate profits. To do this Luthor gains access to two nuclear warheads and continues to plot.
Meanwhile a romance is blossoming between Superman and Lois Lane, and in a scene that holds the dubious honor of either being well loved or reviled, the two fly around a moonlit, star filled sky, while the audience is treated to a soliloquy about whether or not Superman can read her mind. Weighing in my personal opinion, I find this scene a bit hokey.
Approaching the climax, Superman confronts Luthor who introduces him to one of his weaknesses, kryptonite) and dumps him in a swimming pool to drown. Before he does so, he reveals that he is launching one missile toward the west coast and the other toward the east, because Superman if he does survive the kryptonite can't catch both. Superman is saved by Miss Teschmacher, who makes Superman promise to stop the east coast missile first because it threatens her mother.
Superman stops the missile but is too late to stop the second and races to the west coast averting disaster after disaster, including holding up the continental shelf, saving a bus full of kids from falling off the Golden Gate bridge, acting as a rail for a speeding commuter train so it doesn't derail and saving Jimmy Olsen's ass from falling off the Hoover Dam.
Unfortunately, he is not in time to save Lois Lane from suffocating when her car gets trapped and fills with dirt. Enraged that he could not save the woman he loves, Superman takes matters into his own hands despite giant images of his two father figures telling him that he can not interfere with the course of events. Superman flies really fast the other way around the world, turning back time (or going back in time himself) and saves Lois. We assume then that the commuter train derailed or the bus full of children died, but that is never addressed. Superman captures Luthor and Otis and deposits them in jail and we are treated to Superman flying off and the credits.
Superman: The Movie was followed by three sequels of which the second is the most widely acclaimed.
Sourcing from the Internet Movie Data Base (www.imdb.com