These days we might be used to seeing superheroes flying across the screen on a seemingly constant basis, but back in the 80s there was only one superhero movie series that mattered: Superman. After the original 1978 smash, the DC icon returned in 1980’s Superman II, and 1983’s Superman III and (more regrettably) 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
The movies may have varied in quality, but to this day it’s widely agreed that their leading man Christopher Reeve remains the definitive Man of Steel actor. Here are some facts about the original Superman movies which you might not have known.
12. Christopher Reeve is the youngest Superman to date
Christopher Reeve was just 24 years old when he starred in the original 1978 Superman, making him the youngest Superman yet. His predecessors Kirk Alyn and George Reeves were both in their late 30s, whilst subsequent Men of Steel Dean Cain, Brandon Routh, Henry Cavill and Tyler Hoechlin were in their late 20s.
However, John Newton of Superboy was 23, whilst Tom Welling of Smallville was (like Reeve) 24 – but as both those TV shows were prequels, neither actor portrayed Superman in the strictest sense.
11. Reeve is also the tallest actor to play Superman
Not only was Reeve the youngest Superman ever at the time of the 1978 film, but he was also the tallest at 6’4″. Brandon Routh and Tom Welling weren’t far behind him, though, as they both stand 6’3″.
The shortest Superman of them all was Dean Cain, who stands at just over 5’11.
10. The many actors considered to play Superman included Warren Beatty, Robert Redford and James Caan
Christopher Reeve was a total unknown when cast as Superman, but the producers approached a lot of big names first. Those offered the role include Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, James Caan, Burt Reynolds, James Brolin, Christopher Walken, Nick Nolte and Jon Voight.
Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were also very keen to play the part, but the producers would not consider them.
9. Marlon Brando read his lines from cue cards
Believe it or not, whilst filming the original 1978 film, Jor-El actor Marlon Brando refused to memorize many of his lines in advance, as he felt it would take away from his performance. Instead, he had cue cards hidden on set to read from.
It has been claimed that at one of these cue cards was attached to the nappy worn by the baby Kal-El.
8. Brando and Gene Hackman earned considerably more money than Reeve
Even though he appears for barely ten minutes, Marlon Brando drove a hard bargain when he signed on to play Jor-El. The two-time Oscar winner demanded top billing in the credits, and a salary of $3.7 million. As if that wasn’t enough, Brando was also given a cut of Superman’s profits, reportedly earning him around $14 million in total.
Meanwhile, Gene Hackman – who took second billing for his work as Lex Luthor – earned $2 million. By contrast, Christopher Reeve earned a comparatively meagre $250,000, and his name doesn’t appear in the credits until after the title.
7. Christopher Reeve plays another secret role in the first movie
Christopher Reeve’s performance in Superman can be considered a dual role, given that the actor plays both the man of steel and his simpering alter-ego Clark Kent. However, did you know Reeve actually plays one more role in the movie, uncredited?
He also provides the voice of the Metropolis air traffic controller that you hear when Lois Lane takes her dangerous helicopter ride.
6. You can sometimes see the secrets behind Superman’s strength
Unsurprisingly, when you consider the films were made in the days before realistic computer generated effects, you can often see the secrets behind some of the shots. An example is in Superman II, when you can clearly see the attachment that is keeping the manhole cover in place as Superman struggles in his battle against General Zod.
Watch closely in Superman II, and you may also spot the gas jet that enabled the manhole cover to be propelled into the air.
5. Superman and Superman II were actually shot back-to-back
Although Superman and Superman II were released two years apart, the two films were actually shot back to back. As a result of this, some footage was moved around: Superman’s semi-apocalyptic ending, in which the Man of Steel spins the world backwards to reverse time, was originally intended to be the ending of Superman II.
However, disagreements behind the scenes led to Superman director Richard Donner being fired midway through Superman II, to be replaced by Richard Lester.
4. Reeve didn’t receive top billing until the third film
Despite being the title character, it wasn’t until 1983’s Superman III that Christopher Reeve was fallen given top billing. On the first film his name came after Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, whilst on Superman II Hackman got his name listed first.
Even so, Reeve still wasn’t the highest paid actor on Superman III. Richard Pryor earned $4 million (then the highest fee ever earned by a black actor), whilst Reeve was paid just $1 million.
3. Supergirl was originally meant to have a Superman cameo
1984 saw the release of Superman spin-off movie Supergirl, in which Helen Slater appeared as Kal-El/Clark Kent’s cousin Kara Zor-El/Linda Lee. Originally, the plan was for Christopher Reeve to make an appearance in the movie – but Reeve turned the offer down.
Reeve told Supergirl director Jeannot Szwarc that the project “didn’t feel right.” It was later explained that Reeve had not been happy with Superman III, and felt that he had reached the end of his time in the role.
2. Reeve came to regret making Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Unlike the first three Superman movies, 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was produced by Cannon Films, the now-infamous B-movie production house of the 80s. The company’s financial struggles meant that Superman IV’s budget was drastically cut at the last minute, which explains why the film looks so cheap.
Reeve, who was lured back by being given more creative input (he co-wrote the story), would later admit regretting Superman IV. Not only did the film kill the franchise, it also impacted Reeve’s film career.
1. Reeve made one last Superman-related appearance on TV’s Smallville
While Christopher Reeve never officially played Superman again after Superman IV, the actor (who by then was paralysed following a 1995 horse-riding accident) made one more appearance in the Superman story world when he guest starred in Smallville.
Reeve played Dr. Virgil Swann in two episodes of the series, and this proved to be his last acting role before he passed away in October 2004.