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Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder (AP)
Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder (AP)

Superman Week: 10 things we learned from the original 1978 Superman Add to ...

With Man of Steel opening Friday, we examine what the early Superman movies can teach us about the superhero genre, for better or for worse. Today’s installment: Must-haves, as learned from 1978’s Superman, directed by Richard Donner (Budget: $55-million U.S. Gross: $134,218,018)

The right hero

A long list of actors were considered for the role, including Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Burt Reynolds. But Christopher Reeve, who had to bulk up to get the part, brought the perfect mix of Boy Scout humility and square-jawed farm-boy Americana to the role. (For an example of casting gone wrong, look to Superman Returns.)

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An origin story

The first act tidily establishes Superman’s back story as the last remaining son of Krypton, bringing everyone who isn’t a comics nerd nicely up to speed.

Just the right amount of heroic angst

Every superhero has to be tortured in some way, and teenage Clark Kent’s frustration is palpable.

The difference a great score makes

John Williams makes you think you can fly.

The right villain

Gene Hackman as the cartoonish megalomaniac Lex Luthor became the quintessential arch nemesis, possibly until Heath Ledger’s Joker.

The right love interest

Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane was no damsel in distress.

Stay true to the myth

Superman has always been rich with Biblical overtones, which Donner emphasized. His father sending his “only son” to Earth to bring us into the light? Subtle.

Comic relief

Ned Beatty’s bumbling henchman? Hey, these movies are supposed to be fun.

Anxieties of the age

In the post-Watergate era, America needed a moral salve. Superman waved the flag for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

The seeds of a sequel

The traitors, including General Zod, banished at the beginning of the film, and the missile that Superman diverted into space near the end, set the stage for Superman II in a way that left you wanting a sequel, instead of expecting it.

Tomorrow: The rules of a sequel

Follow on Twitter: @Dave_McGinn

 

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