16 Super Facts About Superman

Christopher Reeve stars in Superman (1978).
Christopher Reeve stars in Superman (1978).
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Today, comic book movies are ubiquitous. But this blockbuster clash of comic book titans might never have happened if not for the success of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978).

In the 1970s, superhero movies were an untested gamble. To make Superman, a trio of ambitious producers teamed up with a talented director, a great cast, and an unprecedented special effects team to create something unlike anything anyone had ever seen on the big screen before. The result was a storied, often tense, filmmaking experience. To celebrate the Man of Steel, let’s look at some facts about his first blockbuster.

1. Superman began production without a studio behind it.

When producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind first got the idea to make a film based on the Superman comic book, they started cobbling together financing for the production, but had no distributor. Eventually, they were able to convince Warner Bros. to take on U.S. distribution rights, but under what’s known as a “negative pickup” deal, meaning that the studio wasn’t actually required to help fund the movie. The burden was on the Salkinds to make the picture appealing to the studio, so the financial risk was massive.

2. Superman's original director had to drop out when they decided to shoot in England.

The Salkinds considered several directors, including Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) and William Friedkin (The Exorcist) to helm the production, but ultimately decided on Guy Hamilton, who was best known at the time for directing James Bond films like 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. Hamilton took the job, and the production planned to shoot in Rome. When it became clear that it would actually be cheaper to move the shoot to England, a problem arose: Hamilton was an English “tax exile,” meaning he could only be the United Kingdom for 60 days out of each year. Because the production was likely to take longer than that, Hamilton had to drop out, and the search for a new director began.

3. Richard Donner accepted the Superman directing job while on the toilet.

Desperate to find a new director, the Salkinds turned to Richard Donner, who was riding high after the success of The Omen (1976). According to Donner, he was actually sitting on the toilet when he got the call from Alexander Salkind offering him the chance to shoot Superman and Superman II back-to-back.

“I’m making Superman. I don’t have a director and I’ll pay you a million dollars,” Salkind said.

“A million dollars! That was like saying ‘I’ll give you all the tea in China,’” Donner recalled. Donner agreed to see the script, which would present its own set of challenges.

4. The original Superman script was 500 pages long ... and Richard Donner hated it.

When the Salkinds began the project, they wanted a high-profile writer to boost the film’s profile, and decided on The Godfather author Mario Puzo. After spending some time with editors and DC Comics to familiarize himself with Superman lore, Puzo got to work and produced a massive script spanning two films and 500 pages. The script was later rewritten by David and Leslie Newman and Robert Benton. When Donner joined the film, which Alexander Salkind had assured him was “perfect,” he demanded rewrites.

“It was disparaging,” Donner recalled. “It was just gratuitous action. I’m reading this thing and Superman’s looking for Lex Luthor in Metropolis, and he’s looking for every bald head in the city. And then he flies down and taps a guy on the shoulder and it’s [Kojak’s] Telly Savalas, who hands him a lollipop and says, ‘Who loves ya, baby?’

“I was brought up on Superman as a kid. There was a whole point in my life where I read Superman. So when I was finished with it, I was like, ‘Man, if they make this movie, they are destroying the legend of Superman.’ I wanted to do it just to defend him.”

To “defend” Superman, Donner called in his friend Tom Mankiewicz (Live and Let Die), and the two began reshaping the story.

5. Marlon Brando wanted to play Superman's Jor-El "like a bagel."

Marlon Brando in Superman (1980).Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

To further boost the film’s profile, the Salkinds went after major stars for key supporting roles, and pursued Marlon Brando for the role of Superman’s father, Jor-El. Donner, Mankiewicz, and Ilya Salkind flew to Brando’s Los Angeles home to meet with him. Before he met the actor, Donner asked famed Hollywood agent Jay Kanter for any negotiating hints, at which point he learned that Brando was going to attempt to do as little work as possible.

“And he said, ‘He's going to want play it like a green suitcase.’ I said, ‘What does that mean?’ ‘It means he hates to work and he loves money, so if he can talk you into the fact that the people on Krypton look like green suitcases and you only photograph green suitcases, he'll get paid just to do the voiceover. That’s the way his mind works.’ I said, ‘F*ck,’ and then I called Francis Coppola. He said, ‘He’s brilliant. He's got a brilliant mind. But he loves to talk. Keep him talking, and he'll talk himself out of any problem,’” Donner recalled.

When the director actually met with Brando, the actor proposed that he played Jor-El not as a green suitcase, but as a “bagel.” Brando reasoned that no one knows what the people on Krypton look like, but that Jor-El would know what people on Earth look like, and would therefore make his son look human so he could blend in. Mankiewicz even recalled that, at one point, Brando pitched the idea that maybe Kryptonians don’t even talk. They simply make electronic sounds that are translated through subtitles. Fighting to secure his star, Donner invoked Superman’s long comic book history.

“I said, ‘Jeez, Marlon, let me tell you something.’ He’d just told us the story about a kid [and how smart he was] and I said, ‘It's 1939. There isn't a kid in the world that doesn't know what Jor-El looks like, and he looks like Marlon Brando.’ And he looked at me and smiled [and said], ‘I talk too much, don't I?’ He said, ‘OK. Show me the wardrobe.’”

Brando was paid $4 million to play Jor-El, a massive sum for only a few scenes.

6. Every major star of the day was seemingly considered for Superman's title role.

In order to secure the rights to adapt the comic book, the Salkinds had to bow to certain demands from DC Comics, and the publisher ultimately sent along a list of “approved” actors who were allowed to play Superman. The list was far-reaching, and basically included every major star of the time. Among the names on the list: Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Muhammad Ali.

7. Richard Donner wanted to cast an unknown actor as Superman.

The Salkinds, hoping to land a major movie star in the title role, offered Superman to Paul Newman and Robert Redford, who both turned it down. The Salkinds also booked a meeting between Donner and Sylvester Stallone, who was hot at the time because of Rocky.

“I tried to be nice and say, ‘This is wrong,’” Donner said.

Believing that a movie star in Superman’s costume wouldn’t be believable, because audiences would only see the movie star and not the character, Donner lobbied hard for an unknown. He eventually found his man in Christopher Reeve, who impressed the director with his theater work.

8. Christopher Reeve gained nearly 50 pounds to play Superman.

Though he was impressed by Reeve’s acting ability, and believed he had the right face to be Superman, Donner was concerned about the actor’s size. Superman had to be muscular and really fill out the costume, and at the time they, met Reeve was 6’5” and weighed only 170 pounds. Donner was skeptical, but Reeve assured him that he’d been muscular before and could be muscular again.

“Before I went into acting, I was a real jock,” Reeve said. “I’ve lost 50 pounds. I can put it on.”

To help Reeve get into shape, the production turned to bodybuilder David Prowse (best known in film as the man in the Darth Vader costume for the original Star Wars trilogy), and asked him to put as much muscle on Reeve as he could in the span of about six weeks. According to Prowse, Reeve weighed about 212 pounds when he started production.

9. Margot Kidder's clumsiness won her the role of Lois Lane in Superman.

Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in Superman (1978).Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

For the role of Lois Lane, several actresses—including Lesley Ann Warren and Anne Archer—were considered, but Margot Kidder ultimately won the role by simply being herself.

“When I met her in the casting office, she tripped coming in and I just fell in love with her,” Donner said. “It was perfect, this clumsy [behavior]. She was one of the few [actresses] we flew to London to test with Chris. Anne Archer [also tested]. But they were magic together.”

To compound Kidder’s clumsy, silly side even further, an eye injury meant that she had to act without contact lenses one day. Donner was so charmed by the way it made Lois bump into things and widen her eyes that he made sure Kidder continued to play the role without her contacts.

“There was a law after that: every morning people had to come to me and make sure she didn't have her contacts in, and that she would act without her contacts. It just made her wonderful.”

10. The original Perry White was replaced just days before shooting on Superman began.

For the role of Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet, Donner cast legendary character actor Keenan Wynn, but almost immediately after his arrival in London for shooting, Wynn had a heart attack. Desperate to find an actor in time to keep the production on schedule, Donner and Mankiewicz made a list of possible names, and just made calls until someone answered the phone. Jackie Cooper picked up, and ended up playing the character all the way through 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

11. Superman's Kryptonian costumes couldn't be touched by bare hands.

For the scenes on Krypton, costume designer Yvonne Blake wanted costumes that reflected some kind of “energy,” and ultimately decided to craft the suits from material traditionally used on movie screens “made out of miniscule balls of glass.” The glowing effect the material produced was fantastic, but because of its delicate nature, the crew could only touch it while wearing cotton gloves.

“Any time the material was touched by hand it would lose its reflective quality,” Blake said.

12. The movie's crew cried when Superman flew for the first time.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in making Superman was creating a convincing special effect that would allow Superman to fly. Donner was adamant that old, crude methods of flying on camera (like the ones used in the Superman TV series) could not be used. It had to feel authentic, and that meant the special effects team had to essentially invent new methods of onscreen flight. Finally, optics expert Zoran Perisic designed a system that used two zoom lenses interacting with each other to create a flight effect.

“Christopher Reeve would be basically in one place, on a pole arm … that you don’t see, and all he does is sort of make the moves, and it’s the camera and the projector that make him look like he comes straight up,” Perisic said.

According to Donner, crew members actually cried the first time they saw Reeve take flight.

13. The Superman production was chaotic.

The Salkinds’ plan was always for two Superman films to be shot simultaneously, but because of the immense number of sets and effects needed to achieve that, Donner had to break the filming up into manageable pieces. To make it all work, seven different shooting units were filming at the same time, with Donner driving back and forth between them on a golf cart.

“I had a bunch of these handheld radios in my golf cart and I would get a call from production and they would say ‘Get over to stage blah blah. They’re doing the tests. We’re ready to shoot,’” Donner recalled. “I’d go over there and go back and shoot the principals, and then get a new setup that would take hours, because it was so vast.”

14. Donner and the Salkinds constantly fought over Superman's budget.

As production on both films continued, tension developed between Donner, the Salkinds, and producer Pierre Spengler. Donner was attempting an unprecedented comic book movie feat, and according to him, the producers constantly urged him to spend less while never actually telling him what he was allowed to spend. The Salkinds always claimed the film was over schedule and over budget, while Donner claims that he never actually had a schedule or a budget.

“They’d say, ‘You can’t do this,’ but I would have no alternative and they wouldn’t show me the budget. They never ever told me what the budget was. I had no idea what I was spending. I was making a movie and they wouldn’t tell me the budget,” Donner said. “So there was no way I knew what I was spending. Sometimes I’d authorize something and nothing would be there; they would just arbitrarily cancel it. They didn’t want anyone to know where that money went, I guess.”

15. Superman's ending was actually stolen from Superman II.

Christopher Reeve stars in Superman (1978).Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

As production went on, Superman was helped out by increased financial support from Warner Bros., as studio executives grew more and more impressed with footage they received from Donner. According to Mankiewicz, their favorite effect was the scene in which Superman flies into space and begins reversing Earth’s rotation in order to turn back time. Because the studio was determined to make Superman a hit, they wanted this dazzling effect to be the climax of the film. The problem was that the footage was intended to be the end of Superman II.

According to Mankiewicz, the original ending of Superman involved the Man of Steel throwing a nuclear missile into space, at which point it would collide with the Phantom Zone prison containing General Zod (Terence Stamp) and his acolytes, freeing them and setting up the sequel. Well, because Warner Bros. was convinced there wouldn’t be a sequel if Superman didn’t work, they lobbied for Superman to reverse time to end the film, and Mankiewicz and Donner made it work.

“We talked and talked and finally we stole it from Superman II and figured when we finished that, we would have come up with a new ending,” Donner said.

16. Due to increasing tensions, Richard Donner didn't complete Superman II.

As Donner continued to fight with Spengler and the Salkinds over budget and scheduling issues, the Salkinds drafted director Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night) to act as a “go-between” for both parties. Lester assured Donner that he was there to help, and Donner requested that Lester have no part in the actual production of the films.

After Superman was released to massive success in December of 1978, Spengler encountered Variety columnist Army Archerd at a Christmas party, and assured him that, though there had been tension, he was proud of Donner’s Superman work and looked forward to working with him on the sequel. Archerd then contacted Donner and told him what Spengler had said. Donner’s response was “If he’s on [Superman II]—I’m not.”

“The Salkinds are very loyal people,” Spengler said. “I’d been there from the outset, and if the gentleman (Donner) didn’t want to work with me, then we had to find someone to replace the gentleman.”

The Salkinds then turned to “go-between” Lester, and hired him to finish Superman II. Lester reshot, and sometimes even rewrote, portions of the film (Mankiewicz, loyal to Donner, refused to return to work on the script).

“They hastily rewrote a lot of scenes with Chris and I,” Kidder said.

Decades later, Donner’s previously shot footage for the film was restored and re-edited into Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, and previously unused footage of Brando as Jor-El was incorporated into Bryan Singer’s sequel to Superman II, Superman Returns (2006).

Additional Sources:
You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman (2006)
Taking Flight: The Development of Superman (2001)
Making Superman: Filming The Legend (2001)

This story has been updated for 2020.

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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10 Great Gifts for Teens

Fjallraven/Polaroid
Fjallraven/Polaroid

If it’s been a few years since you were a teenager, you might be feeling at a loss when it comes to finding the perfect gift for the teen in your life. But you don’t have to worry—we’ve culled the internet to figure out what’s cool these days, and we found 10 items to suit any teen (and any price point).

1. Fjällräven Kånken Mini Classic Backpack for Everyday; $70

Fjällräven/Amazon

Fjällräven’s Kånken backpack was originally introduced in 1978 as an affordable and comfortable bag for Swedish schoolchildren, but it recently took off as a trend among American high schoolers and college students. With 43 different color options, chances are you’ll be able to find the perfect trendy backpack for the teen in your life.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Hydro Flask Standard-Mouth Water Bottle; $30–$35

Hydro Flask/Amazon

Hydro Flasks aren’t only trendy, they’re sturdy and environmentally friendly. Plus, they keep hot drinks warm and icy drinks cool for an absurdly long amount of time. The standard-mouth water bottle is currently available on Amazon in 17 different colors, but the brand also offers tumbler cups and coffee mugs depending on your niece/nephew/cousin/friend/child’s preference.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Polaroid Originals OneStep+ Bluetooth-Connected Instant Film Camera; $140

Polaroid Originals/Amazon

Teens can kick it back old school with this Polaroid camera that hides some surprisingly contemporary features. Using a special app, users can fine-tune their camera settings to suit their personal tastes. Plus, this camera makes it possible to capture two scenes in a single frame, so it's that much easier to create uniquely artsy Polaroid pics.

Buy it: Amazon

4. 4th-Generation Echo Dot with Clock; $60

Amazon

Tech-wise, the fourth-generation Echo Dot is almost identical to its third-generation predecessor. But the updated spherical design seems poised to make the Echo Dot a worthy contender for traditional alarm clocks—the speaker face shows the time and it even includes a tap-to-snooze function for drowsy sleepers.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Bubble Tea Kit; $38

Uncommon Goods

Part of the reason bubble tea is so popular is that it’s customizable—and what could be more customizable than making it yourself? This kit, made by an Atlanta-based couple, comes with two reusable straws and enough supplies to make up to eight servings.

Buy it: Uncommon Goods

6. Mixtape Card Game; $20

Uncommon Goods

This party game challenges players to find the perfect songs to suit specific prompts. Some cards might prompt players to use Spotify or Youtube to search for the songs with the best guitar solos, while other cards call for participants to play their “favorite slow dance love jam from junior high.” This game is sure to be a hit at any high school sleepover or house party—or, in true 2020 style, at any digital hangout or Zoom meeting.

Buy it: Uncommon Goods

7. Giant Flour Tortilla Throw Blanket; $18-$35

Mermaker/Amazon

This goofy double-sided blanket turns any human into a giant-size burrito, and it comes in four different sizes to suit any height. One reviewer even went so far as to say that “once you wrap yourself in it, you will be convinced that you are a burrito.”

Buy it: Amazon

8. The Cup of Destiny; $22

Shelter Harbor Press/Amazon

Here’s a prediction: Your hunt for the perfect gift is almost over. This kit is ideal for the teenager who is fascinated by the supernatural and loves exploring new ideas. Included, you’ll find a 96-page illustrated instruction book along with a cup and a saucer marked with patterns and symbols.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Wreck This Journal: Now in Color; $9

Penguin Books/Amazon

This journal is not intended to be pretty. It’s made for messiness and exploration and a little bit of chaos. Artistic-minded teens will love filling out pages that prompt them to catalog various stains or poke holes through the paper. Reviewers say it’s not only a source of creative inspiration, though—it’s also a stress reliever. And considering that the middle-school and high-school years aren’t exactly known for being relaxing, this journal could be a welcome reprieve from the daily pressure of managing homework and a social life.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Therapy Dough; $15

Uncommon Goods

Some teens focus better and relax more easily when they have something to fidget with. If the teen in your life fits that description, this therapy dough may be the perfect gift for them. Each 4.5-ounce container is infused with essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus, orange, or pine, making relaxation smell delicious (and all natural!).

Buy it: Uncommon Goods

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