Christopher Reeve’s Superman is back, and still relevant after 45 years

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If you haven’t looked up at a marquee this month and seen what might have been a bird or a plane, you may not be aware that select theaters worldwide have been offering special showings of the 1978 classic “Superman: The Movie” — starring Christopher Reeve in his genre-defining debut as the iconic champion of truth, justice and the American way.

These mild-mannered metropolitan screenings were not widely publicized. Some were in Europe. Some in New York. And one was in Texas, in the very same don’t-blink-or-you’ll-drive-past-it unassuming little movie house where authorities once captured Lee Harvey Oswald.

The historic Texas Theatre. Photos by Daniel Sanchez.

Within that appropriately named Texas Theatre gathered families, children, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, best friends; seemingly someone from just about everywhere. More than a few drove considerable distances, many brought their friends and loved ones to experience the movie for the first time, and almost everyone had this night on their calendar from the moment they knew of its existence.

What was it about this re-release that inspired such a turnout? The 4K remastering? The tie-in with Warner Brothers 100-year celebration? The chance to see an easily-streamable movie on a big screen? Not if you asked the crowd that night. For them it went deeper, and their reason much more pure:

This version of Superman is a friend, and they wanted to see their friend again.

A super-homecoming

John Rodgers, age 67, a retired thespian and English teacher from Pilot Point, Texas, played the love theme from “Superman: The Movie” at his wedding. He marveled at the heart and soul of the film when he watched it repeatedly in theaters upon its debut in 1978. But most of all, he admired Christopher Reeve’s breakout performance itself.

“The choices Reeve made while playing the role,” John said, “brought a naturalistic approach to the character. It wasn’t the stilted delivery of Clayton Moore’s Lone Ranger or the over-acted posturing of Adam West’s Batman. For the first time, we got a superhero who acted like a real person.  I remember Reeve saying on a talk show that he would change the wording of a line if it didn’t feel right. An example is near the end when Superman says to Lois and Jimmy, “Look, there’s something I’ve got to do.” According to Reeve, the line was written “There’s still one piece of unfinished business I must attend to.” This naturalness gave the character an accessibility that still resonates.”

Frank Alaniz, age 40, of McKinney, Texas, agrees.

“He obviously wasn’t the very first Superman, but he’s the model to follow. Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent, you can tell when he transforms: he’s got the slouch look, and the hat. He looks very meek. But as soon as you see his Superman, he’s proud, tall, shoulders up. He doesn’t change his voice like Batman, but he has those characteristics where his body goes through that transformation, like ‘now I’m Superman,’ or ‘now I’m Clark Kent.’ You see a lot of actors copy that. I can’t think of a better compliment of your work. He was the template that everyone seems to follow in some way.”

Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent in “Superman: The Movie” (1978)

For Andrew Menchaca, age 30, the film brings back wonderful father-son memories.

“It’s been a childhood movie from the day I was born, practically.” he says. “My dad was a Superman fan. He had it on VHS. We watched it until the tape wore out. There’s a scene where Lex Luther comes out to the guys that are surrounding the missile and says, “Heck of a day, isn’t it?” That was like great banter between me and my dad going back and forth. Like when we were not supposed to be doing something, or be somewhere, that was our in-joke. Our father-son thing.”

Chad Pierce, age 33, works at the Texas Theatre and is an avid film buff and superhero fan. He also has VHS to thank for his love for Superman.

“When I first saw it, I was probably 12 or 13. It was a bootleg copy off television. Someone in my family taped it. We all liked movies. The superhero genre today is entirely different than it was then. In television, there was this concept of ‘happy-go-lucky’ tv shows, where nothing ever got super-serious. It was all very blue skies. Modern superhero movies are not that. Reeve’s version is a solid thing between the two of them. It never got incredibly serious, but it was mostly a lighthearted superhero movie. It carries its weight, of course, but it’s more in the spirit of the golden age of comics than modern comic movies. Those movies are very dark, their focus is on the grittiness of life and they seem to want to dwell in the darkness, but that’s not what the golden age of comics is about. Superman was relatively lighthearted back then.  It’s refreshing to be able to see the golden age in cinema again in a world of darkness and negativity.”

Guy Chapman, age 47, Founder and Editor of the Navarro County Gazette, grew up to be a legitimate newsman and real-life Perry White. He feels that same attempt to show the hero as a beacon of light is the main virtue the film still has to offer us today.

“I think he embodies hope. He inspires in the rest of us what we hope to be: his selflessness and courage. And kindness, which I think is important. I think Christopher Reeve’s version shows us what being a better person can accomplish. Of all comic book characters, he’s one of the ones that is the most pure. I think everyone wants to be as brave as Superman, because of what he embodies. That selflessness. It’s reminded me a few times growing up that I’ve always wanted to be like Superman and do the right thing, even when it’s hard.”

Jeff East as Young Clark Kent and Glenn Ford as Pa Kent in “Superman: The Movie” (1978)

For some, the father figure aspect of the story stayed with them. John Rodgers sees multiple connections between the film and his own life as a father and educator today.

“I’ve always been a sucker for dad-son stories, and in “Superman,” we get two.  Jor-El’s speech as he and Lara prepare to send their baby into the void of space is one of the most classic orations ever put to film.  The line “the father becomes the son, and the son the father” rings true to me as I am the father of an only son, with whom I’ve always enjoyed a close relationship. In Jonathan Kent, Clark has a no-nonsense, but loving, mentor who instills in his foster son a basic sense of morality and purpose. Any parent can see that basic desire to inspire their child to do the right thing.”

Frank Alaniz became a board-certified prosthetist and orthotist, helping those experiencing polytrauma and requiring rehabilitation. He says the lessons of Reeve’s Superman go deep, and influenced him more than he realized.

“Beyond my work itself, I try to stick up for what’s right. Don’t let someone bully other people, even if you know you’re going to get a whipping from someone else. I just try to be a good person. Recently, I chose to leave a job because of things I discovered. The things weren’t illegal, they weren’t hurting anybody, but I didn’t like the ethics of it. I think that’s the spirit of Superman. Knowing what’s right, and then doing what’s right.”

Andrew Menchaca also lives the hero life when he gets up each morning.

“I have idolized Superman to be something that I implement in my everyday life. I’m a Roadside Assistance driver and do tow trucks, and I honestly love pulling up and saving people.”

Is ‘Superman: The Movie’ relevant today?

As a simple theater-going experience, the audience — including those seeing it for the very first time — seemed to think so. They laughed as Clark Kent glanced at (and then quickly dismissed) the idea of changing in a barely-there phone booth. They cheered at the “helicopter catch.” There was not a sound in the house during the Lois Lane death scene. And they clapped rousingly at the final charming Superman smile flyby.

Margot Kidder as Lois Lane and Christopher Reeve as Superman in “Superman: The Movie” (1978)

However, there was an additional tone to the night that ran much deeper. One might describe it as the reaffirming quality of revisiting a much-needed wellspring. After 45 years, what struck the audience was not the change in cars, clothing, or movie-making. Reeve’s performance was just as heart-warming as ever, but truly that was not a surprise. What resonated was what this Superman embodied then and still does now — a timeless offering we all need, in every age, that is perhaps best summed up by Guy Chapman:

“After seeing the film again, what strikes me most about Reeve’s Superman is he’s sincere. He believes in what he stands for. Even when he gives an aside after saving Lois from the helicopter, he’s not lecturing. It’s more of a comforting, “Just thought you should know.” He’s not too big to be helpful in even the smallest ways.”

Christopher Reeve as Superman in “Superman: The Movie” (1978)

“He makes you believe things are going to be okay.”

Daniel Sanchez

Daniel has been an award-winning magazine art director for “Boy’s Life” and multiple major metropolitan city magazines, a writer for a Dallas newspaper, contributed to the book “Superman: The Richard Donner Years” by Jim Bowers and Brian McKernan, is an official researcher and designer for The Caped Wonder Network, and could not be more proud to have grown up to be an actual reporter for the Daily Planet.

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  1. […] If you haven’t looked up at a marquee this month and seen what might have been a bird or a plane, you may not be aware that select theaters worldwide have been offering special showings of the 1978 classic “Superman: The Movie” — starring Christopher Reeve in his genre-defining debut as the iconic champion of […]Christopher Reeve’s Superman is back, and still relevant after 45 years […]

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