“I think it’s been a little bit overanalyzed,” says Ilya Salkind, “because, really, a lot of the decisions were pretty logical and common sense. I want to clarify a little bit, because it’s much simpler than all of the things that have been said. I mean, Richard Donner did a fantastic first film, as we all know, and it was a tremendous success, and what happened after was really, I would say, normal film history. Things happened.”
Okay, great, so that’s all cleared up. It was normal film history! I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.
Continue reading Superman II 2.2: It Wasn’t Ilya’s Fault
Okay, let’s get into the money, because that’s the only thing that matters.
Superman: The Movie made 7 million dollars in its opening weekend in December 1978, and it was the #1 box office draw for 11 weeks, all the way into early March ’79. The total domestic box office was $134 million, making it the highest-grossing film of 1979.
To give you a sense of scale, there were only seven movies in the 1970s that grossed more than $100 million, and Superman was in the top five: Star Wars ($307m), Jaws ($260m), Grease ($160m), Animal House ($141m) and Superman ($134m), followed by Close Encounters of the Third Kind ($116m) and Kramer vs. Kramer ($106m).
So, yeah, it was a big hit, and a big deal. So, the question is: why didn’t they make any other superhero movies for basically a decade?
Continue reading Superman 1.100: One Hundred and Thirty-Four Million Dollars
Lois Lane is dead.
Now, you and I know that this is a comic book movie, and in superhero comics and other soap opera narratives, almost nobody dies permanently. Superman died in 1992, Spider-Man died in 2013, Wolverine died in 2014, and here in 2022, DC has just announced that in an upcoming issue of Justice League, they’re going to kill off all of their popular superheroes, and Zatanna. They always come back.
But Superman was the first comic book movie, and they hadn’t established any ground rules yet. The film has been ping-ponging from one genre to another, including psychedelic space opera, screwball comedy and James Bond villainy, and over the last ten minutes, it’s taken a strong swerve into disaster movie.
And if you watch 1970s disaster movies — The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno — then you know that there’s always one personable character who gets sacrificed, in service of the drama.
And Lois Lane is dead.
Continue reading Superman 1.98: Turn the World Around
I tell you what, today is not a good day to be living in Tinytown.
First, somebody dropped a midget missile on Li’l San Andreas Fault, which made a mess of the Golden Gate Microbridge. Then the model train set fell apart, endangering dozens of itty-bitty passengers.
And worst of all, the model of Hoover Dam has burst, and now the floodwaters are threatening to overwhelm an innocent community of dollhouses, ending playtime as we know it.
Continue reading Superman 1.98: That Dam Scene
Okay, we’re almost done with the story of Superman: The Movie, which means that it’s time to call in the lawyers. Last week, we talked about that mad moment in mid-November 1978, when executive producer Alexander Salkind told Warner Bros. that he wouldn’t release the final print of the movie in time for the premiere, unless they gave him another $15 million for foreign distribution rights. And just as they were wrapping up that little scheme, Salkind was arrested in Switzerland by Interpol, for a different but related crime.
Now, I’ve been writing a lot about the Salkinds and their bumbling financial crime syndicate, and people have asked me, “So what ultimately happened to them? Did they get caught? Did they get punished?” There’s no real mystery, so I might as well answer those questions now.
What happened to the Salkinds?
Nothing. They kept on making movies for another fifteen years, which got smaller and less successful until everyone got tired of them. Their last production was the 1992 movie Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, which was astonishingly badly-reviewed.
Did they get caught?
Yes, ceaselessly. Their production company folded in 1993, when Alexander’s son, Ilya, filed suit against his father for fraud and racketeering.
Did they get punished?
Nope. People like this never go to prison. They’re just forces of chaos, whirling through the world like Tasmanian Devils. They pick you up and spin you around, and then they go on their way, leaving you exhausted and confused, and with a different amount of money in your pocket. There’s no way to predict how much money you’ll have at the end of it, but it’s a different amount than when you started.
Continue reading Superman 1.97: Man of Steal
The main thing is, everybody loved Christopher Reeve.
Gene Siskel called him “totally believable,” and Jack Kroll called him “ridiculously good-looking” and “a delight”. Vincent Canby said “he manages to be both funny and comic-strip heroic without making a fool of himself,” and Roger Ebert said “Reeve sells the role; wrong casting here would have sunk everything.”
Even Pauline Kael said that Reeve was “immediately likable”, and she hated the film worse than she hated kidney stones and road accidents.
Continue reading Superman 1.96: Mixed Messages
1978 was not one of the golden years of movie novelizations. Star Wars had done very well in 1976, and the Close Encounters of the Third Kind novelization in 1977 did quite a bit toward helping people understand what the hell that movie was even about.
But the movie tie-in section at Waldenbooks was fairly grim in ’78: there was Jaws 2 and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, and novels based on some unloved Disney films: Pete’s Dragon, Return from Witch Mountain and The Cat from Outer Space. And that was about it.
The one thing that could have perked up the publishing category that year would be the novelization of the long-awaited Superman film, but Mario Puzo screwed us on that, so we got this instead.
Continue reading Superman 1.95b: A Small Amount of the Exciting Original Story of Superman: Last Son of Krypton
Snap, crackle, pop. Apparently, there’s an electrical power station somewhere in the Western hemisphere that’s experiencing some kind of electricity related fiasco.
“Watch that cable!” someone cries, like it’s my job to watch cables. “Someone try to pull the lead!” Somebody else shouts, “It’s impossible, it’s red hot!” There doesn’t seem to be a protocol for this kind of situation.
But Superman flies in, and he flips a big switch, which turns everything off and saves everyone. Then he points at somebody and says, “Gentlemen, is that man all right?” And I’m like, what man?
Continue reading Superman 1.95: Speak Truth to Power
The telephone trills.
It’s mid-November 1978 in sunny Los Angeles, and all four of the Warner Brothers, seated at their identical desks, reach for their four matching telephone receivers. “Hello?” they chirp, in unison. “These are the Warner Brothers.”
“Good afternoon, Mizter Brothers,” says the voice, in an imaginary Russo-Swiss-Mexican accent. “Zis is Alexander Salkind.”
Mr. Salkind is the executive producer of Superman: The Movie and the head of a bumbling, crumbling international crime syndicate, and he’s making a transatlantic person-to-persons call to make Warner Bros. an offer that they can’t refuse.
Continue reading Superman 1.94: The Shakedown
So I think I’ve cracked blockbusters, is the headline for today.
This project is a history of superhero movies, and one of my goals is to figure out how superhero movies work and what they’re for, so that we can tell the difference between a good one and a bad one. And because the concept of “superhero movie” is actually a subset of the larger concept “blockbuster movie”, I’ve been looking outside the genre to see if I could pick up some helpful clues.
So far, I’ve talked about Quo Vadis, which was the first big silent spectacle film, and The Birth of a Nation, the first American blockbuster, which invented most of what we know as the language of cinema. Recently, I looked at Gone With the Wind, which is still the highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation, as well as Spider-Man: No Way Home, our latest and greatest, which is basically a two and a half hour whiteboard exercise on how to fix seven previous movies.
And today, to pull it all together: the 1975 sneak-attack spectacular Jaws, the first modern blockbuster that set the standard for how a summertime adventure story is supposed to make us feel.
Continue reading Superman 1.93: The Fish Movie