Tag Archives: blockbusters

Superman 1.98: Turn the World Around

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

Superman 1.93: The Fish Movie

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

Superman 1.87: The Other Movie About Black People

I want to check back in about the history of blockbuster movies, which I’ve been doing sporadically so I can figure out how they work. So far, I’ve talked about the first blockbuster, the 1912 Italian epic Quo Vadis, which set the bar for the kind of large-scale spectacle that audiences could expect from the high-prestige movies. We’ve also discussed the first American blockbuster, the 1915 Ku Klux Klan recruitment film The Birth of a Nation, which pioneered most of the foundational principles of narrative filmmaking, and also made the case for the continued oppression and second-class status of Black people in the United States.

And today, we’re going to look at Gone With the Wind, the flabbergastingly successful 1939 four-hour film epic about the death of the Old South, and… well, the birth of a nation, I suppose.

Continue reading Superman 1.87: The Other Movie About Black People

Superman 1.68: Nineteen-fifteen

I’d like to get back to the history of blockbusters, because it’s going to help us understand how big movies like Superman work, and what audiences respond to. A few weeks ago in “Dawn of the Blockbuster“, I wrote about the 1913 Italian epic Quo Vadis, which was the first feature film specifically designed to amaze the audience with grandeur and spectacle. Today, I want to talk about The Birth of a Nation, the 1915 American movie which was more popular and more profitable than any other film in the first three decades of motion pictures.

The Birth of a Nation is one of the most influential films ever made, an eye-popping, jaw-dropping spectacle that invented most of what we know as the language of cinema. It’s also one of the most evil films ever made, a grotesque three-hour Ku Klux Klan recruitment film that grievously damaged race relations in America, in ways that we’re still feeling today. Sometimes movies can be several things at the same time.

Continue reading Superman 1.68: Nineteen-fifteen

Superman 1.50: Dawn of the Blockbuster

So here we are, my 50th post about Superman: The Movie, and today I’ve decided that I’m going to mark this mini-milestone by talking about something else.

Because this isn’t specifically a Superman blog; it’s a history of blockbuster superhero movies — and so far, I haven’t really explored what a “blockbuster” is, and how it works. So today, I want to go back to the beginning of that story, starting with a 1913 silent film from Italy about the persecution of Christians in ancient Rome. No, wait, come back, it’s interesting.

Continue reading Superman 1.50: Dawn of the Blockbuster

Superman 1.13: … Except for Star Wars

A planet explodes into fragments, and boils away into the void. A tiny space capsule streaks across the stars, heading for a crash landing on a seemingly unimportant planet. An orphan with a destiny grows up on a farm, unaware that he’s the latest in a line of noble heroes.

With a blend of space opera, high-stakes action, romance, danger and comic relief on an epic scale, Superman: The Movie was the biggest, most exciting cinema spectacle of its time… except for Star Wars, which did the same stuff but bigger, better, and eighteen months earlier.

Continue reading Superman 1.13: … Except for Star Wars

Superman 1.3: Brando and the Money

From “Godfather” to “Superfather”? Marlon Brando has been offered a reported “unprecedented” salary to play the father — or older brother — of “Superman” for Alexander Salkind. (Variety, June 30, 1976)

The two Superman films, to be lensed simultaneously, will ring up a super budget of $25-30,000,000. Of that figure, $2,700,000, goes to Marlon Brando who plays papa to “Superman”. (Variety, Dec  27, 1976)

Even Brando, long-famed for his temperament, posed no problems. Perhaps even he could hardly believe the money he was being paid for his 12 days — $2.5 million, the most expensive salary on record. (LA Times, July 31, 1977)

We’ve read that white-wigged Marlon Brando, for just 12 days of work as Jor-El, Superman’s father on the planet Krypton, snagged $2.7 million or $3.7 million or $4 million. (New York Times, December 10, 1978)

There are a handful of stories that make up the core mythology of Superman: The Movie — the dinner in Paris, the lollipop, the dentist, the workout, the flying unit, the extra director. But the most important and enduring story — the thing that everyone is sure to mention when they talk about the movie — is Brando and the money.

Continue reading Superman 1.3: Brando and the Money