- Jonathan Kent (Only appearance; dies)
- Jor-El (First appearance; dies)
- Lara (First appearance; dies)
- Lois Lane (First appearance)
- Martha Kent (Single appearance)
- Jimmy Olsen (First appearance)
- Perry White (First appearance)
- Lex Luthor (First appearance)
- Zod (First appearance)
- Lana Lang (First appearance)
- Samuel Lane (Single appearance) (Cameo)
- Ella Lane (Single appearance) (Cameo)
- Brad Wilson (First appearance)
- Kryptonian Science Council (First appearance; dies)
- Vond-Ah (Only appearance; dies)
- Lucy Lane (Mentioned only)
- President of the United States (Mentioned only)
- United States Army
- United States Navy
- Metropolis Police Department
- Harry (Only appearance; dies)
- Officer Mooney (Single appearance)
- Rex Reed (Single appearance)
- Donnerverse (First appearance)
- Krypton (Destroyed)
- Phantom Zone
- North Pole
- United States of America
- Addis Ababa (Mentioned only)
- Daily Planet Newspaper
- Metropolis Post
- Green Kryptonite
- Two 500 Megaton Nuclear Warhead Missiles
- Kryptonian Crystals (First appearance)
Thirty years ago on the planet Krypton, leading scientist Jor-El tries to warn the Council about the impending doom of Krypton's destruction, but the members of the Council fear that Jor-El is inciting sedition with his doomsday forecast. Earlier on Jor-El had to deal with General Zod, who along with two other dangerous criminals Ursa and Non were inciting sedition against Krypton's government; they were punished and sentenced to eternal imprisonment in the Phantom Zone. Realizing that his warnings are falling on deaf ears, Jor-El returns home to his wife Lara, saying that now is the time to put their young son Kal-El into the star ship which he intends to launch and send to the planet called Earth. Lara sees the Earth as being primitive and that Kal-El will be a stranger among them, but Jor-El assures her that his son shall never be alone. As they watch the star ship rise into the sky and depart from Krypton, the ground crumbles underneath their feet and everyone else's until both Krypton and its sun explodes.
The star ship carrying Kal-El, however, survives and travels through space, causing the child to age a few years while also educating him. It burns up as it enters the Earth's atmosphere and crash-lands in a nearby Smallville field, causing Jonathan and Martha Kent to pull over and investigate. They see a young three-year-old child emerge from the wreckage unharmed. The Kents discuss what they wish to do with the child when the truck falls off the jack, almost crushing Jonathan who was working underneath it to change a flat tire. Kal-El easily lifts up the truck, making the Kents wonder if the child really came from outer space somewhere.
At age 18, Kal-El, who is now Clark Kent, is busy putting away equipment for the Smallville High's football team when his friend Lana Lang invites him over to listen to records. Clark accepts the offer, but realizes that he has so much work to do and so watches Lana drive off with her friends. Frustrated, Clark kicks a football high into the air and then races back home at super-speed, amazingly outracing an approaching locomotive. His adoptive father Jonathan Kent tells him that he was brought here to Earth with the powers he has for a purpose, and it wasn't for showing off in front of his friends. As Clark tries to get his father to race him to the house, Jonathan suffers a fatal stroke and dies, making Clark feel ashamed that with all his powers, he couldn't save his father.
Sometime following the funeral, Clark Kent is called into the barn, where he uncovers the wrecked star ship and finds the very thing that has called him: a glowing green crystal. He says goodbye to his mother Martha and then sets out toward the North Pole, where he flings the green crystal into the frozen Arctic Sea. From where it lands, it creates a structure made of slanted long white crystals into which Clark enters. By inserting a crystal into a tube, he causes the image of his real father Jor-El appear before him, to instruct him on what he needs to know about himself and about the powers he possesses, learning that his real name is Kal-El. He spends 12 years in the Fortress with the image of Jor-El teaching him, and then later at the end of the teaching, as Jor-El's image departs, Clark Kent now stands in the uniform of a superhero and soon takes off to his destiny.
Arriving in Metropolis, Clark Kent is hired on as a reporter for the Daily Planet by its editor Perry White, who immediately assigns him to work alongside his best reporter Lois Lane. As Lois shows Clark around the city and the Planet, a man in a suit named Otis makes his way through the underground subway tunnels until he enters a secret passageway that leads him to the palatial residence of Lex Luthor, the greatest criminal mastermind. Lex takes the paper Otis delivers him and notices that the U.S. military is planning to do some nuclear missile tests soon, which he hopes to use for his latest scheme of owning what would eventually become valuable real estate.
That night, as Lois attempts to take off on an assignment in a Daily Planet helicopter, it spins out of control and teeters dangerously off the edge of the roof. Lois screams for help as she hangs on for dear life, slowly losing her grip. Clark hears her call and quickly changes into his uniform to rescue both Lois and the helicopter. After landing safely back on the helipad, Lois asks who he is, and all he could say is, "a friend", before he takes off, causing her to faint.
But more surprises would come that night: a would-be cat burglar would be scared by the sight of a man standing in front of him on the side of a building; a group of bank robbers escaping on a boat would have them and their boat hauled all the way to the Metropolis police headquarters; a little girl's cat would be gently rescued from a tree by a flying man; and Air Force One would have a "replacement engine" when lightning struck one of its engines, causing it to nearly crash-land. The flying man behind it all would make front-page news everywhere, and Perry wants his reporters to get the scoop on who this man is.
Lois, however, is given a secret message by "a friend" to meet him at her place that evening. Believing that it's the same person who rescued her, Lois waits until he shows up, then casually eases her way into doing an interview with him to find out who he is, where he came from, what his abilities and weaknesses are. Her friend invites Lois to take her out on a flight to test that particular ability together, and so she bravely holds on as he flies her all around the city, around the Statue of Liberty, and even high into the clouds. It is after he takes her back to her apartment and flies away that Lois gives him the suitable name -- Superman. With her interview in the papers, Lex Luthor now plots on how he can get rid of a possible threat to his plans.
One day as Clark Kent is pulled into Perry White's office for a talk, his ears pick up a high-pitched shrill and the voice of a man threatening to detonate a bomb in the middle of the city. He quickly changes into Superman and follows the voice to the underground lair of Lex Luthor, where he is subjected to a gauntlet of dangers that he survives through without a scratch before entering. Now having Superman's attention, Luthor shows him the plan of detonating two nuclear devices that he and his lackeys have reprogrammed to specific locations: the first toward the San Andreas Fault where it will cause a massive earthquake that will level much of California into the sea; the other heading toward Hackensack, New Jersey. Luthor also tricks Superman into opening a lead-lined box that had a chunk of Kryptonite attached to a chain, which Luthor wraps around the Kryptonian's neck as its radiation weakens him before being dumped into Luthor's pool to drown.
While Luthor watches the launch of the nuclear missiles, Eva Tessmacher fears for the life of her mother in Hackensack and so bravely rescues Superman for the promise that he would stop the missile heading for the East Coast first, throwing the chain with the Kryptonite away into a sewer grating. Racing as quickly as he could after the missile, Superman manages to grab it from behind and push it toward outer space where it will detonate harmlessly. But as he looks back, he sees that the other missile has hit its target, and now he has to stop a massive earthquake from destroying millions of lives -- including those of his friends Jimmy Olson and Lois Lane, who are assigned to do a story about the land grab on the western side of the San Andreas Fault.
Though Superman succeeds in replugging the fault line before it completely collapsed, the aftershocks still do some major damage: the Golden Gate Bridge slowly falls apart, causing a school bus to be pushed dangling off the side of the bridge; a rip in the ground across a railroad track threatens to derail a racing locomotive; the Hoover Dam is cracking and is about to deluge a nearby community. As Superman deals with each of these dangers as fast and as efficiently as possible, yet he doesn't come to Lois' rescue in time before she is crushed to death in her car as a rip in the ground swallows up her vehicle. Enraged by this loss, Superman causes time to miraculously reverse itself, undoing all the damage that the detonated missile has caused, and then causes it to go forward again, so all that Lois remembers is that her car just ran out of gas.
After meeting with Lois and Jimmy again to make sure everything is all right with them, particularly with Lois who is now starting to cast eyes on him, Superman brings Luthor and Otis into custody with the police, putting them in prison where they belong.
- Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent
- Marlon Brando as Jor-El
- Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor
- Ned Beatty as Otis
- Jackie Cooper as Perry White
- Glenn Ford as Pa Kent
- Trevor Howard as 1st Elder
- Margot Kidder as Lois Lane
- Jack O'Halloran as Non
- Valerie Perrine as Eve Teschmacher
- Maria Schell as Vond-Ah
- Terence Stamp as General Zod
- Phyllis Thaxter as Ma Kent
- Susannah York as Lara
- While the film was distributed by Warner Brothers, it was independently produced.
- One draft of the movie had Superman in New York, where he'd encounter Telly Savalas (star of the TV show Kojak). Superman would give Savalas a tap on the head and say Kojak's catchphrase: "Who loves ya, baby?". When Tom Mankiewicz came onboard, he removed the scene. Kojak ended up being cancelled over six months before the film was released.
- Perry White's famous "Don't call me Chief" line to Jimmy Olsen ends up becoming "Don't call me Sugar" after he asks Jimmy to get him a coffee black with no sugar.
- As a humorous jab to the tradition of Clark Kent ducking into a telephone booth to transform into Superman, Clark Kent pauses as he notices that a nearby telephone booth is too small and not secluded enough for him to change.
- Though Lynda Carter was busy acting as Wonder Woman in a television series of the same name, she attended this film's premiere.
- Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill make uncredited cameo appearances as Lois Lane's father and mother. The two actors are the first to portray Superman and Lois Lane in live-action films. They starred in the 1948 theatrical serial Superman and its 1950 sequel Atom Man vs. Superman. Neill subsequently portrayed Lois Lane on the 1950s television series Adventures of Superman beginning in its second season. Neill would later make a cameo appearance in Superman Returns.
- Characters from Superman (Movie)
- Other things related to Superman (Movie)
- Movie Gallery: Superman (Movie)
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