Superman the movie (1978) filming locations

Superman the movie (1978) filming locations
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1978 Superman the movie filming locations

An alien orphan is sent from his dying planet to Earth, where he grows up to become his adoptive home’s first and greatest superhero.

Director: Richard Donner.
Writers: Jerry Siegel (creator), Joe Shuster (creator)
Stars: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman.

The wheatfields of ‘Smallville’, Clark Kent’s childhood home, are around Calgary in Alberta, Canada, as is the beautiful lakeside setting where Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and his cohorts commandeer missiles.

The ‘Daily Planet’ building, out of which Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) works, is the splendid art-deco News Building, 220 East 42nd Street between Second and Third Avenues, New York, formerly the New York Daily News Building (the fifties TV series of Superman famously used Los Angeles City Hall, 200 North Spring Street, downtown Los Angeles).

The roof, from which Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) is rescued from the ’copter crash, is the US Post Office Building, 450 Lexington Avenue at 45th Street (though, in 1992, a 32-story office tower was added to the historic eight-story building).

Lois’s apartment is 240 Central Park South, from which she and Supes go for a night-time spin around the Statue of Liberty.

The lair of Lex Luthor is supposedly beneath Grand Central Station, and that is the real concourse, where Otis (Ned Beatty) is tailed to the rail lines beneath, though the hideout itself is an imaginative set built at Pinewood Studios in the UK.

Superman’s feats involve saving a school bus on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and rescuing Jimmie Olsen from the collapsing Boulder Dam, Nevada.

The ‘San Andreas Fault’, which opens up to swallow Lois, was filmed at at Red Rock State Park near Gallup, New Mexico (the area has been renamed Superman Canyon).

Superman the movie ( 1978) film location

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Film Facts

Marlon Brando refused to memorize most of his lines in advance. In the scene where he puts infant Kal-El into the escape pod, he was actually reading his lines from the diaper of the baby.

According to Roger Moore’s autobiography he witnessed Christopher Reeve walking through the canteen at Pinewood Studios in full Superman costume oblivious to the swooning female admirers he left in his wake. When he did the same thing dressed as Clark Kent no one paid any attention.

Clark Kent and Superman’s hair part on opposite sides.

To obtain the musculature to convincingly play Superman, Christopher Reeve underwent a bodybuilding regime supervised by David Prowse, the man who played Darth Vader in the original "Star Wars" trilogy.

Initially, Gene Hackman refused to cut off his mustache to play Lex Luthor. In early one-sheets of the movie his face is featured with a mustache. Before Richard Donner and Hackman met face-to-face, Donner proposed to Hackman that if he would cut his mustache, Donner would cut his too, and Hackman agreed. It turned out later that Donner did not have a mustache at all. He wore a false moustache that he peeled off at the last moment.

Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood and James Caan were all offered the movie’s title role. All three turned it down: Redford wanted too much money; Eastwood said he was too busy; Caan said, "There’s no way I’m getting into that silly suit."

Marlon Brando sued the Salkinds and Warner Brothers for million because he felt cheated out of the film’s considerable box office profits. This is the main reason why footage of Brando does not appear in Superman II (1980).

Richard Donner was disgusted that production designer John Barry and cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth received no recognition from the Academy for their work on the film. He was particularly aggrieved that one of the nominees for Best Art Direction was "California Suite" which merely duplicated an existing hotel, whilst Barry created an entire fictional city and a fortress in the Arctic.

Gene Hackman flatly refused to shave his head or wear a "bald cap" to play Lex Luthor. To get around this issue, Hackman’s own natural hair was styled differently from scene to scene to give the appearance of him having changed hairpieces. Numerous hairpieces are visible in his underground complex. Hackman relented and wore a skullcap in one scene: when he is taken to prison by Superman. It is visible when he angrily rips off his hairpiece to address the prison’s warden who questions who he is. Hackman was also forced to shave off his mustache, which he was keen on keeping at the time.

Christopher Reeve dubbed all of Jeff East’s dialogue as young Clark Kent due to the perceived discrepancy in their voices so as to maintain on-screen continuity. East himself is never heard during the film.

The credits sequence cost more than most films made up to that point.

For his portrayal of Clark Kent, Christopher Reeve based the performance on Cary Grant’s character in Bringing Up Baby (1938).

Marlon Brando’s salary made him the highest paid movie star in the world at the time.

It was Marlon Brando’s idea to have Jor-El wear the same "S" symbol on his clothes that Kal-El would later wear as Superman.

The film was originally meant to end with a cliffhanger – the nuclear missile that Superman deflects would career off into space where it would explode, releasing the three villains we see at the start of the film. Richard Donner decided that such an ending was too gimmicky, and that if audiences liked the first film, they’d come for the second regardless.

Christopher Reeve worked out so much during the making of the film that the traveling matte shots taken of him at the beginning of the shoot did not match the later shots, and had to be re-taken.

Richard Donner was not asked to return to complete Superman II (1980) because he had publicly criticized the Salkinds. A similar fate largely befell Margot Kidder who openly supported Donner; Kidder found her role as Lois Lane reduced to a mere cameo in Superman III (1983).

When they meet at Lois Lane’s penthouse, Lois asks Superman how fast he can fly. He responds that he never timed himself. At the end of the film when he orbits the earth to set back time, at peak speed he appears to orbit the earth 44 times in approximately 10.5 seconds at a diameter of approximately 1.75 times the earth’s diameter. This means at peak speed he traveled approximately 183,000 miles per second. The speed of light is 186,000 per second. So essentially Superman was traveling at the speed of light, which is possibly the director’s intention, and is extraordinarily "faster than a speeding bullet"!

Steven Spielberg was offered the chance to direct this film, but the producers balked at the salary he asked for. They decided to wait until they saw how "this fish movie" (Jaws (1975)) that he had just completed did at the box office. The movie was a huge success, and Spielberg went on to other projects.

Because Christopher Reeve was such an unknown actor at the time, the credits of the movie and nearly every trailer for the film list both Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman before the name of the person playing the title character.

The movie was filming in New York City on the night of the notorious 1977 blackout. The New York "Daily News" was able to publish despite the blackout, as the film company let the newspaper use their generators.

Marlon Brando was paid .7 million and a percentage of the profits for playing Jor-El for 12 shooting days. The fee (plus the percentage) also covered the sequel, which was being simultaneously shot with the original. Brando did not appear in the sequel, however, as he was involved in a lawsuit with Ilya Salkind over what Brando said was the producer’s non-payment of his profit-participation for this film. He ultimately received about million for his ten minutes on film. The footage shot for the sequel is used in Superman Returns (2006).

Director Richard Donner has a cameo in the movie as the skeptical man who talks to Clark Kent in front of the televisions, right after the first appearance of Superman.

Casting director Lynn Stalmaster was the first to suggest Christopher Reeve for the title role but Donner and the Salkinds felt he was too young and too skinny. He nevertheless did an excellent screen test that blew the director and producers away. Once he had the part, Reeve underwent a strict physical training session for months, going from 170 pounds to 212 in the period from pre-production to filming.

Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were both delighted with the results.

On his first day on the set Marlon Brando suggested to Richard Donner that the cameras roll during rehearsal. Brando reportedly said, "Who knows? We might get lucky." According to Donner that very first take was the one that was used in the finished film.

The film was 3 years in planning, 2 years in filming at the height of which there were over a thousand full time crew on 11 units spread over 3 studios and 8 countries. Over a million feet of film was used and at the time it had the highest production budget

Richard Donner had effectively shot 75% of Superman II (1980) when he was fired by the Salkinds.

Margot Kidder was originally supposed to sing the song "Can You Read My Mind" for the flying sequence with Superman but director Richard Donner disliked it and changed it to voiceover.

The Superman "S" logo that Marlon Brando wears on his white cloak looks the same as the one used for George Reeves costume in the TV show Adventures of Superman (1952). This was probably an homage. Since this film, the idea of the "S" symbol being a Kryptonian family crest of the House of El has been incorporated into Superman’s comic books and subsequent adaptations.

The end titles sequence is more than seven minutes long, a record at the time of the film’s release in 1978.

Jack Klugman was the first choice to play Perry White but he turned it down at the last minute. The part was then offered to Eddie Albert who’d tentatively agreed to the part but then demanded more money. With filming of Perry due to start the next day frantic calls to the States for a replacement actor resulted in Keenan Wynn accepting the part. After a tiring flight the 61 year old was rushed to the studio for hectic tests after which he complained of chest pains and was rushed to hospital where he collapsed from extreme exhaustion resulting in the part being recast with Jackie Cooper.

A scene in which Jor-El explains to Superman why he must keep his secret identity was added for the Director’s Cut.

To achieve the shot of young Clark Kent kicking a football into orbit, an air cannon was placed underground and the football fired from it.

In the scenes where the burglar is scaling the office building and falling off it, the guy in his office whose window he passes was strapped into the chair and hanging upside down. Most of the building was horizontal, with the footage flipped to make it look as though they were actually on the side of the building

The filmmakers made it a priority to shoot all of Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman’s scenes first as they were the most in-demand actors and were committed to other projects straight after.

Pre-production began in Rome with most attention being spent on unsuccessful experiments to make Superman fly. Ilya Salkind later bemoaned the fact that they lost over million on aborted flying tests. The Italian pre-production had to be abandoned when it was discovered that Marlon Brando couldn’t visit Italy because there was a warrant out for his arrest accusing him of an obscenity charge thanks to his involvement in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972).

Christopher Reeve proved an even greater asset than anticipated after being cast. For instance, Reeve flew gliders as a hobby and used that piloting experience to make Superman’s flying feel more believable, and his performance as both Superman and Clark Kent was roundly praised in making the superhero’s secret identity seem surprisingly convincing.

Dustin Hoffman turned down the part of Lex Luthor.

In addition to playing Clark Kent and Superman, Christopher Reeve also supplied the voice of the Metropolis air traffic controller. He is heard on the radio just before the helicopter crash, and during the Air Force One scene.

After the success of Rocky (1976), Sylvester Stallone lobbied hard to play Clark Kent/Superman, but he was ultimately turned down (he was deemed "too Italian"). Stallone found out that Marlon Brando, who had casting approval, turned him down for the role, just as he had allegedly vetoed Burt Reynolds’ casting as Sonny in The Godfather (1972). (Responding to that rumor, Brando told Playboy Magazine interviewer Lawrence Gobel "Francis [Francis Ford Coppola] would never have cast Burt Reynolds.") Stallone subsequently went on Merv Griffin’s talk show and denounced Brando, saying he had no respect for the superstar as an actor or as a man. This surprised many as the early Stallone (as had the early Burt Reynolds) had clearly modeled himself after Brando, particularly Brando’s characterization of Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954) in his own role as Stanley Rosiello in The Lord’s of Flatbush (1974), a man named "Stanley" (a la Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) who had a coop of pigeons on his tenement roof (like Terry Malloy). This mimicry might have been one of the the reasons Brando reportedly had such antipathy for both actors. Stallone later explained that he felt that it was hypocritical that Brando, whom stated on numerous occasions that he took the role of Jor-El simply as a paycheck and nothing more, vetoed him for the role of Superman. Unlike Brando, Stallone grew up emulating and idolizing Clark Kent/Superman (and continues to) as well as having a great love for the comics mythology. Ironically, in his review for the Stallone film Rocky (1976), Roger Ebert called Stallone "the next Marlon Brando".

His romance with Lois leads him to contradict Jor-El’s orders to avoid altering human history, time traveling to save her from dying. Superman instead takes the advice of Jonathan Kent, his father on Earth.

To obtain the ‘glowing’ effect of the clothing on Krypton, the wardrobe department spent weeks sewing tiny glass balls on to each actor’s apparel. If the "material" was accidentally touched, the oils on the actor’s hands would interfere with the lighting effect, leaving a dull patch on the costume.

Originally, the helicopter scene was simply going to have Superman save Lois from falling. Later, Richard Donner decided to have the helicopter drop and the modified scene was called The Double Jeopardy Scene.

Numerous actors were considered for the part of Superman/Clark Kent: Muhammad Ali, Warren Beatty, John Beck, Charles Bronson, James Caan, Sam Elliot, Dustin Hoffman, Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, Nick Nolte, Al Pacino, Robert Redford, Arnold Schwarzenegger Ryan O’Neal, Jeff Bridges, Jan-Michael Vincent, David Soul, Robert Wagner, Christopher Walken, Jon Voight and Elton John, with the front-runners being Nolte and Voight after the role was turned down by Beatty and Redford. Among the unknowns tested for the role were Ilya Salkind’s wife’s dentist (footage of the dentist testing for the part of Superman can, in fact, be seen in the supplemental section of the DVD). Eventually, the Salkinds cast an almost unknown actor they kept coming back to from earlier in their search – Christopher Reeve (who had only one other film and a television soap opera to his credit).

Peter Boyle auditioned for the part of Otis, Lex Luthor’s bumbling accomplice.

A man riding a motorcycle dragging a bag of dirt was used to make the effect of Clark running down the dirt road after jumping in front of the train.

According to the DVD commentary by Richard Donner, Goldie Hawn was the first choice for the role of Eve Teschmacher. When Hawn wanted too much money, Donner approached Ann-Margret, who also asked too much.

Composer John Williams used the same orchestra that he also used for his themes for all six Star Wars movies (he used the London Symphony Orchestra), hence how some of his film scores sound like Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977).

The Bill Haley song "Rock Around the Clock" is heard on a car radio just before Glenn Ford’s final scene. Ford starred in Blackboard Jungle (1955), the film that helped launch the Rock and Roll era by popularizing "Rock Around the Clock".

It took 3-4 hours every day to apply the make-up to Jeff East to make him resemble Christopher Reeve.

Along with Marlon Brando, Mario Puzo also sued the Salkinds for non-payment of fees.

During the scene in which Superman and Lois go flying together and then Superman flies away, there is no cut between Superman flying away and Clark showing up at Lois’s door. This was done using a prerecorded movie of Superman flying away on a screen with Lois standing in front of it. Then, as she walks away from the balcony, so crosses from the screen to the set with her apartment where she opens the door to reveal the real-time Clark Kent.

Christopher Reeve was actually a qualified hang glider pilot, this is mentioned when describing him as a natural when it came to the flying scenes.

Surpassed Giant (1956) to become the highest grossing film in Warner Bros. history up to that time. It has since been surpassed.

Both William Friedkin and Sam Peckinpah were offered the chance to direct. Friedkin turned down the offer outright. Peckinpah dropped out of the running when he produced a gun during a meeting with Ilya Salkind.

In its initial run, the film topped the box office charts for 13 consecutive weeks.

The Mario Puzo screenplay that Richard Donner inherited (and quickly rewrote) included one infamous camp moment where Lex Luthor encountered Telly Savalas playing Kojak in a railway station. Kojak then offered Luthor a lollipop and asked him his trademark line "Who loves ya, baby?".

Much of the footage for what would become Superman II (1980) was written and shot simultaneously with the original. Before shooting was complete for the sequel, however, director Richard Donner was fired and replaced with Richard Lester, who re-shot most of the footage directed by Donner.

Richard Donner first asked Jerry Goldsmith to do the score, and Goldsmith agreed. However, a schedule conflict came about and John Williams eagerly replaced Goldsmith, who six years later would write the music for Supergirl (1984).

The first baby Kal-El in the flight sequence of the escape capsule was played by Elizabeth Sweetman. The filming took place at Pinewood in October 1978 when Elizabeth was 6 months old. She earned £40 per day for four days work, netting a grand total of £120 after agency fee deductions.

A number of scenes were shot for the movie but not used in the theatrical version. Among them are: Extended dialogue scenes between Jor-El and his fellow Kryptonians; a scene of baby Kal-El’s space pod flying past the Phantom Zone-trapped villains; a scene of a child Lois Lane seeing Clark Kent running extremely fast from a train window; a scene in which Ma Kent tries to wake up a still-sleeping Clark; an additional dialogue between Superman and Jor-El in the Fortress of Solitude; a scene in which Superman is pelted with bullets, fire, and ice as he approaches Luthor’s hideout; a scene in which Otis has to feed Luthor’s "babies" (some type of animal or monster we never see on screen,) and a scene where Luthor attempts to feed Miss Teschmacher to those same "babies" after she sets Superman free. Although not used in the theatrical cut, most of these scenes were worked into the extended DVD versions. All of the scenes, used in the extended version or not, can be found in the four-disc DVD special edition of the film.

Jack Nicholson and Gene Wilder were both considered for the role of Lex Luthor. Nicholson, who went on to play the Joker in Batman (1989), was considered to play Luthor in a Superman film project in the 1990s that was ultimately shelved.

Richard Donner was originally planning to direct Omen II: Damien (1978) when he was hired to direct this film for ,000,000. Donner began by throwing out the script and hiring Tom Mankiewicz to write him a new one.

According to Jeff East, during the shot in which young Clark jumps in front of the train, he was nearly hit by the train. But Richard Hackman grabbed him just in time and he avoided being injured.

The producers wanted Joan Crawford for the role of Ma Kent. Unfortunately, Crawford was too ill to take the part and died shortly before production began.

Paul Newman was offered the choice of playing Superman, Lex Luthor or Jor-El for the fee of million. Newman wasn’t interested in any of them.

Marlon Brando reputedly suggested that his cameo role as Jor-El be done by him in voice over only, with the character’s image onscreen being a glowing, levitating green bagel. Unsure if Brando was joking or not, the film’s producers formally rejected the suggestion.

The original Superman costume was going to be a much darker blue but this became transparent with the blue screen for the special effects.

The movie’s original ending had Superman saving California, restructuring the San Andreas fault and then throwing the second missile into space which cracked the Phantom Zone and releasing the three super-villains. Superman turning the world around was originally conceived as the ending of Superman II (1980) to make Lois forget Superman’s secret identity.

The background for this film and its three sequels was based in the original Superman comic book ‘mythology’, which was changed in the mid-1980’s. This accounts for various small differences between current comic books and the films, such as (in the comics) Jonathan Kent living well into Superman’s adulthood and various other superheroes occupying the same world (each was originally confined to their own "universe").

Dedicated "with love and respect" to the memory of director of photography Geoffrey Unsworth, who had died before the Superman premiere.

Richard Donner had a single word, printed in big letters, on numerous signs, sent to every creative department involved with this film: VERISIMILITUDE. "It’s a word that refers to being real . . . not realistic – yes, there IS a difference – but real," explained Donner. "It was a constant reminder to ourselves that, if we gave into the temptation we knew there would be to parody Superman, we would only be fooling ourselves."

Jeff East, who plays Clark Kent as a teenager, auditioned to play him as an adult. He also auditioned for the role of Jimmy Olsen.

Mario Puzo’s scripts proved to be too epic and too expensive so the team of David Newman and Robert Benton was brought in to hone them down. Benton was committed to directing The Late Show (1977) so Leslie Newman – David’s wife – came on board, mainly to write Lois Lane’s dialog. Their rewrite was more campy than Puzo’s and even included a cameo appearance by Kojak, the popular TV detective.

Richard Lester agreed to come on board as he was still owed money from the Salkinds for working on The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge (1974).

Among the actresses who screen tested for the role of Lois Lane were Anne Archer, Lesley Ann Warren, Deborah Raffin, Susan Blakely, Stockard Channing, and April Byron. One of the reasons Margot Kidder was chosen over them was the fact that she was the only one who saw the humor in the line "What color of underwear am I wearing?"

The villains at the marina were all stunt performers from Kojak (1973).

Gene Hackman was initially reluctant to take the part of Lex Luthor, as he felt it may damage his reputation as a serious actor.

Richard Donner spent virtually a year working on the 2001 DVD release, reinstating some footage and preparing several making-of documentaries.

The helicopter scene was originally meant to be shot on the top of the then Pan Am building until they suffered a horrific real life accident on the heliport that killed several passengers.

The boat used in the film was comandeered by the police to rescue a would be suicide from the East River.

Legend has it that Nick Nolte was offered the part of Superman, but said he’d only take it if they agreed to make Clark Kent a schizophrenic.

Richard Gere was a candidate to play Superman.

Geoffrey Unsworth believed that he accidentally caused the infamous blackout of 1977 when he plugged a spotlight to a lamppost during the shooting of the film.

As the production budget and shooting schedule escalated, Richard Donner found the Salkinds constantly on his back. Richard Lester was brought in to mediate the relationship between the director and his producers as both parties refused to talk to each other.

The biggest budgeted film from Warner Brothers at the time of its release.

Mario Puzo was hired as the initial writer to give the script additional credibility.

Christopher Reeve attended a Special Olympics fund-raiser held at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s house for the film’s premiere in 1978.

In a documentary on the making of the film, director Richard Donner recalled how he had written down the first pieces of information he received regarding the film onto the back of a business card. He held onto the card as a souvenir, and displays it in the documentary Taking Flight (2004). Close examination of this card reveals that, at one point, Nick Nolte was being considered for a role in the film.

Jeff East, who plays the young Clark Kent, had his voice dubbed by Christopher Reeve, although he knew nothing about it at the time. East wasn’t happy with the decision as it was done without his permission. It was some years later that he resolved his differences with Reeve.

Richard Donner was offered the job of directing while he was sitting on the toilet.

The closing titles credit five different second unit directors. According to Richard Donner, at one point there were seven units filming simultaneously.

The green remote-control Dodge can be seen again all fixed up in the sequel.

William Goldman was approached to write the screenplay as was Leigh Brackett. Ilya Salkind hired Alfred Bester but Alexander Salkind didn’t think he was famous enough so he hired Mario Puzo instead on a 0,000 salary.

James Brolin, Lyle Waggoner and Perry King all auditioned for the part of the Man of Steel.

Larry Hagman was only supposed to be filming for 3 days but because of the terribly unpredictable weather the crew experienced in Calgary, he was there for nearly a month.

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