In 1978, Superman: The Movie was released in the US and changed Hollywood forever. As one of the first big-budget superhero movies, Superman had major stars and cutting-edge special effects, earning critical acclaim and record breaking box office. It made a star out of the relatively unknown actor Christopher Reeve, set up a franchise that continued throughout the 1980s and made tons of money for the studios. It also raised the profile of the comic book hero Superman, who’s kept his popularity up to 2016’s Batman v Superman.
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Many of the big-budget superhero movies of today owe a great debt to Superman, not the least of which was 2006’s Superman Returns. It seems only right that we look back on the movie to see what the cast has been up to. Some of them have passed away or retired, but other actors are still acting even today. A few were defined by their roles in Superman, but for others, the movie was just one of many famous roles they went on to play. As we come to the 40th anniversary of the first time we believed a man could fly, CBR will show you what happened to 15 of the cast.
15. CHRISTOPHER REEVE (SUPERMAN)
Christopher Reeve took on the title role of Kal-El, the alien from Krypton who came to Earth and became the titular superhero. Reeve’s career was defined by this role, earning praise for how he played nerdy Clark Kent and the heroic Superman. Even while filming the Superman series, Reeve acted in other movies like 1980’s Somewhere in Time. After Superman IV: The Quest for Peace in 1987, Reeve retired from playing Superman and continued acting in movies like 1993’s Remains of the Day.
Tragically, Reeve was thrown from a horse in 1995 and suffered injuries that left him a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. While continuing to act in Smallville and a 1998 remake of Rear Window, Reeve became an advocate for paralysis sufferers and promoted neurological research. He founded the Christopher Reeve Foundation and co-founded the Reeve-Irvine Research Center before he died in 2004.
14. GENE HACKMAN
Gene Hackman performed as criminal mastermind Lex Luthor, who planned to destroy California with earthquakes that would make his desert property into prime real estate. By the time Hackman appeared in Superman, he was already a critically acclaimed actor who had been nominated for three Academy Awards and won his first Best Actor award for 1971’s The French Connection.
Hackman returned to playing Lex in Superman II and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and continued in popular and critically successful movies after Superman such as 1992’s Unforgiven, 1995’s Crimson Tide and 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums. He went on to earn another Academy award, a BAFTA Award, two Golden Globes and the Cecil B. DeMille Award. In 1999, Hackman began writing historical thrillers and continues to write even after his retirement from acting in 2004.
13. MARGOT KIDDER (LOIS LANE)
In Superman: The Movie, Margot Kidder played the tough-talking journalist and Superman’s love interest, Lois Lane. Superman was Margot Kidder’s defining role and she came back as Lois Lane throughout the series. After Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, Kidder’s career started to slow down, appearing in TV movies like 1988’s Body of Evidence until a nervous breakdown in 1996 derailed her career.
She recovered and did more roles in independent movies and TV with guest appearances on Smallville, Brothers and Sisters and The L Word while also appearing in theater productions like 2002’s The Vagina Monologues. She earned an Emmy Award for a role in 2015’s R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour and on a personal level, Kidder has been active in politics, speaking out on progressive causes.
12. MARLON BRANDO (JOR-EL)
In Superman, Jor-El was the biological father of Clark Kent, a scientist who predicted the destruction of Krypton and put his son in a spaceship to escape. Jor-El was played by Marlon Brando, one of the most celebrated actors of his time. His role in the movie was small, but went a long way towards audiences taking the movie seriously.
After Superman and 1980’s The Formula, Brando announced his retirement and didn’t appear in another movie for nine years while he became known more for his reclusive behavior than his acting. He earned praise for his performance in 1990’s The Freshman, but his later movies like 1992’s Christopher Columbus: The Discovery and 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau were panned. In 2004, Brando died of respiratory failure.
11. SUSANNAH YORK (LARA)
Superman’s biological mother Lara was played by Susannah York, who appeared in the emotional scene when Jor-El sent their son off to the planet Earth. Much like Marlon Brando, York was a celebrated actress who added a lot of clout to the movie. Before Superman: The Movie, York had won a BAFTA award as Best Supporting Actress and earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? in 1969.
After Superman, York appeared as Lara again in Superman II and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. After the Superman series, York continued to make appearances in movies and TV shows, and had a celebrated stage career playing Gertrude and Mistress Ford in the RSC’s productions of Hamlet and The Merry Wives of Windsor throughout the ’90s. She also wrote two children’s fantasy novels before she died in 2011 from cancer.
10. MARC MCCLURE (JIMMY OLSEN)
When it comes to Superman, the Daily Bugle’s photographer Jimmy Olsen can be considered his best pal. In the original movie, Olsen was played by Marc McClure, who went on to appear in all four of Reeve’s Superman movies and 1984’s Supergirl. He’s one of the few cast members other than Reeve who showed up in all four movies. The role really defined McClure, overshadowing his other performances.
Geeks would probably have noticed McClure in Back to the Future III as Dave McFly. He’s also made appearances on TV in series like The Shield and Cold Case. He’s still acting and touring to speak at screenings of Superman, and his most recent role has been on Powerless in 2017 as the father of Emily Locke, the Director of Research & Development at Wayne Security.
9. NED BEATTY (OTIS)
Lex Luthor’s bumbling assistant was the clumsy Otis, as dumb as Luthor was smart. In Superman, Otis was played by Ned Beatty, who had a successful career with roles in 1972’s Deliverance and 1976’s All the President’s Men. He returned to the role of Otis again in Superman II before he went on to other film projects.
In 1990, Beatty earned an Emmy nomination for the TV movie The Long Train Home. Starting in 1993, Beatty was also a regular cast member in the first three seasons of the acclaimed crime drama Homicide: Life on the Street. He continued to perform in various roles playing authority figures but took a break as the loveable and ruthless Lotso in 2010’s Toy Story 3. His last movie was 2013’s Baggage Claim, after which Beatty retired from acting.
8. JACKIE COOPER (PERRY WHITE)
The Daily Planet wouldn’t be the same without its tough and dedicated editor-in-chief, Perry White. In the iconic role in the first Superman was Jackie Cooper whose gruff and no-nonsense performance set the standard for the character. Before Superman, Cooper had a long career behind him, since he had first become a child star in 1925.
After Superman, Cooper played the role again in the rest of the series. He also did TV appearances on Murder She Wrote and St. Elsewhere. Shortly after the release of Quest for Peace, Cooper made his last movie in 1987’s Surrender, and made an appearance on the TV series Capital News in 1990 before he officially announced his retirement to focus on raising and training horses. He died in 2011.
7. GLENN FORD (PA KENT)
Glenn Ford had a long career before he appeared as the grizzled but kind adopted father of Clark Kent in Superman. He raised the child he found in a spaceship, dispensed wisdom and tragically died. In real life, Ford had been a working actor since the ’30s before his role in Superman.
Ford continued to act in other movies such as 1981’s slasher movie Happy Birthday to Me. His last acting role was in 1991 in the TV movie Final Verdict. Later that year, he was supposed to star in the TV series African Skies, but had to drop out because of blood clots. After that, he suffered minor strokes that left him in poor health and never acted again. He died at the age of 90 in 2006.
6. VALERIE PERRINE (MS TESCHMACHER)
Other than Otis, Lex Luthor had only one companion in Superman and that was Ms. Teschmacher, his sidekick, accomplice and possibly lover. She was beautiful but also had a heart that led her to betray Luthor and save Superman. The role was played by Valerie Perrine, a model and Vegas showgirl who turned to acting; Teschmacher became her best-known role. She returned to play Teschmacher again in Superman II.
The same year, Perrine was nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Actress for Can’t Stop the Music. She struggled to find roles ever since, working in cameos and smaller movies. In 1995, Perrine was Detective John Munch’s ex-wife on Homicide: Life on the Street and had a supporting role in 2000’s What Women Want. Most recently, she had a role in 2011’s FX series Lights Out.
5. PHYLLIS THAXTER (MA KENT)
Clark Kent’s domestic and wholesome mother Ma Kent was his moral center and Superman’s connection to humanity. In Superman, she was played (as a younger and older woman, as seen above) by Phyllis Thaxter, an accomplished actress who had spent decades playing the girl-next-door in movies starting in World War II. In the 1950s, she was a regular on TV shows as a long-suffering wife and mother to the heroes.
Her role in Superman turned out to be one of the last roles she would play on the screen as an actress. Working on theater stages throughout the ’80s, her only other on-screen roles after that were an appearance on 1985’s American Playhouse and one episode of Murder, She Wrote in 1992. After that, she retired from acting and lived a quiet life until 2012 when Thaxter died from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease.
4. AARON SMOLINSKI (BABY CLARK KENT)
When Superman’s spaceship crash-landed on Earth, the Kents were shocked to find a small child inside. In fact, the first time we saw Kal-El was as a naked two-year old who held up a car. That little boy was Aaron Smolinski, who made his acting debut in the film.
Smolinski went on to appear in a cameo in Superman III, and did a few TV commercials, but he didn’t keep it up. When he and his family moved to California, he quit acting to become a gymnast in school. Throughout the ’90s, Smolinski went back to acting in TV shows like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show and TV movies like Don’t Look Down in 1998. His last acting role was a cameo as a communications officer in 2013’s Man of Steel.
3. JEFF EAST (TEEN CLARK KENT)
In the movie, we saw Clark Kent as a young man struggling to get through high school and dealing with the responsibility of his new powers. That young man was Jeff East, who played the teenage Kent by going through hours of makeup and having his voice dubbed by Reeve.
After his performance in Superman, East continued to act in small roles in movies like 1983’s The Day After and 1988’s Pumpkinhead. In 1987, East moved his focus from acting to working in real estate development with his father, but kept acting in TV shows like Doogie Howser, M.D. In 2004, East moved back to Kansas City to take over the family’s real estate company. His last movie was Terminal in 2015, and he has a recurring role in Ransom’s Law in 2017.
2. LARRY HAGMAN (MAJOR)
One of the key moments in Superman was Luthor sending Otis and Ms. Teschmacher to reprogram a nuclear missile supervised by an unnamed Major. The major was thoroughly distracted by Ms. Teschmacher, who he gave a “vigorous chest massage” to.
At the time of Superman, Hagman was known for decades of work, including his hit 1960s TV show, I Dream of Jeannie. He also starred in the hit TV show Dallas, a role that defined him for the rest of his career. After the show ended in 1991, Hagman played the role of J.R. Ewing again in the revival in 2012. In 1992, he had to undergo a liver transplant from excessive drinking, and he died shortly after the filming of the Dallas remake in 2012.
1. DIANE SHERRY CASE (LANA LANG)
In Superman, Clark Kent’s teenage love was Lana Lang who was too busy with the other guys to notice his amazing powers. Lana was played by Diane Sherry Case, an actress who had been appearing in movies and TV shows since 1964. After her role in Superman, she went on to appear in three TV movies through the 1980s like The Case of the Hillside Stranglers in 1989.
While her acting career moved to the background, Case became more active in other areas. She directed two short films (and wrote one of them) in the ’00s and has been an active writer with multiple published short stories and two novels, Elephant Milk and Earth To Skye as well as a non-fiction book, Write For Recovery. Her most recent work has been the 2016 TV series House Poor on Amazon Prime, which she wrote and directed.
What did you think of Superman? Let us know in the comments!
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