If Batman is the Dark Knight of Superheroes, then certainly Superman is King. Superman has it all, no one is stronger, faster, braver, and heck, he can fly too. Course he has a seriously over developed boy-scout complex, but he's a loveable blue lunkhead.
Superman was the first big screen superhero movie that was really any good. Without Super, we probably never would have seen movies like Batman, X-Men, and Blade in our movie theatres. Of course we probably would never have seen Batman and Robin or Captain America either. So it's something of a mixed blessing. But good or bad, we owe it all to the guy in the big blue tights... Christopher Reeve.
Reeve was born to play this part and I for one can't imagine anyone else playing it. He brings the innocent charm that both Superman and Clark Kent posses so clearly into each and every film, while at the same time maintaining the hard edge of a man who must sometimes do hard things.
Where many offer a bone of contention, is in Gene Hackman's portrayal of Superman's arch nemesis, Lex Luthor. Admittedly, Hackman's portrayal is somewhat different from that of the comic book bald baddy. The print Luthor is a wealthy, high class criminal, a man of taste, a man with a lust for power. While Hackman attempts to convey this, at times he comes off more as a genius lowlife who won the lottery rather than a multifaceted media super-mogul.
I think this is less the fault of Hackman than it is the fault of the film's script, which for some reason hobbles Luthor with a group of incompetent misfit sidekicks, worthy of a Wylie Coyote cartoon. Gene Hackman is every bit the Lex Luthor of comic book fame, it's his henchman that make him seem the fool.
But beware! There are four Superman movies, and not all of them are classic Superhero masterpieces. Most of this is clearly do to bad writing and poor plotlines, not to that of the stellar performances of the cast. I recently attended a Superman film festival in Austin and was reminded of just how true this was. Superman I and II are examples of true superhero craftsmanship. Superman 3 and 4 are garbage. Superman 3 especially seems more interested on making fun of itself than pursuing an actual story. Superman 4's failure is multi-faced but due, yet again, primarily to terrible writing and cheesy villains. It's got a lot in common with Batman and Robin.
WARNING: These are early 80's filmmaking expect low level effects, bad hair, bad clothes and low film quality. Yet the clarity and craftsmanship evident in the film's Special Edition DVD make it easy though to see Superman for what it really is: The mold from which all other superhero movies have been poured.