Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman & Robert Benton
By the standards of the modern super-hero epic, Superman now seems fairly dated. Well, at least everything that’s not the Smallville section of the film, which remains a pretty timeless piece of myth-making. Krypton has its feet firmly planted in the seemingly obligatory gaudy design style of most 70s sci-fi, and Metropolis is indelibly stamped with the sheen of disco era New York City. Plus, the effects that were supposed to make us “believe a man can fly” already looked pretty dodgy just a few years later, let alone thirty-five. But the reason Superman takes the 1978 slot isn’t necessarily for its timelessness or the quality of its visuals. No, this makes the list because it was the first movie I ever saw by myself.
Not too far from where I lived as a kid was a second-run discount theater we affectionately referred to as “The Cheapie.” They’d reliably get all the big blockbusters a month or so after they’d been released. My family wasn’t destitute or anything, but my parents would usually have my sister and I “wait until it’s at the Cheapie” before we’d go see a movie in order to try to save some money. Plus, if one of us got antsy and we had to leave, we wouldn’t have wasted the cost of full price tickets for everybody. It was also a good way to see old favorites again, since they usually got films during their re-releases. It wasn’t quite a rep theater, but my dad and I saw a ton of stuff there.
So one day in early 1979, my mom was taking my sister to the Cheapie to see Grease. This film had haunted my life for the past six months, since my sister and her friends were obsessed with the soundtrack and would play it at every opportunity. Needless to say, I had no real desire to see it, especially with my mom and my sister. But the second screen at the Cheapie was showing Superman. Now my parents weren’t necessarily over-protective — although when I was 16 they didn’t let me go see The Police in concert because they were worried I’d somehow end up a drug addict — but I was 10 at the time and still deemed in need of adult supervision. So I figured I was doomed to two hours of that damn music. Imagine my surprise when the idea of me going to see Superman was cautiously approached by my mother. I would have agreed to suspension of all entertainment privileges and offered to do dished for months if it meant escaping John Travolta. None of that was necessary; it turns out their movie would let out before mine, and, trusting that no one would slip into the theater to spirit me off to a sideshow or something, she bought me my very own ticket and sat me down in my very own seat and left me there.
I wasn’t anxious about being alone. I was excited. This was practically adulthood! I would be driving soon! And then the movie started and the comic pages opened and John Williams’ majestic fanfare rocketed me into space and all thoughts of adulthood completely bled out of me. And really, I can’t do justice to just how magnificent it was sitting in that theater listening to that opening credit music. Star Wars had already kindled the film score geek in me; this dumped gasoline on it. And I didn’t have my sister bothering or my mom asking me if I was okay or my dad saying, “Did you see that?” Just me and the screen and the spectacle of a flying man saving the world.
Two fleeting hours later I returned to reality, to my mother waiting patiently and my sister waiting indifferently. My brief foray into maturity was over, but this was the experience that most solidly cemented my future as a film lover. To this day, I don’t mind going to the movies by myself. Sometimes, I almost prefer it; I don’t have to take anyone else into account, don’t have any stray comments or questions. Just me and the screen all over again. Now though, instead of a kid feeling like an adult, I’m an adult feeling like a kid all over again.