In a class that includes “Titanic,” “Dumbo” and “Gentleman’s Agreement,” it’s significant that “Superman” is included. Not only did Donner’s superhero debut kick off several waves of superhero cinema; such films as last month’s “Justice League” (featuring Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel) would likely not exist without Donner’s breakthrough smash featuring Christopher Reeve.
The 1978 film was not the cinematic debut of Superman, of course. As the library notes, the DC Comics character — created just as the storm clouds of World War II were gathering — had been depicted on the big screen by Kirk Alyn in a 1948 serialization, and George Reeves (played by Ben Affleck in “Hollywoodland”) donned Superman’s cape on screens big and small.
But Donner’s sense of story and demand for great special effects, paired with Reeve’s winning, sometimes screwball-comedy charm, elevated the movie. “Superman” even became the rare superhero film to win an Oscar, for special achievement in visual effects. (It was also nominated for sound, editing and John Williams’s rousing score.)
The Superman sequels would bring diminishing aesthetic returns, but the DC Comics flag had been firmly planted in filmgoers’ minds, till director Tim Burton’s “Batman” visions could be realized a decade later.
And even though Cavill and Brandon Routh have played the Son of Krypton since, Reeve has not been eclipsed — even for some writers of the Superman comics.
“I remember watching ‘Superman’ over and over on VHS as a kid,” Gene Luen Yang (“New Superman”) tells The Post’s Comic Riffs.
“Christopher Reeve played the part with so much conviction that it seemed effortless,” continues Yang, who is also the Library of Congress’s national ambassador for young people’s literature. “To this day, when I close my eyes and imagine Superman, it’s his face that I see.”
Hayden will appear on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) tonight at 8 E.T. with critic Leonard Maltin to discuss the registry’s new selections.