A Brief History Of Superman Movie Trailers

Image for A Brief History Of Superman Movie Trailers

Despite how it feels given all the excitement right now, Zack Snyder’s upcoming Man Of Steel is not the first Superman movie to ever hit our cinema screens. Here are the trailers for the previous four movies – don’t worry, there’s no Supergirl in the mix – to help guide you down teaser memory lane. If you were wondering whether you felt the same away about Superman Returns before you went to see it as you do about Man Of Steel now, look no further…


The first thing to note is that this trailer, like many others of its time, is a lot longer than we’re now used to in our fast-paced world of five-second YouTube trailers-for-trailers and brief, flashy TV spots. Two minutes-plus was normal for a blockbuster trailer in the ‘70s, and at the time you wouldn’t be surprised to have most of the film’s plot laid out for you in advance of actually seeing the whole shebang – like a modern rom-com promo.

It’s a blessing, then, that the trailer for the first Superman movie only covers the early part of the film, serving almost as a preface for anyone who walks into the feature 30 minutes in. Note the early discordant music and the delayed drop of John Williams’ theme, as well as the confident use of Movie Trailer Voiceover guy. Oddly, you don’t get to hear Reeve’s voice at all and have to wait a whole 106 seconds to see ol’ Supes in his party pajamas. Even then, what he’s doing is pretty dull: staring at some crystals, looking bored.

Then… flight! You’re suddenly hit with the genuinely still impressive, knock-your-socks-off special effects as His Superness soars through the Fortress Of Solitude and over the earth. Voiceover guy is chuffed too: “Superman brings you the gift of flight!” That said, was anyone able to fly after watching Superman for the first time? Lies, lies, lies…

You know you’ve got a confident franchise when the trailer for the second film starts with its iconic logo flying into the distance and then EXPLODING. The adventure continues with Zod and his bods zooming through a canyon, the early villain introduction showing off once more that people fly in these films, and emphasizing that that’s really something else, folks.

Then it’s a montage of levitating finger rays, exploding helicopters and yokels Wile E. Cayote-ing through a box full of chickens, all sure to have the kiddley-tots chucking their popcorn around with excitement. Superman gets a solid quip with his first line – he gets to speak in this one! – the Parisian locale adding a touch of je ne sais quoi to the swooping and the saving. Then there’s the champagne popping joke, which has to be for the adults… or maybe we’re reading too much into it (we’re not).

The bazooka to the candelabra gag continues the self-assured, jokey theme, making the businessman with the windswept umbrella look like a budget Gene Kelly back-up from Singin’ In The Rain. Lois gets a comic beat, Zod does his menacing thing, it ends with the not-so-catchy catchphrase “If you’ve only seen the first part… you haven’t seen the best part” and a nice spot of Coca-Cola product placement. Thoroughly super stuff.

It kicks off so well – “When it’s time for adventure, it’s time for Superman”, another exploding logo, Christopher Reeve’s publicity shot blasting at you – then it thumps down to earth with Richard Pryor lugging a heavy suitcase around. File this image under “foreboding for all the wrong reasons”.

“Richard Pryor has come to Metropolis”, says the voice-over, followed by a nut shot accompanied by some out-of-place sinister music. Enjoy the ‘falls for a scheme / falls off a building after skiing’ joke? There’s more where that came from, with plenty of “The world’s greatest computer genius” and bugger all Big Blue Boy Scout for the first half of proceedings. In fact, there’s No Supes For You until 80 seconds in. Well, why would we want to see the Last Son Of Krypton in a Superman movie, anyway?

It all goes from bad to worse from then on, with Evil Superman barely explained and a sell-the-farm super-machine explosion reveal all topped off by the fist-gnashingly awkward, “Thank you, brother” handshake. “This time is going to be the best time of all”, is it? That never-ending wind sound effect seems to indicate otherwise…


“The countdown has begun… the world is on the brink… and only one man can save us now.” Who could it be? Well, Superman, obviously. Unfortunately, even Krypton’s Last Son can’t save us from the ignominious failure of Superman IV, which shows its lower-than-low-budget origins from the off: “What a scoop!”, the photographer man shouts. What’s a scoop, now? What are you talking about? What’s going on?

That said, if you wanted to see your childhood hero riding an amazingly phallic object and a young Jon Cryer making a flying toupee gag, then fill your (no doubt cherry-red) boots. Be sure to note the swannee whistle noise as Nuclear Man twists into a volcano, as well as the most budget Statue Of Liberty ever made – could it be inflated? – and some achingly out of context quips from Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor.

“Superman IV – his greatest adventure!”, voiceover man says. “Predictably awful”, we say.

brightcove.createExperiences();As American movie producers might note, there are several key “takeaways” from this trailer. Perhaps the biggest is the airplane scene, which is just as jaw-dropping as when it first, ahem, landed. That’s followed close behind by Kevin Spacey’s joyful relish as he spits out Luthor’s lines – notably “Billions…” and “WRONG!” – with the sign-off gag coming in third.

Bathing in the brilliance of the first two films in the series (and ignoring the events of III and IV in the process), the final grace note comes across as awkward instead of the neat and clever thing they were going for. “Is it a bird? It is a plane?” Is this… making anyone even smile?

In retrospect, the flying hug by the Daily Planet sign seems rather mature (and intriguingly Dr. Manhattan-like), though the floating Marlon Brando head 20 seconds in is really rather disturbing. Aside from the plane, it’s also not clear whether there will be much action in this movie, unless seeing a big yacht in stormy weather and Supes facing down a machine gun is enough for you – and we bet it's not.

brightcove.createExperiences();There have been four Man Of Steel trailers in total. There have been many more TV Spots, featurettes, posters, stills and snippets from the score, but when it comes to trailers proper, there have been four. The Internet At Large took the third one to its collective heart, but it was the fourth, above, that pushed already-excited fanpersons over the edge, thanks to its heat vision, piles of skulls and colossal spaceships. Snyder, Nolan, Goyer and the team have gone for Superman spectacle rather than Clark Kent spectacles, and the result looks bloody exciting.

Such is the love for these trailers that the third one received a Minecraft makeover, which somehow makes Zimmer’s piece underneath it – ‘An Ideal Of Hope’ – even more goosepimply. If you shut your eyes, at least.