Feige’s legacy expands as the MCU explores stories well beyond the earthbound arc of the first Iron Man movie. 2012’s The Avengers offered a glimpse of the larger Marvel Universe and was deemed a worthy adaptation of the Infinity Gauntlet comics. The MCU has since introduced a massive ensemble of characters across 29 shows and 33 movies, so it’s surprising to find out that Feige’s quintessential superhero was fleshed out in a DC film. In MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios, he revealed Superman: The Movie served as his go-to template for superhero origin films; he also admitted he always watched the 1978 classic before they jumpstarted production on every MCU film.
Authors Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales, and Gavin Edwards explained how Richard Donner, Superman: The Movie’s director, inspired Marvel films. “Superman: The Movie is still to this day the archetype of the perfect superhero film origin story,” Feige asserted. “We watch it before we make any of our films.” This revelation puts the entire MCU in proper context, as its installments mostly depicted noble, albeit often conflicted superheroes. This imprint is evident in Captain America: The First Avenger and heavily inspired Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers, and Captain Marvel. It’s worth noting how Superman’s depiction in films has changed since then, particularly in Henry Cavill’s brooding and somber Man of Steel.
Donner’s Superman is also inseparable from Christopher Reeve, who in many ways perfectly portrayed the character. In an interview with GQ, Gunn said Reeve was the real-life embodiment of the last son of Krypton’s highest virtues. “The thing they don’t talk about much when they talk about Christopher Reeve, they talk about his pureness, his hope, his goodness,” he remarked. “They talk about, you know, the way that he plays Clark as being so different from the way he plays Superman, and how he can turn that on in an instant… And that is one of the best parts of the movie is the playfulness of Superman. He enjoys what he’s doing. He likes helping human beings and he likes saving them.”
The success of Superman: The Movie spawned three more sequels that were largely panned by audiences and critics; a fifth installment titled Superman Reborn was scrapped during the early stages of development, and the character’s depiction was stalled until Brandon Routh was cast in 2006’s Superman Returns. David Corenswet is next to take up the mantle in Superman: Legacy, the launchpad film of James Gunn’s rebooted DC Universe.