If you were a Star Wars fan back in the 1970s there was no end of tie-in merchandise available. Toys, t-shirts, lampshades, pyjamas, comics, books, rhino saddles, all sorts of branded stuff was yours for the buying as long as you had the money, but that certainly wasn’t true for all big movies.
I was a huge fan of Superman: The Movie, partly because it was just a darned good movie, but also because it was based on a comic and I loved comics. However, pretty much the only related goodies I ever managed to get my hands on were the bubblegum cards. Managed to collect the full set, too — all 65 of ’em in the first series! I was very proud of that, and didn’t bother with the second series because the first one had been hard enough to complete. And then about five years later I happened across card #68 in the first series. That was a shock. Turns out there were 77 cards in that first series — somehow the final twelve had completely eluded me.
But we’re not here to talk about my now-long-vanished collection of Superman: The Movie bubblegum cards. Not even going to mention that when I was much, much younger and first heard about bubblegum cards I somehow got the idea that the cards themselves were made out of bubblegum. How that was supposed to work for collectors I have no idea, but I do recall feeling somewhat relieved and enlightened when I discovered the truth.
Anyway… Aside from the cards, Superman: The Movie merch was thin on the ground. There were Superman comics, of course, but good as they were, they weren’t based on the movie. And while there were Superman action figures on the shelves they weren’t directly connected with the movie (the Mego corporation developed prototype Superman: The Movie action figures but to the best of my knowledge they were never released). The odd poster or two was available, but not much else. There was a Superman novel — Last Son of Krypton by Elliot S. Maggin — but it wasn’t based on the movie. Warners really missed a trick there, especially given how massively popular novelisations were back in the days before home video systems were common: they were just about the only way to relive a newish movie if it wasn’t currently showing in the local cinema because it used to take years for them to turn up on TV. (In 1983 there was a novelisation of Superman III, but too little, too late.)
Forty years on, Superman: The Movie has aged a lot better than most of its era. It’s not perfect, but — special effects aside — it stands up pretty well against many of the more recent superhero movies. Hokey as it can be at times, I’d still rather watch Lex trying to out-wit JR Ewing to get control of a nuclear missile than have to cope with Batman being absolutely bat-gobsmacked to discover that two women can have the same first name (and if Batman is supposed to be the world’s greatest detective then how come he never discovered Superman’s real identity when Lois the constantly-being-kidnapped reporter managed to do so with hardly any effort?).
Superman: The Movie certainly wasn’t the first movie adapted from a comic-book — that would arguably be Trouble in Hogan’s Alley, released seventy-eight years earlier and based on The Yellow Kid comic book — and it wasn’t even the first good adaptation (I’ll suggest the first Buck Rogers serial for that accolade, released in 1934) but it was the first proper modern adaptation of a superhero comic. And it’s a classic, too, and that, in my accurate opinion, is primarily down to the casting of Christopher Reeve. Every new live-action version of Superman seems to only further prove that Reeve’s portrayal was absolutely definitive as both Clark and Superman.
Each of the three subsequent movies features a dramatic drop in quality from the previous one (to the point where Superman V didn’t even get made, it was that bad), but there’s as much love now for the first movie as there was back when it was released almost forty years ago. And there’s so much merchandise available now that one would have to be both crazy and rich to try to keep up with it.
I’ve digressed again… I don’t collect much in the way of movie memorabilia — money should be spent on comics where possible — but Superman: The Movie made a huge impression on me (possibly even bigger than Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), so when I recently encountered this wee gem I had to have it…
This is an American promotional flyer from 1978, approximately 217 x 278mm (or 8½” by 11″ [insert standard rant about imperial measurement system here]). It splits down the middle and opens up to reveal the movie title and credits.
And here’s the back…
I know that it’s not even proper merchandise: you wouldn’t have found one of these on the shelves of a shop. This is the sort of thing that was given away to potential investors or people in the media.
On the whole, though, this is a very nice piece of promotional material. It’s a tad sparse, true, but I feel that adds to its beauty. If it had been packed with photos it wouldn’t stand out nearly as much.
Apropos of nothing… Even now, forty years later, it still bothers me a bit that Trevor Howard and Maria Schell are given such prominence in the credits when they only have a couple of lines each at the start of the movie, yet Mark McClure (Jimmy Olsen) and Jeff East (young Clark Kent) don’t even get a mention. Tch.