In this latest entry in the ongoing series, Great Moments in Fourth Wall Breakage, that salutes those meta moments in movies when a character makes an aside to the audience, we’re going to look at the SUPERMAN series. That is, the one that began with SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, continued, with diminishing returns, through II, III, and IV in the ‘80s then reviving in the 2000s with SUPERMAN RETURNS.
At the end of Richard Donner’s classic 1978 original (a personal vote for best superhero movie ever), Christopher Reeve’s Superman soars high above the earth, while John Williams’ triumphant score sweeps, after defeating Lex Luthor’s plan to nuke California, surveying the status of our big blue globe, then looks directly into the camera, and smiles. It’s a warm, ‘don’t worry, I got this,’ grin, and this footage, with slight variations from outtakes from the shoot (sometimes his right arm goes up when he flies off; sometimes not) is used to end the film’s three sequels.
Bryan Singer’s attempt to reboot the series in 2006 with SUPERMAN RETURNS also did its take on the ending flyby, but in this version, Brandon Routh (pretty much a Reeve clone) looks knowingly, with a slight, sly smile, at the camera but doesn’t show any teeth before he flies off.
This was the last time for the concluding fourth wall breakage in series, as Henry Cavill’s Superman in MAN OF STEEL, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, and JUSTICE LEAGUE (all of which are awful) hasn’t been shown friendly acknowledging the audience, and it’s one of the many reasons this most recent version of the character has been embraced like Reeve’s was (and still is). I’m not saying that not having the final smiling flyby is like a James Bond movie without the gun barrel intro, but it’s close.
So Superman is such a mighty being that he even knows he’s a movie star, and his end of adventure smile for us always put an appealing cap on the caper. I wonder if we’ll see a Superman movie with that moment in it again.