Superman’s First Big-Budget Film Franchise Suits

We continue our series on the evolution of the Superman suit, taking a look at the costumes of the 1970s and 1980s film franchise.

Christopher Reeve is Superman.

It had been nearly 20 years since the last live-action Superman graced either the small or silver screen when Richard Donner’s Superman opened in December of 1978.  Christopher Reeve, who has become forever associated with the man of steel, had been initially passed over for the role in auditions.  Some of the original A-list contenders included Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds and Paul Newman, all of which turned down the role.

Superman's First Big-Budget Film Franchise Suits


Christopher Reeve is Superman, 1978-1987.

Looking back, it is hard to imagine any of these other men embodying the role of Superman quite like Reeve.  With his dyed black hair styled with Superman’s iconic front curl, Christopher Reeve certainly looked more the part than any of the screen actors who had come before him.

Superman, starring Christopher Reeve, 1978.

Christopher Reeve starred in a total of four Superman films; Superman, Superman II, Superman III, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Little to no changes were made in the overall look of the costume from film to film, save for some coloring to adjust for different filming conditions.

The Reeve’s costume marks the first time Superman’s suit was created in a synthetic, high-shine fabric. The use of a polyester blend gave the costume a more sleek and futuristic finish, while allowing for an even tighter fit than had been previously accomplished.  The suit was originally designed to be a darker blue, but complications with blue screen scenes required a lighter overall color.  This explains the almost turquoise shade of the costume.  Reeve’s suit continued the style of the cape tucked into a tunic (this time with a slightly wider neck opening), originated on the 1966 Broadway costume for Bob Holiday, but added pleating that gave the cape more fullness and drama.  Another holdover from the Holiday costume is that of the larger “S” shield on the chest.  You will also note that the trunks have wider belt-loops and a higher cut leg opening, giving Superman a slimmer look than previous versions.  Reeve’s red boots are taller than previous incarnations and feature a deeper front “v.”

Christopher Reeves is Superman, 1978-1987.

Superman II, Christopher Reeve, 1980.

Because of the repeat use of several of the Superman suits across multiple films, the first two of which were shot back-to-back, there are few remaining original costumes in existence.

Christopher Reeve’s Superman suit costume, sans belt, Superman VI, 1987.

As part of a strange plot-line featuring synthetic kryptonite in Superman III, the man of steel temporarily turns “evil.”  After this transformation, we see Reeve in a version of the suit made in deeper, greyed out shades of his iconic colors, with a gaunt face, and slightly disheveled hair.

Christopher Reeve as “evil” Superman, Superman III, 1983.

Christopher Reeve’s “evil” Superman suit costume, Superman III, 1983.

To this date, Christopher Reeve and his suit remain, argueably, the most famous dipiction of Superman in live-action entertainment.

Superman II, starring Chrisopher Reeve, 1980.

Superman (1978) Costume Design by Yvonne Blake

Superman 2 (1980) Costume Design by Yvonne Blake and Susan Yelland

Superman 3 (1983) Costume Design by Evangeline Harrison

Superman 4 (1987) Costume Design by John Bloomfield

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