Richard Donner, director of 1978’s Superman movie, reveals he received death threats from people who were upset about the film’s religious themes.
Richard Donner, director of 1978’s Superman and father of the modern superhero movie, received death threats from people because of the religious overtones of that film. Starring Christopher Reeves as the titular character, Superman was well received upon its release. Critics praised its mixture of humor and action, as well as Reeves’ iconic performance. It was one of the highest grossing films of 1978 and earned three Oscar nominations, including one for John Williams’ memorable score. Superman also received the Academy’s Special Achievement Award for visual effects.
Alongside Reeves, the film starred Marlon Brandon as Jor-El, Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane. The film’s impact is wide-reaching, from Zack Snyder’s own take on the iconic hero in Man of Steel all the way to this year’s Wonder Woman 1984. Director Patty Jenkins says she was directly inspired by Superman. Donner seems to also have inspired something else with his film.
The director revealed that he received hate mail and death threats after Superman was released. Speaking to The Telegraph, Donner says that some people threatened his life because of the religious themes of his films. He is even able to recite one of the letters from memory. That letter blasts the director for comparing the relationship between Kal-El and Jor-El to that of Jesus and God.
They threatened my life. One woman wrote a letter saying how dare I compare Brando to God and Christopher Reeve to Jesus. She said my blood would run in the streets. I guess you make a good movie, somebody takes it as a reality.
Superman has long been compared to religious iconography. Man of Steel and the DCEU’s subsequent exploration of Superman leaned heavily on his god-like relationship to humanity. Much of the heavy-handed dialogue directly referred to humans’ perception of Superman as that of a god and what that would mean for Clark Kent’s role in society. The 1978 film hones in on these themes as well, emphasizing the hero’s journey coupled with the main character’s own embodiment of an omniscient, all-powerful being.
Unfortunately, death threats like these are now par for the course when it comes to fandoms and their favorite characters. Everyone from actors to directors and writers and even game developers receive death threats from over zealous fans who are able to hide behind the cloak of the internet. That tradition hasn’t ended, but it has changed from the letters Donner received in the mail to faceless social media accounts. It’s no surprise to know that, even in 1978, before the advent of the internet, death threats were still commonplace in response to popular culture.