The Similarities and Differences of Man of Steel and Donner’s Superman – Part 1: Smallville Years


As the title reads I will be watching, Superman: The Movie, Superman II: Richard Donner Cut, I will make notes toward the Theatrical Cut by Richard Lester and Man of Steel. This article is not about bashing either versions as both have their place.

This article is not about trying to force you into seeing the film(s) my way. What my hopes are, is that I can shed light on the areas that are very similar between the two eras and what is different, hopefully allowing you to at least understand a different side, even if it doesn’t change your opinion.

I will also not be referring to the comics as I am making this post based on how a general audience viewer might view it. I will only reference outside Superman influences when needed but rarely.

Now first off I will have to remind the readers that when Director Richard Donner, screenwriter Tom Machniewicz and story writer Mario Puzo came aboard for Superman: The Movie, they did it with the intention of making a 4 hour epics, Donner began directing the first and second films together, this is why all the “action” is in the second film while the first film is set up, its meant to be seen as one film.



Superman_1978_posterWe will start with areas of Superman: The Movie, Directed by Richard Donner and starring Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman. The film showcases some quick moments of his childhood


We are first given a bit of the back history of Krypton, Jor-El who is a head of the Council of Elders is having a meeting, after sending off three criminals to the Phantom Zone, an alternate dimension that Jor-El discovered, about how the Red Sun is closing in on Krypton’s atmosphere and the planet will explode in under a few days. We than see that he has been working on a way to get his son Kal-El off the planet, deleted scenes added to the Special Edition adds more to this scenario as treason, although in the theatrical cut it is mentioned as a warning and is successful just as the planet begins to crumble and eventually explode.


  • SCENE 1:  When he first lands and is found by the Kent’s, after he first shows his strength it skips forward to him as a teenager.
  • SCENE 2: We see Clark (played by Jeff East) now 17 (maybe 18) at his high school, we see a hint at his attraction to Lana Lang and of course the bully who picks on him(although not physically, Clark holding himself back retaliates by kicking a football which is of course him letting off steam, this than goes to him exploiting his abilities(as we all would)by speed running to get ahead of Brad and his group. We then get a speech about how much he wanted to go off on him with some advice from Pa Kent about how he is there to do more than just show off his powers and that he will make a difference, than he dies of a heart attack, showing that even Clark can’t save everyone.
  • SCENE 2: After the funeral for Pa Kent, Clark discovers a green crystal coming from the spaceship he was found in and we are never quite told but its assumed this is what forces him to go “North” as he tells Ma Kent. We than get a few montages of him heading north until he ends up in the North Pole where he uses the Crystal to create the Fortress of Solitude. Once in there he is confronted with his father, who tells him who he is and through a voice over a series of images of space he learns he has spent 12 years growing, it’s never explained what happened to him on Earth to others who knew him and the fact that he never graduated high school.


man_of_steel_posterNow I am going to show you the similarities here in the film Man of Steel directed by Zack Snyder and starring Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman.


We open to Lara giving birth to Baby Kal-El as Jor-El sees his son born, we than see him having a meeting with the Council of Elders on Krypton about the impending danger that will happen and the idea that they should consider returning to their old ways of flourishing to another world and making a new Krypton.

After this General Zod comes in and kills a few members of the Council is a coup to save Krypton, this action is what eventually gets Zod, Faora (Ursa in Superman: The Movie) arrested and sentenced to the Phantom Zone. Before that though Jor-El is shown to be proactive in trying to save what is left of the planet that can be saved he goes after a Codex, a special skull that holds in it the Kryptonian DNA and what decides how a Kryptonian grows up(with Kal-El being the first natural births in centuries) this action is considered as treason, Zod knowing of what Jor-El is doing goes after him. Jor-El after a brief chase is successful in implanting the Codex into Kal-El and sending him off to Earth. The next scene we see Zod and his troops being sent to the Phantom Zone just as the planet begins its decent to exploding.

Now this is a change while still having similarities in the scenes in the TV Series Smallville they  are not linear to the story but rather flashbacks, but these are the conect in the scenes on Smallville


  • Scene 1: Clark (played by Cooper Timberline) has his first reaction to his abilities as fear, in the Donner film we are never really given a scene where he as a child with an understanding that he different is now having to face that. When we see him using his powers he is a baby who knows nothing and a teenager who is getting a kick out of just being himself, in this he is a 9 year old who is having a true reaction to something he doesn’t quite understand. This is an area of the film where we are shown something extra to his development.
  • Scene 2: Clark (now played by Dylan Sprayberry) is 13 years old on a field trip with Pete Ross shown to be one of the bullies who picks on him, making a reference to Clark and Lana being a couple (this is just him teasing) with them doing a glance at each other (as in Superman: The Movie). We than get our second save in the film, but the first save chronologically by Clark as their school bus ends up diving off a bridge and headlong into a river sinking. This changes the relationship between him and Pete (in the TV Series Smallville,  Clark saves Whitney Fordman a few times which turned him from bully to friend as well). This scene than goes to Lana’s mom questioning why Clark can do what we can do and Martha playing it off as just a misunderstanding, with Lana’s mom saying it was an act of God. This than goes to Jonathan talking with Clark about the importance of keeping his powers a secret something Smallville did a lot of as well.This moment is reminiscent of Pa Kent lecturing Clark about being a show off, just a bit more stern. In Superman: The Movie he tells Clark that he doesn’t know why he is there but he needs to decide when he is ready. In this Jonathan is played a bit more modern saying that he doesn’t have the answers and whether Clark grows up to be good or bad he will change the world. He than shows Clark his spaceship and explains to him while he is an alien he is his son, but has someone else’s genes in him too and he must find out what that is. This is added from Superman: The Movie where we are never shown the moment where Clark is shown he is an alien, so again this adds an element more of his relationship with Jonathan also shows that after Jonathan dies he goes on a journey to find out who he is as that was a wish of his father’s.
  • Scene 3: We see a moment where another bully picks on Clark and him having to hold back, this is reminiscent of his run in with Brad in Superman: The Movie where he had to also hold back due to his incredible strength. Jonathan also shows to be a real father who when seeing his son being picked on wants his son to stand up for himself, but knowing what that means is too great a risk and he tells Clark he is glad he didn’t. This reminiscent to Pa Kent in Superman: The Movie telling Clark he understands the need to show off and do what he can do. We also see that the earlier save Clark did with Pete is paying off as Pete stays behind from the group of bullies to help Clark up and show they are now friends.
  • Scene 4: This final Smallville scene is definitely the most mixed as Henry Cavill is supposed to be playing an 17 year old Clark (the original actor had to back out and so they had no choice but to get Henry to fill it in and it didn’t come off as convincing). We see when Jonathan is killed in the Tornado, through a voice over Clark explains that Jonathan knew that Clark wasn’t ready to show off his abilities to the world even to the point of dying. Keep in mind at this point we are not told whether he has super speed yet, even if he did have super speed we see later on that a shockwave is created when he runs flies off and runs forward and we know he can’t fly. But this is what sends Clark on his ultimate journey”North”

We don’t ever see the full journey that Jeff East’s Clark went on in Superman: The Movie, he is shown leaving than a few shots and he is there, in those scenes he does look unhappy too as he does throughout Man of Steel, so in film Zack Snyder had decided to use this as a chance to show what Clark had to go through before finally finding out about himself. If Richard Donner would have shown Clark’s full journey it may have taken up a good amount of the film as the second half of the first film, when he gets to Metropolis has a complete tonal shift and feels like a whole new film. Man of Steel however felt like one movie. Superman II both versions felt like a continuation of the second half of the first film, which I do feel like Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will feel like a continuation of Man of Steel’s second half.

Well with that this will end my first part of this multi-part article. The Part 2 of the article will be up soon and will deal with how an adult Clark Kent in Superman: The Movie differs and is similar to the adult Clark Kent in Man of Steel.

Eric Curto
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