Man of Steel hits cinema screens on both sides of the pond today and although mixed feelings persist about Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (it came out seven years ago – where does the time go?), Richard Donner’s original Superman: The Movie continues to hold up (and be held up) as the high-point of the character’s big screen history.
Donner may have slowed down considerably in recent years, but his output taken as a whole is among the strongest of any director working today. In honour of Superman and everything else that Donner has given us over the years, here is some of his best work.
1. The Omen
Like seemingly every other horror film from that period, some of The Omen’s reputation has been tarnished by the diluted quality of successive sequels and remakes.The Omen II and The Final Conflict had some interesting ideas, but the original (unsurprisingly) remains the high water mark for the franchise.
So much could have gone wrong. Donner needed a suitably ambiguous child who could convince as either a harmless kid or the long-awaited Antichrist, Gregory Peck needed to anchor the preposterous nature of the premise with gravitas and seriousness, David Warner needed to come across as believable despite the incredible story he tells Peck’s Robert Thorn. Set pieces involving hounds from hell, suicidal nurses and decapitating sheet glass might be played for laughs these days and so it is to Donner’s everlasting credit that each of these elements convinces us, rattles us and feels tonally coherent and consistent.
The film’s enduring legacy and appeal make it difficult to watch and enjoy on its own merits these days, like watching Goldfinger for the first time after having seen every Bond film since – what was genre defining at the time can with hindsight seem derivative and obvious. But it continues to succeed in its own right, atmospheric and compelling, distressing in its denouement as a loving and devoted father must contemplate infanticide and in the end something that digs itself nicely under your skin.