Why Playing Superman Proves Dangerous in Hollywood

Superman Acting Curse
Adam Berry/Getty Images

Superman comes with so much baggage, it's easy to see why the role can be kryptonite

Hugh Jackman hasn’t suffered for flashing his claws from time to time. Nor has Christian Bale or George Clooney been permanently scarred by time spent under Batman’s cowl.

Superman, however, remains possibly unique in the pantheon of cinematic heroes, and the damage — real or imagined — associated with playing that strange visitor from another planet appears, at the very least, to have cast a longer-than-usual shadow over those who have dared to fly a mile in his cape and tights.

Due to the suicide (unless proven otherwise) of George Reeves, who played the character on television; and the tragic accident that paralyzed Christopher Reeve, one of his alter egos in film, there has even been talk through the years of a “Superman curse.”

Analyzing the challenges of being Superman, however — and toting the massive baggage he carries on his back — doesn’t require any superstitious mumbo-jumbo. The factors would appear to be as varied as the mix of patriotism and religion that has surrounded the character; that unlike many comicbook heroes, Superman doesn’t obscure his face, even in costume; and that Superman’s ordinary alter ego Clark Kent is actually his disguise. (Quentin Tarantino somewhat unexpectedly waded in on this last point — launching a thousand debates on comicbook websites — in “Kill Bill: Vol. 2.”)

The politics of Superman contain perhaps the role’s most fascinating traps, saddling our hero with a Boy Scout image and the description of representing “truth, justice and the American way,” even though the alien visitor is ostensibly a citizen of the world. When the 2006 reboot “Superman Returns” amended the well-known phrase to “truth, justice, all that stuff,” as newspaper editor Perry White put it, conservative writers predictably responded with torrents of indignation.

“As soon as you take on the role, it tends to dwarf anything you’ve ever done,” says Larry Tye, author of the book “Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero,” who calls the part “uniquely defining as well as confining.”

Much of that has to do with the messianic overtone touched upon by the Superman origin, including the Judeo-Christian echoes of God dispatching his son to Earth or — for those who prefer the Moses variant — parents sending off a doomed but special baby to an uncertain fate that involves being adopted by strangers.

“It’s one of the reasons why it has such power, and why it has such potential for controversy and screwing it up,” Tye says of Superman’s religio-patriotic nexus.

In the past, actors have clearly chafed against the yoke of Superman. Reeves’ pains were even detailed in a movie, “Hollywoodland,” featuring a fine performance by Ben Affleck, well before he exploded the Internet by agreeing to become the next Batman. For his part, Reeve pushed back by playing a gay character in “Deathtrap,” whose rather demure kiss of co-star Michael Caine triggered boos from audiences in 1982. (Notably, 30 years later, when Brandon Routh of “Superman Returns” played a gay character in the CBS sitcom “Partners,” the casting didn’t garner much attention.)

The proliferation and mainstreaming of comicbook fare has changed some of the stigma tethered to these roles, and the related calculus in agreeing to play one. Certainly, it seems passe to think performers who sign on have nothing to look forward to in their twilight years but squeezing into the old costume to sign autographs at Comic-Con, although there might be no more depressing spectacle in the entertainment biz.

That said, even those who aren’t burdened by superstition must possess a sturdy backbone, almost uniquely so, before agreeing to join the relatively short list of actors who have become the Man of Steel. And for all the character’s old-fashioned values, that’s perhaps why mamas (and agents) should still think twice about letting their babies grow up to be Supermen.

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  1. I was walking in the street, getting there was the children’s studio montado.Eu took the picture, the carousel sitting on the horse with tennis Superman, next to the ghost tunnel skull, in December 1979, make 35 years.

    After that, the actor Christopher Reeve Superman, fell from a horse in 1995, and getting quadriplegic and died, it became a magical picture.

    The photo did prophecy, predicted the future, warned the actor the possibility of suffering the accident.

    Christopher Reeve is American and Aldebaran Luiz von Holleben is Brazilian.
    The Photo stay in the blogspot:

  2. Roy says:

    Bullshit. The performance of an actor is strong and valid as the story he/she is participating in. As much as he’s beloved, Chris Reeve’s portrayal is anachronistic, a personified pacifier to Great Generationers and baby boomers who got sick of Watergate, assassinations of political figures and other bad news. He can’t fit in a post-Sept 11. world, where said world is complex and Gen X-ers and millennials can accept comic books as being a valid storytelling medium. To be honest, Welling and Cavill destroyed the curse by portraying Superman as a three-dimensional character, not a cartoon

  3. JoeR says:

    I don’t see Dean Cain suffering.

  4. danny larsson says:

    Just give it time. It took christopher reeves 20 something years to break his neck. The guy who did smallville has only done a couple of things since. This guy for the new superman will experience it eventually. I think this role will not only affect them financially but I think like both reeves they will die bad.

  5. johntshea says:

    Conservative writers are no more predictable than the liberal variety.

  6. Mjkbk says:

    Slow news day, huh? Nothing to do but write a useless diatribe about the negative underpinnings of a character created 75 years ago who, for reasons unfathomable to this columnist, still appeals to a wide audience worldwide.

  7. Flixnerd says:

    There’s no curse. The last two actors to don the cape on film simply aren’t terrific actors.

    Their non-Kryptonian roles have been, and will continue to be, forgettable and limited by the level of acting talent.

    Routh and Cavill have the right look for the role, but not much else.

    Christopher Reeve could act, emote, and brought a humanity to the role that has been sorely missed since.

    Want better Superman movies? Dispel the curse? Cast better talent.

    Curse, and case, closed.

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