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Section Header
1987 Warner

1998 Varèse

2000 Rhino

2008 FSM

Original Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
John Williams

Originally Performed by:
The London Symphony Orchestra

Rhino Album Produced by:
Nick Redman
Michael Matessino

Varèse Re-recording Produced by:
Robert Townson

Varèse Re-recording Conducted by:
John Debney

Varèse Re-recording Performed by:
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Originally Orchestrated by:
Herbert Spencer
Arthur Morton

FSM Album Produced by:
Michael Matessino
Lukas Kendall

Labels and Dates:
Warner Brothers
(July 7th, 1987)

Varèse Sarabande
(October 20th, 1998)

(February 15th, 2000)

Film Score Monthly
(February 21st, 2008)

Also See:
Superman Returns
Star Wars
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Empire Strikes Back
Raiders of the Lost Ark

Audio Clips:
1998 Varèse:

CD1: 2. The Planet Krypton (0:32):
WMA (213K)  MP3 (269K)
Real Audio (189K)

CD1: 7. Leaving Home (0:32):
WMA (213K)  MP3 (269K)
Real Audio (189K)

CD2: 1. The Helicopter Sequence (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

CD2: 3. The Flying Sequence (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

2000 Rhino:

CD1: 4. Star Ship Escapes (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

CD1: 13. Super Crime Fighter (0:29):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

CD2: 2. The March of the Villains (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

CD2: 15. Can You Read My Mind (Alternate) (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

The original Warner Brothers release from 1987, which can still be readily found on the secondary market, removed two tracks from the LP's presentation (including "Growing Up" and "Lex Luthor's Lair") to fit the score on a single CD. While the album did include the voice-overs at the end of the flying sequence, the original LP remained the most complete source of music from the Williams' score in the United States. A Japanese Warner Brothers CD release in 1990 (with nearly identical cover art) managed to squeeze the two missing tracks onto the CD, encompassing all music available on the LP and cassette releases to that date. That Japanese album is out of print and difficult to find.

The 1998 Varèse Sarabande 2-CD re-recordings and 2000 Rhino 2-CD complete release are both regular commercial albums, but the latter is out of print. The 2008 Film Score Monthly 8-CD set was made available through soundtrack specialty outlets for $120. Its first edition of 3,000 copies quickly sold out, but a second edition of another 3,000 copies kept the product available well into 2009.

  Winner of a Grammy Award. Nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

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Buy it... on both the 1998 Varèse Sarabande re-recording and the 2000 Rhino or 2008 FSM complete sets for superior presentations of one of John Williams' most memorable and classic scores.

Avoid it... on any of the releases of the original recording if you are deterred by the archival, analog sound quality that restricts the dynamic range of Williams' composition and varies from track to track.

Superman: (John Williams) Few fictional characters have been as prolific in mainstream entertainment as the Man of Steel. From the original comic stories in the 1930's to the Clayton Collyer radio show and Paramount's animated shorts in the 40's, the Kirk Alyn television shows of the 50's, the musical adaptation for theatre and George Reeves series of the 60's, the feature films of the 70's and 80's, the television spin-offs of the 90's and 00's, and finally, a resurrection to the big screen in 2006, the legend of Superman has thrived for more than 60 years. Upon the first major motion picture production in the mid-70's, director Richard Donner and his producers determined that the character would be treated with respect while, after all his adventures, providing him with a massive scale on which to generate his wonder. Their success in that production yielded four Oscar nominations (with one win) and a permanent "most favored Superman" status for actor Christopher Reeve. While the sequels for the 1978 film maintained much of the same cast, the legend was watered down to campy levels. One member of the crew who refused to kneel before General Zod was John Williams, whose score for the original Superman was such a natural fit with both the legend of the character and audiences' expectations that he had nothing left to prove by scoring the laughable sequels. In retrospect, Williams' music for Superman was so perfectly placed in both the film and in the history of cinema that this score, perhaps more than Star Wars, confirmed the renaissance of the operatic orchestral fanfare to the big screen. It proved that his Oscar-nominated work for Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars the previous year was no fluke, leading the composer on the journey of five subsequent years that would change film music forever. His Wagnerian extravaganza was so beloved by both fans of the legend and the mainstream that his sound for the character would endure in three immediate sequels and become the benchmark for future adaptations. Jerry Goldsmith would give the title theme a cameo in his mid-80's score for Supergirl and John Ottman would eventually utilize all of Williams' major themes for the successful Superman Returns nearly 30 years later.

The key to the longevity of Williams' music for the Superman legend is its timelessness. The instant recognizability of Williams' multitude of shamelessly obvious themes is also a contributing factor. Whether it's the unequivocal heroism, the patriotic feeling of soaring optimism that it instills in listeners, or even the brassy, overwhelming orchestral power that hooked so many people into the genre of film music at the time, Superman is a score of such quality that it cannot be completely eclipsed by the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchise works also by Williams. When remembering the impact of Superman on listeners at the time, most people point to the themes rather than the style. And while the grandeur of the London Symphony Orchestra's performance of Williams' densely orchestrated and intelligently designed ideas are as alluring as ever, the themes do indeed define the score. The opening march provides the title character with a noble persona of galactic proportions, its simplistic octave-loving major key progressions serving the dose of superhero elixir that has, to some degree, worn badly with audiences through the years due to the brightness of its own light. So blatantly heroic is its construct that the title march is more difficult to enjoy thirty years later than the other themes from the film. By far superior in its agelessness is the love theme, highlighting the magnificent "Flying Sequence" in the film. Its lyrical sense of movement coincides with the fact that theme was originally designed with lyrics in mind ("Can You Read My Mind") and several pop variants were recorded for the scene before the now-famous classical performance and concert arrangement was used instead. Given the beauty of the theme and the remarkable personal tragedies that tormented lead actors Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in the following decades, the Superman love theme's only detraction is its bittersweet legacy. Still, in both its interlude performance in the primary march for the film, as well as its own generous song variants and concert arrangements, it is the best that Superman offers. Keeping its numerous original recordings by Williams straight is another matter, left for discussion about the albums below.

While the march and love theme are the best remembered themes from Superman, there are several notable subthemes that each receive considerable development. The most intriguing of these is one that knocks the viewer over the head immediately after the opening fanfare is finished. The remarkable crescendo that builds from a solo trumpet into a monumentally harmonic performance of the "Planet Krypton" theme is the single favorite minute of music for some listeners of the score. After the planet is introduced in its glory, the film never allows such a restatement. Unsatisfying incorporation of the theme into the scene of the planet's destruction and subsequent references in "The Fortress of Solitude" cause the theme to be underutilized. Interestingly, John Ottman would rely on clever references to the theme more often in his 2006 film score. One curious note is that the 1998 re-recording alters the woodwind solo after the end of Krypton's famous crescendo to match the "Force theme" from Star Wars. Slight synthetic effects during the sentencing of General Zod in this cue make up the bulk of the employment of electronics in the score, and their impact is barely noticeable. For "Destruction of Krypton," Williams would foreshadow the danger with a distantly dissonant adult choir, though Star Wars fans will delight in the timpani-pounding, cymbal-crashing full ensemble harmony of the Death Star's glory during the actual scenes of destruction. A theme for the Kent family is introduced and maintained until Clark Kent's departure for Metropolis. Sometimes referred to as the "family theme" or the "Smallville" theme, this identification with the character's childhood features the same heroic stature as the fanfare, but with less obvious statement until the closing of "Leaving Home." The only somewhat weak theme in the score for Superman is the one for Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty's villainous duo. Williams' "March of the Villains" treads dangerously close to the comical territory that the production was trying to avoid, though it's obvious that Williams was attempting to play off of Hackman's confidently snickering performance. Much of the concert arrangement of this irritatingly prancing theme was never actually used in the film.

The remainder of the score often uses fragments of these themes for its substance. One cue of singular beauty is "Trip to Earth," which offers some of the wondrous atmosphere that would eventually be fleshed out in Hook. A minor-key variant of the Krypton theme in "The Fortress of Solitude" is an emotional play aided in the cue by eerie high female voices. The straight action cues are overshadowed by moments like the latter half of "The Big Rescue" (or "Helicopter Sequence"), which cranks out a reprise of the title fanfare. Some of the better action cues were never available on the original LP or CD albums for Superman, further diminishing their memorability. The album situation for this score was initially frustrating for many Superman fans, though they would be ultimately rewarded for their patience with two stunning releases of the score in 1998 and 2000, as well as one astronomical treatment of the score in 2008. The original 1987 release on CD was far from complete, not even featuring the same quantity of music contained on the LP release. For some mainstream listeners, however, it could be argued that the 73 minutes of music presented on that original CD was all that was really necessary for a cursory appreciation of the composition's highlights. In 1998, Robert Townson commissioned an effort to completely reconstruct the score for a re-recording by John Debney and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The resulting 2-CD set on the Varèse Sarabande label not only maintains the integrity of Williams' original composition, but added 13 minutes of noteworthy material not available on the 1987 Warner release. Although there were skeptics at the time who didn't believe in the concept of the multitude of re-recordings that were undertaken by Varèse and other labels in the late 1990's, this presentation of Superman features a performance among the best of all the efforts of the era (ranking with Vertigo on Varèse and Raise the Titanic on Silva Screen Records). Rather than serving as an interpretation of Williams' score, the beauty of the coordination effort for this recording of Superman is its total and complete faithfulness to the original composition. Debney and the ensemble achieve stellar results in their goal of producing a sound that recreates the original feel and power of Williams' work.

Casual listeners, in fact, won't even be able to tell a difference between the 1998 re-recording provided by Varèse and the original. This is, of course, except for the crisp digital sound of the Varèse set. While the additional selections and better arrangement of the music may not be sufficient to alone attract your purchase, the sound quality will. Hearing the majority of the score in outstanding digital quality, especially with such precise attention to the restoration of the music, makes this set a must-have for collectors of Williams' classic Bronze Age scores. The opening few minutes of the "Planet Krypton" cue alone will blow you out of your seat. The packaging, complete with track-by-track analysis, is a fascinating read as well. It could be argued that Varèse and the RSNO never reached these soaring heights again. The 2000 Rhino release really ended all demands by Superman score fans, presenting forty additional minutes of previously unreleased music from the original recordings in what was considered at the time to be a definitive release. If you were for some reason deterred from the Varèse album, the early 2000 set of double CDs offered the complete score with such attention to detail that it was originally thought that a significant revisional CD release of Superman was never again to be necessary. As comprehensive as it could possibly be, the Rhino set combines the superior arrangement of the Varèse album with a collection of unheard and alternate cues. Along the same lines as similar treatment at the time for Jaws, Close Encounters, and a number of other classic Williams scores, this Rhino set competed well while in print. There are some legitimate and surprising additional cues that will be necessary additions to your collection, including the rousing "Star Ship Escapes" and "The Big Rescue." A large portion of missing cues from the second half of the film is also finally made available, leading to a very satisfactory chronological presentation. For good measure, Rhino also includes the pop versions of the love theme performed by Margot Kidder, as well as source cues, alternate takes, and the score's familiar concert arrangement. The extensive liner notes of the complete 2000 album, despite a somewhat cumbersome slip case that houses them, are as enjoyable and fascinating as the Varèse ones.

Learn about

Despite common acceptance that Superman had received the best album coverage that could have possibly been afforded it, Film Score Monthly and Warner Brothers teamed up in 2007 to produce the most outrageously comprehensive Superman-related set ever imaginable for release in February of 2008. The resulting 8-CD set was devoted to all four of the original feature film scores and Ron Jones' 1988 animated series music. The selling point of the set was the newly available material (and there's a ton of it) from the Ken Thorne and Alexander Courage sequel scores arranged from Williams' original themes. While the contents from Superman aren't significantly different on this set when compared to the out-of-print Rhino one (there is a handful of additional alternate material that was discovered but it only amounts to a couple of minutes in length), the improvement in sound quality may indeed be an attraction for those already settled on the 2000 set. Only after Rhino had produced that set were original, first generation masters of Superman discovered, and it from this source that FSM's presentation is made. Even so, for 99% of casual listeners, the awesome FSM product is redundant when considering only Superman. The related material from the subsequent scores, however, is in many places similar enough to the original work by Williams to serve as alternate music of the first composition. The only problem with the FSM set is that it is clearly targeted at the most devoted of concept and film music collectors. At a hefty price of $120, it was one a few sets available from the label that topped the hundred-dollar mark. Somewhat surprisingly, the first edition of this set, limited to 3,000 copies, sold out relatively quickly, and FSM pressed a second edition of another 3,000 copies that remained available at the same price. The production quality of the FSM product is truly stunning, easily the most attractive and fascinating item ever to come from Lukas Kendall's company. The extensive information in the hardcover book included with the eight discs will keep you occupied for hours. If you're only interested in the music for the first Superman film, however, the Varèse and Rhino presentations are nothing less than 5-star products that will suffice (the original Warner release from 1987 is no longer relevant). Any of these albums will continue to make you wonder how this score could have lost the Oscar to Giorgio Moroder's Midnight Express. Fickle, those voters are. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Score as Written for Film: *****
    1987 Warner Album: ***
    1998 Varèse Sarabande Album: *****
    2000 Rhino Album: *****
    2008 Film Score Monthly Album: *****
    Overall: *****

Bias Check:For John Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.74 (in 69 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.59 (in 336,253 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

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 Track Listings (1987 Warner Brothers Album): Total Time: 72:49

• 1. Theme From Superman (Main Title) (4:24)
• 2. The Planet Krypton (4:45)
• 3. Destruction of Krypton (5:58)
• 4. The Trip to Earth (2:23)
• 5. Love Theme From Superman (5:00)
• 6. Leaving Home (4:48)
• 7. The Fortress of Solitude (8:29)
• 8. The Flying Sequence (4:16)
• 9. Can You Read My Mind* (3:54)
• 10. Super Rescues (3:24)
• 11. Superfeats (5:00)
• 12. The March of the Villains (3:33)
• 13. Chasing Rockets (7:33)
• 14. Turning Back the World (2:01)
• 15. End Title (6:24)

* Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse

 Track Listings (1998 Varèse Sarabande Re-Recording): Total Time: 82:10

CD 1: (37:45)
• 1. Prologue and Main Title (5:31)
• 2. The Planet Krypton (4:35)
• 3. The Destruction of Krypton (5:27)
• 4. Trip to Earth (2:38)
• 5. Growing Up (2:05)
• 6. Jonathan's Death (4:09)
• 7. Leaving Home (4:46)
• 8. The Fortress of Solitude (8:22)
CD 2: (44:25)
• 1. The Helicopter Sequence (6:16)
• 2. The Penthouse (1:50)
• 3. The Flying Sequence (4:16)
• 4. The Truck Convoy (1:54)
• 5. To the Lair (2:18)
• 6. March of the Villains (3:56)
• 7. Chasing Rockets (5:12)
• 8. Pushing Boulders (2:24)
• 9. Flying to Lois (2:58)
• 10. Turning Back the World (2:01)
• 11. The Prison Yard and End Title (6:27)
• 12. Love Theme from Superman (5:01)

 Track Listings (2000 Rhino Complete Album): Total Time: 148:56

CD 1: (75:18)

• 1. Prelude and Main Title March* (5:29)
• 2. The Planet Krypton* (6:39)
• 3. Destruction of Krypton* (7:52)
• 4. Star Ship Escapes (2:21)
• 5. The Trip to Earth (2:28)
• 6. Growing Up* (2:34)
• 7. Death of Jonathan Kent (3:27)
• 8. Leaving Home (4:49)
• 9. The Fortress of Solitude* (9:17)
• 10. Welcome to Metropolis (2:11)
• 11. Lex Luthor's Lair* (4:48)
• 12. The Big Rescue (5:55)
• 13. Super Crime Fighter* (3:20)
• 14. Super Rescues* (2:14)

Bonus Tracks:
• 15. Luthor's Luau (Source) (2:48)
• 16. The Planet Krypton (Alternate)* (4:24)
• 17. Main Title March (Alternate) (4:38)
CD 2: (73:38)

• 1. Superman March (Alternate)* (3:48)
• 2. The March of the Villains (3:36)
• 3. The Terrace (1:36)
• 4. The Flying Sequence (8:12)
• 5. Lois and Clark (0:50)
• 6. Crime of the Century (3:24)
• 7. Sonic Greeting (2:21)
• 8. Misguided Missiles and Kryptonite (3:26)
• 9. Chasing Rockets (4:56)
• 10. Super Feats* (4:53)
• 11. Super Dam and Finding Lois* (5:11)
• 12. Turning Back the World (2:06)
• 13. Finale and End Title March* (5:42)
• 14. Love Theme from Superman (5:06)

Bonus Tracks:
• 15. Can You Read My Mind (Alternate)/** (2:56)
• 16. The Flying Sequence/Can You read My Mind** (8:12)
• 17. Can You Read My Mind (Alternate: Instrumental) (2:56)
• 18. Theme from Superman (Concert Version) (4:24)

* contains previously unreleased material
** contains vocals performed by Margot Kidder
† previously unreleased music

 Track Listings (2008 Film Score Monthly Set): Total Time: 574:34

CD 1: (78:36)
• 1. Theme From Superman (4:23)
• 2. Prelude and Main Title (5:02)
• 3. The Planet Krypton (6:36)
• 4. Destruction of Krypton (7:53)
• 5. The Kryptonquake (2:24)
• 6. The Trip to Earth (2:30)
• 7. Growing Up (2:32)
• 8. Jonathan's Death (3:23)
• 9. Leaving Home (4:48)
• 10. The Fortress of Solitude (9:18)
• 11. The Mugger (2:07)
• 12. Lex Luthor's Lair (4:48)
• 13. Helicopter Sequence (5:55)
• 14. The Burglar Sequence/Chasing Crooks (3:18)
• 15. Super Rescues (2:16)
• 16. The Penthouse (1:31)
• 17. The Flying Sequence (8:10)
• 18. Clark Loses His Nerve (0:46)

CD 2: (67:27 Total)
• 1. The March of the Villains (3:35)
• 2. The Truck Convoy/Miss Teschmacher Helps (3:24)
• 3. To the Lair (2:18)
• 4. Trajectory Malfunction/Luthor's Lethal Weapon (3:24)
• 5. Chasing Rockets (4:57)
• 6. Superfeats (4:54)
• 7. Pushing Boulders/Flying to Lois (5:21)
• 8. Turning Back the World (2:03)
• 9. The Prison Yard/End Title (6:37)
• 10. Love Theme from Superman (4:58)

Alternates: (25:32)
• 11. Prelude and Main Title (3:46)
• 12. The Planet Krypton (3:16)
• 13. The Dome Opens (2:30)
• 14. The Mugger (1:24)
• 15. I Can Fly (Flying Sequence Segment) (2:01)
• 16. Can You Read My Mind (Film Version) (3:02)
• 17. Trajectory Malfunction (1:01)
• 18. Turning Back the World (2:16)
• 19. The Prison Yard/End Title (Film Version) (5:44)

CD 8: (28:13 from Superman)
• 1. Prelude and Main Title (Film Version) (5:19)
• 2. The Flying Sequence (Album Version) (8:11)
• 3. Can You Read My Mind (Original Version) (2:51)
• 4. Can You Read My Mind (Non-Vocal Version) (3:02)
• 5. Kansas High School (1:56)
• 6. Kansas Kids (1:49)
• 7. Lois Car Radio (2:02)
• 8. Luthor's Luau (2:43)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The 2008 Film Score Monthly album contains arguably the most extensive information about the scores of a movie franchise ever to exist in an album, with a 160-page hardcover booklet the covers an extraordinary range of detail about the film, scores, and album presentation. Both 1998 albums also contain extensive information about the score.

Notes about the original performance on the Rhino Complete Set:

Music Mixed and Recorded by Eric Tomlinson, Anvil Studios, Denham, England, July 1978
Remixed at Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Bucks, England
Orchestrations: Herbert Spencer and Arthur Morton
Music Editor: Bob Hathaway
Music Editor Assistant: Ken Ross

"By the middle of 1978 I had been filming Superman for nearly a year-and-a-half and had lost my objectivity about it. But when I went to John Williams' first recording session with the London Symphony Orchestra and heard his score for the opening titles, my spirits soared. His soundtrack for the film is perfect and will always remain a classic."

        -- Christopher Reeve, 1999/2000

Notes about the Varèse Sarabande Re-recording:

"This new recording does not replace the original recording, which is conducted by John Williams himself. It certainly does not take the place of any potential special edition of Williams' recording. The best way I can describe this CD is as a "stand alone companion piece" to the soundtrack. I realize that these are conflicting terms. It was imperative to me that my recording must be able to stand on its own. Therefore the concept of recording only music that did not appear on the WB disc didn't work. I needed the main set pieces of the score. You know what they are. How could we have a Superman disc without Leaving Home or The Fortress of Solitude? This was the balance I had to maintain. How much could I add and how much could I afford to lose and have the disc still play as a well-rounded listening experience and a solid representation of the score? I have done the best job of this that I can."

        -- Robert Townson, Vice President, Varèse Sarabande Records

  All artwork and sound clips from Superman are Copyright © 1987, 1998, 2000, 2008, Warner Brothers, Varèse Sarabande, Rhino/Warner, Film Score Monthly. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 11/5/98 and last updated 7/11/09. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1998-2013, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.