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Album Cover Art
1987 Warner
1998 Varèse
Album 2 Cover Art
2000 Rhino
Album 3 Cover Art
2008 FSM
Album 4 Cover Art
2019 La-La Land
Album 5 Cover Art
Original Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:

Originally Performed by:

Varèse Re-recording Conducted by:

Varèse Re-recording Performed by:

Originally Orchestrated by:
Herbert Spencer
Arthur Morton
Labels Icon
Warner Brothers
(July 7th, 1987)

Varèse Sarabande
(October 20th, 1998)

(February 15th, 2000)

Film Score Monthly
(February 21st, 2008)

La-La Land Records
(February 15th, 2019)
Availability Icon
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 ("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 eventually went out of print and became 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 for years. The 2019 La-La Land 3-CD set is limited to 5,000 copies and available initially for $35 through soundtrack specialty outlets.
Winner of a Grammy Award. Nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
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Availability | Awards | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... on both the 1998 Varèse Sarabande re-recording and the 2019 La-La Land Records set for the highest-quality presentations of one of John Williams' most memorable and classic scores.

Avoid it... on any of the releases of the original recording prior to 2019 if you are deterred by the archival, analog sound quality that long restricted the dynamic range of Williams' composition and often varies from track to track.
Review Icon
WRITTEN 11/5/98, REVISED 10/6/19
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 2000's and beyond, the legend of Superman has thrived for more than 80 years. Upon the first major motion picture adaptation 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 endeavor 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 endured prominently 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 eventually utilized all of Williams' major themes for the successful continuation of 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 the composer's 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 the melody's construct that the title march is more difficult to enjoy decades years later than the other themes from the film. The underlying rhythmic introduction, becoming the driving force of the entire affair, has fared better. In many ways 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 instrumental performance and associated 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 position 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 tonal 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. To his credit, John Ottman relied upon 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 foreshadows the danger with a distantly dissonant adult choir, though Star Wars fans will delight in the timpani-pounding, cymbal-crashing full ensemble tonality 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, serving as something of a preview of the composer's handling of the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, though it's obvious that Williams was merely 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.

Ratings Icon
Average: 4.2 Stars
***** 2,275 5 Stars
**** 959 4 Stars
*** 376 3 Stars
** 234 2 Stars
* 201 1 Stars
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What else to say?   Expand >>
Richard Kleiner - October 24, 2010, at 12:02 a.m.
4 comments  (3582 views)
Newest: January 12, 2015, at 2:05 a.m. by
Nicolai P. Zwar
Two Best Williams Themes Ever
Mitchell Hanson - November 12, 2009, at 2:33 p.m.
1 comment  (2552 views)
Superman - Home-made 1cd Tracklist
Mark Malmstrøm - August 4, 2009, at 3:11 p.m.
1 comment  (2252 views)
Complete ignorance!   Expand >>
Nick - October 2, 2007, at 8:16 a.m.
2 comments  (4378 views)
Newest: July 11, 2009, at 9:29 p.m. by
Highly enjoyable
Sheridan - August 18, 2006, at 2:00 p.m.
1 comment  (2643 views)
"Trip To Earth".....may the Force be with you   Expand >>
huntress - June 1, 2006, at 11:42 a.m.
4 comments  (4766 views)
Newest: March 4, 2016, at 2:48 p.m. by
Arne Barnard

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
1987 Warner Brothers Album Tracks   ▼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
1998 Varèse Sarabande Re-Recording Tracks   ▼Total Time: 82:10
2000 Rhino Complete Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 148:56
2008 Film Score Monthly Set Tracks   ▼Total Time: 174:16
2019 La-La Land Set Tracks   ▼Total Time: 229:55

Notes Icon
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. The 1998, 2000, and 2019 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
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
Copyright © 1998-2021, Filmtracks Publications. All rights reserved.
The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from Superman are Copyright © 1987, 1998, 2000, 2008, 2019, Warner Brothers, Varèse Sarabande, Rhino/Warner, Film Score Monthly, La-La Land Records and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 11/5/98 and last updated 10/6/19.
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