Actors

Christopher Reeve: What Happened to the Superman?

We didn't see Christopher Reeve much since his starring roles in 4 Superman movies. Here's what happened to him!


Christopher Reeve as Superman

Most of us grew up watching a lot of superheroes on screen. However, the first few installations of Superman, starring Christopher Reeve, are still considered the gold standard of superheroes. 

The Superman franchise is a successful series of movies. Although the first Superman movie’s birth dates way back to the 1940s, the superhero still stays active, slaying evil and saving mankind.

A few different actors had the opportunity to wear Superman’s suit. But Christopher Reeve is still deemed the best to ever play the role. The Christopher Reeve era is still praised as the gold standard of superheroes. However, it brought pain upon us all when we never got to see him on screen much since his appearance in 4 installations of Superman

What happened to him has since been a question popping up in everyone’s head. Even today, that’s a question of great importance and it seems to be immortal. 

Without lingering on the intro, let’s dive deeper and walk through Christopher Reeve’s life and career. Below, we’ll uncover what happened to Christopher Reeve despite his phenomenal success as a superhero.

Christopher Reeve: How He Started Acting

Christopher Reeve and Katharine Hepburn

Reeve first appeared in the Broadway play A Matter of Gravity in 1975. The actor, who was then only 22, was watched by Katharine Hepburn during his audition, who later cast him in the play. 

Reeve got to work out the schedules of the soap opera Love of Life and the play through Hepburn’s influence over the CBS network. It is known that Reeve consumed only candy bars and coffee instead of meals due to his busy work schedule. This ultimately had him experience exhaustion and malnutrition.

A big moment for Reeve, the actor, unfortunately, fainted as he delivered his first ever line on stage. It was also his first appearance on the first night of the play’s run.

Although it seemed like Reeve messed up an opportunity, the actor still stayed with the play throughout its year-long run and received favorable reviews there. 

At one point, Reeve and Hepburn became very close that they faced rumors of having a romantic bond. However, Reeve turned down the rumors, saying they were an honor to him, and stated that he was only close to her like a child or grandchild.

Walking Away From His First Acting Experience…

As the play moved to Los Angeles in 1976, Reeve dropped out. Despite the distance between Reeve and Hepburn, they both stayed in touch for years even after the play’s run. Sadly, Reeve later revealed that he regretted not staying closer with Hepburn.

In 1978, Reeve made his first ever appearance in a Hollywood film, playing a very small part as a junior officer in the movie Gray Lady Down.

After the movie, he acted in the play My Life with his friend and famous actor William Hurt.

Superman – The Christopher Reeve Era

Christopher Reeve as Superman

It was during My Life that the biggest opportunity came knocking on Reeve’s door. Stark Hesseltine, a theatrical agent who was credited with the discovery of some of the best talents of his time, told Reeve about the big-budget movie Superman: The Movie (1978) and their interest to get Reeve to audition for the role of Clark Kent/Superman.

According to reports, the famous casting director of the movie, Lynn Stalmaster, kept putting Reeve’s résumé on top of the pile three separate times. The producers, however, consistently had the résumé thrown out each time.

Eventually, through Stalmaster’s tenacious pleading, Reeve won a meeting with the director Richard Donner and producer Ilya Salkind

Reeve received a 300-page script after the meeting, and London awaited him for his screen test. As he was told Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, two of the greatest actors in history, will play important roles in the movie, Reeve doubted his chance. 

However, to his surprise, Reeve’s driver after the screen test revealed to him that he won the leading role in the movie. The rest, as you know it, was history!

The Disruptions…

Most parts of Superman II were filmed at the same time as Superman: The Movie. Although the initial plan was for the movie to be a single three-hour epic containing both parts, the producers and the director, Richard Donner, had a disagreement that led to separate the movies. 

Due to the conflict behind the scenes, director Richard Lester replaced Donner to work on the second part of Superman. Although much of the sequel was filmed with Donner, Lester changed the script a bit and re-shot some footage. The movie was then released in 1980.

Lester directed Superman III, released in 1983. Although not acclaimed as much as its previous installments, the movie was a much better version than its successor.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was released in 1987. It is the final theatrical installment of Superman in the Christopher Reeve era. 

Although Reeve vowed he was done with Superman after Superman III, the actor agreed to dress up as the superhero again in a fourth film on the condition he would have partial control over the script. 

The Wrong Move…

In the mid-1980s, the production rights to the character of Superman were sold by the original producers of the movie series, Alexander Salkind and Ilya Salkind, to Cannon Films.

Back then, Cannon Films were notoriously known for low-budget, poorly-scripted, poorly-acted action movies. Cannon Films continued their production pattern by cutting the budget of Superman IV in half, resulting in a total of $17 million budget.

Superman IV thus became a critical failure and a box-office disaster, making it the lowest-grossing Superman movie to date.

As Cannon Films went bankrupt in the late 1980s, the rights to the character of Superman were reverted to Alexander Salkind, Ilya Salkind, and Pierre Spengler

During this time, the potential and strong rumors of a fifth Superman movie emerged into existence. Reeve would have reprised his role in the fifth installment if it ever had a budget the same size as Superman: The Movie. Sadly, Reeve never got another script. 

The Fall of Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve had a great interest in horse riding. Although the actor began his involvement in horse riding in 1985 as part of learning to ride for the film Anna Karenina, he eventually became obsessed with it.

Despite being allergic to horses, Reeve took antihistamines – a type of drug used to treat allergies – to train with the horses. 

By 1989, the actor began eventing – competitions where a horse and a rider compete together against others. By this time, his allergies took a step back. He was then able to get involved with horses without the need for allergic supplements. 

Even though Reeve had leg injuries as a teen while skiing, it didn’t seem to bother him, and kept doing his best at horse riding. Along with his leg injuries, he broke three ribs in a riding accident, which too failed to keep him away from his obsession. 

The Devastation…

On May 27, 1995, Reeve entered an equestrian competition in Virginia, where his horse made a refusal – a term that means the failure of a horse to jump a fence in front.

According to witnesses, Reeve’s horse began the third fence jump and abruptly halted. Reeve fell forward off the horse, landing head first and breaking his first and second vertebrae.

The accident instantly ceased his breathing, but paramedics came and took immediate measures to get air into his lungs. 

The fall left Christopher Reeve paralyzed from the neck down, and the superhero the world once knew failed to save himself.

The Aftermath…

Although Christopher Reeve became physically challenged since the accident, he did a great job keeping his career healthy. 

In 1996, the actor narrated the movie Without Pity: A Film About Abilities, an HBO film that later won the Emmy Award for “Outstanding Informational Special”. He also appeared in a small role in the movie A Step Toward Tomorrow.

Back in 1995, before Reeve’s fall, the actor was offered to play the lead role in the movie Kidnapped. He also had plans to direct his first big screen movie, a romantic comedy named Tell Me True. The accident, however, hit his dreams hard.

Fixing the Career

As part of nurturing his love for creative work, Reeve made his directional debut in 1997 with the HBO movie In The Gloaming. The movie was well acclaimed, winning four Cable Ace Awards, and five Emmy Awards nominations, including one for “Outstanding Director for a Miniseries or Special”.

Reeve then had the opportunity to direct a few other movies, appeared in multiple other films and series, and published two books. 

In 2004, Reeve was involved in directing one of his dream projects, the animated movie Everyone’s Hero, but died at 52 in the middle of its production. 

End of the Greatest Superhero

Christopher Reeve

People know Christopher Reeve mostly for making the best Superman in history possible. Back in 1993, two years prior to Reeve’s accident, the character rights to Superman were once again sold by its original producers. This time, Warner Bros stepped in to buy the rights.

Warner Bros purchasing the rights again ignited the potential for a new Superman movie. At that time, it was impossible for anyone to think of another Superman without Christopher Reeve, so the world hoped they could see him again in the superhero suit.

However, because of studio shifts, the box-office disappointment of Superman IV, and Reeve’s accident in 1995, the dreams and hopes for a new Superman movie with Christopher Reeve were long gone.

Conclusion

Christopher Reeve was one of the greatest actors in history and was responsible for making an amazing superhero possible. 

It’s sad that the actor’s last Superman movie was a box-office disappointment. But it hurts even deeper to know his devastating fall contributed to killing the hopes for another Superman movie starring Reeve.

Despite the accident that left him physically challenged, Christopher Reeve’s career did not stop there. Paralyzed from the neck down, the actor successfully directed, acted, and even wrote two books before his death.

Yes, it’s unfortunate that we couldn’t see him in another Superman film. But Reeve left core memories behind for us to remember his golden days on screen and in life. 


I’m Aman, a freelance content writer since my 13 years of age. I’ve been writing for 7+ years now, successfully engaging and educating readers. Featured in prominent publications like The Startup, The Writing Cooperative, and The Ascent, I consider myself a well-versed writer in multiple areas, where I've always been able to prove my excellence and expertise. In my free time, I love watching movies and TV shows. I binge-watch a lot, and I consider myself blessed to be able to write about stuff I love!